Martine Gourbault - Illustrator

Martine Gourbault

Martine Gourbault was born in Paris and emigrated to Toronto with her family in 1957. She received her basic art education at Central Technical School, graduating in 1961. “I was very fortunate to have parents who appreciated the value of artistic pursuits and were not worried about whether I could make a living as an artist. I'll always be grateful to them for steering me in the right direction.”

While in her third year at art school, she won a competition to illustrate a fictional story for the Teen Tempo section of Chatelaine magazine, for which she received the handsome sum of $200. This felt like success and definitely served to re-enforce Martine's budding interest in illustration. However, her art career was to take her into other directions for a few years. As she became involved in design and art direction for magazines such as Chatelaine, Miss Chatelaine, Flare and enRoute. Nonetheless, her interest in illustration was never left too far behind, and she made a point of squeezing in as many free-lance assignments as she could, including, eventually, a number of illustrations for Owl and Chickadeee and Nelson Canada. This was her first introduction to illustrating for children.

While living in New York, in 1989-90, Martine was given the opportunity to illustrate her first picture book for Greenwillow (The Lirttle girl and the Dragon) and more projects were to follow from them and other publishers in the U.S., and the United Kingdom, where she lived between 1990 and 1997.

In February 1997, she moved to Vancouver and began her association with Kids Can Press for whom she has to date illustrated seven books, including the Dragon Safety series. Martine is also interested in pursuing her more personal work which she has shown in a number of galleries in British Columbia and Alberta.

She is an SFCA member of the Federation of Canadian Artists where she has received several awards. “As long as I'm involved in a task which is artistic and creative, I feel I'm in the right place, but illustrating children's books has a special dimension to it. It challenges me to explore the scope of my imagination and my abilities as an artist. I love the magical process of inventing characters and getting involved in their stories.”

Paris, France.

April 25th, right bang in the middle of the war.

Where do you live now?
Vancouver, British Columbia.

When did you start drawing?
I started to draw when I was a kid, not too different from anyone else. I drew blue stick people for boys and red ones for girls. Ugh! How's that for typecasting?

Do you have any advice for young creators?
Put no limitations on your imagination. Perseverance will eventually pay off. I guess that would be my advice to any young creator. Don't take rejection personally and keep doing what you love to do. Keep knocking on doors and eventually you'll be just what somebody's looking for. (I don't always follow my own advice, by the way.) I also believe it is important to present your work well and show consistency in your approach so an editor can clearly assess what you do and whether you'll be able to keep a certain look going for a while.

What was your schooling or training?
I went to art school when my family and I moved to Toronto in 1957. My parents were both artistic in their own way and kindly directed me toward art training. I had no idea at the time that you could actually make a living as an artist. At one time, I had actually considered becoming a nun! Nothing against nuns, but I'm very glad I went to art school instead.

How did you get involved with children's books?
I became interested in illustrating children's books when we were living in New York. I had done a few kids illustrations for Nelson's in Canada and some magazine illustrations. I had been in the magazine design field for years and was looking for a change. So I dropped my portfolio off at various publishers in New York City and finally got a face-to-face interview with Ava Weiss, who was then art director at Greenwillow Books. She gave me the chance to try doing a sample illustration for The Little Girl and the Dragon and I got the job.

What do you like best about creating kids' books?
Creating kids' books gets my imagination going and takes me into another world where I can make everything up; I can design interiors, houses, landscapes and decide what characters will look like. That is also the challenge.

Where do you work?
I work in my studio, a converted garage at the back of my garden.

Where do you get your ideas?
Ideas come from some of my past experiences, I guess, and my imagination.

How do you research or create your stories?
Sometimes I need to search for reference material, but most of the time I prefer to make things up.

Who's your favorite character from your books? Why?
On the whole I like spunky take-charge characters. Having said that, I must confess that I liked the Dragon in No Dragons for Tea because he was silly and a bit helpless, regardless of his huge size. I loved the child in I Went to the Bay because of his adventurous spirit and his innocence. The cat in Mr. McGratt and the Ornery Cat was a fun character as well.

What's your greatest childhood memory?
I would say that my favorite childhood memory is of going camping with my parents and my brother, at the seaside in France. My mother had made a tent and mattresses filled with hay and we traveled in my father's delivery van. He had a hammock stretched across the back so we could sleep during the journey. We would sleep over on the way. Then, when we got to the seaside, we would look for crabs and fish for shrimp with shrimp nets, dig out clams and cook the lot at night, sand and all. Crunchy. Usually we went to Brittany or Normandy. I can remember how excited I became when I saw that very first strip of blue on the horizon --- it meant we would soon reach the sea! Another favorite memory is of toboganning down the church steps on a rare snowfall in Paris.

Do you have any special secrets or insights into any of your books or characters?
Insights or secrets? I guess I have to inject some part of myself into a character in order to make him or her come to life (which is not too surprising). I like to delve into that world of children for a while and try and imagine how things would look and feel.

No Dragons for Tea

2002 - Children's Choice Picture Book Award, Washington Library Media, Short-listed
2001 - Our Choice, Canadian Children's Book Centre, Winner
2000 - International Reading Association, Teachers' Choices, Winner
1999 - Selected as Outstanding by Parent Council®, Winner