| Still little known a short time ago, Beya Rebaï has created an original artistic style between pastel, fauvism and explosive colors. Her work, her prolific production and her inimitable style have today reached a wide audience.
The first time we met was in 2019, in the former pharmacy in the 11th arrondissement, which has now become the Slow Galerie, an exhibition space for new illustration talents. That evening, during the opening of her Rivage exhibition, many of us have admired Brittany in large format through the hatched and vibrant lines of Beya Rebaï’s pastels.
A year and a half later, we found ourselves on the Père-Lachaise side. In this peaceful environment, Beya lends herself into the interview game. In a nearby café, she unwind herself after an intense week. The studio where she works with 5 other children’s illustrators and graphic designers is a few streets away. Beya slipped away for an exchange.
Paris, the great playground
The neighborhood is familiar. In fact, this is where Beya was born in 1995. Her parents live in République. Very early on, she soaked up the bubbling cultural atmosphere of eastern Paris. As great art lovers, her parents took her to Parisian museums and art galleries. On Saturday afternoons, family walks were taken at the Centre Pompidou. Beya were still too young to follow them. “They would give me a notebook and pencils and would ask the guard to watch me to go visit the museum. When my parents arrived, there were Chinese people around me watching and marveling at my drawings. My taste for color and art started like this”. A few years later, Beya will lead introductory drawing and color workshops. Her audience is already there, but her time has not yet come.
Her father is Tunisian. His job as a corporate travel planner offers the family the opportunity to travel easily. “We had discounts for planes and hotels. My parents were great globetrotters. They took me everywhere with them. I think that’s why I’m drawn to travel today, to discovering a new city, a new country”. From her mother’s side, she draws the light and the landscapes of the Brittain coast. Her grandparents’ house in the Morbihan Gulf was her playground during the summer holidays. It is to these memories that she pays tribute in her exhibition Rivage. Beya’s bi-nationality makes her sensitive to the impact of image on human representations. “I am not a “committed” artist. I take a stand in my personal life but I do not carry a message in my work. On the other hand, I take care to represent people with different skin colors for example. When I was little, I would have liked to see children who looked a little more like me. I remember Martine at the beach. I was fascinated by her. She had smooth hair, she dressed well, her skin was all white. I, who was a tanned little girl with curly hair, did not necessarily find myself. I believe it is important to represent all people and that every child can recognize himself in an illustration”. Currently, Beya is working on a children’s book. The dad will be black, the mother white and the child of mixed race.
The impatience of the artistic life
At school, Beya draws most of the time in the margins of her notebooks. To focus is hard for her during the classes. “The teachers were picking on me because I wasn’t listening. In middle school and high school, I didn’t feel very well. Scientific subjects did not speak to me at all. I would go back to class and fill in sketchbooks. I could have started a business because I was doing geography maps for my whole class.” In college, once the courses were over, she used to go to the Arts Déco in Paris and the Louvre carousel to take drawing, still life and live models classes. Only philosophy and literature interested her. She aspired to join an artistic baccalaureate. Her parents refused and asked her to complete her studies in literature. It was a test for Beya who struggled until her final year. At the end of high school, the time has came to present the School of Decorative Arts in Paris and Strasbourg. “I’m a rather reserved and not very demonstrative person. A lot of explanation and conceptualization of the artistic work was required. I just wanted to draw. It did not work”. It was finally in the public artistic preparation of EPSA in Ivry sur Seine that she began her career. She then discovers that the profession of illustrator can suit her. “I didn’t even know what it was. A friend told me that you can work for the press and do live drawing all the time. I said to myself, come on, let’s go do that”. With this in mind, she joined the St Luc school in Brussels. The pace is steady, academic and theoretical. Many of her comrades got discouraged and gave up. Beya was used to demanding expectations from private Catholic school. She perseveres. “After three years, I didn’t see myself getting into illustration just with my baggage in color and drawing. It wasn’t professional enough. I was missing something very concrete that isn’t necessarily found in art schools. We are told you are making art and then we are unleashed in nature without any concrete tools. I didn’t feel ready. I was not finished”. She returns to Paris.
