I have admired Marie Lafrance’s illustrations for French and English picture books for well over a decade. When another Canadian friend, Monica Kulling, author of THE TWEEDLES GO ELECTRIC, asked her publisher to send me a review copy of this picture book, I was enchantée with both text and artwork and thought it would be a great opportunity to interview the illustrator the same week I reviewed the new book. Marie is an award winning illustrator and she is French Canadian but kindly responded in English in the interview.
[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator? If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?
[ML] I happily am an illustrator, though I have to confess that I have two in-word stories started on years ago, on which I work at only in the summer. Thing is, I haven’t been able to come up with any images for them yet. Illustrator’s block. Maybe I’ll beg you to review it in, say, 20 years or so. I’ll let you know. Until then I’m totally taken by trying to make images work out.
[JM] Where are you from and how has that and/or where you have lived influenced your work?
[ML] I was born in Quebec City and I live in Montreal, in the french province of Quebec, Canada. I’ve spent a few years in San Francisco and New York in my twenty’s, traveling and drawing, basically, so I came back home to Montreal with a portfolio and started to freelance then and there.
Having been raised in French in a mostly English speaking continent exposed me to two very different approaches to images, European and American, I fed on both.
[JM] Quebec is on my bucket-list! Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.
I’ve always drawn pictures, and I’m never satistfied with what I do, so I work all the time to get it right. I was lucky that people who hired me didn’t complain that much, so I was able to practice to this day. I may sound coy when I say that, but truly I’m not, I’m so thankful! I’ve done images for kids and grown ups, for cough syrups and textbooks, billboards and magazines. I wasn’t that attracted to illustrating albums for kids until I mothered one (kid), then I’ve entered that world which opened for me a whole new spectrum of pictural freedom.
I’ve studied Graphic Arts and never practiced. but I think my approach to imaging is quite influenced by that.
[JM] Do you have a preferred medium to work in?
[JM] I used to draw in black and white with a pencil as a chid. I’ve made a career of painting my drawings in acrylics. I so love colours but I’ve always found it very hard to make them stand out. In the last few years I’ve been going back to black and white drawing with a pencil, then I color in Photoshop, using textures which I make out of anything I find underneath my work table. That new technique has given me freedom from the brushes and pigment so I can concentrate on the idea and the feeling instead.
[JM] Wow, I love this sensory approach, Marie! Do you have themes or characters you return to in your art?
[ML] As an illustrator, I have to grow into someone else’s story, and I love that, because it takes me where I wouldn’t have gone to naturally. I’ve been taken through journeys in many countries and tried to flesh out characters I wouldn’t have met, researched on animals and flora from all the continents. For a person like me who has to be drugged to board a plane because of anxiety problems, it’s a good way to travel the world.
What interests me most is drawing characters, and I’ve had a hard time at the beginning to put them into context, in rooms and cities and landscapes. I’m grateful to have had to do it! I also love to draw animals, to which I mostly give my dear dog’s soul and eyes.
[JM] What does your workspace look like?
[ML] I’ve shared studios in the past with other illustrators, that was great and helped me tremendously with becoming a professional. But now I’ve made my studio in my house and I work alone, in a room, which has come, increasingly, to give me the impression I live in my head. Whether this is good or bad remains to be seen!
[JM] Can you share a piece or two with us, maybe of a WIP, and the process of creating them?
[ML] These are from the latest released book I’ve been working on, The Tweedles go Electric, written by Monica Kulling. First I work on the characters, and rework them until I get it nailed. Here, you have the first and last version of each character.
Here are the thumbnail, WIP of color work and final for the car page. Before I started on this book it really annoyed me to have to draw cars!
Here is a link to an entry on my blog, which shows research for a bear character:
[JM] How did you go about the research for THE TWEEDLES GO ELECTRIC (which I am reviewing on Friday)? I love the artwork and perfect historical setting you have created.
Thanks so much! I had, of course, to research extensively for that book. I researched cars, but also clothes and furniture, houses and buildings, not to be caught into the sin of anachronism. That is the car that I used to figure out the Tweedle’s green wonder.
[JM] Which artists have influenced you the most over the years?
[ML] At the beginning I was in awe of M.C. Escher, René Magritte, Egon, Schiele, over the years there were so many, especially now with the internet and Facebook, I see so many great illustrators, to name a few, as they come, Martin Jarrie, Jon Klassen, Brad Yeo, Brian Cronin, Christopher Silas Neal, Edel Rodriguez, Luc Melanson, gee, all men, Isabelle Arsenault, Camilla Engman, Yuko Shimizu, Frédérique Bertrand…
[JM] What art do you have hanging in your apartment?
[ML] Not much really. I’m afraid I’m the two-dimensional type. I don’t have a lot of influence over what my living space looks like, let’s say it’s a work in progress situation, one day I’ll get to it.
Five Fun Ones to Finish! [JM] What word best sums you up?
[JM] If you could live anywhere for a few months, where would you go?
[ML] If I could be transported anywhere without having to board a plane I’d go to China or Japan.
[JM] What’s your go-to snack or drink to keep the creative juices flowing?
[ML] Coffee in the morning, wine at night, pretty run of the mill aren’t I?
[JM] Cats or dogs?
[ML] All of them, Lélé the dog, my favorite, and my daughter’s two cats, who have to live on separate floors, which makes our lives pretty complicated.
[JM] Which literary bad guy do you like the most?
[ML] Hmmm, I’ll go for Calvin.
[JM] Where can we find out more about you?
Website – http://marielafrance.
At my agent’s website – http://www.agoodson.com/marie-
Marie, thank you so much for sharing with us today! Wishing you continued success in all your projects.