Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Geneviève Côté
(The 2011 Summer Blog Blast Tour Edition)

h1 July 14th, 2011 by jules

(Click to enlarge image)

I’m so pleased to be showcasing the artwork of Canadian illustrator Geneviève Côté today for the 2011 Summer Blog Blast Tour, since I’ve followed her career with interest over the past several years, even covering several of her titles here at 7-Imp. (If you’re thinking “blog blast tour”…hubba wha?… it’s basically a whole bunch of interviews with authors and illustrators at a whole bunch of blogs during the week.) As I’ve written before here at the site, there is a luminescence to Geneviève’s work that draws me in. (With You Always, Little Monday positively glows in more ways than one.) And I like her loose, delicate lines, the vibe to her work that seems both fragile and free-spirited, and her expressive characters. There is a lot going on in her art, yet she manages to make it look effortless.

Geneviève is a French-speaking Canadian, who lives in Montreal, but she’s joining me way down here in Tennessee for lots of coffee. Lots. See? Her breakfast-of-choice is: “Fruit, toast and coffee. And coffee. And coffee.” Best. Answer. Ever.

(You all do know that I just like to pretend, right? And that all these interviews are cyber? I’ve had more than one illustrator ask me once, prior to an interview, how exactly we’re supposed to meet up in person. I wish there were an actual 7-Imp Central with a 7-Imp Breakfast Nook and actual breakfasts with actual coffee brewing, but alas, I’m not magic enough to pull that off. In fact, sadly I’m not magic at all. But, hey, imagination is a beautiful thing. And that will suffice. Onwards, then.)

I can certainly make pots of coffee for the two of us, while she gets out her sketchbook and paintings to share this morning. I thank her for visiting and gracing the blog with her illustrations today. Let’s get right to it…

[Quick note about the rest of the many interviews happening in the Summer Blog Blast Tour: You can see the master schedule here at Chasing Ray. Colleen Mondor is doing a wonderful job of linking to all the interviews going on this week at that ginormous schedule. At the bottom of this post is the rest of today’s schedule, too. Enjoy.]

* * * * * * *

Jules: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Geneviève: Author/illustrator.

Illustration from Geneviève’s With You Always, Little Monday (Harcourt 2007); Geneviève: “I actually wrote this one before What Elephant? (published earlier). This image is one of my favorites from this book. Little Monday is the Moon’s child, born on a Monday (means ‘Day of the Moon’ in many languages), and referring to many legends about the rabbit or hare in the Moon.”

Jules: Can you list your books-to-date?

Danielle Simard’s The Little Word Catcher. Originally published in 2007, the English edition was published in ’08 with Second Story Press.
Geneviève: “{This is} a very thoughtful (yet light) text about a little girl and
her grandma, who forgets words and faces.”

Geneviève: There have been many over the years, so here is a selection of picture books (the first four written and illustrated by me):

Geneviève: “My first published manuscript!”

Jules: What is your usual medium, or––if you use a variety—your preferred one?

Geneviève: I use a variety of media -– watercolors, crayon, pastel, sometimes collage, and Photoshop.

Spreads and early sketches—as in, day-one sketches—from
The Lady of Shalott (Kids Can Press, 2005);
Geneviève: “Kids Can Press signed me for this book, part of their gorgeous Visions in Poetry series, at the same time they accepted
What Elephant? I’d brought my editorial portfolio, along with the mock-up for What Elephant? It was my first visit with them, and I was almost surprised—but very happy!—to find that the editor
was interested in different aspects of my work…. I didn’t do a mock-up {for this book} but sent many notes along with sketches.”

(Click on each image to super-size and see in more detail)

Jules: If you have illustrated for various age ranges (such as both early readers and picture books) can you briefly discuss the differences in illustrating for one age group to another?

Geneviève: I think it really depends on the story more than on the targeted age group. I like to make sure very young readers will easily follow the story by looking at the image, while chapter book illustrations can be a little more elliptic without confusing the reader. But the difference is quite slight, I believe.

Janet Wong’s Minn and Jake (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003);
Geneviève: “{Farrar, Straus and Giroux} took me on, on Peter Sís’s recommendation. Peter Sís is a monument of children’s literature, I think,
and he also happens to be a really nice person!”

Jules: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Geneviève: I live and work in Montreal. That’s in Quebec, Canada’s mostly French-speaking province.

Cover art for Marie-Danielle Croteau’s
The Amazing Story of the Little Black Sheep (Dominique & Friends, 2000)

Jules: Can you briefly tell me about your road to publication?

Geneviève: After an early unfortunate experience illustrating a chapter book featuring a bulldozer as its main character, I decided children’s books were not for me.

I had worked as an editorial illustrator for ten years when a publisher approached me with an offer I couldn’t refuse: total freedom to illustrate a classic tale or legend of my choice — my first picture book. I enjoyed the process, the publisher was happy with the result, and afterwards, for a while my work was split between children’s literature and editorial illustration.

