Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Interview with author- illustrator Frédérique Bertrand

Frédérique Bertrand is an award winning French illustrator living in Nancy, France.
She has illustrated over 30 children’s books and works as well as an editorial illustrator for magazines such as the New York Times, Le Monde, etc.
To learn more about Frédérique’s work, you can visit her website: http://www.lesfreds.com/ 

Her books are playful, beautiful, poetic, and have inspired me greatly for the past years!

"Le Petit Bonhomme Pané" text by Olivier Douzou (Éditions du Rouergue, 2011)

I am very happy to share with you an insight of Frédérique’s process and her work:

Q. What is a normal day of work for you?
A normal day of work is very similar to every other day for me. When my eyes are wide open and that my head is well placed over my shoulders, I climb a few steps that lead me to my studio in the attic of the house where I live with my family. There, I get installed in my table, I take my sketchbooks and my pencils.

Q. Where do you find inspiration for your illustrations?
I get inspired by the every day life, family, the time that goes by, the little concerns of some, the dreams of others.
Also, I am very curious and sensitive to many different artistic expressions such as texts, music, films, images, dance.
For example, when my daughter was 7 years old, she would hurtle down the stairs singing a little rhyme from a song she learned at school. I challenged Olivier Douzou (art director at Rouergue, author and illustrator) to write a similar refrain for Violette my daughter, having as the main character a pony, her favorite animal at that time. Olivier answered this with the nursery rhyme “Poney” as well as with many other animals: a dachshund, a kitty, a bear, a chicken, a rooster, a piglet.
This challenge became a series of board books for toddlers “Les Comptines en Continu” (The Continuous Rhymes).

"Comptines en Continu", text by Olivier Douzou (Rouergue, 2012)

As for my personal projects, whether it’s a book, an illustration or a painting, I work the same way, my close entourage and daily life are my greatest sources of inspiration. I also have a deep affection for houses and everything that could happen inside them, household activities, furniture, couples, kids...

Q. Which are your favorite tools?Paper, pencils, painting, brushes, scissors, glue... every tool that we could find in a pencil case or schoolbag. 
I love the tools that we can find within easy reach, because of this the only thing you have to do is to seize them and play with them, to take the time to “listen to them” to let them tell stories.
I love tools that leave traces on the paper and get your hands dirty.

"Ding Dang Dong!" (Éditions Mémo, 2009)

Q. How has your work evolved through the years?
I realize as the time goes by, that my work evolves naturally as the reflection of myself. I am not necessarily looking to give this or that orientation to my work, it is evolving with every encounter I have, every wish and opportunities in my way.
I think it is wonderful and terrifying at the same time! Wonderful because the adventure is renewed constantly, terrifying because nothing is ever granted. 

Since the beginning of my career as an illustrator, I worked a lot for the children’s editorial illustration with a black and white style that I colored with inks. Later I started to create my images with paintings, for different editorial projects (everyday news, weekly, monthly, company, etc.) and at the same time for children’s books.

Editorial illustrations for United Airlines and Wall Street Journal

I started to experiment also with mix media: paintings with collage, paintings and pencil drawings, or pencil drawings and collage. My interest in mix media was to to evoke the subject of the picture by its technique (for example when talking about copiers at school, using school notebooks as support), instead of recreating existing techniques.

 Nowadays, I am retaking drawing with only lines to tell stories about my every day life, as if it was a written drawing.

Illustrations from "Déjà Noël (Éditions Esperluète, 2010) and "Bientôt l’Été" (Éditions Esperluète, 2007)

I work these same subjects in paintings on canvas.

 also cut paper decorations to stage the “magic” pictures of  Michaël Lebond in our series “Pyjamarama”. It is a little bit funny how here we are talking about playing with something you would see in an e-book in real paper!
In these books, we can move a magic plastic grid on top of encrypted images, and a small animation based on an optical phenomenon is triggered. 

It is fun to imagine these printed books behave as digital books!

"New York en Pyjamarama", animations by Michaël Leblond (Éditions du Rouergue, 2011)

Q. Favorite children’s book(s):
I have always loved Tomi Ungerer’s books: Moonman, The Three Robbers, Zeralda’s Ogre, and all the others! First, for the universe that emerges, and then for its graphic effectiveness, the strong  themes and texts.

But above all, I had a revelation when I discovered the work of Maira Kalman, with very creative  picture books, funny and full of colors. The adventures of her dog Max are told with such a narrative freedom. 

“Max in Hollywood, Baby”, by Maira Kalman  (Viking Penguin, 1992)

Q. Can you tell us about your first experience as an author-illustrator? How did it happen?
I started working very quickly in childen’s books. I was very lucky! I had met Olivier Douzou in 1994, during the Montreuil Children’s Book Salon in Paris. I showed him my portfolio, my thesis drawings, and he asked me to do my thesis as a children’s book.
I imagined a little reporter, who would run around the planet with his microphone and notebooks, and reported events every week, for a whole year. My book became “ Le petit monde 1995”.
It was very fun, but also very challenging, because I didn’t think I was capable of meeting the challenge even if it was a project that I had worked in 1993 (for my thesis at the École des Beaux-Arts de Nancy, where I studied).
At the same time, I spearheaded the writing and illustrations of my first picture book called “Nino dans le Frigo” (Nino in the Fridge), a fun challenge!
I was very lucky to find my editor. I've had great exchanges with him in each of my projects -as an author-illustrator or illustrating texts-. He follows me, guides me in my explorations, my doubts, etc.
I think that I would have never created children’s books if I hadn’t crossed Olivier Douzou! It’s crazy when I think about it!

"Nino dans le Frigo" (Éditions du Rouergue, 1996)

"Le Petit Monde 1995"  ditions du Rouergue, 1996)

Q. What has been your favorite project that you have worked so far?
I love “On ne Copie Pas” (Do not Copy), this is the book that marks the beginning of our work in tandem with Olivier Douzou. 
It is also the book that allowed me to discover at what point the beauty in a series of images can contribute to the same title of the book as the text contributes to tell a book.  
With this book I felt I grew wings, and I realized that I was having so much fun working, that I was feeling good in what I was doing, that I was in the right place.. It is from this book that I wanted to go on and on with this adventure, look for stories, games, silliness and good drawing times.  

"On ne Copie Pas", text by Olivier Douzou  (Éditions du Rouergue, 1998), Bologna Ragazzi Award 1999

Q. What is the best advice that someone has given you in your illustration career?
“I’ll see you in one month, and you can show me a book project” -Olivier Douzou
I think it was the best thing that someone could have asked me: a challenge to accomplish.

Q. What advice would you give to people who aspire to be illustrators?
I would say without hesitating, that you need to believe in what you do, and most of all and above all, you need to have fun to draw and escape in the pictures. 

"The Land of Hungry Armadillos", by Lawrence David (Doubleday, Random House, 2000)

Merci beaucoup Frédérique !
Thank you so much for the inspiration Frédérique!

To read this post in French you can check it out here

Ana Aranda writes/illustrates for children and creates murals.
You can find her work at 
these different locations:
Twitter: @anaranda2

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