Ernest Shepard was born in London on December 10, 1879. His father was Henry Donkin Shepard, an often struggling architect, and his mother was Jessie Harriet Lee Shepard. He had an older brother, Cyril, and a younger sister, Ethel. His parents were involved in the arts; often, they would appear in various plays, be working on a painting, or playing the violin. Each child in the household was required to play the violin, and it was during his childhood that Ernest earned a love for music that he would have his entire lifetime.
Early on, Ernest showed his future as an artist. He had two big hobbies: watching the soldiers practice, and drawing. As a child, Ernest decided on a career as an artist. His father encouraged him, enrolling him in a special art school. The effort paid off. Shepard entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1897 as one of it's youngest students, and earned two scholarships while there.
While at the Academy, Shepard met Florence Chaplin. Often they worked together and in 1904, they married. They had two children: Graham, born in 1907, and Mary, born in 1909. One of Graham's toys, a teddy bear named Growler, was used as a model for the illustrations of Pooh in the Christoher Robin books. (Shepard had decided that his sketches of Christopher Robin's bear weren't quite right.) Sketches of Growler first appeared in a 1913 issue of Punch. Florence died in 1927, and Shepard remained unmarried until 1943, when he married Norah Carroll.
Shepard always dreamed of working for Punch, since it was the premier showcase in Britain for sketch work. After trying unsucessfully many times, he finally had two drawings accepted by the magazine in 1907. Gradually, he began to have more and more work accepted, but was not yet working on a regular basis.
During World War I, he applied for a commission in the the Royal Artillery. After spending the second half of 1915 in officer training school, he was commissioned on December 14 and joined the 105 Seige Battery. He saw his first action on June 10, 1916 in Mont St Eloi, France. Throughout the war, he was constantly drawing and sending work back to Britain for various publications. In 1917, he was promoted to the rank of Captain, and in January 1919, promoted to acting Major. He returned home in March.
In June 1921, Sir Owen Seaman, editor of Punch, invited Shepard to join the Punch table, which meant an appointment to the regular staff. Shepard had finally realized his dream of working for Punch and for the first time, had a regular source of income.
When A.A. Milne asked E.V. Lucas, another member of the Punch table, who he would recommend to illustrate some children's verse he would be putting in the magazine, Lucas named Shepard. Though reluctant to use Shepard, Milne was finally persuaded and Shepard illustrated the poems that would eventually be included in When We Were Very Young. When planning out Winnie-the-Pooh, Milne insisted that Shepard illustrate the book. Though always pleased with Shepard's work, Milne and Shepard were never close. "I always had to start again at the beginning with Milne," said Shepard, "every time I met him." (Knox 112)
Shepard also did the illustrations for many other books, his most famous work being for Richard Jefferie's Bevis in 1932, and Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, which he did in 1931. In earlier editions, The Wind in the Willows had been illustrated by three different artists, none of which satisfied Grahame. Grahame was not even sure that Shepard could do the job properly when he offered him the work. After seeing Shepard's sketches, though, Grahame was very pleased.
Shepard ceased to be a regular cartoonist at Punch in 1949, but continued to provide drawings monthly. He was sacked in 1953 by Malcom Muggeridge, the new editor. Shepard continued to draw, illustrating new books, providing color plates for the Christopher Robin books, and even writing two children's books of his own: Ben and Brock in 1965 and Betsy and Joe the year later. Though the books didn't gain much popularity, their publication gave Shepard great pleasure.
Ernest Shepard died in 1976.
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