How To Steal The Show With Paint Brushes? Ask Illustrator Charlotte Lemaire!
Think a gripping play only exists on the stage? Charlotte Lemaire’s evocative images might change (and blow) your mind! Wanting to become a scenographer initially, the French-based illustrator and author turned her passion for the theater into a bold exploration of picture books, where narratives and images coexist beautifully. A showstopper on paper, her works are packed with extraordinary characters and intriguing details that provoke our deeper emotions instantly. Want to know how she develops arresting stories from situations like eating a cake from the middle with a spoon? Make sure you read till the end to find out!
AWW: What do you want to explore and bring to people through your work?
Charlotte Lemaire: I want to explore a way of reaching places that exist in my mind and memories. I look for atmospheres and landscapes that lie between reality and fantasy. One of my main quests is to make picture books and illustrations that are relatable to grown-ups as much as they are to children.
AWW: How did you find your passion for illustration and develop your current style?
Charlotte: I wanted to become a scenographer at first, as I liked the idea of bringing visual and literary content together. I wanted to create small worlds in the theater for drama to be staged. I studied one year of art foundation and realized I had always had an interest in picture books. And picture books are — just like theater set design — a place for both words and images.
The style question is often tricky. I’ve developed a style as I learnt and worked on a technique (acrylic painting), by figuring out what I liked and what made me want to paint. I don't believe developing your own style through following someone else's is ever a goal.
AWW: Can you walk us through your creative process?
Charlotte: My illustrations usually start with the desire of taking the viewer to a specific atmosphere. To do so, I think about the colors and composition a lot, and most importantly, about the content and its narrativity. I am more interested in painting something narratively intriguing than drawing something technically good.
I normally sketch a small composition, and draw a frame around it in order to find the right image. Then I scan or photograph the small sketch and enlarge it to the size that I want for the final painting. Sometimes I trace the main lines on the paper with a red colored pencil before starting to paint. I first begin with a very light layer of red, orange or magenta, and after that I can paint with more opaque colors.
I like painting layers on top of layers, and highlighting the light wherever there’s no object. It is enjoyable to leave some items unfinished occasionally, draw very small details and keep more spontaneous parts in the same picture.
AWW: How do you stay motivated?
Charlotte: Here are the 6 things that help me stay motivated:
Think of future readers while I’m working on a picture book. I want them to enjoy looking at the spreads as well as reading the story. It’s like when you make a gift for somebody you care about, and picture the moment they open it as you’re preparing the gift.
Getting fresh brushes and sharp pencils. It makes me very happy to draw with a new tool.
Working on several projects at the same time (e.g. book project, client work, workshops for school students, etc.) I like to split the projects into smaller tasks and switch from one to another. However, I also enjoy painting for a long period of time without having any specific projects in mind.
Telling myself that ugly work has the right to exist and sometimes is necessary, in order to achieve better work later on.
Coming up with story ideas while I’m not actually at work. Sometimes I think of a little event to write about, or the dialogue of a story. I get excited about trying it out and seeing how the image and text work together.
Reading good picture books, seeing beautiful artworks, and being around other illustrators or visual artists.
AWW: Can you show us your studio or work desk? What are the 3 things that have inspired you most?
Charlotte: I used to work from home, but now I’m sharing a studio with three other illustrators in my city. I’m about to move places again soon and I really like this constant search for the ideal work space.
Recently, I’ve been very much inspired by the changes in nature as the new season arrives; I’m also inspired by toys and stop-motion cartoons. I regularly rewatch some episodes of The Magic Roundabout, Gumby and Pingu. Lastly, baking a cake and eating it from the middle with a spoon instead of cutting it in pieces. I usually keep this kind of events in mind and slip them into future stories.
To find out more about Charlotte Lemaire, please visit the artist’s IG account | @charlotte__lemaire
All images provided by Charlotte Lemaire.