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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

An interview with illustrator Julie Vermeille

We speak with illustrator Julie Vermeille about her background, creative process, and just what inspires her whimsical collages.

Written by Caitlin Sinclair

Julie Vermeille Beautiful Coincidences
Beautiful Coincidences. All photography provided courtesy of Julie Vermeille

What were your surroundings like growing up?
I grew up in a small town outside Paris –Dad is a teacher and musician and Mum is also a teacher, and always interested in interiors. Our home was filled with textiles, and we were close to the country, so there were lots of trees around –all these aspects influence my work.

Julie Vermeille Beautiful Coincidences
Did you study illustration, or did you come across it intuitively?
I knew quite early on that I wanted to do art, and in the last two years of high school it was my specialty subject –I was always interested in using ink, thread and stitching. As a teenager I first thought of being a theatre designer because I liked the idea of creating a world or atmosphere, and I think this still what I am trying to do when I work on a series of images.

Julie Vermeille Beautiful Coincidences
So how did you come to be in London?
I arrived when I was 17 and did a foundation course at the London College of Communication in Art and Design. It was exciting to be somewhere with such an international mix of people, and it felt right. It was also great to be working across different mediums. I started illustrating because I don’t write, but I still wanted to tell stories. So I began creating characters of little people who look a bit like animals. My first series The Little World of Woodies was really a turning point.

Julie Vermeille Beautiful Coincidences
When we first met you mentioned your love of fairy tales, which ones in particular have proven influential?
Little Red Riding Hood is definitely my favourite, but I’m interested in fairy tales from around the world, for example Inuit tales. And you’ll notice trees are always present, which is a recurring setting in many fairy tales. My fascination with fairy tales stems from the fact that on the outside they look cute, but behind them is something darker. This is what I am looking for when making my work.

Julie Vermeille Beautiful Coincidences
Are there any types of art or illustrators that have inspired you?
I wouldn’t say that I am influenced by him, but I really like Edward Gorey because I’m interested in the way that he subtly conveys a really dark humour through lovely drawings. Also Annie Berbault, a French illustrator who again subtly deals with adult themes behind childlike collages.

Julie Vermeille worry dolls
Worry dolls

How does your creative process work?
Usually I will start with a story, or a commission for an exhibition, then choose my colours and fabrics in advance. I used to sketch but I don’t tend to do that much anymore, instead I will turn some music on, write down some words as inspiration, and get started. The fabric/pattern and colour of the paper and fabric I use are inspirational, for their shapes and patterns. Later, I might edit down my pictures or reorder them. I like to leave space in my pictures, and some people tell me that it resembles Japanese art in that way. The space is really important and having room between the words means the drawings are open to interpretation, people can make up their own stories.

Julie Vermeille Hair from Passing
‘Hair’ from Passing On

When did you start exhibiting, and what do you enjoy about it?
It was when I was first at college and we did a group show, and then later at Craft Central. I also went to Hong Kong to exhibit early on in my career, a TV crew came and it was crazy! And I have had exhibitions in France and Scotland. I love exhibiting and I like creating something for and working in the space I have been invited to.

And what are some of the challenges in your work?
The paperwork. Maybe some people are good at the admin side of things, but it’s not for me, I want to be illustrating. Collaborating can also be a bit difficult if you differ with others in your tastes, but I am growing to like this a lot more.

Julie Vermeille Seashanties
Weaving from Seashanties

How would you describe your work?
I make children’s books for adults, but also books to go with music. I’m interested in animation and puppet-making, I like to see what you can do with things in 3D. I would like to do more scenery and characters in 3D, like little sets from my illustrations.

What is it like to be working as a young artist in East London?
It can be tricky if you aren’t making a living out of it, though the idea of what an illustrator can do is much more expansive now. I love living here, and I like the extreme difference of derelict buildings and newer ones, and the fact that you find quirky little places. Twelve years ago Brick Lane used to be really underground, it’s more uniform now but I still like it and feel like a part of a community.

Julie Vermeille Woodland Creatures
Woodland Creatures

Do you have any projects planned for the New Year?
I want to travel! To Japan, and also maybe a road trip through America. I will be working on a new collaboration with a writer, though that’s still a bit of a secret…

Visit www.julievermeille.com for more of Julie’s work. Read our Made in Clerkenwell – Winter Open Studios 2011 review featuring Julie, along with other Craft Central artists and designers.

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