Fabrice Boulanger was born in Belgium. After some Art Studies, he pursues with Cinema Studies. But soon he decides to give up this long and expensive medium and turns towards illustration and comics instead. He choses to specialize in youth illustration, because it allows more freedom than comics.
In 2000, he moves to Quebec (Canada), where his career as a youth illustrator soon takes off. Passionate about writing as much as illustration, he goes into storybook writing in 2005, with the collection entitled «Archimède Tirelou» (éditions Michel Quintin), which he also illustrates. Since then, Fabrice Boulanger works as much as an illustrator than as an writer, and now has more than 70 books under his belt. He writes storybooks as much as teen novels, and illustrates storybooks, novels, posters and board games.
In 2013, he has been awarded the Libraires du Québec Literary Award for his controversial book «Ma soeur veut un zizi» published by Éditions de la Bagnole. For now, he’s working on a collection of picture books adapting some Fantastic classical masterpieces (also published by Éditions de la Bagnole).
– In most cases, I tend to start by deciding on the look of each character. It is much more easier to imagine them in movement afterwards. Here are the characters for L’étrange cas du Dr. Jekyll et de M. Hyde.
Next, if I am working on a picture book, I draw a sketch showing all the pages of the book. Usually, I am the only one who can decipher these tiny drawings. Here is the sketch of the pages for Vingt Mille Lieues sous les mers.
The following step involves drawing each illustration with more details. The result of this step is what I generally submit to the publisher and writer. Here is the first draft of the cover for a novel written by Martine Latulippe (« Mystère chez Marie-P »)
For the coloring, I go on quite roughly at first. I just place different colours on the drawing to define the general ambiance of the illustration.
Still rather roughly, I put the colours on the characters. Since I’m working on the computer, it is easy enough to adjust the colours to the background. Working on the computer does not require previous colour tests anymore, because I can easily modify the hues on the final illustration.
Now I can work on the details. Here, the character in the foreground.
The character in the background.
For the floor, I added some tiles from a photograph
Then I improved the floor by adding the character’s reflection. I also put on some textures. It is funny how when working with watercolours on paper, for example, a great amount of the textures, smears, and drops come by accidentally, giving some dynamism to the image. Working on the computer, these «accidents» must be deliberately added, though, in order to end up with the same dynamism.
Finally, the coloured background and the upper border for the title are added. The illustration is cropped to fit the cover’s final format.
The final cover.
How long have you been illustrating?
For over twenty years.
What was the first thing you painted where someone paid you for your work?
Plants and roots for a fertilizers label contract. Not the most exciting contract!
Where did you study art?
At St. Luke Institute, in Liege (Belgium). This is where I did my studies in illustration and comics.
What did you study there?
I had the choice between illustration and comics. Soon enough, I chose children illustration, which suited me better.
Do you feel College helped develop your style?
Yes, it did help a lot. Not so much for style, but for technique. Actually, before my studies at St. Luc, I had mostly learned to decal images. But there I really learned to draw with live models and to mobilize my creativity for the benefit of a script.
What type of work did you do after you got out of school?
I didn’t immediately begin to work as an illustrator. I did several little jobs, like working in a grocery store, or even on production lines in big companies. There is a lot of illustrators in Europe and the market is really saturated, so it’s not easy to enter it. I did meet some rare publishers, but it did not lead to anything.
Did the college you attended help you get work when you graduated?
No, absolutely not. After graduation, it is every man for himself. In the end, I think it’s better this way. In our milieu, we are freelance workers, so it is necessary to know how to manage to find your own place. You must not wait for the others to open the doors for you.
Have you seen your work change since you left school?
Yes, absolutely. If after twenty years my work hadn’t evolved, I would have stopped long ago. I’m working mostly to improve myself. My drawing is more self-assured, I went from watercolour to computer illustration, and my color job is more elaborate. Everything has changed and is still changing!
What made you move to Canada?
I met my wife, who is Canadian, after a writing contest of which we were both prizewinners. After a few years of dating and travelling from a country to the other, we have decided to move in together in Quebec / Canada.
Did you speak French in Belgium, or did you have to learn French when you moved to Canada?
Yes, French is my mother tongue and also the only one I am able to speak:-)
When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?
Starting from my studies in St. Luc. At first, I was going to that college with the intention of learning comic strip, but I found that the strip was too visually restrictive, and also medium restrictive. Moreover, I liked the world of childhood, and I wanted to draw for this public!
What was your first book you had published?
La Princesse Pommeline, which is the only book I have ever made with my wife (she wrote the story). It narrates the story of a girl who is looking for her prince charming. When I look at the drawings today… Hou…la…la…
How did that contract come about?
My wife had written an interesting story. I did a storyboard and a few colour pictures in order to define the style. We sent the result to several publishers, and one of them answered positively. As simple as that.
Did you do other types of illustrating before you got the book contract?
No, I always worked in the field of children books.
Have you ever illustrated a picture book in English?
No, I did not have this opportunity yet.
Have you ever written and illustrated you own picture book?
Yes, I write and illustrate a lot of my books. I also have a scriptwriter’s schooling, which gave me of good basis in writing. Having begun my illustrator’s career, I soon wanted to write my own projects. So I started with the series “Archimède Tirelou” and since then, I created many others.
What book do you think was your biggest success?
Commercially speaking, it is difficult to say. Many of my books have been on the market for years and will be for a while. Personally speaking, I would say the series on which I’m working: the adaptation in picture books of fantastic classical masterpieces. It is an interesting challenge as for the text and a real pleasure to illustrate. The series includes six titles for now, but it is meant to keep growing.
