What do you consider yourself? Example: Artist, designer, illustrator, maker, business person etc.?
I guess all of the above.
My background is in visual art and stage design. Over the years my work has evolved towards a mix of illustration, painting, craft and design.
I started my career in London as a stage and costume designer for the theatre. I have been working with lots of different media from making small scale models in the conception of a stage design to orchestrating large sets with carpenters.
For over 10 years, I have been running my own business Famille Summerbelle where I design a line of illustrated products for the home. I love the creative diversity involved in my work, from paper cutting illustrated maps, researching and sketching, to handling the production, styling, shooting and editing the images of a new product and finally bringing it to market.
Who helped you “become” who you are?
It’s a combination of how I was brought up, my life experiences, and inspirational people I have worked with along the way. Most of all though, I would say that my family has shaped me most.
I have inherited the creative side of my mother. As a child, if I liked a piece of clothing that I saw in a shop my mum would say “you can make it yourself, it’s so much better!” So we would go to buy fabric and then design and create it together.
My parents were doers, very hands on, always renovating homes, and many creative side projects.
I am the second of five children and I am very close to my siblings. Family means so much to me and how I have developed creatively. As kids we were very resourceful and independent. There were too many of us to have the full attention of our parents! Also I wouldn’t be doing what I do today without my three children. Famille Summerbelle started as we started our own family. Making art with my children is what I enjoy most. It’s a constant work in progress.
What more would you like to “become”?
So much more, I don’t think that ever finishes. I like to see it as a lifelong journey! There are so many skills I would like to improve and new things to learn.
Becoming better at painting, learning new languages, being better organized, more patient, better at running a business, those are all goals of mine.
I am often juggling too many balls at once! I have three children that are still young so my days seem often too short for all the things I would like to do on the side of running my business.
Where did you study, and what did you study?
I’ve always been lucky enough to be educated in a creative environment. All my primary years were spent in a Waldorf school so thinking creatively and using my hands to make things was very much part of my upbringing.
I studied Visual Arts in Paris at l’Ecole Supérieure des Arts Appliqués et des Métiers d’Art. In my graduation year I saw a play by Robert Lepage ‘The Far Side of the Moon’ that blew me away. I then wanted to become a stage designer, so I moved to London to study a BA in Stage and Costume design at Central Saint Martins. My time there was amazing. Being in London was incredibly stimulating creatively. I was seeing the best art exhibitions, fringe to West Ends plays and Operas to underground art installations. While studying I was assisting set designers like Es Devlin, who had a big impact on me. I loved my life in London so much that I ended up staying for 10 years.
Was it an easy decision to begin working as an artist?
Yes, it was an easy decision. I was working straight after I graduated designing for the stage in various theatres in London. Also I worked on many TV commercials and film sets which was very exciting.
How did you get started doing art/design?
I always loved drawing and I knew from an early age that I wanted to do something related to art and design. As a teenager I would take the train to Paris every Saturday to take life drawing classes. We would go to the Rodin or Louvre museums to draw sculptures and study the masters. I was passionate about art in general. Studying in art school gave me a solid base in art in general, to think creatively and solve problems. However it doesn’t really prepare you for being a professional artist and working with clients. This is something I have had to learn along the way.
When did you discover your love for art/design?
As I mentioned above, I had a very creative education. We would study music, dance, sculpture, painting, calligraphy, wood work as much as the other more classical subjects. This is where I realized that art was a great way for me to express myself freely.
Were you scared when you first started looking for jobs? How did you overcome this?
Of course! I was dreading contacting people and selling myself. I still do. This is not something you learn in art school. I learned it while assisting art directors and set designers. Also by making errors and asking for help. You get more confident as you gain experience.
What’s your dream job?
Bit boring as an answer but honestly it’s my current job. I’m very happy with it and as much as I challenge myself I can never come up with something I could imagine more fulfilling.
What are you most proud of in your career?
As a general point I would say that I am most proud to have created and maintained a developing business over the last 12 years while having lived in four different countries and juggling the chaos of having three children.
If there is one project that I am most proud of, it’s difficult, but perhaps I would say the collaboration that I did with Issey Miyake and my world map papercut. I have a really deep affection for Japan, visiting many times and working with great Japanese partners. To see my designs in Issey Miyake boutiques across the world was something really special, somehow cementing my relationship with this country and culture.
How did your childhood influence what you have become?
