Growing up on the books of artist Tomi Ungerer sparked a desire within French illustrator Simon Bailly to tell tales through images. While studying illustration, the most important lesson he learned was about telling a story simply through one picture or a series of them. “It’s something I use every day in my work,” he says. “For example, in my work for newspapers, I have to understand an article, take the essential ideas and draw an image to create a more compact comprehension of the article, basically my vision for the text.”
Starting out illustrating for French newspapers Libération and Le 1, Bailly now works for multiple publications including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Kiblind. He has also taken on several commercial clients including BETC and Hermés.
As well as Ungerer, over the years Bailly has been inspired by the work of Maurice Sendak, Wolf Erlbruch and Jean de Brunhoff, as well as more contemporary names including Tom Gauld, Daniel Clowes and Adrian Tomine. The common thread between all these artists is that they adopt the ‘ligne claire’ style, French for ‘clear line’.
The style was pioneered by Hergé, creator of The Adventures of Tintin and uses strong, clean lines with no hatching, while contrast is kept to a minimum. “I think my style is definitely in this ‘mood’. My illustrations are mostly narrative-based, so now I’m working on being more expressive in my characters,” explains Bailly.
In order to achieve the precision in his illustrations, Bailly typically works on an iPad in Procreate for commissions but when the piece is just for him he enjoys drawing with ink and brush.
A lot of his works are set in a retro-futurist world and take on the appearance of old comic book covers. His use of bright colours and oddball characters enhance this aesthetic, as well as the references to TV shows such as Twin Peaks, the Twilight Zone and Star Trek, and the odd conspiracy theory such as Roswell.
Many of Bailly’s personal illustrations begin life after being inspired by a TV documentary or a newspaper piece. For his newspaper commissions he starts drawing small sketches, which only he can understand. “Then I draw the ‘good’ illustration,” he says. “It’s always quick as I don’t like to draw the same illustration for several days so I have to change every day.”
Part of what he enjoys most about working on commissions is the opportunity to learn about something new, as well as the freedom to create something unexpected. “I prefer when the art director doesn’t give me indications or direction for the drawing,” says Bailly. “It means I can search for more information and other articles on the web and compose the illustration using different sources, like a journalist does.”