I was born in a small town in Quebec on the 4th of July 1963. At the age of six, I received, in a Christmas stocking, a tiny picture book. This surprise so enchanted me that, since that day, I have cherished the dream of creating wonderful children’s book. After studying both Interior and Graphic Design, I worked, among other things, at the Association of Illustrators of Quebec as a secretary. This job showed me the wheels of the profession. Later, I worked as an assistant illustrator with an Internationally known illustrator for two years before I became a freelance illustrator myself. Twenty years later, I have numerous children’s book to my credit for both Canadian, American and European markets, and still have the passion for children’s book! I live in the cozy village of St-Armand in Quebec with my young son Luke.
Here’s France sharing her process:
This is a first sketch for the cover of the book: Une Grosse Surprise pour Petit Pingouin. I realized that the angle of the bear’s snout wasn’t ok according to the penguin.
Second sketch. I adjusted the angle of the snout.
I am satisfied by this sketch, then I shall go to the next step: the final drawing on watercolor paper.
I like to have severals research pictures to do an illustrations. Inspired by my way of working with the realistic style, I sometimes takes photos of objects appearing on my illustration, in order to have a realistic reference to work from. On this one, my young son, whom has been my assistant quite often, is holding a big balloon.
Here is the photo of a teddy, wearing a tiny scarf. With this reference, I can paint a scarf which has a real “wolly aspect”.
This is the color illustration for the cover of the book : Une Grosse Surprise pour Petit Pingouin (Dominique & Co. Publishing) This book is the first of a series of three.
How long have you been illustrating?
I began to illustrate professionally in the nearly 90s.
What was the first thing you painted when someone paid you for your work?
My first contract was to illustrate a Dictionary of the dreams. The illustrations were in black in white, but the project left a large place to the imagination.
Where did you study art?
When I was young, where I lived, there was no Art school, so I studied in Advertising drawing. After that, I worked as a secretary at the Association of Illustrators of Quebec. This job allowed me to know the best illustrators of the Quebec and especially, to become assistant of an internationally known illustrator.
What did you study there?
As an assistant illustrator, I had to work on the same illustration of my “boss”. She has a very realistic style, so I learned a lot to illustrate the “realistic way”.
Do you feel College helped develop your style?
Not really. I studied Advertising drawing, because if was the career choice which seemed rather creative and with a place for the drawing.
What type of work did you do after you got out of school?
After I graduate from Advertising drawing school, I showed my portfolio to several Advertising Agency. I had kept in my portfolio, the less technical work and choose rather the more creative ones. An Art director suggested me to get in touch with the Association of Illustrators of Quebec.
Did the college you attended help you get work when you graduate?
The College where I went had to help the graduates to find a job, but it didn’t happen. So I found a job in the basement of a shopping center, working as an assistant with the graphic designer of the place, in a dark, smelly, tiny studio. Not the greatest job!
Have you seen your work change since you left school?
My work changes a lot since I graduate. I had a style rather realistic, too much detailed and “busy.” I try more and more to simplify my illustrations, to do uncluttered images.
When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?
The choice of illustrating for children came naturally, because I liked very much to illustrate funny stories with a lot of imaginations!
What was your first book you had published?
The first book for children which was published, is a story that I wrote and illustrate at the age of 15, entitled: Les Petits Poux Vaga’bonds.
How did that contract come about?
This particular project was a youth dream. I did not want to wait until I was an adult to get published, so I proposed my project to several publishers and one of them accepted it. Otherwise, the first contract I had for a children’s book project, was a series of three small cardboard books for toddler with a Publisher from Quebec.
Did you do other types of illustrating before you got the book contract?
I Illustrated a lot for schoolbooks and youth novels.
How many picture books have you illustrated?
Approximately 15 children’s books.
Have you ever written and illustrated your own picture book?
I wrote and illustrated only one picture book, at the age of fifteen: Les Petits Poux Vaga’Bonds
Have most of your picture book been written in French?
No, most of the picture book that I illustrated were written in English.
What book do you think was your biggest success?
In Quebec, it is a book of a series of three entitled: Une Grosse Surprise pour Petit Ours (Dominique & Co. Publishing). In the U.S., the book “Sometimes We Were Brave” (Boyds Mills Press Publishing) received the 2010 First price Book Awards for the best Picture book, from The Society of School Librarians International.
