Using watercolour and gouache to paint native and non-naturalist flora, fauna and characters full of colour and the life, Agathe Singer's artworks are distinctive and beautiful.
Her work has graced everywhere from the catwalks of Milan Fashion Week with her illustrations incorporated in the designs of Arthur Arbesser to packaging for French perfumer, Fragonard.
Based in Paris, the French illustrator's style apparently stems from an idyllic childhood by the sea. We chatted to Agathe about how she got started, her inspirations and more.
Tell us more about where you grew up
I was born in Normandie in a city on the west coast of France but grew up in Bretagne in a very small village by the sea. My childhood home was surrounded by a beautiful wild garden, full of flowers. Being amongst nature was wonderful and inspires most of my work today.
Did you always know you wanted to be an illustrator?
I always loved to draw and paint, to experiment with colours and techniques. When I was about 10 my mother was creating illustrated magic lanterns for kids and I was helping her to cut coloured paper and design new characters and stories.
Although I always wanted to study art and follow an artistic career, I never really thought about being an illustrator, even after going to art school. I studied graphic design and I was more interested in book design and type than colour and images. I practised graphic design for some years before I fell in love again with painting and realised that being an illustrator would be my dream job and my passion.
Has there been anyone who has strongly influenced you?
My parents – they always said they would support me in whatever I chose to do, as long as I work hard to be good at it.
How did you come to be a freelancer?
I was working in a graphic design agency whilst I started building my illustration portfolio. I sent it over to a dozen of brands I loved, and I was lucky to meet with an amazing client who trusted me with my first commissioned illustration projects. When I had enough work for me to quit my job, that's when I became a freelancer.
How do you find working for yourself?
I find it exciting, tiring and very liberating. Ultimately, it was the best decision of my professional life.
Working for yourself, of course, brings responsibility and a good deal of stress because there is no fixed or guaranteed salary. But I find that it is above all a great freedom for me. I set my own schedule, which allows me to alternate intense work days and break times because I often need to do nothing to move forward on my projects. In addition, I work several months of the year abroad and I like the idea that my office can fit into a backpack.
How do you find new work?
For the last two years, new work has mostly come through social media. Instagram is particularly helpful. It’s a place where I love to share my work and see the work of others.
During busy times like now, clients are contacting me for projects and I’m mostly working on commissioned illustrations. When things are slowing down a bit I try to work more on personal stuff, collaborations with designer friends, exhibitions and book projects.
For the last two years, I also had an online shop which I've just closed but hope to open again soon, so I’m always thinking about new illustrations to print or objects to create.
Talk us through a recent project
I was recently contacted by Snapchat to make two sets of "stickers" for the app. The brief was to make 16 illustrations per set, which users could then use to decorate their photos and videos.
I chose to develop two themes that are dear to me, flora and femininity, which I treated both on the angle of colour, humour and "power" – the power of women and flowers.
During the early stages of the process, I created quick sketches in black and white and proposed various colour ranges. Once everyone was happy, I created the final illustrations in Photoshop – which is quite rare for me, as I usually work with gouache. But I had a lot of fun, moving away from my usual techniques. You'll be able to see the result when Snapchat launches the stickers next month!
What’s been the biggest challenge of working for yourself so far?
So far the biggest challenge of working for myself has been managing my workload and keeping a personal life and space. For many years, I worked a lot, developing my portfolio and taking on as many projects as I could. These days, I’m learning to prioritise and take time for myself and my family and to work with clients and projects that I care for.
And the biggest lessons learnt?
Mostly about managing contracts, fees and getting paid – something you do not learn very much in school, and you often have to deal with alone at first. But I've found it helps to interact with other illustrators and share experiences. Because it's important to seek advice on these topics.
I also learned to better defend my rights and the value of my work. The biggest lesson is to never work for free or against a promise of exposure – something illustrators often come up against.
And your biggest success story?
That I found a job I’m passionate about, that makes me very happy.
Can you describe your style and your inspirations?
My style is very colourful and bold with round shapes and naive motifs. At the moment, my paintings are full of flowers and naked figures. I’m strongly inspired by nature and womanhood, and by artists like Matisse, Le Douanier Rousseau and Frida Kahlo.
Do you have a favourite medium?
My favourite medium is gouache, for the boldness but the delicacy of the colours and the texture.
What advice would you give to those hoping to become an illustrator like you?
I would say to draw, paint or create every day in order to find your own style and voice and to share your work with others as it can help you grow a lot and gain visibility to potential clients.