As kids we would spend our summers in the South of France with our cousins in the small village where our grandparents lived. As long as we were back for lunches and dinners we had a lot of freedom to run errands on our bikes in the village, build cabins in the woods, dress up and organise a new show every evening for the grown-ups. This family bond with my siblings and my cousins is still very strong. None of us would miss our annual summer trip to see each other. It is so fun now to watch our kids following in our footsteps.
Did you feel pressured in any way to pursue a certain career path?
Not by anyone else but me. From an early age I knew that I wanted to do something in the creative field. We were lucky to have open minded and supportive parents who encouraged us to be independent and pursue our dreams. I knew I had to work hard to get to where I wanted to be but as it was something I was passionate about I was always putting in the hours. I quickly realized that I wanted to be my own boss and create the work instead of waiting that it would come up to me.
Did you have anyone along the way that was instrumental in the trajectory of your life?
My husband Simon always supported me in my career choices and he played a big role in the making of Famille Summerbelle. He helped me turn my creativity into a real business. Famille Summerbelle has been and remains a family affair!
What’s your work space like?
Since we moved to Germany 2 years ago, I work from home. We are lucky to live in a beautiful house from the early 19th century with very high ceilings and big windows. My studio is located on the first floor in a large room with a balcony. I have the sun pouring in all day which is a blessing – I couldn’t work without natural light!
I have three desks in my studio: two along a wall, one for my computer work, another higher table for packing the orders and a third very long table in the middle of the room where I draw, paint and do all my paper cutting. Hanging on this long and high wall are colourful cutouts, postcards, paper samples and paintings that I am working on. On the other side of the two desks, I have all the Famille Summerbelle stock with my prints, paper cuts, trays, wallpaper and so on.
What’s a piece of advice that you’ve carried with you and who is it from?
I can never remember or attribute quotes or specific advice. Somehow everything I have absorbed, all the advice I have received, manifests in a few key thoughts: I strive to be present, be open to changes, trust my feelings, stay focussed, stay true to myself and enjoy the process. Whether in my personal or professional life.
What does your dream retirement look like?
I don’t feel that I ever want to retire, I will keep on making things for as long as I can! I would love to have a big studio in the South of France so I can paint all day with the windows open with a view of a blue sky and the smell of the eucalyptus trees. Of course I would have a big kitchen table for long family lunches!
What artists/designers/creatives do you look up to?
Makoto Kagoshima, Ulla Johnson, Jonas Wood, David Hockney, Picasso, Matisse, Es Devlin, Sanna Hannukka, Erin O’Keefe, Anna Kovesces, Ilse Crawford, Hella Jongerius, Mizuki Goto, Alexander Girard, Ellsworth Kelly, Miroslav Šašek, Sempé.
You were one of the first artists I ever followed on social media. How has social media influenced your work?
Oh thank you and it is reciprocal! Lars was one of the first blogs I read that inspired me to start my own creative business and my blog back in 2008.
Living abroad, I am delighted to be part of this creative online community and to interact with people interested in my work. Of course, as an artist with an online shop, being on social media is essential. I love Pinterest and Instagram to discover the work of talented designers, artists and photographers that I could never have found elsewhere. It is an amazing tool for all creatives but which also has its limits.
Personally I am much more creative and efficient in my work when I am not connected. My inspiration comes from my daily experiences, my travels, my books and especially my imagination.
Who is your work intended for?
Honestly I would say that I first make everything for me and for my family home. I made the House Boxes for my kids bedroom and my studio as I wanted a fun box to store away all of our small objects and toys. The first city map I made was of London, a city I love and where I lived for 10 years. I designed it as we were returning from our long world travels settling in France. It was designed as first for us as a souvenir of our time there. I make and test all my products in our home first and of course I always just hope that other people will be inspired by what I make and would want to have it in their home as well!
What’s inspiring you lately?
Most things Japanese! I am currently designing a map of Tokyo after just launching a map of Berlin. For the 11th anniversary of Famille Summerbelle, I did an exhibition of my work in Tokyo last year at the Galerie Doux Dimanche and while I was there I made lots of sketches and took photos of the different places I wanted to feature in my paper cut map. It makes me so happy to dive back into my research. I still have lots of drawings to make before I will start cutting the map.
What did you want to be when you were young versus when it was time to decide what to actually do?
I tried fencing, ballet and the violin. None for more than a few weeks! Boring as it perhaps sounds I have always loved drawing. It’s still my favourite hobby even when it’s my work and income.
Where to find Julie’s work
Her collection in our print shop!
They ship worldwide from www.famillesummerbelle.com
Portfolio site: www.juliemarabelle.com
Photos by A.Lecuyer and Julie Marabelle