Interview with Jeanne de Sainte Marie


Jeanne de Sainte Marie is an award-winning author and illustrator based in Paris. In addition to her charming books for children and adults, she has recently published an animated and interactive poetry book with the American poet Orel Protopopescu. Recently I got the chance to chat with Jeanne about her creative life.

Where did you grow-up and where do you live now?

I grew up in Rochester, Michigan, which was then a small town north of Detroit.  The dirt road I lived on had no sidewalks. For years now, I have lived in Paris where a multitude of sidewalks lead me to the marvels and adventure of this city I never tire of. 

What is a normal workday like for you?

Ha! We could have a long discussion about the definition of “normal”, Melissa! Seriously, some days when I am involved in an important project with a deadline, I am glued to my drawing table or computer all day long. I have had days where I went out only once to cross the street for a baguette. 

Usually, however, my creative work schedule (illustrating and writing) is disciplined but sustainable. My studio is at home, so after breakfast and a few chores I work approximately from 9 to noon, then break for lunch and/or exercise and then work again in the afternoon for several hours. At least once a week, if not more, I will see an exhibit or go out to sketch. I find that inspiration and solutions to creative problems come to me when I am out walking or riding the “métro” (subway).

What are the similarities and differences between working on a book versus an app?

There are many different kinds of apps and different ways of developing them, but I can tell you about the one I illustrated. It launched in the App Store this May 16! It’s a totally new creation — as opposed to an iPad adaptation of an existing illustrated book on paper. Some publishers take tried-and- true books and adapt them into apps to save development costs and risk.  

A WORD’S A BIRD, Spring Flies By In Rhymes, an animated, interactive poetry book app, was written by the award-winning American poet and children’s book author, Orel Protopopescu. (Click here for the app!  https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/a-words-a-bird/id645849196?mt=8&ign-mpt=uo%3D2 ) It’s a collection of poems, one for each spring month (April, May, June), plus an introductory poem.  From the start, these poems, all based on rhymed metaphors, evoked many images for me. The author and I conceived the app with a French developer who has a passion for animation and high-end illustrated books. 

Our app uniquely fuses traditional animation with technology. I painted hundreds of watercolors on paper for the scenery and animations. Then the paintings were scanned and programmed for the iPad. This approach was the daring idea of our developer and so far, judging by our reviews, the look we achieved makes it stand out on the marketplace.  

I designed the characters, drew the storyboards and model sheets and researched plants, trees, birds and animals to do homage to the nature I love! 

For the May poem, I did all the animation myself, but two other animators, an engineer and programmers joined me to make the whole app come to life. 

To answer your question, the main difference between a book versus this app was that it was a lot more work. More elements needed to be drawn or written up in the storyboards, so that the whole development team was “on the same page”. Like storyboard for a film, I indicated the animation (more frames than for a book storyboard) and the sound. I also indicated what the interactivity would be. 

Other differences: I had the additional challenge of composing the scenes vertically and horizontally to take into account these two screen positions that are possible on the iPad. The scenery was all done in pieces and mounted in layers, in order to leave open the possibility for movement/animation, either in the present version or for future updates. The layering gives a greater impression of depth than when it’s done on one piece of paper. I love this!   (See our “Making-Of” video). Finally, in a book, an illustrator usually shows one or possibly a few action poses per page, but animation for this project required an average of 15 drawings per second (for movies it’s more). I acquired such admiration for the colossal work professional animators do! They usually work in teams and one of our animators likened it to the work of ants! Even animation done entirely on computer, requires many hours of work. 

The main similarity is that an illustrator of a book or app has to understand, then interpret or enhance the text with images. Pictures can be “read” just as words can be. 

Who are your favorite writers and/or illustrators and why?

This is a hard question. There are so many writers and illustrators I love! And they are all different. It’s like asking me if I prefer to eat chocolate or strawberries or… It depends on my mood and what day you ask me. Here are just a few children’s illustrators I admire: Garth Williams for his line and power to pull my heart strings, Maurice Boutet de Monvel for his elegance, Susan Hill for her detail and sense of place, Quentin Blake for his exuberance, Melissa Sweet for her stylish, kid-friendly and contemporary style, Bridget Strevens Marzo for her sophisticated color sense and characters that make me smile. Oh, and I have a thing about birds, so I always loved J. J. Audubon and Charlie Harper’s stylized birds… and then there’s Winslow Homer for his beautiful watercolors…I could go on and on, but I might make you sorry you asked.   

What advice would you give aspiring artists?

Be prepared for the long haul (have perseverance) and enjoy the ride.

What are you working on now?

I’m having fun, wrapping up a picture-book project about a family of mountain goats. I wrote the text and I’m doing a storyboard and a finished sample. 

To learn more about Jeanne and her work, visit her web site at www.jeannedesaintemarie.com.

To discover how Jeanne and her team created A WORD’S A BIRD, Spring Flies By In Rhymes visit



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