Illustrator Jean Aubertin uses watercolours to capture the everyday

The French illustrator talks about the importance of peace in the creative process and the challenges of using inks and watercolours

While drawing has always been an everyday practice for Jean Aubertin, his career as an illustrator is a fairly recent path he’s taken. Previously, Aubertin studied economics and worked for five years as a data analyst at a tech company. After an event in his personal life, drawing took on a more significant role and in 2019 he decided to quit his job and focus on his illustrations. 

“I like the serenity of everyday scenes,” Aubertin says of his style. “I especially enjoy modest objects we usually do not look at, but that often symbolise our lives, such as a kitchen sink, a toothbrush, a sculpture on the highway, the yellow daffodils on the edge of the Paris ring road.” 

Top: Canada Dry, Above: Charles. All images: Jean Aubertin

The illustrator is inspired by the work of many French painters including Pierre Bonnard for his subtlety, Gustave Courbet for his foxes, and Édouard Manet for his asparagus paintings. “As for illustrators my influences are also very broad,” says Aubertin. “I love Pierre Le Tan for his nostalgic touch, Samviel for his love of the Alps, or Joost Swarte for his precision and his humour.”

Aubertin’s images are a lovely mix of the everyday, from people napping and reading, to close crops of laundry detergent and morning snacks. While his paintwork is sharp and his colour choice vibrant, the softness in his images provides a warm, intimate snapshot of the internal. 

Granola

When starting a new piece, Aubertin begins by writing ideas, words, quotes, and short stories in his notebook, while also digging the internet for obscure images and texts. “I am always interested in reviving impressions from the past, especially when I go to Beaune in Burgundy where my family comes from – and also in Paris where I grew up,” says the illustrator.

“Recently I had some memories of the harvest in Burgundy. It came back via colours, the intense orange of the shears used in the vineyards, the cobalt blue of the tractors. It led to a series of drawings I am currently working on.” 

Le Chat

Aubertin leans towards using minimal tools to create his works as he’s keen to keep drawing a simple process. “I love working on paper and I use watercolours because I can open my box everywhere. I especially like Winsor & Newton colours and I have started recently to include Sennelier’s colours, which are much flashier and bring a pop touch to my illustrations,” he explains.

“I like the contrast between the fragility of water-based painting and strong colour compositions. I believe watercolours bring coherence to my work as they also enable me to create a dialogue between industrial subjects and the intimacy of everyday moments.”

Adèle

As well as an array of personal pieces that he shares on Instagram, Aubertin also works on various editorial commissions, mainly for French magazines. “Working for commissions constrains you in ways that can reveal some new sources of creativity. I am currently working on a series of editorial illustrations for a history magazine with quite a strong brief,” says Aubertin.

“It’s forced me to experiment with new ways of composing my drawings and simplifying my lines. Working for different people can also lead to a broad range of new intellectual and friendly encounters, which I appreciate a lot. All these new discoveries and new techniques eventually feed into my personal work.” 

Paic Citron

One of Aubertin’s biggest challenges comes with the unpredictability of watercolours and he feels he’s still on his way to mastering them. Other obstacles include his cat sitting on a drawing mid-way through and landing on an idea that feels authentic. “I think the hardest part of the work is the research process to find the relevant and sincere idea that I would want to turn into an illustration,” he notes.

But when he gets there, Aubertin sees the process of creating as almost meditative. “Drawing is a moment of intense serenity,” he says. “I can sit for hours at my desk with a black coffee while listening to French radio. I believe this state of peace plays a big role in the creative process.”

Les Trois Mousequetaires

@jean.aubertin

JUNIOR GRAPHIC DESIGNER

Milton Keynes