Illustrator Interview – Frané Lessac

Frane Lessac PhotoNaturally, my greatest reason for inviting an illustrator to be interviewed on Miss Marple’s Musings is because I admire her/his art, but often it is also because I am a little nosy (what writer isn’t?) and I want to find out more about them. I knew Frané had the travel bug like me and some sort of French connection, and I wanted to know more!

In 2010 Frané was awarded The Muriel Barwell Award for Distinguished Service to Children’s Literature, and she has been a member of SCBWI for more than twenty years!

[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator? Author/illustratorIf the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?

[FL] My very first book began with a series of paintings, and from them I created a story (My Little Island). However, usually story comes first. From the words, visuals begin brewing in my imagination.

[JM] Where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your work?

[FL] I grew up in a small town outside of New York City. As a child I spent many weekends exploring museums and galleries in the city. I romanticized about becoming an artist one day. I can see now how my favorite artists have inspired me over time; Gauguin, Rousseau and Matisse.

Garden Rousseau

Garden Lessac

Garden Lessac

Lady With Guitar - Matisse

Lady With Guitar – Matisse

Lady With Fish - Lessac

Lady With Fish – Lessac

 

At eighteen, I moved to California and lived in a beach house in Malibu while studying Ethnographic Film at UCLA. The courses I undertook planted the seeds for my future children’s picture books, stories from around the world.

After finishing my studies, I moved to the Caribbean island of Montserrat and fell in love with the people and the island and began my career as a painter.

I met my Australian born husband in Bali (children’s book author Mark Greenwood) and together we moved to the enchanting port city of Fremantle, West Australia, where we presently live. I find the Australian landscape a brand new challenge. What inspires me most is the freshness of the scenery, the bright light, the ancient landscape and the distinctly blue Australian sky. Travelling continues to be a major source of inspiration for my work.

[JM] My favorite gallery when I lived in Nice was the Matisse Museum, set in an ancient olive grove! Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

[FL] When I was five, a neighbor started art classes in their attic on Saturday afternoons. It was the first time I was able to work on one piece continuously over a period of time. I was the youngest member and I remember my finished painting to this day – a spotty Dalmatian dog standing next to a bright red fire hydrant. In high school art classes, the teacher let me create whatever I desired to paint during the session. I believe this freedom was fundamental to discovering my own style.

It wasn’t until I moved to Montserrat that I realized I could share stories about people from around the world with art. I began painting the lush scenery, flora and fauna, and the colonial architecture.

On a trip to Haiti, I met other self-taught artists who instilled a sense of confidence to become a fulltime painter and exhibit my work. I didn’t realise until then that my primitive style of paintings were a legitimate art form known as naive art.

Returning to California to visit friends, I stumbled into the Fowler Mills Gallery that represented naive artists. The owner offered me my first solo show.

My next move was to the UK and Europe. I travelled between London, Paris and Rome painting and exhibiting my work, and I began writing and creating the illustrations for children’s picture books. I decided the best way to share Montserrat with the world would be to write and illustrate a book about this special place. My Little Island, my first book was published in 1983. It is a heartfelt tribute to the people and the wonderful years I spent on the island.

[JM] Do you have a preferred medium to work in?

[FL] For large paintings on canvas I use oils. My palette is over 30 years old. Every oil painting I’ve ever created has a dab of history on here.

Palette

Paints

paint brushes

                                                                           For my picture books, I use gouache paint on watercolor paper. I prefer the denseness of colour and the ability to paint over the background.

[JM] Do you have themes or characters you return to in your art?

[FL] My cat Milo is in almost all my books. Although Milo is no longer with us, he lives on, hidden in my work.

[JM] I wish I were an illustrator and could do that! Frané, I am in awe that you have been published since 1984! What would you say has been the biggest change in children’s publishing for you in the past thirty years?

[FL] I’m embarrassed to say that when I started illustrating it was before home computers, fax machines and the Internet! The onset of this ‘fairly recent’ technology has changed the way I work. Instead of a month postal service turnaround, I can now share preliminaries and finished art with an editor in real time. I have the advantage of working ‘from the future’ by living in West Australia – 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time in NY!

The biggest medium change is having all the wonderful illustration programs to create art that can then be emailed straight to the printer.

The shelf life of books in shops is shorter these days due to increased competition, and more people are self-publishing and selling online. The market is expanding with eBooks. These changes will alter the way we interact with books in the future. As far as themes, there’s an old saying: “There’s nothing new under the sun, but the sun itself”. In other words, new ways to tell stories will continue to evolve. What is exciting are picture books for older readers which deal with complex issues never explored before in an illustrated format.

[JM] Can you share a piece or two with us, maybe of your latest book, and the process?