Then, editorial work became scarce, and during a lull I wrote a story I’d been thinking about for some time. Writing instead of drawing felt like playing hooky. I made sketches and mock-ups, visited a few publishers, and Kids Can Press signed me on for What Elephant?, as well as for a book in their gorgeous Visions in Poetry series.

I still like to illustrate other authors’ stories, as well as my own -– and writing still feels like playing hooky…

L’Affreux (Les 400 coups, 1999),
a first-nation legend, interpreted by Michèle Marineau;
Geneviève: “I have a fondness for
L’Affreux and for The Black Sheep (pictured above). Those were my first picture books. I’d been an editorial illustrator for ten years and had illustrated a few chapter books, but this is when
I fell in love with children’s books.”

Jules: Can you please point readers to your web site and/or blog?

Geneviève: (badly in need of updating).

Mock-ups from What Elephant?;
Geneviève: “Mock-up images are final sketches with text in place.”

(Click on each image to enlarge)

Sketch from What Elephant?
(Click to enlarge)

Jules: If you do school visits, tell me what they’re like.

Geneviève: I’ve been meeting mostly first-graders. I usually start by saying a few words about picture books, illustration and general information, then the students and I create a story together. I choose an opening, let the kids decide how the story unfolds and I sketch it step-by-step in their wake, using those sketches to say a few words about perspective, layout, etc. When we get to the end of the story, each kid draws a favorite scene.

Sometimes with very young kids, like preschoolers, I cheat a bit and lead them along more than I usually do. But improvised sessions tend to be more exciting for everyone (although sometimes it becomes a bit of a zoo).

Studies from Without You (Kids Can Press, February 2011)
(Click each image to enlarge)

Jules: If you teach illustration, tell me how that influences your work as an illustrator.

Geneviève: I haven’t taught illustration but have taught to illustrators — a course called Techniques of Creativity at Collège Salette in Montreal. At first it felt like teaching how to shovel clouds, but as we went along, I really enjoyed finding ways to bring students (and teacher), to wander out of comfort zones. It was also a nice opportunity to pass on some of the most helpful insights I’d received from Marion Wagschall, a superb artist who also happened to be one of the best teachers I’ve had.

Jules: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell me about?

(Click to enlarge)

Geneviève: I’m really excited about Without You, released {in February}. It features two characters from my earlier book, Me and You. {Ed. Note: Some spreads from Me and You are pictured below in this interview.} I think this fussy bunny and exuberant pig appeal to me because they both accept—and sometimes struggle with—their shortcomings. Both books were published by Kids Can Press –- and by Scholastic for the French edition. (I write in English and French.)

Spreads from Geneviève’s Without You (Kids Can Press, February 2011)
(Click each spread to enlarge)

Also just released is a picture book by Heather Hartt-Sussman for Tundra, called Noni says No, about a little girl and her very bossy friend.

There are a couple books lined up for publication in the coming Fall and Spring, but I’m more comfortable leaving all to the publisher at this point.

Cover of Cary Fagan’s Ella May and the Wishing Stone, coming in August from Tundra Books. (Geneviève points out that Cary is the author of the wonderful
Thing-Thing, illustrated by Nicolas Debon.)

Mmm. Coffee.Coffee’s ready, and the table’s set now. Let’s get a bit more detailed, and I thank Geneviève again for visiting 7-Imp (for six questions over breakfast).

1. Jules: 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?

Geneviève: When given a manuscript, I usually start by sketching the main character(s), trying on various faces and bodies until it feels right. Then, I draw a lot of thumbnails, to find what sequence works best for the story and set the overall tone and rhythm. The book is really taking shape at that stage.

Sketches for Heather Hartt-Sussman’s Noni says No;
Geneviève: “I draw sketches and thumbnails compulsively on any piece of paper, sometimes in a sketchbook when I remember I have one.”

Thumbnails for Me and You;
Geneviève: “I do many series of sequence thumbnails. This one (for
Me and You) appears to be a late one, because it looks quite neat, compared with early ones!”
(Click to enlarge)

Study for Me and You
(Click to enlarge)

I do a mock-up and discuss the book with the editor. I enjoy those discussions and always try to keep an open mind—even when it means re-working several pages—because sometimes it can be easy to get too close to the project to see it properly.

Mock-up for Me and You
(Click to enlarge)

Once the sketches are approved, I do the final illustrations, almost never following their chronological order.

When I’m also the writer, I have at least a dim picture in my mind, early on, of the main characters and of the overall ambience I want for the book, but I definitely write the story before I start sketching. (The exception to the rule has proven unnecessarily challenging.)

2. Jules: Describe your studio or usual work space.

Geneviève: I’ve been sharing various studios with long-time friends, graphic designers Folio et Garetti, for almost twenty years. We are quite different, and they are definitely much neater than I am. But we get along really well, and they have never complained about the bicycle that spends its winters here, camouflaged as a coat-rack.

