Meet Benjamin Flouw
French illustrator and author Benjamin Flouw invites readers young and old into the world of the great outdoors in Little Gestalten’s The Mystery of the Golden Wonderflower. Ahead of the release of the title, which is also available in German, we spoke with the decorated artist and storyteller.
When and how did you begin to illustrate books for children?
Actually the first book I've ever illustrated is The Mystery of the Golden Wonderflower. It all started in 2016 with a drawing of a fox in a raincoat that I sent to various publishers. Martin Brault at La Pastèque in Montréal answered and said that he'd love to see this as a book. I needed nothing more to start working on the story and start doodling the first illustrations.
When you started work on The Mystery of the Golden Wonderflower, how did you approach the project? Which tools or which materials did use when you’re making the first drafts?
My story was already cut into several sceneries or specific pictures I had in mind like that inventory of the things you need to take when you go hiking. I used to work a lot for animated films or cartoons and my way of telling story is always really inspired by movies. I guess I've pretty quickly pictured The Mystery of the Golden Wonderflower as a long traveling shot of panoramic views interrupted by "educational" panels. I started sketching all those scenes directly on paper and then edited them a bit on the computer. Then I usually did quick color thumbnails of each of my pages to set the mood and the lighting of each spread. Then comes the cleaning phase where I draw the final shapes. The final touch is those textures that I painted by hand that I superimpose onto the elements to give them more details and more life.
What is your favorite illustration in The Mystery of the Golden Wonderflower?
Perhaps the one where Fox and Wolf are crossing a field of grass and colorful flowers. It's one of the first illustrations I completed for the book and still one of my favorites.
Your work deals with nature and the wilderness quite often. Is this something that you’ve always been passionate about?
I spent a long part of my childhood playing in the woods, building tree houses, and looking for foxes in their burrows. Growing up and living in huge cities such as London or Paris, I often missed this direct connection to nature. I developed a thriving interest in botany, ecology, and the animal kingdom in general, I was also on the hunt for those infinite landscapes where the horizon seems far away. I live closer to nature now but I still collect pictures of empty landscapes and books about trees, and I think I would be happy to do works about nature and the wilderness for the rest of my life.
If you could illustrate a classic of children’s literature, what would you choose?
I guess Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling would be one of my favorite classics to illustrate. It's kind of contradictory because I love my books to be based on science and to teach things to people but that book is just going against the theory of evolution. But I loved that book so much as a kid and it lent so many wonderful pictures to my mind.
If you were to describe your work in three words, which three words would you chose?
It's really hard to describe your own work, but I'd like it to be photographic, simple, and generous.
Are there other illustrators that you particularly admire?
Too many unfortunately! I like a lot of people, and I'm a huge fan of mid-century illustrators such as Miroslav Sasek, Alain Grée, Martin and Alice Provensen, and Charley Harper. But I also look up to more contemporary illustrators like Chris Turnham, Keith Negley, and Owen Davey. I also had a recent crush on Veronique Joffre's magnificent shapes, colors, and textures.
Do you have a favorite color to work with?
I love working with different shades of green because green is a very challenging color for some reason. I always have a hard time finding the right green to go along with another one and that's something I keep exploring in my recent works. And I think–in a less conscious way–I tend to work with mauve a lot and tiny bits of yellow to contrast with it.
Are there any illustrators or other artists—visual, musical, or otherwise—with whom you’d like to collaborate?
I'd love to make a cover art or a music video for the musical group Grandbrothers. I always have almost abstract composition with bold colors and quiet landscapes that comes to my mind while I listen to their music.
Do you have anything other exciting projects lined up?
I'm currently writing on a documentary image book about some quite uncommon trees. I also have an image book about animals using camouflage, another one about dogs, and maybe another adventure with that fox in a yellow raincoat...!