From Paris, with Love: An Interview with Illustrator Jessie Kanelos Weiner

Illustrator Jessie Kanelos Weiner fell in love with Paris, France, nearly eight years ago. Her illustrations traverse food, fashion, pop culture, and political commentary and have appeared on and T: The New York Times Style Magazine. She spoke with us about her love affair with Paris, finding her artistic voice, and her coloring book, Edible Paradise: An Adult Coloring Book of Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables.

Jessie Kanelos Weiner. Photo by Cyrille Weiner
Jessie Kanelos Weiner. Photo by Cyrille Weiner.

You’re an American expat living in Paris. What drew you to the City of Lights and what keeps you there?

I moved to Paris on a post-collegiate gap year. I had a year of freedom before I had to start paying back my student loans so I got an au pair gig in France. The rich food culture and the chill work/life balance inspire me to stay.

Jessie created five illustrated line drawings based on Beyoncé’s visual album, Lemonade, that you can download and color.

Can you share a little bit about your artistic origin story? How did you get into drawing?

Growing up in Chicago, my mom was an art teacher and my dad is a passionate musician. My childhood was equal parts jam session and art all-nighters. I studied studio art and costume design in university when I first started playing around with watercolors in my costume renderings. I started my blog, thefrancofly, when I moved back to France indefinitely. Because I was more confident in my drawings than in my meager photo skills, I created illustrations for each post. I got glowing feedback so I built up my portfolio and started meeting with clients. The rest is herstory.

From Edible Paradise: A Coloring Book of Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables
From Edible Paradise: A Coloring Book of Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables

Jessie counts Bil Donovan among her artistic influences for his ability to “create incredible movement and details in illustrations with the least amount of information.”

Your illustrations include recipes, the food you eat, holiday greetings, and reflections on the Paris bombings in November 2015. Can you share a little bit about your inspiration?

When I started my blog, I was very vulnerable in the new, strange world around me in France. I told stories capturing my raw reflections, always including a visual response in an illustration. I often get asked advice from aspiring artists. I keep it simple; look around! Find your voice by drawing what you know and what is around you. It’s a dynamic source inspiration. To this day, I still draw from my walks around Paris, pop culture, puns, and cultural differences.

Jesse's illustrated response to the November, 2015, bombings in Paris.
Jesse’s illustrated response to the November 2015 bombings in Paris.

How did you overcome feeling like a fish out of water?

Blogging was the catharsis I needed, sharing my stories and processing my new life. I was also out of work, settling into a new country. So it kept my mind occupied and allowed me to discover the joy I found in illustration.

Jessie celebrated her seven-year "Parisiversaire" with macarons from Ladurée.
Jessie celebrated her seven-year “Parisiversaire” with macarons from Ladurée.
Jessie's coloring book.
Jessie’s coloring book.

You released Edible Paradise: An Adult Coloring Book of Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables. Can you tell us a bit about the project’s genesis?

Coloring books were everywhere in France about three years ago. I loved the idea of everyday creativity in coloring books, but the majority had a very static, digitized look. Since I only think about food, I knew there must be something to do there in more of a freehand, organic style. I sent the idea to my editor at Rizzoli. And a year later, Edible Paradise is an intricate coloring guide exploring the edible plant kingdom.

As someone who creates colorful illustrations, can you share what it’s like to create drawings that others can color?

One of the greatest things about Edible Paradise is it’s organized by season. When I was creating the book, I imagined how it would look when colored in, hopefully flowing monochromatically from season to season. I always have to remind myself what creates an engaging coloring page. In Edible Paradise for example, I added lots of insects amongst the fruits and vegetables to create movement and narrative on the page.

Banner, thefrancofly
Banner, thefrancofly

How has the response been to the book so far?

It has been wonderful! I think it attracts coloring book junkies as much as foodies and gardeners. And the true beauty of Edible Paradise is that it gets a second life in the hands of whoever colors it in. I created the hashtag #EdibleParadise16 so I can keep track of how others have colored it in. And at the end of the day, if it inspires more seasonal eating, then I’m more than thrilled.

Follow Jessie on her blog, thefrancofly, on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Be sure to check out her coloring book.

May 30, 2016Art, Food, Interviews, , , , ,