Interview with Giselle Potter

This is our first in an on-going Interview series—in which we ask contemporary illustrators to share their experiences. Today’s guest is Giselle Potter.

Where were you born?

I was born on May 28th, 1970, in Cambridge Massachusetts.

When did you realize that drawing could be a living?

My parents are artists and seemed to make a living that way; even though they did occasionally run out of money. 

But growing up with parents who did what they wanted for a living made me believe I could too.

What was your first work-life experience?

After I graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1994, I moved to Brooklyn and brought my portfolio around to magazines.

My first editorial illustration job was with the New Yorker. The day I went the New Yorker it was pouring. I was carrying a box of original paintings instead of prints; and I had dyed my dress blue, and all the dye was running down my legs.

So it was a little embarrassing when the art director actually came out to meet me. I was so surprised that he actually bought art right from my portfolio; and then he hired me to do more.

What was your first start in children’s books? Did you sign with an agent?

Anne Schwartz, the children’s book editor I still work with now, saw one of my  New Yorker illustrations and offered me my first children’s book.

So I never got an agent until just recently. It seems like everyone has an agent so I decide to try it.

Care to share a career highlight or two?

One of my best jobs was doing animated ads for the British laundry soap, Persil. I was sent to London to meet the art director and animators; and it blew my mind to see other people with boxes of the same  paints I use, copying my pictures by hand and making them come to life and move!

My other favorite job was a weekly column for the New York Times for almost three years. Illustration work can be so inconsistent, and it was so nice to have something steady. The column was a series of personal stories by different writers about family and health, and it felt like the perfect thing for me to illustrate.

[Editor’s addition: We direct our students to Potter’s work often because of how she pushes against conventional ideas of perspective—as you can see in this spread from her book, This is My Dollhouse. (Artwork © Giselle Potter)]

We want to thank Giselle Potter for her insight. If you think this interview would be helpful to illustrators, please pass it along using the “Share” button below.

Be sure to visit her website here. And, thank you for reading!