Our newest independent reader series is based on stories from Greek mythology, retold by master storytellers Hugh Lupton and Daniel Morden and illustrated by Carole Hénaff. The creative process to take text to vivid illustrations is a fascinating one. We are delighted to share an interview with Carole and an introduction by Editor-in-Chief Tessa Strickland.

‘I first came across Carole Hénaff’s work on a business trip to Paris. What particularly attracted me to her illustrations was her use of colour and line. Her images evoked the eastern Mediterranean for me, so it came as no surprise to learn that she had travelled in north Africa. I also felt a coming together of antiquity and the modern world, forging a style that seemed to me to give her art a timeless quality.  She was an obvious candidate for The Arabian Nights, and everyone at Barefoot was so happy with her work on this project that I didn’t hesitate for a second before offering her The Adventures of Achilles and after this, the individual Greek myths that are a cornerstone of the 2012 publishing programme. Carole’s images take the viewer across many thresholds. They are elegant and powerful at the same time and they transport us through all kinds of experiences ―peaceful and violent,  joyful and tragic ― without ever missing a beat. This kind of consistency requires tremendous discipline; I am immensely grateful to Carole for setting herself such exacting standards, and never failing to meet and surpass them.’

―Tessa

When you read a book you’re illustrating for the first time, what goes through your mind?

Images. The same thing happens when I am reading a book I am not illustrating.

Can you describe your process? Do you like to sketch characters first or whole scenes?

First I read the entire book to feel the atmosphere while I underline words that I consider important. Then I process with quick roughs of different scenes for each image, so I can choose which one fits best with the rhythm of the book, according to the composition and the content.

Do you come up with a color palette before you draw the rough illustrations or after?

It depends. In Orpheus and Eurydice, death is an important element, so I thought of a kind of a predominant dark green/grey in contrast with the life. The last image of the book is about the power of love over death, so even though they are still in the underworld, a white background was perfect. As I painted Theseus and the Minotaur after Orpheus and Eurydice, I wanted bright colours. Plus I knew I couldn’t use bright colors for Demeter and Persephone . . . But in general, I’m quite intuitive with colours. I can have colours in mind but when I proceed with painting it can change totally.

When you are reading a book, how do you decide what scene to paint?

I make quick roughs for every scene I find important. So if I have to choose only one or two out of several, I usually choose the one that has consequences in the story or that is the consequence itself from what came before. But if there are more scenes that are right to emphasize, then I see if I can use it for the chapter opener, or the vignettes that come with the credits or the title. Or even in the table of contents, like Orpheus crossing the Styx river, for example.

How do you decide which images to paint for different moments in a book?

Normally I paint several images at the same time. I select them by color.

What was your favourite scene to paint for the Greek Myths series?

I have a lot of favourites, but if I had to choose one, I guess it would be the one from Theseus and the Minotaur that shows Crete with all the gifts arriving by boat.

Where do you find your inspiration?

For this work, I’ve looked a lot ancient Greek art: pottery, vase paintings, wall paintings, sculptures, architecture . . . But also Matisse, Klee, Gauguin, art brut, Persian miniatures, etc…

What media do you use?
Acrylics on Guarro paper 350 grs. This paper is made of cotton and its color is off-white, it is normally used for watercolours because it absorbs water and doesn’t undulate. I use the one with thin grain so it is smooth and choose 350grs because it has more body. I feel really comfortable painting in this paper.

What kind of space do you work in?

I have my studio at home.

How would you describe a day at your studio?

A normal day: I wake up at 7:30am, have breakfast and check e-mails, and at 8:30 I run to school with my son, Noah. At 9 I have coffee at a local cafe, and by 9:30 I’m back home preparing some more hot coffee and starting to work. I stop for lunch at 1pm. then I get back to work till 5pm if I have to pick up Noah, or till 8pm if it’s my “free” day. At 8.00pm we eat as a family. And after dinner I go back to work, depending on the amount of work I have.

What is your favourite Greek myth, and why?

It’s a difficult question… but if I have to choose one I would say Daedalus and Icarus. (Editor’s note: the myth of Daedalus and Icarus is part of our version of Theseus and the Minotaur.) I read this story when I was young and it was a strong influence on me, in the way it shows us that we should know our own limits. Daedalus went too far. He didn’t just pay with his life, but also with his son’s life.

Thank you so much for sharing your process Carole! What Greek myth do you like best? Which God or Goddess is your favourite? Tell us in the comments!

Browse books illustrated by Carole Hénaff! US Shoppers / UK Shoppers

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