Isabelle Cardinal Illustrator Interview

Isabelle Cardinal

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Can you recall the first time you realized you were going to be an illustrator? What were your earliest impressions?
I don’t remember exactly when it happened but I remember that in my mind, art was always a priority. Art class was the only class I loved in school. I spent my time doodling in the margins of my notebooks during my other classes.

Who or what influenced your art when you were young?
I was lucky. When I was young, my mom worked at the National Film Board of Canada. I would visit her at work often. I’d peek into the animation department because I admired the illustrators who worked there. Seeing their drawings and the 3D maquettes they crafted, their animations; it was fascinating to me. I realized that it all starts with one idea, one drawing. In the end, the drawings would tell a story. I loved that concept then and love it now.

Do you remember what your first artwork looked like? Do you still have it?
Yes, I do, and yes, I still have it. It’s a very colorful, smiling face made with gouache. The face had a huge smile which probably represented my happiness at creating it. I put this early drawing in my portfolio when I began working as an illustrator. I wanted to surprise art directors; give them reason to smile and most of all, prompt them to remember me. It worked.

Why did you choose illustration as your life’s work instead of, for example, filmmaking, law, or even medicine?
I was enrolled in an illustration class when I studied graphic design at university. The teacher was a well-known illustrator. I remember seeing his work; mostly editorial illustrations, sketches, and then, his final illustrations. I remember his clients’ names: the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, the Washington Post. After hearing of his accomplishments, I thought, ‘This is what I want to do.’

Did you study art in school?
Yes, I earned a BA in graphic design at the University of Quebec in Montreal. It was at that time that I realized I would be an illustrator.

Where does your inspiration come from; your impulse to make art? Do you have a source for your ideas?
I love vintage photography from the Victorian era. I love textures and I like to experiment. I enjoy mixing it up to create a finished piece that looks like no other, that has a life of its own. I find my inspiration in nature, and sometimes in the city.
Ideas can be found everywhere. I also enjoy textures which are all around. I take a lot of photographs. I’m not a pro. I take photos like a scientist—some might say, like a mad scientist. I keep these photos in files to refer to later. This practice is very useful when working with digital collage.

How would you describe the process of creating art?
It depends on the assignment. I sketch my ideas then select the very best ones.

Do you have a favorite illustrator? What is it about that illustrator’s work you like?
I have several favorites. Beth Spencer is one. I love the way her digital collages morph. It’s hard to know if her work is a collage, a painting, or a drawing.

Another one of my favorites is René Magritte. By mixing simple elements together, he’s able to tell a story. I love when a work of art has a narrative quality. Telling a story is my main goal when illustrating.

If you could do something else, other than creating art, what would it be?
I used to joke that I would be a surgeon since I was pretty good with an X-acto knife. Seriously, I never thought about doing anything else. I can’t imagine doing anything other than illustration.

Do you remember your first set of paints, pens, or markers?
Yes. I still have my first dry pastels and an old set of Pantone markers. I keep them just because they remind me of where it all began.