May 22, 2018

Let's Talk Illustrators #71: Jean Claverie

We Are Brothers tells the story of two brothers who bond during a summer day. Yves Nadon's words are evocative and poetic, while Jean Claverie's illustrations make the book feel timeless and warm. It's a celebration of bravery, faith, and love, and I was very honored to chat with Jean about how the images in this book came to life.

About the book:
Every summer, two brothers swim to the rock, and one jumps off. But this summer, it's time for both of them to take the leap. In this moving coming-of-age story, a younger brother discovers newfound strength, courage, and joy, thanks to the support of his older brother––and the persuasiveness of his own imagination.

Peek underneath the dust jacket here.

Let's talk Jean Claverie!

LTPB: Let’s start by talking about your newest book We Are Brothers. Why do you think you were asked to work on this project? As you got to know the brothers, how did your illustrations change?

JC: When Rita Marshall asked me to illustrate We Are Brothers by Yves Nadon I really fell in love with the strong, rich and very short story. As I had written and illustrated stories whose characters were black (the three Little Lou books), I suppose Yves and Rita probably choose me for this reason, but they never confirmed that.

I started working on two white middle class boys when Rita and Yves suggested that I try two African American boys instead. I immediately understood that it was much more interesting this way: this family is a typical American family, spending their holiday in a country house, and racial questions are eliminated.

LTPB: The design of this book is amazing (including the lovely case cover and cloth binding)! How involved were you with designing the book?

JC: How lucky we are to still bind books with such beautiful cloth bindings. Here in France it would be far too expensive! I usually love designing my own books because I’ve often been so disappointed by graphic designers who read the story superficially… But when it’s Rita, I definitely trust her taste. She is one of the best art directors in the world. I drew on full spreads and then she introduced the white space for the text (except for the Cat, Bird and Fish spreads) so that the reader can stop reading and start dreaming.

LTPB: What differences have you found between creating a picture book on your own (text and illustrations) versus illustrating someone else’s text?

JC: It seems that creating both pictures and text would naturally offer you full freedom, and actually it’s true. But it’s sometimes difficult to assign a “box” to the different components: text-box or picture-box? The absolute rule being: avoid repetition or pleonasm!
On the other hand, illustrating someone else’s text is a challenge. You have to find your path… and the best attitude is probably the passionate readers attitude: what do the words suggest to your culture, your mind, your own experience… It means you can only work on a text you really love, (according to me).

LTPB: What did you use to create the illustrations in this book? Is this your preferred medium? How does your process change from book to book?

JC: For this book I had a feeling it had to be energetic: everything happens in one single summer day. Instead of sketches, I could have painted American landscapes, dark waters with reflections of clouds, but it would have been wrong according to the aerial style of Nadon’s way of telling this story. So I used recycled paper, pastels and a sharp carbon pencil. It was Lautrec’s technique. Very simple, the line has to be accurate right from the beginning because, if the drawing becomes muddy, you have to redo the whole thing.

LTPB: What are you working on now? Anything you can show us?

JC: The Art of Boredom with Michelle Nikly. Previously we made together: The Art of the Potty, The Art of Reading, and The Art of Kissing.

I am also starting a winter-medieval story, which you can see here:

LTPB: If you were to write your picture book autobiography, who would you want to illustrate it (dead or alive!), and why?

JC: Alive: someone like Gary Kelley above all, Georges Lemoine for his lightness or Roberto Innocenti for his accuracy…

Dead: Dürer for his landscapes, Lautrec for his elegance at drawing characters, Poulbot, the underestimated, for his simple little kids…

But maybe tomorrow, I would give you a different answer, this is so difficult…

Merci beaucoup to Jean for answering some questions for me! We Are Brothers published from Creative Editions in March 2017!

Special thanks to Jean and Creative Editions for use of these images!

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