An Interview with Johan Papin

We talk to illustrator Johan Papin about the challenges of freelancing, being part of the MessieursDame collective and staying motivated by nourishing your eyes and mind

An Interview with Johan Papin

After graduating with a Master of Fine Arts in 2006, Johan Papin studied animation at the Pivaut school in Nantes, France. He went on to work with various studios on animated kids shows. During this time he developed skills in character design, animation, compositing and directing.

In 2013, Papin along with six friends formed MessieursDame. A collective of illustrators, animators and directors based in the heart of Paris.

Recently, he left behind the Haussmannian buildings of Paris to begin a new adventure in the landscapes of Montreal.

We spoke to Papin about his journey so far.

Illustrators’ Lounge: First of all, tell us a bit about yourself. What was your path into illustration?

Johan Papin: Drawing is something I’ve always done since I was a kid but long story short, I studied and worked in animation for a while and moved into illustration in the past few years. I feel much more comfortable in this particular creative field.

Montreal City for Culture Trip

IL: You are part of the MessieursDame collective, working alongside a group of fantastic artists. How did this come about? And what have you learned from this experience?

JP: This collective was built in 2013. We were all working in diverse animation studios, I guess we all felt a bit cramped in this environment and we wanted to give the freelance life a try but we didn’t want to lose creative energy. We had the chance to find an incredibly nice place in the heart of Paris with a beautiful view over the roofs of the capital and that was the beginning of a great adventure. 

Alongside with Théo Guignard, Tom Haugomat, Vincent Mahé, Bruno Mangyoku, François Maumont, Florent Remize, Kim Roselier, and others who spent a few months here and there with us. I had the opportunity to be in a highly talented environment that challenges my own practice every day. Being part of this was most certainly a turning point in my career and one of the best decisions I’ve made. I learned that taking risks can be rewarding, that being independent is something that is truly crucial for me, that being surrounded by talented people is a blessing and with friends is even better.

I decided six months ago to start a new adventure in Montreal and it was absolutely heartbreaking to leave this place.

California Avocado

IL: What unexpected challenges have you faced as a freelancer?

JP: I guess it’s dealing with the discontinuous flow of jobs. I think it’s a very typical challenge for freelancers to find the right balance between overloading yourself with work and being underemployed. Over the years, I had to learn to plan breaks in order to have them. I had to learn not to panic in times of low activity, to work on personal projects, stay occupied. I had to learn to deal with the irrational fear of never being hired again and to be able to turn down job offers.

IL: What tactics have worked for getting your name out there?

JP: Honestly I don’t know how to answer this because I never really had tactics. I don’t think that I’m very good at promoting myself. I just put some of my work online without any more strategy than hoping someone will see it and appreciate it.

Nevertheless, I guess I was lucky enough to have work come my way. I also had some jobs passed to me from my mates inside our workshop at the beginning of my illustration career and it gave it a nice boost to start. I definitely think that I should do more in this field.

Travel Guide for Bayard Presse
Travel Guide for Bayard Presse

IL: How has your style evolved and why?

JP: My style has evolved in a minimalist way in terms of shapes and colours over the years. This is probably because I worked for animation shows where you have to keep designs simple if you want to be able to animate them but also because it was in the air, I guess. It’s a trend that I am part of. I think I have been influenced by a lot of different aspects of design leaning towards minimalism. What I like in creating pictures that way is that you can focus on the essential and it’s a challenge because each variation has a huge impact. You have to find the right balance to make it work.

IL: You capture people wonderfully and your work is full of personality. What are your considerations when drawing people?

JP: I think it’s just that I am continuously observing people around me. I don’t even think about it. I have an empathic personality and I try to look at my fellows with kind and understanding eyes. When I draw people I think of them like they are real people with their own emotions.

Rosa Parks

IL: Are you working on any personal projects?

JP: I have been working on a book, on and off, for quite some time now.

IL: What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burnout?

JP: I try to stay connected to nature whenever I can and I take breaks regularly, I need a lot of quiet time. I practice ceramic which is a very meditative activity in a way, you need to focus on the sensation and quiet the mind. I also need to keep learning a wide range of topics and to nourish my eyes and my mind. And of course, drawing for myself in my sketchbook.

Inktober sketchbook
Inktober sketchbook

IL: What advice would you give to others looking to make a living from art?

JP: Surround yourself with inspiring and talented people.

IL: Finally, one of our goals here is to widen people’s pool of inspiration – who are the artist/illustrators that inspire you?

JP: I’m very inspired by my talented friends I mentioned earlier. My sources of inspiration are varied and numerous but to give just a few, Hayao Miyazaki and Mamoru Hosoda movies, Edward Hopper, Claude Monet. And to finish with contemporary artists Aryz and Jochen Gerner.

You can find more of Johan Papin’s work on his website and Instagram.


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