Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Giselle Potter

h1 June 17th, 2008 by jules

Giselle PotterYou know those illustrators whose distinctive style of work you can recognize in approximately a femtosecond? Giselle Potter’s art work is like that. Her folk-art style, rich in color and full of whimsy (yes, “whimsy” gets overused in describing children’s books, but if anyone’s got whimsy—the good kind, not the saccharine-sweet kind—goin’ on, it’s Giselle, pictured here in her studio). Her style is not only instantly recognizable. It’s also playful and sometimes unpredictable and always a little delightfully offbeat. We at 7-Imp think she’s a true original, and we’re so pleased that she has stopped by for a cyber-breakfast to chat a bit with us. And what is her breakfast of choice? “A soft-boiled egg, toast, and coffee.” Coffee? Do we have coffee? Why, yes, we always do. Excellent. Let’s get right to it.

But, wait . . . If you’re new to Giselle’s work and want to know more about her titles-thus-far, don’t fret. She sent us a comprehensive list of her published titles, and I linked each one. Feel free to explore. If you’re not familiar with her books, we highly recommend them, and you’ll see that several of them have been reviewed here at 7-Imp. Her most recent illustrated title—Eugene Field’s Wynken, Blynken, and Nod, published by Schwartz & Wade this May—is a thing of beauty. Instead of trying to describe the deep, bold colors and Giselle’s beguiling interpretation of this old poem (Kirkus Reviews wrote, “{t}he hand-lettered text and mixed-media illustrations rendered in nighttime blues and greens lend an imaginative, dream-like quality to the ethereal text”), let me show you a few spreads from it. See for yourself:

Ah. Lovely, yes? I reviewed the book here in April if you’d like to read more about it. And, again, thanks to Giselle for stopping by. Without further ado . . . Let’s set the table for breakfast while asking Giselle about some of the basics:

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7-Imp: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Giselle: Mostly, I’m an illustrator, although I try to write, too, and I have {written} and illustrated three books: Lucy’s Eyes and Margaret’s Dragon: The Lives of the Virgin Saints {Chronicle Books, 1997}, The Year I Didn’t Go to School {Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2002}, and Chloë’s Birthday…And Me {Atheneum, 2004}.

7-Imp: Can you list your books-to-date?

Giselle: {Ed. Note: Giselle listed her published titles to-date, and they’re at the close of the interview.}

7-Imp: What is your usual medium, or -– if you use a variety -– your preferred one?

Giselle: My early books were done with inks and watercolor, and now I use gouache mostly…all along I have used collage here and there.

Alice7-Imp: Where are your stompin’ grounds? {Ed. Note: Pictured here is “Alice,” a portrait from Giselle’s site}

Giselle: I live in Rosendale, NY (the Hudson Valley area).

7-Imp: Can you briefly tell us about your road to publication?

Giselle: I started out doing editorial work, especially for The New Yorker. I was offered my first children’s book from being seen in The New Yorker…I was simultaneously trying to get my saint book published, and Chronicle {Books} accepted it. That was all around ’96-’97.

7-Imp: Can you please point us to your web site and/or blog?


7-Imp: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell us about?

Giselle: I’m working on two new books — one is about a cat that won’t eat chocolate cake, and the other is about the 1920s jazz pianist, Mary Lou Williams.

{Ed. Note: There’s a bit more about the first book here at Emily Jenkins’ site.}

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Mmm. Coffee.Okay, the table’s set, and we’re ready to sit down and talk more specifics over our coffee. Eggs? Check. Toast? Check. Sweet, life-giving coffee? Check. Let’s hit it:

1. 7-Imp: What exactly is your process when you are illustrating a book? You can start wherever you’d like when answering: getting initial ideas, starting to illustrate, or even what it’s like under deadline, etc. Do you outline a great deal of the book before you illustrate or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?

Giselle: First, I read a manuscript someone sends me and mull over it for a while…sometimes deciding it isn’t right for me. If it is, I start rough pencil sketches of the imagery that stands out for me. The book I’m starting now is a biography {set} in the ’20s, so I had to do some research for references. Then I make a rough dummy: breaking up the text into a thirty-two-page book and fitting it into my pencil sketches (or fitting my sketches around the text). After sometimes a long time of waiting, the editors send back my dummy and there are usually a few revisions to do. When my sketches are finally approved, I paint for two or three months.

2. 7-Imp: Describe your studio or usual work space for us.

Giselle: I have a little building on our property, about two hundred feet from our house…just far enough away that there are no distractions and it is my own space, but close enough that I can have lunch at home with {my husband}. Right now, I only work in the mornings, and I am with my kids in the afternoon.

