December 11, 2018

Let's Talk Illustrators #92: Isabelle Simler

I was lucky enough to chat with author-illustrator Isabelle Simler about her illustration and story processes for her 2018 picture book A Web. Isabelle has more than proven herself to be a master of her craft, what with numerous awards and endless praise on books like Plume and The Blue Hour. Today I talked to Isabelle about what it's like to look at the world through the lens of another (in this case, a spider!) and how she sets herself up to tackle these new challenges and points of view. Enjoy!

About the book:
Look closely as a spider––both a collector and an artist––skillfully crafts a masterpiece from all that falls into her path.

Let's talk Isabelle Simler!

LTPB: Where did the idea for A Web come from? What does nature mean to you personally that you focus on it so heavily on in your work? 

IS: In drawing the book A Web I had the feeling to talk a little about my way of working: A spider that accumulates a lot of little treasures of nature to do something else. I am very interested in the behavior of animals and I like to observe nature. Also, the starting point of a new book is often a detail that arouse my curiosity. Drawing is a very good excuse to go and see things more closely. By starting to make picture books, I spontaneously turned to nature, I really cannot explain why .... An intimate attraction, something that calms me deeply just like drawing.

LTPB: Why do you choose to explore nature through someone else’s eyes (the cat in Plume, the spider in A Web)? How do you choose the character who will be the “explorer”? 

IS: I really like this approach which is to try to put oneself in the shoes of the animal that one draws. When I choose to represent a cat, a spider or a snail, I try to understand how he perceives the world, what he sees, what he feels. What determines the choice of an animal rather than another is, first of all, the desire to draw it, its shape, its texture, its colors, a curiosity and an attraction. I think we always have a lot of empathy for what we choose to draw. This was the case for the spider (not a huge hairy but rather one with a small body and long graceful legs). It is an animal absolutely fascinating and unfairly unloved.

While doing the book Plume, I had a lot of fun with the "off camera" of the image and this cat that turns around the book and sometimes slips his nose or his tail between the pages. With the book La toile I wanted to extend this game of the intruder which brings a movement, an agitation in the book. The spider weaves a narrative thread that brings us to her web. The book can be read as a documentary and / or as a story told between the lines by the spider. I like the idea that there are several readings, several possible paths in a book.

LTPB: How do you begin your illustrations? How do they evolve? And what do you use to create your illustrations? 

IS: The first step is observation. I am researching a lot upstream. Still images but also moving images to understand the movement of the body, legs ... I like this stage of discovery that inspires me a lot. The first drawings, sketches and structure of the book are often done with colored pencils. The next step, the big spreads of the book are drawn directly on a graphics tablet connected to my computer. I like this tool which is very precise and allows me to enter the details of my drawings with a lot of finesse. So far I have always used this tool for my picture books. The drawing is transformed over time. It is not frozen and that's what makes the adventure interesting.

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

IS: I have just finished a big book about birds that took me several months. Here are some pages of the book and some sketches.

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

IS: Difficult question...Maybe Anthony Browne because I like his world or Albertine for her sensitive line.

A million thanks to Isabelle for taking time to answers some questions! The Web published from Peter Pauper Press in October!

Special thanks to Isabel and Peter Pauper Press for use of these images!

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