Claire Prouvost on the joy of social media, turning a hobby into a career and going freelance
Claire Prouvost is a French illustrator, painter, graphic designer and street artist based in Dublin, Ireland.
Known for her drawings of charismatic women in a bold, pop and minimalist style, she has worked with the likes of Gucci, Lavazza, Penguin Vintage, and Becks. She draws inspiration from fashion photos from the 1970s imbued with lightness and primary colours, alongside hints of Picasso and Gauguin.
Represented by Monica Velours in Paris, Claire is originally from Lille and always loved to draw. But it wasn't until she discovered an exciting challenge on social media that she realised she wanted to become an illustrator. We chatted to Claire about her journey so far.
Did you always know you wanted to be an illustrator? How did you get into it?
No, I didn't at all! I've always loved drawing, though, ever since I was a little girl. I'm lucky that my dad has taught me many techniques throughout my childhood, we even had a painting studio at home, and we would spend weekends drawing, just the two of us.
At 15-years-old, I chose to follow a creative career and got into a high school in France that was offering an Applied Art option with the general curriculum (Bac STI Arts Appliqués). Those three years taught me a lot about drawing and design. It made it easier to choose a creative path at university, opening my mind to the world of architecture, fashion design, graphic design, product design. Then, I went on to study product design, because I didn't know what I wanted to do.
After four years and a lot of technical drawing, I realised it wasn't for me. I switched to graphic design for my Master's degree (fun-fact: we had an illustration module which I used to hate) and went on to get some work experience abroad, in Dublin, where I still live today.
I was hired as a graphic designer and, in the co-working space I was based, we had a 'sketch-club' where we would draw each other, once a week. That's where my love for drawing kicked back in, and also where I heard about the 100 Day Challenge on Instagram, which I joined in 2018. From the daily gouaches paintings I was posting, people started to reach out to me for work. And that's how I became an illustrator!
That's amazing. So social media played a part in your career?
Yes, big time! It's not at all something I would have planned, I didn't even realise at the time that it was a thing to be 'famous' as an illustrator on Instagram.
Like everyone, I had my vacation pictures and a few selfies, and through challenges and posting regularly in my 'online art diary' through challenges, it seems like it picked up! It was and still is such a valuable tool to find a supportive community, but I was miles away from expecting that it would get me some work and to be recognised as an illustrator.
It's a brand new year and decade. What have you learnt the most so far and what are you doing differently this year?
One of the biggest transformations was to turn a hobby into a career. I have also learnt to embrace the journey. Once out of college, I started to work as a graphic designer in a nice environment, and I thought, 'This is it' – I'm sorted for the next 10 years or so.
Turns out that, three years in and my plans have changed a lot. I have been inspired by so many people that are working freelance and just killing it, and I want to give it a try. It's okay not to stick to the plan and to jump out into the unknown.
After being part-time for the past year, I am finally taking the leap to be a full-time freelancer. That will be a lot of change for me this year and for the next decade! The other thing is to follow your curiosity and intuition and to keep experimenting. I am planning a lot of it in 2020. I am lucky enough to be doing a two-month artist residency in a global tech company that will allow me to focus on my artistic practice and develop my business.
It takes guts to make that change. Do you listen to your gut right away? Or do you mull over things?
For this one, it's a been progressive, and a step-by-step project with a lot of questioning and 'what if?'. I am lucky to have people in my life that support that path and encourage me to make my own career. I can be quite impulsive and I always follow my gut, but I like to plan things a bit ahead of time, particularly for the big decisions!
Do you feel there is a change in the air? Do you feel creatives are finding a new approach in general?
Things are changing so fast these days. It's never been so easy to learn new skills, to promote your work internationally, to find inspiration and beautiful art online. The pace and the standards are incredibly high in the creative industry nowadays, and yet, so many people can access that level without necessarily studying in an art, design or illustration school.
I think that it's so amazing to see that people from all countries and cultures, from different backgrounds, can access this knowledge and references out there, and promote their ideas, share their values and introduce us to their culture and way of thinking.
It's a beautiful insight into peoples' minds and I'm so glad that it can connect us. I think things are changing for the best when you see that more and more artists are recognised for their talents, and get to work on amazing projects regardless of gender, skin colour, beliefs, background and sexual orientation. That positivity makes me happy! I think people are now communicating creatively on issues and subjects they have at heart, and that makes beautiful and powerful content.
Let's talk about your work, it's a very distinctive style. Can you tell us more about it and how you've developed it?
My style is influenced by the post-impressionism, fauvism and cubist movements. I love to work with bold colours, playing with contrasts and shadows, breaking down an image into shapes. I love the playfulness of primary colours and the use of a restricted palette, I never get bored of it!
I used to love to draw some pretty realistic portraits and got a 'Ha!' moment using gouaches for the first time. It wasn't about lines anymore, but about how to place a colour block beside another. My style has evolved from there, and I started practising painting portraits looking at how the light and shadow contrast was shaping it. My style has also evolved a lot through the 100-day project and Inktober, and any kind of regular sketching practice. It's important to keep these up!
What inspires you and your work?
So many things on a daily basis! I love looking on social media for beautiful photography accounts, and vintage fashion pictures. I also have Pinterest boards full of painting references from the last century, fashion pictures (old and new), old Soviet prints and matchboxes, and a lot of faces to draw. Usually, these pictures represent women in a vulnerable or powerful posture. I try to express emotions and feelings through my artwork, and I will collect a lot of images that convey that message.
You've stayed in Dublin. What is it about the city that you like?
Yes, I do love it (and also hate it sometimes!). I have been living here for over four years, and it's not for the weather that I stayed! I love the people, how welcoming they can be and willing to give you a chance. It makes things easier because it is a small city (and country), so you get to know the people in your field pretty quickly. On the other hand, because it is a small scene and market, it is good to have an international client base.
What is currently bugging you, if anything? What would you like to see a change in the creative industries?
What's bugging me the most, like many, is climate change! There are so many things that are going wrong, and I feel powerless. But I love to see the positive responses and initiatives by the creative community to these sad events on social media. People are teaming up, creating things together, sharing their ideas, fundraising... It's heartwarming!
A change I would like to see in the creative industry? More even industry rates, and having minimum standards that would apply widely. Too often the budget offered is low, and it devalues the whole industry and what clients should pay. And sometimes big brands' budgets can be a real joke!
What advice would you give to those thinking of becoming a freelancer?
Take it easy, listen to a lot of podcasts or read books on the subject. Make a three-year business plan, study what others are doing, and don't be afraid to ask questions! Take baby steps and put some money aside, perhaps juggle with a job until it becomes too much for you to handle before taking the leap.
I only can speak from my own experience, but I'm so glad I worked for someone else before jumping into freelancing, I feel much more confident now. There is no right or wrong way to do it, and remember that, no matter what position you are in today, it is okay. Don't beat yourself up, follow your gut and don't move too fast.