She enrolled in the master illustration of the school of Condé. It’s a discovery. Digital techniques are very present. She became familiar with software after having only worked with hand tools. But student autonomy is very important and Beya loses her bearings. The reassuring setting to which she was accustomed has disappeared. She does not find the concrete keys she was waiting for to enter professional life. She was bubbling from the inside. “At that time, I was staying at my parents’ house, I started working like crazy, making my website, my Instagram, starting to sell a few drawings to make some money. I said to myself, if I wait for someone to professionalize myself, when I leave school in a month, I will end on the streets». But than, a happy encounter breathes new life into her and opens doors for her.
Klin d’oeil, the launch pad
For the past few months, she has followed the work of the Capman sisters at Klin d’Oeil, a designer boutique hidden in the shade of Saint Joseph Church in the 11th arrondissement. She asked to do her internship there. They got along really well. “They put me forward and encouraged me a lot. They started selling my artwork and sharing my work to their important social media community. I gained a lot of visibility thanks to them”. The end of her studies was approaching as well as the dizzying step towards professional life. The signals were positive. Beya posts very regularly on instagram. « For a year I posted an image every day, without exception, Sundays included. Today, I don’t know how I did it. I produced a lot. I used to finish at two in the morning every day. » Her Instagram account was then growing and the first orders were arriving. The Guardian has even contacted her! « I was freaking out. I was not yet affiliated with the Maison des Artistes. I had schoolwork due at the same time.” For a few weeks, she led this double life simultaneously. At the same time, O Galeria, an exhibition gallery in Porto, had offered her a solo show. “I was overwhelmed with work. My mother came with me to Portugal. I told her« Mom, I feel this is starting to take off for me, I have to stop class. A diploma, nobody is going to look at it when I will have made orders. ». I was dreading telling my dad because he was paying for all my studies. He understood that I had to devote myself completely to my work “.
Before leaving school, she met Marion from the O Pekelo agency who offers to sign with her. Her career as an illustrator begins. Orders were multiplying thanks to its visibility on Instagram. “The first order for the New Yorker, I was like crazy. I called my agent, it was 9:30 pm… I said: Marion I’m sorry to call you at this time but I have an order for the New Yorker! “. Beya made the choice early to write all of her posts in English to appeal to an international audience. Her creations have quickly touched the other side of the Atlantic. Its clients are now mainly foreigners, the USA, Germany, England. “I realized that overseas budgets have nothing to do with a page in a French newspaper. Budgets are tripled, quadrupled. At that point, I started making a good living.” With these early victories, Beya left her family apartment to rent her own place.
Pastels, the discovery that changed everything
At the origin of this success there is a big click. “The most important thing is when I discovered pastel and found my style. It was summer 2018. I went on vacation to Italy and Switzerland with my parents. Little anecdote… I entered a store. Everything was very expensive. I discovered the Caran d’Ache pastels Neo Color II and I stole five of them! The irony is that I have become today the French ambassador for these Caran d’Ache pastels and I work with them every day”. We are in Italy. The weather is nice. The days are getting longer. Beya takes advantage of the summer mildness and the charm of the landscapes to cover her sketchbooks. “I see mountains… and there… I fell in love with the mountains. I feel something in the middle of these mountains. Something very intimidating, very strong. I feel very small. I am very moved by it and try to transcribe what I see. From that moment on, I do not stop. I draw with pastels every day. It’s a very big crush. I finally found a medium that thrills me with intense colors, with texture. I tell myself that I found something after 6 years of study “. Until now Beya had the feeling that she couldn’t find her dough, that she changed her style regularly. The painting requires mixtures, the felt drool, the digital is smooth. She did not found herself in any of these techniques. “I needed something that spoke to me, that made me vibrate, that allowed me to work by hand and to express myself. I fall on pastel and it was love at first sight. A revelation”.
Drawing in cafes, people, vegetation, landscapes… Beya has realized that she can work on all subjects with this technique. “It was a relief. I was so happy. It was all those years of hard work looking for myself. Finally I found something that I liked! It was a relief and a great satisfaction ”. Pastel is the trademark and the tool that made her success. Yet it is not easy for an artist to be strongly identified with a technique at the risk of being locked into it. She says, “Trying other materials scares me. People know me for pastel and come and get me for it. Imagining I take more pleasure in painting or watercolor … It means that my style will completely change and people will not come to see me anymore. I don’t dare to experiment with other materials because I’m afraid of losing my style and being no longer recognized. I do this for myself but I never show it. I recently worked in charcoal and loved it. But I’m afraid to show it. I know the consistency of a book is very important. I hope someday I can show something other than pastel and get my style back ». Yet Beya is already exploring new directions, notably oil pastel, which she uses as a substitute for wax pastel. It expands her range of colors with shades of yellow that complement its duos of red and blue and its cool colors.