Have you ever thought about doing a wordless picture book?
Yes, absolutely. Since my childhood, I dream to illustrate an Alphabet primer.
Do you have an artist rep? If so, who and how did you connect?
Yes, my artist rep is Wendy Lynn & Co. A few years before, I had approached several artist rep, unsuccessfully. I decided “to let go”, when Wendy proposed me her services!
Do you illustrate full time?
I use to illustrated full-time, but the market changed a lot since the advent of internet and vectorial images. Now a publisher can choose an illustrator from all around the World, often at very low rates. Also the vectorial images, the computer drawings became more and more popular.
Do you have a favorite medium you use?
Yes, watercolor for its transparency. It is an excellent medium to work the light effects.
Do you take research pictures before you start a project?
Yes, as I illustrated realistic images, I used many or research pictures. But even if my style is now less realistic, I choose, mainly on the web, many research pictures before beginning an illustration.
Do you use Photoshop with any of your work?
I use Photoshop little, either to clean-up a scanned image, or to adjust the light, the colors.
Do you have and use a graphic tablet?
I have a graphic tablet, but I do not use it. I prefer by far the contact with my brushes and the watercolor on the paper.
Do you do exhibits to show off your art?
Yes. I am actually preparing one in the local library of my town, showing all my major children’s book illustrations.
Would you be willing to work with a self-publisher picture book writer on a project?
Yes, and I have already did it. Twice in fact with two authors; the first story was from the writer Shari Cohen and her story: In my Zayde’s Eyes. The other one is from the writer Karen Pektau with her story: If Heaven is so Great, Why can’t I go Now?
Has any of your work appeared in magazines?
Yes, a few times, with Canadian magazines.
Do you have a studio in your house?
Yes, I love it to have my studio in my home; it is very practical; especially in winter!
Is there anything in your studio, other than paint and brushes that you couldn’t live without?
Yes, my drawing table of course and my computer. Even so I do not use it to do my illustrations, it is an essential tool for my research pictures. And also, a very large window to let the natural light comes in!
Do you follow any type of routine to attain your career goals?
I used to work 7/7 in my studio. When it wasn’t for a contract, it was for looking at Publishers which might be interested by my illustrations style. I always thought about new ideas to promote my work, but nevertheless I had less and less contracts. I realized that the market changed a lot and one of these changes was that the illustrations made by computer became more and more popular. So now, I am still in my studio every week day and more, but to work on different projects, not only illustrations contracts.
Any exciting projects on the horizon?
I have a portrait to do, which is something I like to do. But I would love to do another picture book!
Do you think the Internet has opened any doors for you?
Yes, but unfortunately, mostly No. My work is accessible to more people, however there are so many excellent illustrators worldwide, whom the publishers can also choose.
What are your career goals?
I dreamed of living from my illustrations work. I achieved this dream, even so it didn’t last for a life long! But it allowed me to explore other paths. Ultimately, I would like to create a second book for children written and illustrated by me.
What are you working on now?
I just completed to paint a winter scenery in the windows of the local library. I also teach a class of puppetry making and give private drawing lessons. I am also working on my solo exhibit, featuring all my major picture book illustrations, which is coming in January 2016. Finally, I also work on a portrait in watercolor. Even if I do not illustrate full-time anymore, I developed others center of interests which allows me to continue to work with my creativity.
Are there any painting tips (materials, paper, etc.) you can share that work well for you?
As my style of illustration was rather realistic, I did not work enough my drawing skills, by copying out as it stands my research pictures. Now, I still use research pictures, but I am inspired by them rather than copy out them entirely. The more I wish to realize uncluttered illustrations, the more I realize the importance to know how to draw and the capacity to see in 3D in my head and to transpose that on paper. Also, very important, the capacity to paint well the shade and the light, but especially to understand it!
Any words of wisdom you can share with the illustrators who are trying to develop their career?
Keep improving your drawing, your own style. Even in the field of illustration, there are fashions, trendy styles that for some reasons, are more attractive to Publishers in the present time. Never change your illustration style to fit any trend!
Thank you France 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 France’s work, you can visit her at website at: http://www.francebrassard.com/en/accueil
If you have a minute, please leave a comment for France. I am sure she’d love it and I enjoy reading them, too. Thanks!