16 Jul 2012

My love for Sempé

One of my favourite illustrators is the great French illustrator, Jean Jacques Sempé. This passion for his work came quite late for me, when I was at art school I pretty much ignored Sempé. I always preferred reportage drawing, and the scratchy lines of people like John Piper or John Burningham. 

But about 8 years ago my partner, who was the children's book buyer in a bookshop at the time, came home very excited. He had just placed an order for the newly republished 'Le Petit Nicholas'. He had loved reading the 'Nicholas' series when he was a child and the illustrations had been etched in his mind forever, but he could never find a copy. They had been long out of print. A few weeks later the books arrived in his shop, and he brought one home. That was it, I was hooked. We bought every book by Sempé that we could find.

A couple of years after that we were lucky enough to see Sempé being interviewed by Quentin Blake at The French Institute in South Kensington. We took along our collection to be signed, and he did some little drawings too. I also took my much loved, 30yr old copy of 'Sixes and Sevens' for Quentin Blake to sign. He was amazed to see my rather dog-eared copy, I was amazed to see the great QB in the flesh. 

Anyway, back to Sempé  This picture from The New Yorker is one of my favourites, I've had a little postcard of this image up beside my desk for years. I like how the limited colour palette and the use of white space draws your eye to the skipping girl. It is just so clever. 

I love the emotional pull of his work. He can be very funny, and sometimes touching, wise or sad. And his use of scale, small things beside huge things to exaggerate the smallness of the small. He said,

“I think that I often draw little people that are a little lost, because everything is very big. The universe is very large; the houses are tall.”

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