Managing success and staying creative
In a short amount of time, Beya found herself propelled to the fore. If she enjoyed the comfort of not having to look for her clients, she also saw the limits of this success. Between the orders for the press, the store to supply, the packages to ship and the drawing workshops to animate, there is not much time left to create. “Currently, in my week, I really draw maybe one day. The rest is emails, quotes, administration, the store, shipping… As I do everything on my own, I no longer have time to draw for myself “. This is why Beya is considering hiring a part-time person at the start of the school year to help her follow her website, her shop and her Instagram account. “It’s a huge job responding to all messages from people who contact me. I don’t want to be the girl who doesn’t answer messages. But that’s what I’m doing right now. I can’t find the time ”. Her next goal is to free up time to deepen her work and experiment with new directions. “Before, I accepted all projects. I told myself that I had to pay my rent, that I had to eat. I had this need to always being busy. Today I can afford to turn down a few projects to focus on my practice “. Thanks to this new free time, she hopes to draw more, return to her origins and explore new continents.
Among Beya’s great inspirations, we cannot fail to mention Fauvism, an art movement initiated by Henri Matisse and André Derain, which in the summer of 1905 opened up a new path for painting. Far from the capital and its influence, settled on the Mediterranean coast in the village of Collioure, they explored light and break free from the codes of realistic painting. We find this heritage in the liveliness and the fiery colors of Beya, which made named the two French painters “fauves” by Parisian critics. “They were using the color that came out of the tube. They were placing colors that weren’t real. This is what stood out to me. A meadow is not necessarily green, a sky is not necessarily blue. There is something to be imagined in the use of different colors for the elements. Making a purple tree, I think it’s awesome. It opened up huge possibilities for me. “ Furthermore, she is sensitive to Pierre Bonnard, David Hockney from whom she acknowledges having drawn great inspiration from the paintings.
“Anything that concerns bright color speaks a lot to me! I think it comes from my childhood. In museums, I did not understand the meaning of paintings. I just saw the associations of colors between them. I was not aware of it but it stuck. I am more interested in a painting that provokes emotion through the composition of the colors than a work with a concept behind it. What I’m trying to transcribe is an emotion devoid of any intellectualization, something very pure and instinctive “.
While waiting to discover the rest of her work, you can take a tour at her site or follow her on instagram @beya_rebai.
Pierre Bonnard, Sonia Delaunay, Idir Davaine, Yann Kebbi, Lorenzo Mattoti, David Hockney, Andrea Serio, Roger Mühl, Firenze Lai, André Derain, Henri Matisse
| His drawing style is figurative, almost realist, but the vivid strength and irregular charm of colored pencil always shows through his sketches.
Clément Thoby was born and raised in Nantes, where he watches the Marc Jacobs and Karl Lagerfeld documentaries that shape his childhood dreams of fashion design and haute couture. When high school comes around, Clément Thoby starts negotiating with his parents to head towards a creative job. An artistic pathway is not an option then, so he quits his scientific studies to come closer to art through literature.
He waits to get his baccalaureate before fully dedicating himself to drawing, then takes a one-year refresher course in applied arts. Instead of confirming his initial intuition for fashion, the richness of the course and the diversity of techniques open whole new perspectives: cinema, especially animated movies, is one of the numerous non-fashion ways of making a job out of drawing. With that in mind, he joins the animated cinema course at Sainte-Geneviève and then gets a spot at the EMCA (School of Animated Arts in Angoulême). There, he realizes that he is more receptive to production design than to character animation. In his third and final year, he is required to make a short film as his graduating project. He joins forces with Augustin Guichot and directs Le Client, an animated short with a David-Lynch-inspired atmosphere.
