1. Tell us about yourself.
I am mostly a children’s book illustrator. I wrote one about travelling with my parents’ theater troupe in Italy called, The Year I Didn’t Go to School. I have illustrated over 25 other children’s books, too.
I also do editorial illustration for numerous publications and some advertisement including a series of animated ads for the British laundry soap, Persil.
I live in the Hudson Valley with my two daughters and my husband who carves stumps into stools.
2. How did you get started as an illustrator?
After I graduated from RISD, I moved to New York and showed my portfolio to magazines. The day I went the New Yorker it was pouring. I was carrying a box of original paintings instead of prints and I had died my dress blue and all the dye was running down my legs. So it was a little embarrassing when the art director Own Phillips actually came out to meet me. I was so surprised that he actually bought art right then and there and then hired me to do more. Anne Schwartz, the children’s book editor I still work with now, saw a New Yorker illustration and offered me my first children’s book.
3. How did you find your style? Has it changed since you started?
I never tried to find a style. I think the look of my pictures just comes from all the things that I like to look at: folk art, Italian frescoes, Mexican retablos, my grandfather’s portraits, and vintage clothes and patterns.
My work has changed because I used to use ink more that was translucent and textured but the inks faded over time and people complained. Then I began using thick gouache on thicker paper, and then a few people asked if I would ever go back to my early “style”. Now I am somewhere in between using liquid water color what more texture but less loose and free as my old pictures. Somehow the more pictures I make the more detailed and tight they are.
I guess I have a style whether I try or not, but my intention is to be honest and personal.
4. Can you briefly explain your creative process, mediums, etc?
I do rough sketchy sketches with pencil and scan them for the art director. When the sketch is approved I hold it up in the light of the window and transfer it to nicer paper and begin to paint. If the painting isn’t working out how I want it to, sometimes I paint layers over it or glue parts over it or just start over (but that is rare).
5. How do you come up with new ideas? Do you have a process?
Usually I paint other people’s ideas or what I think other people’s ideas are because I get stories sent to me. It is usually pretty easy for me to think of the imagery when I read something, but sometimes no imagery comes to mind and I make frustrated, horrible doodles for hours before anything surfaces.
6. Do you ever have creative slumps? What do you do then?
Yes! Sometimes I try using a new kind of paint or just a new color. Sometimes I look at art books and old magazines and put pictures I like up on the wall above my desk. Sometimes I just take a walk.
7. Best / most fun part of your job:
I feel so lucky to be able to do what I like most, make pictures, for a living. I am so lucky to have such a flexible, free schedule.
I also really like that I have to work with other people’s ideas and opinions and stories so my art isn’t just about me.
8. Worst / most difficult part of your job:
The times when I don’t know what is next.
9. Do you have side projects you work on?
I make pictures from old photographs and collage and sometimes embroider.
10. What’s on your horizon? Any current/future projects and plans/dreams you can share with us?
– I am trying to write another children’s book about my grandparents or my dad.
– I am going to paint from a friend’s collection of strange photographs.
– My husband and I are going to collaborate on some woodcuts.
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5 things inspiring you/your work right now:
German educational posters
My kid’s drawings
Vintage wallpaper and textile patterns
Metallic and fluorescent colors
Strange old photographs
3 constants in your day:
Lying down and staring at the ceiling or out the window to think
Planning out my next meal
Your #1 art tip or words of wisdom:
Making art should be as fun as it was when you were little.
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Thank you for this interview, Giselle! I know that I, myself, have swooned over every book of yours I’ve gotten my hands on, so I’m thrilled to know more about the illustrator behind the scenes. Your work is so fun and unique!