|Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data
compared to the extensive information about American artists.|
Following is an interview conducted with the artist in October 2005 by a representative of French Book News:
- You studied graphics at art school in Paris and since have
become a very popular illustrator in France. How did you come to work on
As a student, I wanted to work in photography or graphic design.
It all began when a teacher introduced me to the publisher
Gautier-Languereau. I liked the atmosphere of the domain because
illustrators aren't competitive - we don't judge each other and some,
like Elodie Nouhen, have even become friends. Once I'd got my diploma,
it felt very natural to continue working in the area, and I still derive
a lot pleasure from that.
- Your drawings have a very original feel that is somewhat
melancholy and totally intriguing. What techniques do you use to produce
To tell the truth, I don't have any particular techniques! As my
training is in graphics, I have to play around, try things out, work a
lot. I consider myself a craftsperson more than an artist. My
illustrations are all painted in gouache; I've been illustrating books
for 10 years but as I had to teach myself how to use gouache, I always
feel like I can improve. It is a matt medium, which can sometimes be a
bit sombre, and it means that I have to bring out contrasts. In Cyrano,
which I am publishing with my husband Taï-Marc Le Thanh this month, I
had to use oils in the drawings to boost the colours. But gouache is
much nicer to use than acrylics: it isn't a dead material - it never
dries! If I had to go for another material, I would choose oils.
- In your books, it isn't just the illustrations that attract
the attention but also the whole layout, which is full of subtleties,
particularly in the book Princesses. How much are you involved in the design of a book?
I always like sticking my oar in on the layout! It's the first
thing I think about. As a graphic artist, it's very frustrating to be
limited to illustration. Whenever possible, I like to work closely with
the artistic direction; creating a book is also much more enriching
when it's a real collaboration. With Princesses, we communicated a lot
with the author, Philippe Lechermeier. Princesses is a kind of
dictionary of multiple voices, in which the most famous princesses rub
shoulders with the most fantastic: the non-stop chatterer Fatrasie and
Kousk?h, a real she-devil. At first, the princesses were classified
alphabetically. Trying to imagine the illustrations from nothing more
than a piece of text was really an uphill struggle! So, with Philippe,
we revised the texts and the concept of the whole book, which allowed us
to produce a much freer work. I contributed a very personal touch by
adding handwritten passages to the text. Philippe even created some new
princesses following my suggestions, such as Dorémi and Capriciosa.
- You are illustrating more and more books that rework traditional tales, such as Babayaga or Sentimento,
written by Carl Norac, whose books have had real success in Britain.
Does it feel like you are realising a little girl's dream?
As it happens, it's not so much a case of fairy tales as stories
about monsters! Fate decreed that I illustrate this kind of story. For
Sentimento, I wanted to rework the story of Frankenstein.
Gautier-Languereau asked Carl Norac to take on the writing and he
invented a cross between Pinocchio and Frankenstein! This monstrous
creature was even called Pinostein! Carl Norac was very happy with the
result and we hope to do another book together. The story of the ogress
Babayaga takes its inspiration, very simply, from a Russian folk tale -
a story that I was brought up on, although it is little known in
western Europe. There is more than Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel
- Your books are so well crafted that they appeal to adults
as much as children. What do you feel about this unexpected audience?
It gives me great pleasure! It's true that "big children" often buy Princesses and Sentimento
for their own pleasure. Adults have imposed on children a world of
neat, antiseptic illustrations - a simplistic world. This
overprotection constrains their imagination and I often hear children
saying "I love Sentimento because it's so sad". It's better not
to try to please children or try to read their tastes too much because
our criteria are so different from theirs. My own children are very
critical of my work. The oldest has become a bit too old for my
stories, while the others are just beginning to take an interest in
them. But if I let myself be continually guided by their judgement, I
would lose my freedom and depth of thinking. But, that said, I am also
happy to do real, unambiguous children's books, such as Nasreddine, which came out last September.
- With Cyrano, the result of a close collaboration with your husband, Taï-Marc Le Thanh, and L'amoureux, which you wrote, you are getting more and more involved with the work of writing. Do you see yourself writing another book?
In general, I prefer to stay in the background and give the work
of story-writing to others. Realising books with my husband is ideal -
we have a very easy exchange of ideas. Taï-Marc is a graphic artist
like me, and so he has needed my encouragement to cross over into
writing. For my part, when I write, it's no so much stories as
dialogues. L'amoureux has also been adapted into a play by
children, which gave me a lot of pleasure; the children ask questions
about love with a funny and touching naivety. My next book as
author-illustrator is based on the same principle. The book consists of
a mini-play in which actors play animals disguising themselves as
animals. It's mind-boggling!