At the time, he draws in his free time and searches for his own style. “I mostly relied on others. I looked for people with a strong artistic persona to learn from them and join their projects by adapting to their style.” Clément Thoby admits he used to have mental block when it came to drawing for himself. “I couldn’t do it. I had no self-trust. Never did it come to me I could start my own thing, have my own style, do my own design. I just thought the best thing for me would be to work on the production design of projects I liked.” The time for his own artistic career is yet to come. He earns his first stripes on the series Lastman. There, he learns the basics of composition, perspective and directing. “It was very intense, very educational but also very technical. I didn’t do any coloring work. It was frustrating.” He keeps working on production design for animated series for a while. While working on Ariol and Chien Pourri (adaptations of Marc Boutavant’s books), he met Marie Lelullier, production designer, and Davy Durand, director and illustrator. Both give him valuable advice on rhythm and drawing simplification.
Even though sketching was a culture during his studies at Estienne and Sainte-Geneviève, he quickly becomes sick of it, and has already stopped when he joins the EMCA in Angoulême. It is years later that he rediscovers this medium and take a liking to it. During a trip to the USA in 2017, he has an experience that changes the direction of his work for good. For the first time, he uses crayons to draw. It is a revelation. “It really amused me. I was pleasantly surprised by my close family and friends’ enthusiasm when I returned to France.” This first glimpse into satisfaction from a more personal work gets him to persevere during his free time from the animated production on which he continues to work.
It is also then that he starts his Instagram account. He is lent a ground floor at an architect’s shop located passage du Ponceau in the 2nd arrondissement in Paris. There he puts on his first exhibition and sells his first drawings. The feedback he gets is encouraging, but he is not ready to quit the safety of big productions yet. One of his biggest dreams has yet to come to fruition: ever since he was in school, he has dreamed of working on a feature film. This step will be achieved when he works on the movie adapted from Jirō Taniguchi’s manga Le Sommet des Dieux (The Summit of the Gods). In 2019, Clément sells his first prints at the illustrators’ fair organized by the Campus Fonderie de l’image in Bagnolet. “A lot of people attended the fair. It was then that I met other illustrators and discovered this environment that I didn’t know well. I realized I was getting more and more interested.” On this occasion, he receives his first professional order as an illustrator.
In March 2020, while lockdowns take effect worldwide and slow down productions, Clément puts his newfound time to good use. He produces and publishes his personal creations on social networks. An article in media It’s nice boosts his online visibility and brings him his first clients from German and Japanese press. “I almost burnt out during that lockdown. I realized I could not do it all, that there were not enough hours in a day, that I was reaching a crossroads and had to make a choice. It was very clear to me that what motivated me the most was illustration.” Happy to have gone through his time in animation, he becomes a full-time illustrator in the summer of 2020.
Today, almost all his orders are made using colored pencils. You can find his work at the Inventaire gallery (across from the Centre Pompidou) or at Artazart, the art bookshop near Canal Saint-Martin. He confesses to preferring traditional techniques. “It is in fact a pleasure. I got tired of always working on a computer. It’s a unique pleasure.” Even though his technique is almost entirely by hand, Clément’s inspiration comes from the discoveries he makes on the Internet. The successive lockdowns have taken a toll on travelling and drawing from nature. It does however not bother Clément, as he confesses to preferring working from pictures in his studio. He travels to the Netherlands, Scotland, England, and Japan from his desk. He would like to roll out his work on other media and on a greater scale. “I would love to try new things, see my drawings on store fronts, frescos, places. I would love to work with set designers, graphic designers, architects and think the work and space at the same time.”
While waiting for his upcoming work, you can visit his site or follow him on instagram @clementhoby.
Lorenzo Mattotti, David Hockney, Andrea Serio, Kokooma, Beya Rebai, Gustav Klimt, Félix Vallotton, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jean Mallard, Kazuo Oga, Edward Hopper, Jorge Gonzales, Manuele Fior, Cyril Pedrosa, Stephen Shore, André Derain, Hayao Miyazaki, Tom Haugomat, Kate Bush, Joey Yu, Hiroshige, Patti Smith, Kate Bush
Wax chalk (great revelation during his trip to the United States in 2017), Polychromos Faber Castell pencils and especially Luminans from Caran d’Ache which are “very dense, well covering”, an enlarger scanner from the Cosy Pixel workshop, Photoshop for retouching illustrations.
| The phone rings. « Can I call you back in 5 minutes, I’m on my bike? ». We are getting out of a 1-year lockdown gradually. Jean Mallard just arrived at a friend’s in the south of Paris right before curfew. He is finishing Arts Décoratifs school in a month.
