In conversation with Gérard Dubois, Moira Gemmill Illustrator of the Year 2022

October 17, 2022

Congratulations to Gérard Dubois, who has been awarded the Moira Gemmill Illustrator of the Year and the Book Illustration Award 2022!

Selected from over 1400 entries, he joins an illustrious list of previous winners of the V&A Illustration Awards including Nora Krug, John Vernon Lord, Sara Fanelli, Posy Simmonds, Sir Quentin Blake and Ralph Steadman.

Gérard Dubois is a French-born illustrator, now based in Canada. His winning illustrations were commissioned by the Folio Society to accompany a new edition of Cormac McCarthy’s classic novel The Road. The emotion, composition and balance of dark and light led the judges to describe Dubois’ digital paintings as ‘masterpieces’.

We caught up with Gérard to find out more about the commission, his inspirations, creative process and what advice he might have for other illustrators looking to get published.

Gérard DuBois, The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Published by Folio Society, 2021. © Folio Society
Gérard DuBois, The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Published by Folio Society, 2021. © Folio Society

Congratulations on winning this year’s Illustrator of the Year Award for your stunning illustrations for Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Could you tell us a bit more about the project? How did you get involved?

I had previously worked with the Folio Society on a book project [Italian Folktales by Italo Calvino]. Art director Raquel Leis Allion told me during that first collaboration that she’d be happy to propose any book I wished to illustrate to the Folio Society editorial panel or committee. And the first book that came to my mind was The Road. It had made such an impression on me when I read it years before. But on top of that, I knew it was a good fit for the kind of work I love doing.

Then, a couple of weeks later, I got the news that the committee was thrilled with my proposition and that after reaching out to Mr McCarthy’s reps, we had a ‘go’. I was so happy. I had to make a test though, a single image so Mr McCarthy could give a final ok. I said yes, of course. So I did a first image, the one with the father and son on the highway. I was happy with the result but nervous it might get refused. But it did not, and it was so intense for me to know Cormac McCarthy saw my work, liked it and accepted me to continue working on his book.

Gérard Dubois, Italian Folktales by Italo Calvino. Published by Folio Society, 2019. © Folio Society

The judges praised your illustrations for highlighting moments of tenderness and light amidst the darkness of the novel. How did you choose which scenes to illustrate?

The novel is really intense and dark, but what moves the readers, and me, more than graphic description or scenes, is the relation between the father and the son; I wanted to reflect this with my images. Depicting only gory dark images does not interest me. It’s not what I like in general, but above all, it’s not what the book is about.

I wanted to leave things in suspension; I wanted the time to become almost tangible, I wanted the readers to feel its weight.

For the above reasons, I’ve tried to pick scenes where I could express those feelings and that were at the same time pivotal in the novel.

Gérard DuBois, The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Published by Folio Society, 2021. © Folio Society
Gérard DuBois, The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Published by Folio Society, 2021. © Folio Society

Could you talk us through your creative process and illustration techniques? Do you use a mixture of digital and more traditional techniques in your practice?

For this project, the images are 100% digital. I used to paint with acrylic for more than 25 years, but for a while now, I mostly work in Photoshop.

I sketch everything by hand though, ink and nib or fountain pen, sometimes brushes. Never with pencil. I work sketches in black and white, on a regular paper pad then on tracing paper to correct a couple of things. They’re usually pretty tiny, 3 or 4 inches high, not more. I then transfer them in my computer and rework them in colors. For the final illustrations, I use digital brushes and painting as I used to do on paper. I’m not seeking to achieve some effect I was not able to do with acrylic; I go with layers and layers of colors, textures, correcting myself with colors rather than with Command Z [undo], so in the end I could feel some depth, layers and accidents.

Sketches for The Road. © Gérard Dubois
Sketches for The Road. © Gérard Dubois

You have had a very successful career as an illustrator, winning numerous awards and even having your work issued on a stamp! What was your path to becoming an illustrator?

I guess my path is pretty common. I always loved to draw, and only made decisions to get closer to the world of drawing, although I had absolutely no idea what my career could be. I had no clue about editorial or conceptual illustration or anything. I got accepted in an old design school in St Germain des Prés when I was 16, and got my eyes opened there.

There was no specific intent, no plan, just draw, learn and try to be as close as possible to what I like. Never thought I would become an illustrator, not to mention make a living out of it.

And finally, what advice would you give to illustrators who aspire to have their work published?

I teach illustration in Montreal, so I’m often asked this question.

To me, the most important things are to be dedicated to your work, to really believe in it and in yourself, listen to your own instinct, your own voice and tastes, not the trend; then your true self will get to glow in your work.

And of course to have FUN!!! It’s a job, it is an applied art, it’s not easier or tougher than any other job, but you need to have fun while doing it.

Find out more

The illustrated edition of The Road is available from the Folio Society
Find out more about Gérard Dubois’ illustrations: WebsiteInstagram

About the author

October 17, 2022

I'm a Cataloguer in the Word and Image department, working on making our vast collection more accessible to the public. I love the variety of objects that I come across...

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