Joelle Jolivet is not just an illustrator, she is interested in the relationship between text and pictures
It was refreshing for French illustrator Joelle Jolivet to work with brush and ink because she usually works with linocut.
“Working with linocut is a long process and at first I tried to work as usual and it didn’t work because this book is full of movement,” said Jolivet, at an interaction before a public discussion about her collaborative work The Honey Hunter with Karthika Nair.
“It was really exciting and liberating to do that because with linocut one is always under control, drawing and redrawing. But with the brush it’s the feeling that directly translates onto the paper.” Though Joelle says she finds working on children’s books interesting, it’s not her first love.
“It’s the place you can really work on the book the way you want to and work with publishers, on the paper and the printing. Illustrating for a book is not just about drawing. When I take up a story, I think of everything from the size of the book, the paper to the colours. It’s a whole process.”
What she finds most exciting, she says, is to take a story and imagine the pictures that one wants to put on it. “The most exciting moment is when I read the story and it’s all in my head and after that the most difficult part is to put it on paper.”
Joelle, studied graphic art and advertising at the School of Applied Arts in Paris and then went on to do a lithography workshop at the Beaux Arts School. Lithography has, since then, been a major part of her work in illustrating books and book covers.
“I almost always draw in black and white with big lines. The thing with linocuts is that there is no grey, it’s just black and white. It’s a simple way of drawing, to simplify the subjects. And I see in black and white, not in volumes. I love printmaking whether it’s silk screen or engraving. I am drawn to handmade books.”
Book covers, have been integral part of her work because it’s simple, to find one idea to illustrate the book without having to show everything there is in it.
“But I am not just an illustrator; I am interested in the relationship between text and pictures. I don’t like it when an illustration is too far away from the text. It’s important to think of the reader. The key to good illustration is to be free and imaginative and not to forget who is reading the book.”
Joelle feels that France has been the place where the most interesting work has been done in children’s books. “It’s strange, I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because we have a good network of librarians and booksellers. Here it is different because people are so different, books are expensive, it’s difficult to reach out to everybody. I have seen some good books and some really ugly books. There are nice books and ugly books, creative books and commercial books in France too. But there is so much happening there.”
Yet Joelle is not comfortable with the world of digital illustrations.
“It’s difficult to find interesting things. It’s another medium where whatever I have seen is very similar. The personality of the illustrator, in digital mediums, disappears. I am a bit afraid of screens. Twenty years ago when CD roms began to emerge, I was excited to do something with it but then they died out at the end of the 90s and now we can work with ipads,” she explains.
“There is more freedom and possibility but it scares me to see children playing with ipads. I love books and I love paper, maybe I am old fashioned. The other thing is that economically it’s not possible to do interesting things with ipad applications because it’s too expensive. Nobody wants to pay for an app.”