Have you ever won an award for your writing and illustrating? Can you tell us about it?
Yes, in 2013, I received the Booksellers of Quebec Award (Prix des Libraires) for the book Ma soeur veut un zizi (My sister wants a willy). This book caused a small scandal. It tells the story of a little girl who enjoys discovering the anatomy of his older brother. The book handles the subject with humour and simplicity. Kids like it. But, let’s say, everything is shown in the images: penis, vulva, buttocks, breasts, everything. My intent, by making this book, was to put myself at the level of the children. The body is not a taboo for them, because in their world, the sexual aspect does not exist. Thus, we can show and speak about the body without any constraint.
When the book was released, some parents (anchored as they were in their adult’s life) found the book was shocking (they saw a small willy drawn in the book of their toddler, how awful!), to the extent that a negative TV report about the book passed on an important television channel of Quebec. That being said, the arguments of the critics against the book were so badly constructed that nobody took them seriously. Quite the opposite: this report was a huge publicity for the book. Moreover, as if to prove it was not that bad, it was awarded a prize.
Since then, many parents in book fairs have come and thank me for having dared to make a book like this. They simply say: « At last! »
Have you ever thought about doing a wordless picture book?
I do have a project of a book without text. I have already proposed it to some publishers, but precisely because there is no text, that does not interest them very much. Besides, the subject being mourning, and the story taking place during the World War I, I must admit that it is not very funny.
Do you have an artist rep? If so, who and how did you connect? If not, would you like to find an agent?
No. But since I also write, and thus do not illustrate for part of the year, I would not be very profitable for an agent.
Do you illustrate full time?
60 % illustration, 25 % writing, 15 % educational activities in schools.
Do you have a favourite medium you use?
Working with computer makes my life so much easier. I couldn’t live without it.
Do you take research pictures before you start a project?
Google is the key. It is magical. And yes, for some images, I do need documentation.
Do you use Photoshop with any of your work?
Yes, for everything. From the first sketch to the final image.
Do you have and use a graphic tablet?
Yes, the Wacom Cintiq. Another tool without which I could not live anymore.
Do you do exhibits to show off your art?
No, exhibitions are not my cup of tea! It requires a great amount of energy, for not so much visibility at the bottom of the line. I make images meant to be in books, to go with a story, to be seen by children before going to bed. I feel that my drawings do not belong on a gallery wall, that this is not their place.
Would you be willing to work with a self-publisher picture book writer on a project?
This kind of self-publishing projects, or even projects coming from beginning publishers, are, for me, risky projects. I am kind of wary. I am afraid the distribution will be bad, or non-existent; same thing for the advertising. Contracts are badly written, the publisher or the author do not know their job properly, etc. In brief: big loss of energy and time, and remuneration is really not appealing.
Has any of your work appeared in magazines?
I made two covers for a fantastic literary magazine a few years ago, but it is not my niche, really.
Do you have a studio in your house?
Is there anything in your studio, other than paint and brushes that you couldn’t live without?
Yes, an old sweater from my grandmother. It is my work cloth! Wintertime is very cold in our part of the world! 🙂 I am sentimentally attached to it, it is really like my second skin. As soon as I sit to work, I need to wear it… Well, not when it is 85 F outside… Yes, in summer, it can be this hot! Surprising, isn’t it? 🙂
Do you follow any type of routine to attain your career goals?
I hate routine, I think it is harmful! I’d rather follow my desires when they come up and make whatever I want whenever I want it. We only have 75 years to live on this little planet, at the best, and I do not want to lose time with things that do not interest me. This is one of my goals! Besides, I already make a living from my work. According to me, this is already a great success.
Any exciting projects on the horizon?
Yeah… but I do not want to say too much about it. I am working on a personal project: a series of illustrated youth novels about a famous historic figure who revolutionized the art of cooking at one time. I am also carrying on with my series of fantastic classical masterpieces, and I am launching a new series for very young readers with the author Martine Latulippe, with whom I work very often.
Do you think the Internet has opened any doors for you?
Well, one thing is certain: the Internet allows more visibility, and this cannot be ignored. That being said, I do not engage very much in publicity, just because I do not feel the need of it. I work a lot on my own projects. I admit that I do not use the Internet to its full potential.
What are your career goals?
Quite simple: I wish to continue devoting myself to what really interests me.
What are you working on now?
The adaptation of a short story, « La main » (« The hand ») by Guy de Maupassant. It is a picture book intended for kids, which the main character is a hand… a cut hand! That’s a big challenge! But I think the result will be quite interesting…
Are there any painting tips (materials, paper, etc.) you can share that work well for you? Technique tips?
For those who want to get accustomed to draw on computer, I really recommend working with a Cintiq. I know it is a lot of money, but it is so comfortable and natural. If Cintiq did not exist, I doubt I would have made the move towards computer.
Any words of wisdom you can share with the illustrators who are trying to develop their career?
Before anything else, don’t get discouraged and be patient. One doesn’t enter this milieu in a blink of an eye. It takes time. Don’t hesitate to send portfolios regularly to some publishers, and then call them and try to find what they think about it. Contemplate sending your work directly to authors, because they have their say when it comes to choose an illustrator. Join some online communities of illustrators, like SCBWI, Mundo Illustration, Deviant art, etc. You must make yourself visible and, above all, you must believe in you.
Thank you Fabrice for sharing your talent, process, journey, and expertise with us. Please make sure you keep in touch and share your future successes with us. To see more of Fabrice’s work, you can visit her at website at: http://www.fabriceboulanger.com/
If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Luanne. I am sure he’d love it and I enjoy reading them, too. Thanks!