Book-lovers are bound to be horrified by my bookshelves. (It’s also a sensitive issue between me and the book-loving man-in-my-life). Easy to recognize the inspiration behind the pig character in my books…

3. Jules: As a book lover, it interests me: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?

Geneviève: All Tintin comic books by Hergé, for his brilliant line drawing and sense of adventure. “Le cheval bleu et la vache orange” -– very simple stories, featuring a blue horse and a red cow borrowing the farmer’s car for a day in town. Oddly endearing, and I still wonder what was so special about them.

My sisters and I also loved a Czech book called La craie magique. We pored over the rich illustrations but somehow never actually read the whole text, a bad French translation anyway. It just made the already bizarre story even more surreal.

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

Geneviève: Quentin Blake, Eric Carle and Ralph Steadman.

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

Geneviève: Yoav, Amy Winehouse in my CD player. But I usually listen to radio when I work. And I secretly keep some super sad old Serge Reggiani songs for bad days.

Spreads from Geneviève’s Me and You (Kids Can Press, 2009)

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

Geneviève: My mother, Lucie Jolicoeur Côté, is a brilliant artist, and to me she is, and always has been, an inspiration. (That’s one of her recent etchings on my studio wall — from her upcoming show.)

(Click to enlarge)

* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

Jules: What is your favorite word?

Geneviève: “Je t’aime.”

Jules: What is your least favorite word?

Geneviève: I’m not very keen on “lol” — it seems insincere.

Jules: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Geneviève: Good company.

Jules: What turns you off?

Geneviève: Lies.

Jules: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)

Geneviève: We French-speaking Quebecers have a reputation for cursing a lot. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I can certainly curse along with the best—or worst—of them! Oddly enough, our curses are usually derived from religious words, spelled phonetically. The most common is “tabarnak,” but we have quite a few others and often use several at a time.

Jules: What sound or noise do you love?

Geneviève: Ocean waves, snow crackling under your feet on a cold day.

Jules: What sound or noise do you hate?

Geneviève: Car alarms. Apart from driving everyone on the block crazy, do these actually discourage theft?

Jules: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Geneviève: I don’t know. If I had thought of one, I might have tried it when the going got tough, a while back, so I’m glad I didn’t.

Jules: What profession would you not like to do?

Geneviève: I have the utmost respect for all medical professions, and as an illustrator, I’m grateful that my worst mistake will probably never be more serious than drawing a dog that looks like a misshapen kangaroo.

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

Geneviève: “Come in. Your friends are expecting you.”

* * * * * * *

All artwork and images used with permission of Geneviève Côté. All rights reserved.

Spreads from WITHOUT YOU: Text and Illustrations © 2011 Geneviève Côté. Reprinted by permission from Kids Can Press.

The spiffy and slightly sinister gentleman introducing the Pivot Questionnaire is Alfred, © 2009 Matt Phelan.

* * * * * * *

Here is the rest of today’s Summer Blog Blast Tour schedule:

13 comments to “Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Geneviève Côté
(The 2011 Summer Blog Blast Tour Edition)”

  1. Absolutely beautiful! I love the sketchy lines, luminous colors, and sense of movement. Facial expressions (like the frogs) are so full of life. Love L’AFFREUX and want THE LADY OF SHALOTT. Je les aime. (Is that right?)

  2. Lovely interview! And Geneviève Côté’s illustrations are brilliant. So much fun to get a bit of a sense for her process and see some sketches.

  3. […] Micol Ostow @ A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy Maria Padian @Bildungsroman Genevieve Cote @Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast Vera Brosgol @ […]

  4. Awesome to see the sketches and in-process stuff — beautiful. Also, I laughed out loud at seeing “tabarnak” as a swear — I grew up playing hockey with French-Canadian kids in Manitoba, and heard plenty of “kris! tabarnak!” as swearing on the ice. Loosely translated as “Christ! Church!”?

  5. Jules, I feel like you are at least a *little* magic. Also, I just love Geneviève’s WITHOUT YOU. That’s one of those ones that came in and I had to run around reading it to all my coworkers.

  6. I always love the glimpses into an illustrator’s work space. This one makes me feel quite good about the piles of books I work around!

  7. What a great variety of styles and pieces.

    I especially like the otter. 🙂

    I enjoy The Lady of Shalott, so I’ll have to check out your version.

  8. […] Genevieve Cote at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast […]

  9. […] It made me laugh out loud when Geneviève Côté said in Thursday’s interview, when I asked what profession she would not like to do, “I have the utmost respect for all […]

  10. […] & Ruminating Micol Ostow at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy Maria Padian at Bildungsroman Genevieve Cote at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast Vera Brosgol at […]

  11. […] by Jules from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast~as she visits with Canadian illustrator Geneviève Côté. Also from Seven Imp, the great Kady MacDonald […]

  12. […] Noni Is Nervous (Tundra Books, to be released in July), illustrated by Geneviève Côté (who visited 7-Imp back in 2011), as well as Eileen Spinelli’s When No One Is Watching (Eerdmans Books for Young […]

  13. I just bought a copy of “Without You” for my grand-niece and realized that I knew Genevieve Cote – but have lost contact in recent years. If she would like to get in contact with me, could you pass on my e-mail address. Thanks in advance, Bruce.

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