Still a student for a few days, Jean has not waited for a long time before launching himself into illustration. In 2018, as part of Arts Décoratifs, he proposed a series of drawings to the Bologna Foire d’Illustration’s jury. His work is noticed and he is rewarded by the Grand Price Award. He went with two friends. « It was a good time to meet editors and see what is going on in the world. This is how I discovered the illustration scene and Italian illustrators » he says. In 2019, while he just left the animated movie scene, an amazing opportunity knocks to his door. He gets offered a grant to illustrate a book for a year in Italie.
At that moment, he is in contact with the Slow Galerie, an atypical art shop dedicated to illustration and graphic arts, installed in a former pharmacy in Paris 11th arrondissement. « They told me, what are you doing nowadays? – I am in Naples and it’s really inspiring. They replied : in a year, you’ll do an expo about Naples in Paris ». For a year, Jean Mallard works on this project, immersed in the Napolitan atmosphere where he is like a fish in the sea. The Mediterranean climate and his inhabitants who talk and invent their lives are an endless source of inspiration for him.
Originally, Jean Mallard is a comic book afficionado. But it’s finally in illustrated books he turned to. « It really evolved during my studies. I have been more attentive to people who are interested in drawing now and to those who like my drawings. It drove me to illustrated books » he tells. Jean is now working as an illustrator for authors, magazines, editions, institutions, like the Explora Museum in Rome, Bordeaux City, Emotions podcasts, No Filter or the artist Théo Ceccaldi.
If commissioned work is a necessary step in an illustrator path, it’s not always easy to put someone’s art at someone else’s ordered service while bringing their personal artistic view. « I realized that the more I like doing a drawing, the better it is also perceived. It’s something I feel. If the orders are too guided, it doesn’t work. What has motivated me in a drawing for a long time, is the story. The idea to tell things in a drawing is the ultimate trip » he admits. « It’s nice to tell other people’s stories but I want to tell my own stories. This is what I will devote myself to shortly, even if it is very intimidating. Drawing is a thing but with words we are even more exposed ».
However, without using words, his illustrations already tell stories through interesting life crowds, hidden in large format art where we discover a new detail each day. « At the beginning, I was doing a lot of comics and my characters were speaking but then I went to a more silent type of drawing. On the Naples series for example, I like the idea that there are a lot of details, that we give material to people and that they can take what they want and they can tell their stories in their own way, like a big buffet where there are a lot of things and each person can take what they want ».
In these big size and colorful panoramas, Jean Mallard paints the city’s outcry and the warmth of the end of summer. We get lost in the sunsets where skies and sea get mixed up and remind us of Japanese prints. Although it might not please his architect father who he admired as a child, perspective doesn’t matter anymore. For him, the goal is that the places are closer to the real world but that the emotion gets in. This conviction comes from an experience he lived during the exposition « Le Monde d’Asie – Au fil des Cartes, in 2018 at the Musée Grimet ». « I got slapped ! I realized that the maps used to be painted by artists and not really scientists. They represented the world in an artistic and narrative way instead of a rational one. They flattened the image not because they were not able to draw but to tell more things ».
He develops this approach and uses it in Naples, while creating the Spanish district diptych he worked on for a month. He draws Naples life, night and day in this tight neighborhood and with a lot of streets where the Spanish King had to build quickly for his soldiers to have a place to live when they arrived in the city. « It’s an amazing neighborhood, full of life, it’s a real maze. I did not know what to draw anymore. I made a big map and put everything in it ». He says
Among Jean’s sources of inspiration, there is of course naïve painting. We find Le Douanier Rousseaux and the other lesser-known naïve he discovered at Musée Maillol. We also find painters from Latin America like Lasar Segall for example. He is also sensitive to painters David Hockney, Paul Clay, Jean-Michel Folon. Jean admits to having been greatly inspired as a child by the films of Hayao Miyazaki or the work of Claude Ponti which gave him a taste for drawing.
Jean Mallard will soon publish a children’s book by Camelo Zampa.
While waiting to discover the rest of his work, you can take a look at his site or follow him on instagram @jean.mallard.
