Caroline Dall'Ava is an author and illustrator living in the riverside city of Nantes, France. Since graduating from the École des Arts Décoratifs in Strasbourg in 2006, Caroline regularly works with French and international publishers on books for children, with clients including L'Agrume, Casterman Jeunesse, and Larousse.

We've put Caroline in the hot seat to learn more about the individual behind the illustrations.

What inspires your work?

It is very variable and depends on what I want to do. If it is more for visual ideas, for a commission, or, on the contrary, for a personal album project, the inspiration will come in different ways.

For the visual side, inspiration can come from old children's books or vintage toys, colour palettes and nice packaging, sometimes photos, an exhibition, travel... For my book projects, in which I create texts and images, inspiration often comes from real-life situations - adapted and reworked - or bits of sentences that I have read or heard, and the images come in second, often different than on a project that is only illustrated, they are more narrative.

Can you tell us more about your design background?

I entered a fine art school to study photography, but I finished my studies as an illustrator. I graduated from the School of Decorative Arts in Strasbourg's illustration department.

I have worked in children's books and press since 2006, mainly in France but also for the UK, US and Korea. I primarily work for books or press, but for a few years now, I also have illustrated puzzles, carpets, canvas and stationery.

What's the first thing you'd grab in a fire?

I may choose the notebook where I write ideas for my next books, but I think I could remember that without it. So, probably rationally: my purse with all my papers in it. Not very romantic!

What is your favourite restaurant?

I love Japanese cuisine, but we don't have many choices where I live. So I will say that the last really good Japanese restaurant that stays in my mind is Sasaya in Berlin (where I lived for one year a very long time ago — but I checked it still exists !).

What is your favourite store, and what makes it stand out?

I can't say I have one favourite store precisely, but I love fine arts stores. I always buy something: a new notebook I'll probably never use, a block of paper 'to test it', a new colour of alcohol-based marker, a felt pen or a brush pen, etc. It's tough to resist because I love to try new techniques and materials.

What are your favourite things about your neighbourhood?

I live three minutes away from the botanical garden of my city. It's beautiful all year long, and the gardeners do an incredible job. I pass through almost every day when I go downtown, and I'm never tired of it. There are also a few nice bars and restaurants, but it's relaxing because they're not located in the hyper-center.

Who's your favourite artist?

That's a difficult question. I guess it changes over time depending on what interests me at the moment. Over the past few months, I have rediscovered the work of Tove Jansson. I knew these comics, but a friend lent me his copy of The Summer Book, which I found magical. I had far too much work at that time, and to motivate myself, I read a chapter every morning before starting my work day. After that, I read it again. Everything about Jansson's work is great: the drawing, the ideas - it's truly an incredible universe.

If you could relocate anywhere, where would you choose?

Portugal! For the sun, the light, the people, the food. Each time I go there, I don't want to go back home.

Have you made any recent purchases that you're excited about?

I bought 3 Kaweco pens with different thicknesses based on the advice of an illustrator I met at a book fair (hello, Violette Vaïsse!). I draw with it, and it's very pleasant to use. The pen really glides on the paper. It's the best purchase I've made for work lately.

What advice would you offer to aspiring artists?

You don't realise it at the time, but things are easy when you're still in art school. It's entering the professional world that's difficult! Try to find your own path and not get lost in all the images that we have access to today. Be patient, even if it's hard. I worked with a publisher three years after sending him a portfolio when I started! Try lots of things and techniques to find your own, and be curious about what's new. And keep going if that's really what you want to do and it doesn't work right away!