Geneviève Godbout: making a choice, above all else

As she prepares to hibernate like a mother bear with her very first child, a daughter due in November, Geneviève Godbout answered our personal and not-so-personal questions about her fairy tale journey.

First of all, Geneviève can you tell us about the important milestones that have marked your career?

First, I studied animation in Montreal and then in Paris, where I lived for a year before moving to London for the next seven years. That’s where I got my job as a character artist at Disney Consumer Products. I was responsible for the Winnie the Pooh and Company franchise, which includes characters from Bambi and the Aristocats, among others. I liked the path I was following in this field, but it was while creating illustrations on the side that I really found my place. The more I did, the more I developed my network of contacts. I created my first books while I was still working at Disney. I illustrated the album Joseph Fipps while I was in London. I even had the chance to meet the editor and the author who were travelling through England. That was my debut in the publishing world.

In 2012, an agent from New York contacted me to represent me in the American market. It was too good to be true! Ten years later, she is still by my side! Thanks to her, illustration became my full-time job. In 2013, I left everything in London and moved back to Montreal. I was 28 years old.

What did you learn from your years at Disney?

Animation and Disney have provided me with a lot of technique and consistency in my drawings. I have perfected my ability to create movement and intent in my characters. I had to replicate the drawings of well-known characters to perfection, so it was very precise, conforming work. I am very grateful to have had this corporate experience with excellent working conditions. However, I was not happy and would have died a slow death had I continued.

You make a living from your art, illustration. Describe your world to us…

I try to evoke comfort and kindness through my drawings, without becoming namby-pamby. The books I work on are a kind of soft haven where children and parents can take refuge. I like nostalgia, without it being too sad. A nostalgia that makes you smile. My universe is downright feminine and childlike.

What do you do to cultivate inspiration and creativity?

I could answer that travelling or observing the humans around me is stimuli, but I firmly believe that the real work comes from within. I have never come back from a trip with an idea for an exhibition or a book. I have to feel good on the inside and do it with intention.

It is not always easy. During the first year of the pandemic, I threw myself into my work. Too much so. At one point, I got bored. I didn’t know why I was doing what I was doing, and I was doing it almost compulsively. I began to feel a disconnect with my work. So, in the last few months, I took a step back to redefine what I really wanted to do… It’s a passion job and you have to keep the flame alive! I became pregnant just as I started to let go, just as I wanted to experiment in a different way.

What does your workspace look like?

Working from home doesn’t work for me. I don’t have enough rooms, I had to rent a space. For eight years now, I have had a workspace at one of my publishers, La Pastèque. It’s a very stimulating environment. My office neighbours are Michel Rabagliati and Isabelle Arsenault.

What is your creative process? What environment do you immerse yourself in for your work?

I am very intuitive. I start by throwing out ideas, looking for colours, inspirations and then I draw until I feel that it clicks.

A cat lying on a pillow

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Tell us about your experience with Demain Demain…

This collaboration benefits me a lot because I have complete freedom to create what I like: it is both complex and super exciting. For the Marigold collection, I experimented a lot. I started over, I threw a lot away until it fit a feminine aesthetic that wasn’t childish and yet still felt like me. As always, nostalgia is present, it’s how I dress and it’s also what my home decor looks like: one foot in today and one foot in the past.

I also had a lot of fun with the Mon Jardin collection for Demain Demain. I had carte blanche. Drawing the little girl with the plants really changed my drawing style for my next book Wherever you’ll be (to be published in French by La Pastèque in spring 2022). Working with various colours and the way the characters are portrayed has really given my work a different flavour.

Demain Demain gives me time to explore, to try things differently. This collaboration allows me to continue to work with patterns, but within a project that fits with my values. I love the range of quality products that are created from my illustrations.

When we look at all the projects you are working on, we can see that you are very productive. Would you say that, with experience, you have become faster over the years?

I don’t think I’ve improved my time. My technique is too slow. It’s almost meditative. I’m not faster, but I work a lot. That’s why I took my foot off the pedal this past year.

We know that the publishing world is not the most lucrative and not everyone can make a living from their illustrations. Would you say that you are one of the privileged ones who manages to live well from it?

I am indeed one of the privileged ones. The reason? I also work in the United States and English Canada. Budgets are up to 10 times higher than here. Of course, I still do books in Quebec for publishers that I like, but it doesn’t pay much. Our market is small. There is a lot of work being done to promote Quebec books in the market, but Quebec illustrators can hardly make a living from it.

Finally, can you tell us what’s coming up for you in 2022?

Besides becoming a mother to my little girl, I have some great book projects that I’m going to let simmer. I want to let these projects sink in before I start working on them. Next summer, an exhibition of my work (including the originals I drew for Demain Demain) will be held at a gallery in Los Angeles that often showcases artists from the illustration and animation community. I am very excited about this premiere!


Who is your favourite illustrator?

I cannot name just one person. It’s horrible! Of course, I have to mention Isabelle Arsenault, but also Emmanuelle Walker, who comes from Montreal and lives in London. She will soon be releasing a book from La Pastèque. What she does is very graphic. It’s always cool to discover someone else’s view of the world through their drawings. I would also mention Matt Forsythe and Christian Robinson in the U.S.; I have read pretty much all their books.

A children’s book that made an impression on you?

I had a huge crush on Une maman, c’est comme une maison by Aurore Petit. It is so touching and so beautiful that it makes you want to cry. It’s a contemplative book about what it’s like to be a mom from a child’s perspective. I offer it to everyone who is expecting a child. It spoke to me even before I was a mom. Oh, how beautiful!

Her books:
Joyeux Noël, Anne !
Rose à petits pois
Si je n’étais pas Anne
Quand le père Noël était petit

Where to find her creations:

Demain Demain
Web Site
Sur ton mur

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