Tegen: What first got you into art and art materials?
Yves-marie: In one word: fate. You have to believe that your life story might already be written before it all unfurls. Like all children, I really enjoyed drawing and perhaps as a result of a certain level of skill in this area, I very quickly started painting. At the age of 15, I organised my first exhibition of watercolours and I don’t think I’ve ever stopped drawing. Spending time browsing in an art supplies store is a real pleasure. I love the smell of the paint, the crayons, and the abundance of colours.
I left school with scientific qualifications, but I carried on drawing as I enrolled at a graphic and industrial design school. At this time, I was using lots of felt tips to do sketches. I drew a really diverse range of objects, from a baby’s pushchair to the first mobile phones at the end of the 1990s. It was a really interesting period during which I created lots of different objects, logotypes and posters for festivals. So artists’ materials were always close at hand.
It was later on that I encountered, quite by chance, the Raphaël brush and Sennelier colour companies. I started off by drawing the Raphaël travel brushes and the Sennelier limited edition collections in Christmas gift sets. Little by little, my role extended to include marketing as I also have a marketing qualification. Marketing is another of my passions! Especially digital marketing. So I have been really lucky: I loved painting, I loved artists’ supplies and I came into contact with these wonderful companies with their very extensive historical savoir-faire. These companies, and Eric Sauer in particular, trusted me to develop their new products which gave me an opportunity to express my creativity. I worked as Marketing Director for 15 years and I also worked in close collaboration with Dominque Sennelier, the grandson of the brand’s founder.
Today, as Sennelier’s Artistic Director, I still take part in product development by making suggestions and coming up with ideas and by supporting the Marketing Manager’s very dynamic approach. I play an advisory role and it is my job to ensure that the Sennelier brand image is upheld. I am also responsible for brand communication and I really make the most of the digital tools available to us today to help me in this task. Having created lots of Sennelier products and piloted the development of several new ranges, I am in a good position to be able to talk about them. And this is precisely what I do on a regular basis on the videos posted on YouTube and Facebook.
I aim to show that painting is first and foremost about taking pleasure in the activity itself. It’s like cooking in that there is the pleasure of enjoying a delicious meal, but there is also the pleasure of actually preparing it too. It’s exactly the same in painting: there is pleasure in looking at a beautiful work of art, but there is also a lot of pleasure to be had in experimenting with colours. Lots of senses come into play when we paint: sight, smell, touch. It is a very sensory activity, which is what I try and demonstrate in the videos. People seem to love watching them and post lots of questions. I try and answer everybody, but sometimes it’s difficult as I get so many messages. I love painting materials and every single day I am astonished by what artists can do with them. And it is this addiction that pushed me into artists’ supplies.
Tegen: As the Artistic Director and former Marketing Director of Sennelier, could you tell us a little about Sennelier’s history of making art materials and innovation in making them?
Yves-marie: Sennelier’s strength lies in having always been receptive to artists. Meeting them, listening to them and transforming their wishes into quality products – this is what has always been at the heart of Sennelier’s savoir-faire. Today the market is very concentrated. Huge groups have appeared, whilst Sennelier remains a small family business. If Sennelier is so popular with artists, it is certainly a result of the company’s flexibility and the close relationship it enjoys with them.
We never launch a product that doesn’t solve an artist’s problem. Artists would like ecological additives? We created “Green For Oil“. Oil paints aren’t drying quickly enough? We created “Rive Gauche”, an oil paint that dries twice as fast as the others. Tubes of acrylic paint are not very practical? We created “abstract “, an acrylic paint in a transparent pouch, which doesn’t allow air to enter and reduces waste. The quality of our paints and our flexibility are our strong points and it is in the context of these particular aspects that I find my experience of painting, my creative abilities and my marketing skills really useful. Of course, none of this would be of any value at all without the involvement of all the other people in the atelier. The laboratory is staffed by people who are similarly passionate and the people who make the paints are very proud of what they do, and with reason. I regularly pass on the compliments we receive from artists. It is this sense of innovation and this love of painting, shared by all those working in our ateliers, which is at the heart of Sennelier’s success.
Tegen:You developed Sennelier Abstract Acrylics, could you tell us the story of how you came up with them? What inspired you, how they are special and how you developed them?
Yves-marie: I think I can justifiably say that “abstract” is one of my babies. This is almost certainly why I love the range so much. At the time of launch there was no fine acrylic paint at Sennelier. We knew that we were going to create a quality product in our atelier in France, but we also knew that there was already a lot of fine acrylic paint available in shops.
Launching a new range in plastic tubes, just like everybody else, would not have been of great interest to either artists or retailers. Additionally, I was well aware of the defects of the plastic tubes: they are not transparent, so it is impossible to see the real colour. What is more, they retain their original shape even when empty so you don’t know how much paint they contain and this means that sometimes they are thrown away even though they’re not empty. This amounts to quite a few problems!
At this point in time my children were still young and sometimes they ate apple purée that is available packaged in a pouch format. I was looking at these pouches one day when it suddenly hit me that it might be a good way to create the “abstract” packaging. This type of flexible pouch was completely innovative in fine art. These pouches are genuinely transparent, so users can really see how much paint they contain. They do not retain their initial form, so there is no air getting into the pouch and users know exactly how much paint is left. Finally they are very pleasant to hold in the hand. In short, it is an innovative pouch with lots of advantages.
