It’s late morning in Salisbury, UK, and Ruby Fresson is in her studio clearing tasks before sketching out her next project. “Busy at the moment,” she says, “but it’s a nice time of the year for feeling positive.”
Fresson is in demand, her illustrations – crafted in the tradition of early 20th Century graphic art – continuing to capture the eyes of a growing international readership and clientele, largely thanks to repeat commissions from the vanguard of the world’s premier editorial mastheads: New York Times, GQ, The Guardian, The New Yorker, et al. Her style is described as ‘witty, with a dextrous vintage’: playful, vibrant, sometimes humorous, bright and bold, with a keen evocation of the past.
“As a child I was really into cartoons, drawing characters, learning how to do that sort of thing,” she says. “This was me figuring out the lineage, of how this graphic style has its roots in sequential panels, and how that actually worked.”
From a young age Fresson was drawn to vintage 1940s and ‘50s comic annuals that she uncovered at bric-a-brac shops, “a good starting point to go further back,” she says, delving deeper into that lineage of 20th century comic and commercial art, honing the processes required to create comics that could authentically mimic earlier visual eras.
“I got a bit obsessed with art that was of a particular time period,” she says, “how you could sense the period in the approach to how the lines were drawn, how language was used in the speech bubbles, the timing and the pacings.”
As well as the retrospectively historical aesthetics of modern American illustrators Chris Ware and Windsor McKay, Fresson was strongly influenced by Belgian artist Hergé, adored famously for ‘The Adventures of Tintin’ comic book series.
Nodding kindly to Hergé’s mid-Century ‘clear line’ style – an aesthetic with strong, precise lines, and a bold use of colours with cartoonish flavour – Fresson’s rich and vivid interpretation of the past landed smoothly next to the editorial columns of the prestigious business-forward publications she’s since become affiliated with.
While it might seem a little unconventional to add cartoons to a line of business apparel, Fresson’s bold aesthetic made a perfect fit for Émigré’s audience too, helping communicate a ‘nostalgic yesteryear’ of travel, while hinting at a classic Hergé-esque sense of adventure – a juxtaposition to the minimalist of Émigre’s core design DNA. It also brought a sense of fun and playfulness to the mix.
“The feeling was that it chimed with how Émigré imagined the visualisation of the brand, of wanting to evoke a particular sense of nostalgia – the warmth of that without needing to be too specific. Just a general sense of something – a feeling – having that longevity, and that connection to the past.”
Naturally, the bulk of the material Fresson dug into for inspiration for the project focused on people in motion, away from home, in action on the road in various places: modern émigrés in liminal spaces. But it was the strong branding that shaped things from the outset.
“My approach is really the visual side, and that word just looks lovely,” she says of the Émigré name. “The two little accents on the ‘E’. I loved that. Immediately I was picturing that next to the illustrations, thinking how it would crisp them up.”
While Hergé famously rarely travelled to any of the far flung places that he sent Tintin to, Fresson conversely has seen her fair share of the world, experiences that no doubt fused into her visual approach.
In Japan, she conducted a three month Masters program, charting the visual lineage of those early comic annuals she loved as a child, all the way back to the 17th and 18th century art of Hokusai, Hiroshige and the Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock tradition.
“You trace it back to these Japanese prints that got sent over to Paris during the Belle Epoque, wrapping ceramics up, protecting them. All these artists like Van Gogh were like ‘Why is this being used as packing material?’”
More recently, she was invited to Bermuda to produce a museum-sized comic narrative commission illustrating the remote North Atlantic island’s ecological and zoological history.
“I’ll get to go out again hopefully this year or next year when the exhibition opens, which will be a nice bookend,” she says. (I suggest this might be a good opportunity for a Tintin-style caper, but we’re not sure if Hergé ever had Bermuda on his sights).
As well as spending time in America, Fresson has travelled mostly in and around Europe, particularly when she was based south of Barcelona in the Catalan port town of Vilanova i la Geltrú.
“A lot of airports, back and forth,” she says. “I really got into the rhythm of it. The first time I really understood the appeal of being a frequent flyer, this idea of, ‘you know how to dress for travelling, you know how to pack efficiently, and know how much time to give yourself to visit your favourite cafe at the corner of the airport’.”
An even more rhythmic traveller, Fresson’s grandfather – a pilot for the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) – often regaled his granddaughter with his many amazing stories of flight in the ‘60s and ‘70s, an era when air travel still held an air of glamour and exuberance.
“I think in some ways if you get into travelling by air regularly you get a bit of a flavour of that,” she reflects on her grandfather’s unique experience. “Beautiful beams of sunlight into the cavernous waiting room, planes flying past; that sort of utopian, futuristic view of the world.”
Captured in glances, evoked through iconic imagery, Fresson’s work continues to drive, and be driven by, her own intimations of movement and motion. From the past to the utopian future, her artistry thrives here – expressed through a partnership of shared values and understanding – and so beautifully imbues a rich sense of the Émigré feeling.
About R. Fresson - Artist & Illustrator
Ruby Fresson is a UK-based illutrator with an interest in hand-drawn linework and early 20th century graphic arts. Her work is sometimes humorous, sometimes quite and thoughtful. She studied BA (hons) illustration at Falmouth and MA Visual Communication at the Royal College of Art. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, The Guardian, The New Yorker, Moncole, and Wired, and she is represented by A Human Agency. See more of her work at www.rfresson.co.uk and IG @rfressonok.
About Cam Hassard - Writer
Australian-born writer, editor, journalist and musician, Cam Hassard has spent the better part of the past two decades in Émigré-mode living and travelling abroad, and currently calls Berlin home. Follow Cam's travels on IG @camhassard.