[FL] The majority of my projects take three to fours years, from the original concept to the finished book. This includes travelling for research (and waiting for a final manuscript). Each painting can take up to three days. I try and visit the places where the story is set, whether it’s a remote Indigenous community in Australia, to the battlefields of Gallipoli in Turkey, or the islands of the Caribbean and Polynesia, or the Sahara Desert in Morocco. I try and immerse myself in the various cultures. I visit museums and libraries. I watch films and documentaries. I immerse myself in books about the subject. For my latest book, The Mayflower, I visited the Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts and the home of the Mayflower II replica. In picture book format, the Mayflower’s voyage was a little know slice of the Pilgrim story. I had to rely on the few artifacts and the Plimoth Plantation Museum’s living history, built on thorough research about the Wampanoag People and the Colonial English community in the 1600s. Here are a couple of my prelim sketches to the finished art.

Mayflower 6-7prelim

Mayflower 6-7prelim

Mayflower, 6-7-art

Mayflower, 6-7-art

Mayflower 8-9 prelim

Mayflower 8-9 prelim

Mayflower 8-9 art

Mayflower 8-9 art

Mayflower 32 prelim

Mayflower 32 prelim

Mayflower 32-art

Mayflower 32-art

Mayflower Cover

Mayflower Cover

My blog has a big focus on diversity, which has become quite a buzzword in kid lit over the past year or so. But tell us a little how this has been part of your creativity and mission from the beginning.

Perhaps diversity is the new buzzword, but I’ve been creating books focusing on diversity for over thirty years. It is second nature to me. When I was living in the Caribbean, I noticed that the children on the islands had little in the way of picture books, let alone books where they could identify themselves or their place. That became the inspiration for creating my first book about that beautiful little island. I feel that children need to develop a worldview so they can appreciate the richness of other cultures while at the same time celebrate their own uniqueness and place in the world.Books can help children go to places they never imagined and show them things that inspire their minds.Children need to have books about their own culture and books that expose them to other cultures too.

BOOK COVERS

[JM] The Mayflower is the perfect Thanksgiving Picture Book gift! What does your workspace look like?

lessac studio 3

lessac studio 4

lessac studio 7

[JM] What artwork do you have hanging in your house?

[FL] I collect naive and whimsical art from around the world.

IMG_1910

IMG_1905

IMG_1912

IMG_1904

[JM] There’s a fabulous collection of art naif in a gallery in Nice, if you ever get to visit there!

Five Fun Ones to Finish                                                                                                    [JM] What’s your favorite park in the world?

[FL] Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) National Park in Central Australia

Kata Juta

Kata Juta

[JM] Cats or dogs?

[FL] Both. I had many pets as a child: cats, dogs, snakes and a monkey. Once, my father brought home a camel!

Rusty

Rusty

Dad with Camel

Dad with Camel

[JM] Fact that most people don’t know about you?

[FL] My earlobes don’t match.

One word to describe yourself?

[FL] Fun

[JM] Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?

[FL] Blueberries. Stems back to my favorite book as a child: Blueberries for Sal

books

[JM] Where can we connect with you?                                                                              Facebook: Frané Lessac                                                                                               Instagram: franelessac                                                                                                      Twitter: franelessac                                                                                                               Blog: franelessac.com

Frané, you may have already been, but if not, you would love Nice (where I lived thirteen years). Kata Tjuta is so different from the parks other illustrators have chosen. I would love to see this landscape. Thank you for such a visual and inviting snapshot into your life and art. 

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16 Responses to Illustrator Interview – Frané Lessac

  1. Oh, Frané, I love your work! It’s absolutely mesmerizing. We had a cat named Milo too. We miss him very much. I plan on writing a picture book about him. I loved this interview, Joanna. Excellent. Diversity IS the new buzzword. I loved the story about the children and that island and how it was the inspiration for your first picture book. You have lived a full and wonderful life. It has been very nice spending time with you and my friend, Joanna.

  2. Wow, Frané, I love your artwork. It is so bright, happy and fun! What an amazing life you’ve had traveling — but you can see it in your illustrations and stories. Some of the covers looked familiar to me, but I can’t wait to check out your work. I’ve been blogging about diversity and ability for over 3+ years. I’m so glad that it is being recognized by publishers. Great interview, ladies.

  3. I love your style and the colours are so rich. What a fabulous life travelling all around. I agree France is so inspiring with all the art galleries.

  4. Being a homebody, I am always interested in reading about those who love to travel and lead peripatetic lives. I adore the vibrant colors of Frane’s art. I can’t believe her family had a camel! Once again, it’s been fun to learn about another illustrator…thanks, Joanna and Frane! Oh, and matching earlobes are highly over-rated. 😉

  5. rhythm says:

    Oh I think I love this lady!! You find the most interesting folks to interview!! I’m out to look for some of her books now! That Heart of Texas caught my eye! Thanks for sharing Ms Marple!

  6. Erik - TKRB says:

    Great post! 😀 I like Ms. Lessac’s artwork! 😀

  7. Love these interviews! And a camel? I’m going to be pondering that one for a bit. 🙂

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