'I hope they will find it humble and pretty': Jean Aubertin on his calming and peaceful illustrations
Inspired by life around him, the illustrator has a knack for turning everyday moments into beautiful and colourful art pieces. Here, we chat with the illustrator to learn more about his remedial process and what it's like to work with watercolours.
Observing the work of Jean Aubertin is like looking back on a dream. Hazy and soft, the illustrator draws the pleasurable moments of napping, sipping coffee, opening a pack of chewing gum or reading a book. These specific (and universal) moments are manifested from life around him: "We sometimes see life as a succession of events: a first job, a wedding, a birth or a trip," he tells us. "I am interested in what's in between – ordinary moments. In my drawings, I try to convey this feeling of everyday serenity, a feeling of Sunday morning."
Jean only recently took the plunge into illustration full-time. In 2020, he decided to quit his five-year job at a big company in Paris – during which he'd work on databases in the day and nestle away with his illustrations at night. And now, he couldn't be any happier in his medium. "It's not just illustration that attracts me; it's also working with paper and watercolours," he says. "For me, illustration is a slow process that requires time and natural light." It's also something that he pairs with coffee and music, which enables him to reach a point in art-making that he deems as a "peaceful meditation".
Watching the world go by, Jean will be inspired by the things that bring him happiness. "Anything that makes me smile or that makes me think it can be a good idea for an illustration – but not necessarily a beautiful one," he shares. "Anything that I find beautiful can make a good illustration, but not necessarily an interesting one. I guess my inspiration is a combination of these factors." Flitting between beauty, interest and joy, his works, therefore, tend to be cropped and zoomed in as they focus on a specific fragment of the day – like the back of a boat or the corner of a bathroom. It gives the work a sense of mystery and idleness.
Once he's found inspiration, Jean will begin jotting notes down in his sketchbook – words, quotes and short stories. Then, he'll spend time digging through the internet for outside sources, especially those found on "deserted personal blogs", which he usually lands on for material that "intimately resonates with [his] work". Otherwise, Jean will revive past memories, like his trips to Paris, where he grew up, or Beaune in Burgundy, where his family come from. "Once I have found my idea, I look at a list of rules that I have come up with, which usually help me to put the right focus on my inspiration." He's set up a useful list of guidelines to help him get there, which include: "A good watercolour is a good drawing", "make sure to start your illustration with the light colours first", and "would this illustration make my mother smile and roll her eyes?"
Following these guidelines, Jean has now built an impressive portfolio filled with bountiful, vibrant and calming illustrations. A recent piece, entitled Jean Nicoli, looks at the ecological disaster of crossing the Mediterranean Sea on big boats. "I cannot help but find these ships beautiful, especially the great SNCM ships with that beautiful blue logo. Sadly, the company went bankrupt in 2016." Jean used to regularly travel on these boats to Corsica to reconnect with his family roots. So not only is the illustration a beautiful replication of a ship, conceived in signature hazy style, it also sings with personal memory.
Charles Asleep, another favourite of Jeans, presents a subject laying restfully on the bed. "This illustration represents my brother sleeping during the holidays in Corsica," he says. "While this painting gives a feeling of calm and idleness, it was done during a period of family despair. I like this ambiguity." Meanwhile, Canada Dry is a watercolour he made in Burgundy, where he lived only until recently. He likes this one for its imperfections: "It is impossible to be clinical when you paint with watercolours and when you don't use take and a ruler."
All in all, Jean's portfolio is widely therapeutic – both in the illustrative style as well as the subject matter he portrays. So how does he hope his audience will react? "I hope they will find it humble and pretty", he says. And we couldn't agree more.