October 23, 2018

Let's Talk Illustrators #87: Josée Bisaillon

Ten Cents a Pound by Nhung N. Tran-Davies and Josée Bisaillon is one of those rare mirrors and windows books. It's a mirror in the sense that any parent can understand working themselves down to the bone for their child's future, and it's a window, at least for me, into everyday Vietnamese culture and life beyond the glamour shots we see in the movies. With touch points any parent can understand, like wanting your child to get a better education that you did, or wanting them to simply sprout wings and leave the nest, this book kindly and gently reveals a mother-daughter relationship no parent or child will soon forget. I got a chance to talk to Josée about her illustration process, both for this book and in general, and it's an honor to share that conversation here today.


About the book:
A young girl and her mother have a loving, passionate conversation with each other. The girl is torn between her desire to stay home with her family and the familiarity of their village, and her desire to go to school and discover the world beyond the mountains that surround them. Every time the girl insists that she will stay, her mother repeats that she must go, that there is more to life than the labor in the coffee trees.

Let's talk Josée Bisaillon!


LTPB: When you received the manuscript for Ten Cents a Pound, what about it drew you in? What is your personal connection to this story?

JB: I had the chance to receive two manuscripts from the Editor at Second Story Press. I was blown away by Ten Cents a Pound. Usually I take a few days (even a few weeks!) before accepting a manuscript, but for this one, I think I answered back within the hour. I was so excited about it! I felt the story was touching, tender, simple, and so meaningful. I like picture books with strong female characters. This one was a special one. A mother who is willing to do anything for her daughter’s education…Being a mother of 3 kids who have the chance to have a free education in a peaceful country, Ten Cents a Pound really got me thinking. 




Also, when I received the manuscript, I was preparing a trip to Vietnam with my family. I felt this couldn’t be a coincidence, I had to illustrate this wonderful story.

LTPB: You reveal what Mama looks like in a very specific way, one part at a time. Can you talk a little bit about the visual evolution of the characters and why you chose to reveal them in this particular way?

JB: When I first read the manuscript, I felt like I was entering the private life of this mother/daughter duo. This subject is so sensitive, I felt like if we could only see some close-up of the mother at first, it was like preserving her privacy. I know she’s only a book character, but I really felt like it! And the more we progress into the book, the more we get to know her, the more we discover her.



LTPB: What kind of research did you do (factually and visually) to get your images right? How did you mix in the realities of your research with your own unique art style? 

JB: While doing my research for the book, I was also doing research for my trip, so this was a lot of fun. I had to do the sketches before my trip, then the final artwork when I got back from Vietnam. During my month in Vietnam, I sketched everything I could to try to capture the feel of the place, the smell, the people, landscapes… I took a lot of pictures. I also looked at a lot of pictures on the internet and at the library. Usually, what I found was only pictures of wonderful landscapes, but I had trouble finding pictures of the ordinary life. 



It was particularly difficult to find images of coffee workers in Vietnam. Almost every picture I found was a picture of happy, clean and well-dressed people picking coffee fruits. Of course it wasn’t what I wanted to represent. I did my best for the sketches, but I had to do some modifications to them when I got back, as I really wanted the artwork to be accurate and respectful of the characters' personalities. I also bought clothes that I scanned and then used the print in the book, like the girl’s skirt and the mother’s scarf.


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?

JB: I use a lot of medium! Usually it’s colored pencils, pastels, cut paper, watercolor/ink and Photoshop. I do all the illustrations and backgrounds traditionally, then I scan it and put them together in Photoshop. For Ten Cents a Pound, I wanted to feel the earth, the dirt and dust, but I also wanted to show a certain softness, so I used a lot of charcoal and pastels. 



I love using different techniques. It gives me a lot of possibilities. If I want to give a bold feel to an album, I can use bold collages, If I want to give a soft feel, I use more pastels, etc. And it leaves a lot of room for accidents and mistakes which sometimes bring me to a whole new world!

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

JB: I’m working on a lot of projects! I just finished the illustrations for a board book. I’m also working on a picture book written by Jan L. Coates with Running the Goat, a publisher based in Newfoundland. I don’t know if I can say something about the text, but I sure can show you some illustrations!


Also, the first book I wrote and illustrated just came out this Fall. I was so excited, yet so nervous! It’s in French and it’s called Reviens sur Terre Esther!.


And Ten Cents a Pound will be out in French in Québec this month. I’m really happy about it, since French is my first language. My kids will be able to read it!

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

JB: That’s a tough question! There are so many illustrators I admire. Maybe I would say Wolf Erlbruch, since I fell in love with illustrations looking at his work. I found his way of using drawings and cut paper really fascinating, and it got me experimenting this way of working, too.

I think having my life illustrated by Kveta Pacovska would be pretty amazing, too!

A million thanks to Josée for taking time to answers some questions! Ten Cents a Pound published from Second Story Press earlier this year.

Special thanks to Josée and Second Story Press for use of these images!





This post contains affiliate links. For more information, visit my policies & disclosures page

No comments: