Gwladys Le Roy is a French illustrator, and she’s about to turn 29 years old, although she looks 10 years younger (she says she hopes people still tell her this when she’s about to turn 40). She grew up in the south-west of France, near the sea, before moving to Paris. After a few years there, she decided to move to the US, where she has spent the past two years between New York and San Francisco. Gwladys works as a communications consultant and illustrates during her free time. Her illustrations are always inspired by femininity, in a more or less political way depending on the piece. Her first professional project, the illustration of a guide about female sexuality, reflects her feminist engagement, which in her work meets her love of nature and mythology. We met Gwladys in a newly reopened café in Paris as restrictions had recently been lifted, just a few days after she came back from the US. She told us about her love for children’s books, how to balance a day job and an emerging creative career, and the influence of a troubled political climate on art.
How did you become an illustrator?
I began officially working as an illustrator quite late. It started with commissions from people around me who knew that I draw, and this is how I found my style. When I worked as a consultant in various agencies, I befriended designers who would involve me in their creative projects. This is how I started making work outside of my bedroom. One day, when I was working in a coworking space called The Tank in Paris, a coworker named Julia Pietri said she needed someone to illustrate a guide about female sexuality for her project Le Gang du Clito [The Clit Gang], and another colleague pointed at me, even though I did not consider myself an illustrator at the time. I was already really passionate about feminism, so I accepted, and this guide was my first “professional” project.
Do you prefer to work as an illustrator full-time, or to have a day job and be free to create whatever you want without having to worry about money?
I like to have another job so that I don’t get bored and so that illustrating can remain something I do because I enjoy it and not a source of stress. I studied Communication in university. I’ve been working in that field for a few years now and it has been really fulfilling.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
One of my friends compared it to the artwork from the Singerie at the Chantilly castle. My style is very ethereal and a bit otherworldly. For my work with Le Gang du Clito, I was inspired by Renaissance art and by Greek and Egyptian mythologies, by their stories, their frescos and the way they represent bodies. Chagall’s use of colors, Matisse’s Dance, and Raphael’s Three Graces also inspired me for this work. I play with the contrast between precise lines and diffuse watercolors, and between silhouettes and backgrounds through botanical elements and the accumulation of colors. I work exclusively on paper. I think the white backgrounds make my style distinctive, and working on paper also allows me to detach myself from screens, which makes my work more enjoyable.
How did you find it? How has it changed over time?
Sometimes you have to let an idea rest so that it can evolve into something else. This is what happened with my artistic style. I draw a lot of postcards for my friends and family, and one day I received my first “real” commission. When I started working on it, my aesthetic came to me instinctively, it was completely natural.
Who and/or what inspires you?
Nature inspires me a lot. I especially liked the vegetation in California when I traveled to Los Angeles and San Francisco. I love the descriptions that Albert Camus makes of Mediterranean landscapes in his novels, I find them very inspiring. I also like Greek and Egyptian mythologies. I sometimes listen to music when I work. These days I’ve been listening to Yom, Dexter Britain and Max Richter, so a lot of neo-classical music, and sometimes music that sounds a bit tribal. Recently I read an interview with Colum McCann in the January 2021 issue of America [a French magazine created in 2017 to cover Trump’s mandate]. His insights on contemporary American society really resonated with me, because political events indirectly influence my work.
How do you think art can make a difference in the current political climate?
In that interview, McCann talks about teenagers and about the responsibility of teachers in the shaping of their political opinions. I think that artists and writers too have a huge impact on the shaping of these opinions, as well as in archiving the present, without necessarily asserting a specific opinion. I think I’m more of a philosophical person than a political person. I let myself be inspired indirectly by the political climate and I don’t make explicitly political artwork. That was the case last year for instance, when I was in the US when the Black Lives Matter movement was at its peak. It’s also the case with feminism, which always influences my work in a more or less obvious way depending on the piece. I admire openly political artists, but I don’t think that being openly political is mandatory when you make art. It might be what differentiates art from design, and what gives it its meaning. Art bears a message and creates emotion, unlike factual and statistical information that can be found in a paper for instance. It can move people on a deeper level.
Your work is inspired by feminism and ecofeminism. What do these concepts mean to you? How did you discover them? How do you represent them?
It came to me very naturally. I’ve loved nature since I was a child. I grew up in the Landes, in the south-west of France, near the sea, with friends who loved outdoor activities. I’ve always been fascinated with the women in my family. When I’m commissioned for a project, I always ask in which room the client will display the piece, and whether they’ve made a trip that has had an impact on them. I let these informations rest in my mind, and an idea forms itself completely subconsciously. I think this is what happened with my personal illustrations. They were shaped by the environment I grew up in, by the influence of this natural space and the women around me.
How do you work? What are the different steps in the making of an illustration?
When I’m illustrating a book, I take inspiration from the text, or if it’s not done yet, I ask the author about its contents and the tone they’d like to set. When I’m working on a commission, I ask the client about themselves, about the trips they’ve taken. I was once commissioned by a woman who was very moved by a trip to Brazil, so I researched Brazilian vegetation. I always let the informations I receive rest for a while. I feed my mind by going to exhibitions or looking at other artists’ work. I try to work over close periods of time so that the work remains cohesive.
What does a workday look like for you?
During the pandemic, I alternated between creating a lot, promoting my work, and meeting other artists. When you want to make your artistic career grow, it’s important to get out of your room, to talk about your work, to share it, and to meet kind and inspiring people. There are periods of time when I’m very productive, and others less. Sometimes I have too many ideas at once and I don’t know where to start, so I find myself unable to work.
Have you ever wanted to experiment with other art forms?
I work mostly on paper and I illustrate a lot of books, and I’d like to continue. I’m thinking about working with textiles, maybe to design sheets, place mats, or even products for children. I did a workshop in New York to learn how to sew. I’d love to go to Portugal to learn ceramics. I have a lot of ideas that are still a bit unaccomplished, but I really want to diversify what I do.
What was your favorite experience in your career so far?
I recently worked on a commissioned piece that I really loved. It represented a chimera, my first one. It’s a new subject that has really interested me lately. I also really loved working on my first editorial project with Le Gang du Clito. Julia was so passionate about it and she expected me to be as passionate as she was, which was absolutely the case.
What would you like to accomplish through your work?
I’m lucky enough to be commissioned by people who just came out and would like me to create something for the occasion. I’m always very moved when people trust me to create something for important life events. I never treat the subject openly in the piece, I prefer to keep it symbolic. This is how I like to work. Le Gang du Clito’s guide is written very explicitly to destroy taboos around female sexuality, but I chose to illustrate it poetically and subtly.
What have you been reading, watching, and listening to lately?
Albert Camus and Jean Cocteau’s books inspire me a lot, as well as Picasso’s sketches. I’ve been reading a lot of children’s books lately for a project, and I’m very interested in them. Among them was The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy, a really moving story illustrated with Indian ink that reminded me of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I liked that it was a bit messy. The author chose to keep coffee stains and his dog’s paw prints in the book. I also read Rabbit and the Motorbike by Kate Hoefler and Sarah Jacoby. There’s a biker community in Los Angeles and I gave it to one of them who was really moved by it and had all his friends read it too. The illustrations are rosy and poetic, they depict Californian landscapes. Finally, I also read Cinderella of the Nile de Beverley Naidoo, a rewriting of the fairytale inspired by Egyptian mythology. The story is not as feminist as I’d hoped, but the illustrations are gorgeous.
What is next for you?
I’m illustrating a children’s book, Seed, written by Cécile Briomet. It is about personal development and the transition from childhood to adulthood. I have many projects that are still a bit unclear that I will develop later.
Do you have any advice to give to those who’d like to work in art and/or illustration?
Surround yourself with kind people, seize every opportunity, and meet other artists. Not even just artists, people whose life experiences can inspire you and be useful to you. Be curious, and meet people.
Gwladys Le Roy is French artist based in New York. Inspired by the women in her family, she expresses her creativity in feminist projects. Among them is @Gangduclito‘s book Le Petit Guide de la Masturbation Féminine, which was a great success in French media and brought a large community together with 70k followers on Instagram and 12k books sold in February. As seen throughout her body of work, Gwladys provides her audience with a unique view into her dreamlike world. She employs a variety of illustration styles that are brought to life through watercolor and gouache. She is passionate about glorifying women’s natural beauty, strength, and freedom. Her artwork seeks to empower women through their femininity and their right to express their sensuality. She mixes female figures and botanical inspirations with a spiritual approach to create an ode to nature.
You can see more of Gwladys’s work on her Instagram page.