Le Douanier Rousseau, Louis Vivin, Lasar Segall, Manuel Marsol, Claude Ponti, David Hockney, Paul Cley, Jean-Michel Folon, Hayao Miyazaki, Jeanne Macaigne, Anne Laval, Valerio Vidali, Jesus Cisneros, Brecht Evens, henryk Plociennik, Elenia Beretta, Vassily Kandinsky, Tsuguharu Foujita, Béatrice Alemagna, Reza Dalvand, Henrietta MacPhee, Fra Angelico, Paqaru, Virginie Cognet, Beya Rebai, Agnes Hostache, Marc Martinillo, Léa Maupetit , Yamashita Kiyoshi, Matrakçı Nasuh, Moebius, Claire Nicolet, Harriet Lee-Merrion
Watercolor (object of fascination being small when his architect father drew), gouache, acrylic, pastel, homemade pigments, a little post prod on computer, sometimes photoshop. In project: painting on wood.
| Sheltering in the quiet of a small room of the 101 Degrés workshop in Lyon, Agathe took the time to answer my questions. It is in this self-managed coworking of the Croix Rousse that she currently works as artistic director and illustrator alongside other freelancers.
It cannot be said that the illustration arrived by chance in Agathe’s life. Daughter of the youth illustrator Pascale Wirth, she was attracted from an early age by drawing. “When I watched my mother draw, I told myself that I didn’t want to work, I wanted to draw,” she says. Mother and daughter draw side by side and her mother’s enthusiasm for her first drawings gives her a taste for artistic creation. However, a few years later, when Agathe began her studies, her mother, faced with the difficulty of this profession, dissuaded her from embarking on this path. She then turned to graphic design and took a liking to EPSAA, the school of visual communication of the city of Paris.
In Paris she made her debut in the design agency Brandimage. She works on brand identity and visual identity for large companies. After returning from a two-year trip, she began a career as a freelancer. But it is only in 2019 that illustration takes a place in his life. One day, his coworking neighbor, Lena Piroux, lends him his Ipad Pro. It’s the favorite. She in turn equips herself and begins to draw her first professional projects as an illustrator.
A naif and sparkling style
Her very colorful drawing is imbued with the illustrations of the 50s and 60s that she particularly appreciates. It refers to the poster artists of the last century, to Raymond Savignac and his trouville posters, to Sempé and his touching characters. Her inspirations range from Christian Robinson, a contemporary American illustrator, to Matisse with brilliant colors, to French illustrators such as Eglantine Ceulemans, Emilie Ettori and Charlotte Molas. If Agathe’s drawing is part of this heritage, she confesses that she is not absolutely looking for a style: “I have the impression that I have not yet found what I want to do. I do not contradict myself to a particular technique, wireframe drawing or pastels for example. Everything remains open. At first I was obsessed with finding a style. Today, every time I choose a style, I feel restrained in my freedom.”
In March 2020, during the first lockdown, she produced her “drawn playlist”, a small series of illustrations that includes emblematic musical hits. We find the magnificent Malian singers Amadou & Mariam, the Jackson five, Stromae, Sister Smile (I confess that this collection is my little favorite). When asked what work she is most proud of, she turns to her first travel diaries. “That’s what’s most natural for me. You draw directly on a paper. I’ve never managed to have as much freedom as by doing that. Usually, I can’t like my drawings for long. But I have liked these notebooks for ten years now,” she tells me.
Agathe works on Ipad Pro with Procreate software. Although the technique is digital, it has fun finding the rendering of traditional techniques. “I put a white reserve and I shift the layer a little bit as if the color had not fallen in the right place. This gives a screen printing effect. Each color is separated by layer. I work with an line drawing at the beginning. This is what takes the most time.If her technique is close to screen printing, she admits that she has never had the opportunity to work with this process before. This is one of the dreams she has not yet realized.
“These skaters are among my favorites. I drew them the day before I gave birth. I thought, this is my last drawing and then I stop. I finished at 11pm. The next day, I gave birth.»
Today, she collaborates in illustration for the brand of care and hygiene products Respire and for the newspaper Le Particulier. She is now represented by the Parisian agency Monica Velours. She can be found on her website or on instagram.
Raymond Savignac, Jean-Jacques Sempé, Christian Robinson, Charlotte molas, Vriginie Morgan, Henri Matisse