{Pictured below are} my studio outside and inside {and} the wall above my desk.

3. 7-Imp: As book lovers, it interests us: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?

Giselle: My favorite book when I was little was a very old Babar book about Zephir the monkey saving Princess Isabel on an island of monsters. My grandmother had it at her house and she would read the French to me, and even though I didn’t understand all of it, I loved listening and staring at the monkey village in the trees.

4. 7-Imp: If you could have three (living) illustrators or author/illustrators — whom you have not yet met — over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose?

Giselle: I love Maira Kalman’s work and find her freedom so inspiring. I met her briefly many years ago in Rome, but I would like to go to her house some time and see how she lives. I would love to meet Marjane Satrapi. Her Persepolis series is very inspiring, and I almost feel like I know her from her books. I would also like to meet Marcel Dzama, whose work I love, and I also love the idea of his collaborative art group, the Royal Art Lodge.

A portrait from Giselle's site

5. 7-Imp: What is currently in rotation on your iPod or loaded in your CD player? Do you listen to music while you create books?

Giselle: Yes, I listen to a lot different of music…sometimes Kimya Dawson, Joanna Newsom, Devendra Banhart kind of thing or a Brazilian mix or Romanian gypsy music or the Carter Family or sometimes I listen to Beethoven (cello), Schubert (piano), or podcasts of This American Life.

6. 7-Imp: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Giselle: I can’t think of anything…I don’t keep secrets.

7. 7-Imp: Is there something you wish interviewers would ask you — but never do? Feel free to ask and respond here.

Giselle:What is my inspiration: Although seeing art that I like inspires me, I don’t love museums and I think other things inspire me more than art…like the way people live; my family (both my grandparents, my parents and sister, my husband and daughters, Pia and Isabel); inspired, passionate people; and both beauty and oddities of nature.

Giselle: “A family portrait I did last winter…”

(Most of) The Pivot Questionnaire

7-Imp: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Giselle: Good coffee and delicious food, embroidery, being around other people that are really inspired and make things all the time, marching bands in a parade, jumping in cold water, wind before a storm.

7-Imp: What turns you off?

Giselle: People who think they are better than me.

7-Imp: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)

Giselle: I wish I didn’t swear so much around my kids.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you love?

Giselle: Mourning doves, wind in trees, cello.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you hate?

Giselle: Power tools, jack-hammers, fire alarms, car alarms, trucks in {a} low gear going down my road, my kids crying-screaming.

7-Imp: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Giselle: I wish I could sew better, so I could make anything I wanted. Sometimes I would like to have a tiny shop and make lots of things for it. I would also love to make films.

7-Imp: What profession would you not like to do?

Giselle: I would not like to be an airplane stewardess.

7-Imp: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Giselle: I don’t think I believe in that.

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Top two spreads from WYNKEN, BLYNKEN, AND NOD by Eugene Field, illustration © 2008 by Giselle Potter, posted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved.

All other art work used with permission of the illustrator.

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Giselle’s titles —

9 comments to “Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Giselle Potter”

  1. Sawdust and Spangles was a nonfiction picture book nominee for the Cybils. I was the only nominating panel member who saw it. I loved it so much I bought my own copy. The illustrations are fabulous. I can tell a work illustrated by Giselle immediately, and that’s what I love about her work. It is so unique and identifiable.

    Thanks for this great profile.

  2. Man, do I love that folk-art style family portrait.

  3. Lovely interview, ladies. My favorites are the family portrait and the dogs at the table! (Check out the sushi!)

  4. I want her studio! It is awesome. Thanks for this interview.

  5. Jules,

    You always highlight the work of such fabulous picture book artists here at 7-Imp. Giselle Potter is another of my favorite illustrators. She certainly does have her own distinctive style. I own several of her books. Now I think I’ll have to get a copy of WYNKEN, BLYNKEN AND NOD.

  6. My sister and I co-authored the book on Mary Lou Williams that Giselle is illustrating. I had the pleasure of meeting her casually in Kansas City at a conference this past May. She is warm and friendly, genuine and interested in others. All that and an enormously talented individual as well. What a package!

  7. Thank you for this great interview. Her art and writing are just the Birthday book.
    It is so nice to learn more about Giselle.
    I admire her credits …I have been working on one book for years..almost finished with the dummy..what a big job.

  8. […] askew and her figures flat, giving her artwork a classic folk-art feel. It’s much like Giselle Potter in some ways, but with a much brighter palette — perhaps like Julie Paschkis meets Giselle […]

  9. […] can see more on her website and on 7imp. Grazie mille to Giselle Potter for joining us!  Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:Like […]

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