Nicolas Delort on etchings, ink, stories, and dramatic skies…
A lot of your work is inspired by books and stories – how does literature play a part in your art making?
I do like stories a lot, in all shapes and forms. Whether it’s a good tv series or a simple anedocte I overhear in the subway, I love a good story. I find that if you pay enough attention, even the most seemingly mundane story can be incredibly rich and layered.
That being said, I do read a lot. I often hear artists say they’ve been drawing for as long as they remember and while I can’t say that about myself, I can definitely say I’ve been reading for as long as I can remember. I’m fortunate enough to have been raised by parents who put heavy emphasis on reading and creative hobbies. I drew as much as any other child, but I pretty much stopped when I entered middle school to concentrate on music and didn’t pick up drawing again seriously ‘til I was 18 or so. I never stopped reading though. Even now, I try to spend as much time as I can reading, when my job and other activities allow me to.
However, I’m terrible at writing, so it seemed natural to me to turn to illustration as a way to tell stories.
I have a few favorite books I always go back to when I’m lacking inspiration (Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is one of them). So, when I’m not sure what to draw, I’ll pick a scene and make pages of thumbnails inspired by that scene. Sometimes I’ll turn one of them into a finished illustration, most of the time, I won’t; but putting down compositions on paper is what I like to do best.
The illustrations you see on my blog are what I do in my free time, so they’re a way to decompress, trying not to think too much but at the same time I try to make them somewhat “marketable” as well. Making illustrations inspired by famous books is a good way to make something that’s personnal but at the same time speaks to a large audience.
Your line-work is amazing – do you do any etching or printmaking? I’m thinking of Juxtapoz’ likening you to Gustave Dore – I think you could give him a little bit of competition in the etching department if he were still around and illustrating Harry Potter instead of the Inferno.
Aha, yes Doré… I’m naturally very flattered when people bring him up, but I still have a very, very long way to go.
I’d like to take the opportunity to mention that while Doré’s imagination and storytelling abilities are something to behold, much of the technical qualities of his illustrations like lighting and details are sometimes wrongly attributed to him instead of the immensely skilled artists who engraved the plates, like Pisan or Pannemaker, amongst many others.
That being said, Doré is clearly one of the greatest pictural storytellers of his time (I think at that time maybe only Jean-Leon Gérome could tell a story with a single picture better than him) and he paved the way not only for generations of illustrators to come but also for many film-makers who, to this day, continue to be inspired by his flare for the dramatic.
Like you said, if he were alive today, he’d probably be making an incredible edition of the Harry Potter series while at the same time working on A Song of Ice and Fire and in his free time making comic strips for a national newspaper…
Anyway, I’ve never tried any kind of printmaking and to be frank I have no excuse. I just never had the opportunity or rather, I never created the opportunity. However, my first ink drawings were on paper, then I moved on to scraperboard so maybe etching is the next step?
Did you have an “a-ha!” moment when it came to working with ink?
There’s one eye-opening moment I remember particularly well: seeing an exhibit of Rembrandt’s etchings at the Louvre a few years back.
Some days I forget how privileged I am to live just a couple subway stops away from one of the most amazing museums in the world; other days, I fully realize how lucky I am. When I saw the Rembrandt exhibit was one of those days.
If I ever had anything resembling a Stendhal syndrome moment, that was definitely it.
I remember seing his paintings and thinking “hmm yeah he was good”…then seing his etchings and remaining completely speechless. My only thought was “This is what I want to do”. My thesis pieces for school wouldn’t have been what they were (for better or for worse, I don’t know) if I hadn’t seen those etchings. They weren’t well received by the faculty (“Why didn’t you color them?” was their reaction….) but I didn’t let the negativity affect me because I knew working in black and white was going to become my “thing”.
I have, since then, discovered other artists that fit my personal tastes better than Rembrandt, but whenever I draw, he’s never very far in my head.
What are you inspired by these days?
Generally, I’m very inspired by my surrounding environment. I’m always on the lookout for peculiar light, interesting compositions and whatnot. I live in Paris and even though I don’t like drawing cityscapes, there’s always something about how the light flows between the buildings and the stark shapes modern infrastructures create. I force myself to look for inspiration in things I would never think of drawing.
I never go out without my camera and even if most of my photos are pretty bad in and of themselves, I use them to build myself a library of shapes and forms that I can use in my illustrations.
One of my favorite things to draw has always been dramatic skies and clouds in particular so I always have my camera with me in case the sky decides to put on a show.
Lately though, I’ve been taking a lot of pictures of trees with particular shapes. Surprisingly, we have lots of beautiful trees in Paris.
I’ve recently re-discovered Ansel Adams’ work and studying his work made me realize just how powerful a composition tool trees can be.
As for other artists who inspire me, I try to stay eclectic and not limit myself to artists who work in black and white, even though Franklin Booth, Sergio Toppi and Mike Mignola are my personal triumvirate.
For instance, I recenly discovered a japanese woodblock artist from the early 20th century, Hiroshi Yoshida, who has a formidable knack for composition and color, and even if his technique is on the other end of the spectrum compared to what I do, there’s a lot of things I could learn from his art, in terms of simplicity and elegance.
What sorts of projects and events do we have to look forward to from you?
Generally, publishers are a little wary of using black and white artwork, especially here in France for some reason. I often get the “black and white doesn’t sell” or “it looks antiquated” arguments. I’ve gotten commissions from english publishers though, they seem to be more open to different styles.
I’m just starting to get a little attention for my work so who knows what will come next. I’m working on lots of things at the same time, few of which involve my black and white work for now, some I can’t really say anything about (NDA) and some that are at a protozoic stage of development. I have lots of projects in mind, some seem a little ambitious at this time but I’m sure if I’m dedicated enough they’ll come into fruition some day. I’m working with a friend on a dark-fantasy story that would be a sort of half-novel-half-picture book, but we’re taking our time to make sure it’s as good as it can be… we’re in no rush!