Illustrators at work – interview with Pascal Blanchet

May 31st, 2013

Light and shadows. Rough angles and streamlined curves. Misleadingly simple color palettes and explosively dynamic body language. Browsing the portfolio of Pascal Blanchet takes you decades back into the roaring era of Art Deco and does not let you go. I am absolutely thrilled to have the privilege to Pascal and ask him a few questions about his art and craft.

Kirill: Tell us about yourself and how you started in the field.

Pascal: I’m a self-taught illustrator. I’m 33, living in Trois-Rivières, a charming old small town right between Montréal and Québec city.

When in my early 20s I moved to Montréal to try finding jobs as an illustrator and I failed. It was a really rough time. I finally tried to send my portfolio to some NYC illustration reps and signed with Jacqueline Dedell agency. The first jobs came really quickly from the San Francisco magazine and Penguin Books. It was a big surprise for me!

Kirill: What drove you to be a freelancer?

Pascal: I always had a serious problem with authority. School and student jobs were a nightmare (for both the bosses and I)
so I guess it was only natural for me to end up as a freelancer.

Kirill: What informs and shapes your taste and style?

Pascal: My first contact with illustration was when I was a kid with the old 78rpm records sleeves at my grandparents house. It makes a huge impression on me.

I learned many many years later that they were made by guys like Jim Flora and Alex Steinwess and many others… I also remember having a huge crush for handlettered windowshop ads. It seems I loved art deco posters and streamline style illustrations long before knowing what those styles were. I’m still trying to find and explanation about my love for the 30s and 40s. All I know is that even when I was around 5 or 6 years old it was there.

Kirill: How has your style evolved over the years? Are you comfortable with it, are you pushing it in new directions, and do you want people to recognize your new work as uniquely yours?

Pascal: I like to think it changed a lot over the years. Looking at my first graphic novel and my last one makes me think that I’m (I hope) not too squeezed in my own “style”. It’s also really important to me to look for something else, something new (to me). I never tried to make something I could call MY style, I guess it just comes out that way. I am mostly afraid to repeat the same thing again and again.

Kirill: You cite music as your main inspiration, and some of your graphic novels incorporate artists and music instruments. How do you convey this dynamic experience in a static medium?

Pascal: I think music has shapes, colors, shadows just like a drawing. To me when I’m working on a graphic novel it’s pretty hard to know where music stops and drawing starts. Most of the time music comes first and often even gives me the subject of the story or the characters.

To me there’s no difference between music and visual arts. A jazz musician has to take a standard and recreate it in his own personal way – just the same as an illustrator. Usually the themes aren’t new at all but we have to make it our own.

Kirill: What drives you to publish graphic novels? How does it feel to hold a printed book of your own?

Pascal: I think it was the thrill to tell the story behind a single image in a more complete way. Most of the time in illustration you have to tell something in a single image and sometimes it’s a bit frustrating.

When you finally hold your book in your hands, it’s months after you finished it, so you kind of look at it with stranger eyes. The feeling you had when you were doing it is already gone and nothing much left but: This page is not good, that face looks ugly, bad shadows here…

Kirill: How do you preserve color fidelity when the final product is targeting print media, such as magazines or books?

Pascal: Pantone colors number. But I’m not that much a freak, since all the colors will change but the balance between them will stay the same. So it’s ok even if they are not exactly what I had in mind.

Kirill: As you start working on a new project, is it pen and paper first, or all-digital?

Pascal: It really depends, I do not have any kind of work routine except for music. Sometimes i make a digital sketch and the final on paper, sometimes it’s the other way.

Kirill: What’s the weirdest client feedback you ever received, if you don’t mind sharing it?

Pascal: “Can you make it more à la Pascal Blanchet”

Kirill: How do you work with type? Do you design your own fonts, or adopt and adapt existing ones?

Pascal: Most of the time I make my type. To me it seems impossible to make a poster and have a graphic designer put fonts on it. It needs to be an integral part of the illustration.

Kirill: Some of your illustrations employ high angles, claustrophobic environments, long shadows and stark silhouettes. Do I detect a fellow film noir fan?

Pascal: Totally! But the origins of the high angles and dramatic views came from my passion for architecture. I discovered film noir long after I started doing exaggerated perspectives. My father was working as a technical draftsman and I learned it at a really young age. Also, I am really fascinated with the relation between human being and architecture – how can the latter magnify or oppress the former. I guess my love for art deco also adds to the dramatic side.

Kirill: What do you think when you look at your own work from a few years ago?

Pascal: Bad work, lousy illustration, need to draw something better NOW.

Kirill: How important is it to invest time in personal projects?

Pascal: I think it’s absolutely necessary to keep myself “creative” and incorporate new techniques and make experimentations. Graphic novels are also the best portfolios you can make, my personal projects gave me most of the jobs I’ve had.

Kirill: What do you do when you run out of ideas and get stuck?

Pascal: When i have enough time in front of me I just sit and think. Drawing just makes me sink even more in the bad concepts way. When in a hurry (most of the time). I like to discuss it with the art director. Sometimes it gives a sudden new turn to the job and helps a lot.

Kirill: What’s the best thing about being an illustrator?

Pascal: Drawing and challenges.

And here I’d like to thank Pascal Blanchet for this great interview. You can find him online at his portfolio and blog.