In Love with Sempé

I have been in love with the artwork of Jean-Jacques Sempé since I was fifteen, when I read the NICOLAS series (which he illustrated) for a high school French class.  Sempé is known in the U.S. for his iconic New Yorker covers, such as this one:

But in his home country of France, his illustrated books sell like hotcakes. I collect his books, and have about thirty of them.

While living in Paris, I once attended a gallery showing of his work in the 7th arrondissement. When I finished touring the exhibit, I knew I absolutely wanted to buy his retrospective book.  Well, that book was mighty expensive, especially for a student like me.  It was the equivalent of $150 USD, but I took the plunge because I knew I’d cherish the book forever, even if it meant I’d have to subsist on baguettes and butter for a few weeks.  And I still cherish that book to this day, almost twenty years later.

Since I write picture books, I pay a lot of attention to illustrations. And I just love how Sempé captures tiny figures in a really big landscape/cityscape. His illustrations make me happy and hopeful, and he makes the world look full of charm and humor.

These are some wonderful illustrations by Sempé:

(I have a poster-size of the second one 😉

I’d love to meet Monsieur Sempé in person someday…a girl can dream! But for now, I’ll just admire his photo:

Do you have a favorite artist or illustrator?  I’d love to know!

5 Responses to “In Love with Sempé”

  1. Marc

    Hi Helena !
    I Just discovered Sempé’s illustrations on postcards and I found them wonderful ! I read Le petit Nicolas when I was young and today I was happy to see that he also drew other things. You seem very passionate about Sempé’ s art. I would love that you tell me more about him and his art =)

  2. Toon

    Dear Helena How nice to read your story. I know that feeling of choosing between a book or a baguette, and you are right, if the book wins, you always have a sweet memory that pops up in your head every time you browse it and it is like you can talk to your younger ego.
    I live in Antwerp, Belgium. When I was still in college I went very often to a postcard and postershop. It hadn’t changed for maybe 100 years. My friend and I browsed through the postcards that where arranged by theme in wooden boxes. We marvelled at Sempé and Belgian artist Michel Folon. Maybe you know him too. I wish you a nice day. Keep it safe and healthy

    • Helena

      Thank you so much for your lovely message! I love your story about your college days, visiting the shop with the wooden boxes of postcards. Sounds so charming. I hadn’t heard of Michel Folon, so thank you for introducing me to a new artist for me to research 🙂 And you’re absolutely right — whenever I pick up the (expensive) book of Sempé’s images, I’m transported to my past when I was a young American living in Paris, in awe of all the beautiful art around me. Merci beaucoup, and be well! Warm regards, Helena