Interview: Solène Debiès

Interview: Solène Debiès

Solène Debiès is a French illustrator and designer, born in Brest. After studying graphic arts in Nantes, she chose to focus on illustration in the early 2000s and developed her skills alongside her taste for travelling. You can find her colourful characters in magazines, illustrated books, exhibitions, and commercials. In this interview, she talks about her inspiration, her favourite parts of France and what a day in her life looks like. 

How did you start illustrating professionally?

I have always enjoyed reading books and drawing stories with characters. I went to school in France and I was going to study science rather than art because I was quite good at mathematics. But when I was 17, I decided to give up science to focus on what I really loved: artistic creation and illustration. I enrolled in a school of design and applied arts in Nantes.

I studied there for 3 years and specialised in graphic design. After graduating, I worked for 2 years in an advertising agency as an art director and graphic designer. But I was bored and what I wanted to do was illustration!

I was about 25 years old, I decided to take the plunge and become a freelance illustrator. I went to show my portfolios – at the time on paper in all Parisian advertising agencies and magazines. I started by drawing for fashion catalogues and I had my first major clients, in Paris and Nantes, for communication projects (posters, brochures, corporate magazines, etc.).

A few years later, my career took a real turn with regular collaborations for magazines. For example, I did editorial illustrations for ELLE India for over seven years. I have also carried out projects for brands, such as packaging designs for Lancôme and DIM, or visual advertising campaigns for institutions, such as the City of Cannes. Apart from commissioning projects, I always try to devote part of my time to personal illustrations, illustrations that I create for pleasure and that can be found on my posters and cards, my portfolios or on my Instagram.

Greeting cards designed by Solène for France Today, available online © Solène Debiès

How would you describe your style of illustration?

First of all, I really like the colours, and I like them pretty bright… I always draw the contours of my shapes with a red line: I only use black very rarely, even if it is also a colour I like a lot! I essentially draw scenes with characters – often women – who evolve in imaginary architectures and environments or are inspired by reality (Paris, the Lot, South Asia, etc.). My characters, like the sets in which they evolve, are stylised.

I don’t really know how I “found” my style, it happened quite naturally. I have always loved the work of other artists who have inevitably influenced me: Jordi Labanda in Spain, Mario de Miranda in India, Jason Brooks in the UK, Kiraz, Sempé, and Voutch in France, which I particularly admire. Unlike these illustrators, maybe because I started my career in 2000, and I draw vectors with Adobe Illustrator. So, I always do my sketches and pencils in Papier à la main, I finalize and colour my illustrations digitally, which leads to a very different effect!

What is your favourite area of France and why?

It’s difficult because I like a lot of places in France for very different reasons but I can try to give you a list of these places and tell you why I like them.

I love the Lot, especially the Quercy Regional Park. I have spent most of my summer holidays there for many years. The nature and the villages are beautiful, you can eat well, you can swim in the rivers, hike, canoe… This is my second French “home”, where I rest.

I love the island of Ré where I also frequently go on holiday, in Saint-Clément-des-Baleines, in the house of my in-laws. The landscapes and beaches are very beautiful but there are now many people in the summer so it gets quite busy!

I like Paris, of course, but is it really France? It’s superb and it’s about the only cosmopolitan place in France. Sometimes, it feels really good!

I love the Loire Valley and the city of Nantes where I live most of the time. The Loire Valley because I love the landscapes, the wines, and the culture so specific to the Loire.

The city of Nantes… because… I don’t really know… It’s not flamboyant like Paris, it’s not really cosmopolitan, and it’s neither very calm nor really vibrant, but I love it! Maybe it’s still the Loire and the opening it created on the ocean that makes me love Nantes.

I love the city of Sète because the people there are exceptional. I have always loved the city of Limoges and I still don’t know why. And otherwise, I love Lille!
After that, there are many small places that I like very much but it would be too long!

Solène working on illustrations © Solène Debiès

What is your proudest achievement?

From a personal point of view, what I am most proud of is my two daughters who are now teenagers!

From a professional perspective, I like, for example, the “The Schorle” drink labels that I recently created where the team had given me carte blanche.
And then recently the complete cladding of a 7-storey Boulevard Haussmann building in Paris, it’s very impressive to see my drawings on such a huge scale!

What does a day in the life of an illustrator look like?

For me, it’s a pretty classic mother’s awakening, with breakfast, notebooks to sign, and school departures!
Then, my professional day usually begins with some discussion about the current projects and the things to do in the day with my partner and manager of Marc Falco studio. Generally, I devote the mornings to working on projects that have been ordered: creating illustrations, research, and communicating with the customers…

I try to reserve the afternoons for more personal research and creative projects: I look for ideas, and I write the ideas I had the days before. If they are convincing, then I make them for posters or for my Instagram account.

There are sometimes very busy weeks where I have to create lots of projects and have no time for personal creation, or even for anything else! And then there are weeks of emptiness, no order, no inspiration for drawing! I usually fall back on the kitchen, I go to the market and cook small dishes, I taste wines, or I go to see the sea or walk in nature. The profession of artist unfortunately does not have a regular rhythm, you just have to accept it and get used to it!

Solène has illustrated some stunning greetings cards for France Today, which you can buy here. You can find more of Solène’s work on her website and Instagram

Lead photo credit : Solène Debiès © Solène Debiès

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Ariane's love for France started from birth as the daughter of a French mother and an English father. An Oxford graduate, she splits her time between Scotland and Burgundy, writing about all things French from mustard to Maigret.

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