Peter de Sève, the award-winning illustrator and character designer behind animated features like Ice Age and countless New Yorker covers, shares some thoughts about illustrating, books and his design for this year’s National Book Festival Poster.
You’ve been doing illustration and character designs over three decades. What was your first really big project – the one that made you feel like, yes I can do this for a living?
I wouldn’t say that there was one project which made the case for my doing this for a living full time. In fact, It wasn’t until I had managed to complete lots and lots of little assignments that it suddenly began to resemble something that I could actually call a career.
Your design for this year’s National Book Festival poster is a narrative concept rather than a single scene. What was your inspiration?
The poster is absolutely inspired by my two daughters, Paulina (14 yrs. old) and Fia (9 yrs. old). They are both voracious readers and frankly, my heart swells every time I see one of them curled up with a book, which is basically always. More specifically, the girl on the poster is Fia, whom I have found reading in almost every position you see on the poster. For her, reading is practically an Olympic sport.
You have designed both illustrations and animation. Is there a difference in how you approach the work depending on the final form?
Because my illustrations are very character-centric, my work for both fields is very much entwined. Whether working on a design for a magazine cover or for an animated film, I really try to stand in the shoes of whomever I’m drawing. I think of it as method acting in a way. I try to inhabit the character and feel what he or she is feeling and literally draw from that emotion.
Finally, the theme of this year’s Book Festival, which you so joyfully captured in the poster design, is “I Cannot Live Without Books.” Tell us about a book you cannot live without.
I’m sure you are expecting me to name a favorite piece of literature or other book of prose, but the book I could not live without would most likely be a collection of work by a favorite artist. For me, the thing about a novel or any other kind of written work is that no matter how much I love it, the chance of my reading it more than once is almost nil. On the other hand, I have monographs by artists whom I love, too numerous to mention, with bindings that are worn and pages falling out, because I never grow tired of looking