Cosmopolitan illustrator followed non-traditional path

December 28, 1997
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@

Get out your 1998 calendars: Davis writer and illustrator Yan Nascimbene will give a reading followed by a book-signing at the Alliance Francaise, 1345 Bush St. in San Francisco on Feb. 12 at 6:30 p.m.

An exhibition of his work also will run from Feb. 5 through Feb. 27.

At the reading, his children's book, "A Day in September," will be available in English and his memoir, "Antibes," will be available in French. No translation will be needed to view and enjoy his exhibition of original work, mostly children's books illustrations and book cover illustrations.

"I am a commercial artist, yes," he said in a recent interview. But he is much more than that. His work is haunting, evocative, romantic, disciplined and certainly meets all the requirements of Art with a capital A.

Nascimbene grew up in Europe and came to UC Davis in the early 1970s to study at the then-famous art department. Admitting he was not serious about academics, he did nonetheless meet a student who later became his wife. "Well, they were the best years of my life," is how he describes that time.

"But I never graduated from anywhere," he admitted.

"Later on when I actually became an illustrator, many years later, I had to relearn this or actually learn this for the first time. It just took much longer doing it that way," he said.

He and Joan then lived in Europe for many years, dabbling in painting and publishing.

"Then I got sick and was pretty much taken care of (financially) by my grandmother who sent us money for years. But the truth is, it's hard to take work seriously if you don't have to work. Later on in life my grandmother stopped (sending us money).

"Then I was pretty desperate. I tried all kinds of weird little jobs. We were living in Paris at the time and nothing worked. Eventually, a friend of mine told me to draw. I didn't think it was possible. But I began taking my portfolio around. I was naive and optimistic and met with art directors and publishing houses and advertising companies and there was a lot of rejection but I believed. That hope was important because it kept me going until I could get one job and then another - it snowballed."

Nascimbene's big break came when he was asked to draw book covers for a large French publishing company, Gallimard. After that, he got an agent and his success was assured.

Nascimbene has been a commercial illustrator for 12 years. He has illustrated many children's books including his own.

"I'm at a stage now where I'm reluctant to illustrate other people's books because I'm lucky enough that they are willing to publish my own writing," he said.

Those who enjoyed his "A Day in September" will be happy to know another bittersweet children's book, illustrated by the author, is in the works. "Ocean Deep" will be published in 1998. Additionally, he has provided 20 illustrations for a book on landscape gardening also to be published in '98, called "California Landscape Gardens" by Mark Francis and Andreas Raimann.

Nascimbene says his illustrations are always a little off-center.

"I don't like text and images to be carbon copies of one another," he said.

He doesn't see the need for redundancy. The illustrations should be in sync with the text, but should also show something between the lines.

"I like to show something in the image that is not the text and vice versa," he said. "I also like to leave something to the reader's imagination," he added.

"I may give the reader something that's not in the text."

Nascimbene is the first to admit that his success as an illustrator and children's book writer is totally non-traditional and therefore he has few guidelines to offer to those just beginning their careers. He got started late, had few academic skills, and created a career based on only two attributes: optimism and talent.

Now Nascimbene would like to return to or at least explore an earlier interest - large abstract paintings.

"Just for fun, just for myself," he said.

"I have done thousands of drawings," he added. "Now I feel like I have to expand a little bit."

[ Elisabeth Sherwin's previous interview with Mr. Nascimbene can be found in "International illustrator pours childhood soul into books," the August 20, 1995, PRINTED MATTER column. ]

Book Cover  Picture Yan Nascimbene is the
author-illustrator of "DAY IN SEPTEMBER" published
by Harcourt Brace,
1995/32 pp/$17.00

Elisabeth Sherwin's previous
interview with Mr. Nascimbene
can be found in "International illustrator pours childhood soul into books," the August 20,

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