I was sure that artists would be delighted with it, but first of all it had to convince my management team. I managed to persuade them to run a test in-store. The test was a complete catastrophe! We didn’t make a single sale! It was almost certainly because the pouch didn’t feature any graphic design: it was completely white with a very simple label on which the word “acrylic” was printed. So my test was not at all helpful in gaining support. But I have always trusted my instincts and I genuinely believe that innovation doesn’t come from paying too much attention to marketing studies. Then I had just as many problems with the name “abstract”. People told me that it was difficult to pronounce and difficult to remember, but I believed the name reflected the modern image that I wanted to give to the range. I will never forget when Jason Mackie, importer of Sennelier products into the United Kingdom, shouted out “I love it!” when I was presenting the project several months before launch. He really helped me and to this day I’m still very grateful to him! In the end, we launched this “abstract” acrylic paint in flexible pouches in 2015 and nobody (except me! – lol) could ever have imagined it would be so successful.
Tegen: What are Sennelier Abstract Acrylics like to use?
Yves-marie: The original abstract range is a Heavy-Body fine acrylic. It is perfect for creating pictures on canvas, and also for pouring. This year we extended the range with the addition of “abstract Matt”, acrylic ink and liners. “abstract Matt” is a more fluid acrylic with a velvety finish. Acrylic ink is ideal for airbrushing and can also be applied very successfully using a brush. The liners contain Heavy-Body acrylic. They are perfect for drawing lines or points. Each of these ranges contains the same 35 colours. The colours are very bright and intense and it is very interesting to mix the different consistencies
Tegen: Could you give us an insight into how art materials are developed? Do you have any inventions on the horizon?
Yves-marie: We always have lots of projects on the go the same time. These may include new products, but they may also consist of new services to strengthen our relationship with artists. This is the case with place-to-paint.com, for example, which is a website I created so that artists who love to paint in the great outdoors could share their works and the places they love to paint. This means that they’re able to share practical information about these places. I’m a big fan of this kind of project because it makes the lives of artists easier and this very much reflects what we strive to do each and every day.
Tegen: When working on your own art, what is the most important part of the process for you?
Yves-Marie: Personally speaking, the most important part of the creative process is the part that precedes actual creation itself – the curiosity which is shared by all artists and which feeds into the desire to create. This may be, for example, going to an exhibition, visiting a studio, reading an article, appreciating a landscape… Every day there are thousands of creative signals that build up in the artist’s brain and which subconsciously prepare the way for the creative phases. I just love to gorge on these signals whilst preparing my work. Give it a try yourself: mentally select a few sources of inspiration, for example in card form. Close your eyes and imagine that you are laying these cards out in front of you on the table in your studio. Still in your head, add your medium and your colours. Concentrate and try to imagine the work that you could create with these cards and colours. This imaginative phase, fed by creative signals arising from your environment, is the phase that I consider to be the most important in the artistic process.
Tegen: Could you describe your work as an artist?
Yves-Marie: At the moment it’s very difficult to describe my style. It is constantly evolving and I am still very influenced by the magnificent works of art I see every day. I love to paint outside but I also very much enjoy abstract painting. My Grail is to successfully create figurative works, but with a modern approach that pleases me. And I still need to work a lot on this style to really find it. This is probably what differentiates professional artists from others: having sufficient time to work enough to develop a real style.
Tegen: What is a good day in the studio for you?
Yves-Marie: Any kind of creative activity generates moments of pleasure and delight. Some of these moments are difficult to explain, but I am sure that artists reading this will understand. It is all about how you feel when you have a blank canvas in front of you and you know that you will not be satisfied until you have found what I call “the balance point”. This balance point occurs when you consider that you have achieved the correct composition, the right colours, the right shades and the right representation compared with what you had imagined before starting to paint. This is a really satisfying sensation. It’s what makes you say that you are pleased with your work. Before finding this balance point, there is all the necessary, and sometimes fastidious research work which often means doing, and undoing and redoing several times. This kind of work requires a lot of energy, but it is also very invigorating. A great day in the studio is a day spent finding this balance point.
Tegen: If you could only use one type of art material what would it be?
Yves-marie: This is a very difficult question as I have got very used to using all kinds of materials and each technique has its own characteristics. I love the transparency and light of watercolours. I love the feel of pastels and their vibrancy in terms of shade. I love the immediacy of acrylic paint, and I love oil paint for its ability to fully express the characteristics of each pigment. I think that oil paint is a very powerful technique, particularly when combined with all of the potential offered by additives. We are fortunate to be manufacturing the “Oil Stick“, which as its name indicates, is a professional quality oil paint in the form of a stick. This technique makes it possible to be extremely spontaneous and so perhaps this is the one that I ultimately prefer.
Tegen: Do you have any top advice for artists?
Yves-marie: Yes, and this is a bit of advice that is relevant not only to artists but to everybody. Paint for yourself and for yourself alone! Don’t try to paint for those around you. Very often it is a fear of what those close to you may think of your work which prevents people who would like to get into painting from exploring the possibilities. Some people also imagine that they won’t be able to paint because they don’t know how to draw. That is an incorrect assumption. Everybody can get enjoyment out of playing with colour. There is just one simple rule to follow: use high-quality materials and only listen to yourself.