Benjamin Lacombe’s style of art is one that I have always loved. His is very simple, with clean lines and almost statue-like characters. He has illustrated many books, mainly fairytales for children, but also other more gothic books for adults. Reading his version of Snow White is what led me to find out more about him – it is beautifully illustrated, but also with a darker, more surreal quality that sets him aside from more traditional illustrators.

Benjamin Lacombe is a successful French illustrator, born in Paris 1982. He studied at Ecole Nationale Superieure des Artes Decoratifs, during which he also worked in advertising and animation, which later on led to the creation of short animations advertising his work. Since then, he has illustrated and had published many books, for both adults and children. Lacombe had worked with publishing houses in France, Italy, Spain, Korea and the USA, and his work has been exhibited in galleries in Paris, New York, Rome and Tokyo.

Benjamin Lacombe is one of many contemporary artists (that include the famous director Tim Burton) fascinated by the darker emotions of childhood, such as fear, uncertainty, loneliness and vulnerability. His illustrations often descend in to the sinister and frightening, such as these two illustrations inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. The first image’s vivid acidic colour hints at danger and the girl is made to seem vulnerable by the Cheshire Cat leaning over her. We are unable to see his true face, but the mask is more sinister, with staring eyes and a wide fixed smile.

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However, the second image (fig. 2) is even more disturbing, with the wide eyed helpless rabbit-girl surrounded by fish that swarm around her like prison sentries. But the most sinister aspect of the image is the worm-like thing that snakes around her legs and underneath her dress, suggesting a far more horrific form of assault that the first only hints at.

Benjamin Lacombe’s innovative approaches towards enhancing the experience for the reader, also assist in putting him forward as a contemporary artist who has made a significant impact in the field of illustration. His first e-book, L’herbier des Fees (The Garden of Faeries) is an example of this. Through he is a fervent believer in fact that the book in its literal paper form must be preserved, he experiments with the advantages of technology. One touch and the illustration of a faerie might fade to reveal an anatomical study of the creature, or an animation of it flying away or crawling over a leaf. The possibilities for e-books are limitless and Lacombe takes full advantage of this. He created a short animation to advertise this, which can be seen on youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkEsZZfwwMY.

In contrast, his reinvention of Victor Hugo Notre Dame de Paris (particularly the cover design) reverts back to a more traditional look. Lacombe writes in his blog that he wanted to create a book “in the spirit of a beautiful volume from the 19th century”, and also of his amusement that this book was to be released just after his first e-book. The cover art is incredibly detailed, fine patterned embossed in gold leaf on a heavy hardback cover. Lacombe also writes in detail about his desire to convey the passion and romance of the words in his illustration, opting for the more ‘spontaneous’ techniques of applying watercolours and charcoal directly to paper.

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Earlier, for his book La Melodie des Tuyaux, Benjamin Lacombe collaborated with musician Alexis Vallois and prodigy Loris Vallois to create a soundtrack for the story, as well as the simple audio (read by Olivia Ruiz) to be sold with the book.

In 2012, Benjamin Lacombe created Il Etait un Fois, a pop-up book featuring a double page spread of each of these 8 well-known stories; Thumbelina, Pinocchio, Madame Butterfly, Little Red Riding Hood, Alice in Wonderland, Bluebeard, The Sleeping Beauty and Peter Pan. Although pop-up books are not exactly a recent revelation, Lacombe’s beautifully gothis illustrations bring new light to old methods. He has also created a short animation to advertise this book, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZZl8FrujhhM.

Lacombe puts a lot of detail into line and pattern in his work. His use of smooth flowing lines is most obvious in his pen work, such as in his version of snow White (fig. 4). Every line is deliberately and carefully drawn, whether it is a strand of hair, a character form or the shading in the folds of a gown. Although the beauty of the clean finished line is something I admire in Lacombe’s work, my own style in undoubtedly much messier. I use free, spontaneous lines in my work. I feel that there is beauty in the imperfection of the unfinished line.

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Other examples of Lacombe’s interesting use of line can be seen in his illustrations for the Butterfly Lovers. He clearly draws inspiration from traditional Japanese ink paintings for his depictions of the rural landscapes, this is especially obvious in the elegant fluid lines of the trees.

Lacombe is constantly experimenting with pattern in his work. This can be seen in the kimonos of The Butterfly Lovers and in many of the inside covers of his books. In is version of Edgar Allan Poe’s, Tales of the Macabre, he often use delicate lace-like patterns to frame or embellish both text and illustrations. Fig. 5 shows the intricate cover design of the hard-back copy.

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Benjamin Lacombe is greatly influenced by the work of the Pre-Raphaelites, this being most obvious in his illustrations for the children’s book Ondine. He uses intense, vivid colours and dramatic romantic compositions. This particular illustration of Ondine (fig. 6)has much in common with the composition of John Everett Millais’s painting of Ophelia in 1851.

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Lacombe’s tendency towards romantic, dramatic composition is echoed in most of his work. For Notre Dame de Paris, he illustrated many beautiful, epic views of Paris using mainly black, white and red, emphasising the dark passion of the story.

Benjamin Lacombe’s version of Grimms’ Snow White also uses the gothic colour palette of black, white and red (especially relevant in this story, ‘skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, hair as black as ebony). For these illustrations, Lacombe delves into metaphor and surrealism to give the well-known fairy tale a darker, more gothic edge (this can also be seen in his story The Silent Child). Snow White is a very dark fairy tale, and often this is not matched in the illustrations.

Benjamin Lacombe sheds new light on old stories with his contemporary style. The level of thought and detail he puts into his work is incredible, from colours to composition to line work. He inspired me to experiment with many different styles and to eventually study illustration. To find out more about him and to see the animation for his latest book, visit his website at http://www.benjaminlacombe.com/.

Bibliography

http://benjaminlacombe.hautetfort.com/

http://www.benjaminlacombe.com/

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