Isabelle Jacopin is a French expatriate artist based in New Orleans’ historic French Quarter who creates artwork that is vibrant and full of life. Her balcony studio overlooking Royal Street is filled with all sorts of lovely creations. Isabelle has a tremendous work ethic and loves being in the middle of the hustle and bustle of New Orleans’ busiest neighborhood.
NCM: What part of France do you come from?
Isabelle: I was born in Brittany, which is in the Northwest of France. But I also have a studio in the Southwest of France, in Dordogne.
NCM: Did you go to art school?
Isabelle: Not really. I just studied a few months because I had to make a living early in life. When I was 18 I started painting on silk dresses, lamp shades and scarves. I was selling on the street and in the flea markets. I did that for about 10 years.
Then, by luck, I discovered a small box of soft pastels. Soon I stopped painting on silk and started using pastels. I was then addicted to pastels.
NCM: Is anyone else in your family an artist?
Isabelle: No, my mother was terrible to me when I told her I was going to be a professional artist! She told me to leave the house. She finally accepted my profession about 17 years ago when she was around 70, but in the beginning she didn’t want to talk to me.
NCM: Are your children interested in art?
Isabelle: Yes, of course. They were raised in my studio. My son studied trompe l’oeil for one year. He went to a school to learn how to paint faux wood and marble. And my daughter studied Art History. She was a cultural mediator and she’s studying to be an Illustrator for Children’s books.
NCM: What genre do you work in?
Isabelle: My style is New Impressionist. It looks very Impressionist. But I do also have some abstract paintings.
NCM: How do you find your subjects to paint?
Isabelle: I just look around me! New Orleans has so many subjects. It is so inspiring. And when I’m in France, I love to paint the river and beautiful landscapes. But I also love music and enjoy painting female singers, especially Josephine Baker.
NCM: Whose work inspires you the most?
Isabelle: It’s hard to say. As a little girl I was very attracted to Toulouse-Lautrec’s work and love his pastel paintings to advertise for shoes. I also love Alphonse Mucha.
As a teenager, I was attracted to Monet’s paintings. I also eventually discovered the Surrealists. I didn’t have any access to art so in my family, so I just had to discover things by myself through reading.
NCM: Did you ever consider being anything but a professional artist? Ever try anything else?
Isabelle: I knew that was what I was going to do when I was very young. It was always my job and passion. Now, I’m 62 and I always tell younger people that it is possible to make your living as an artist. Don’t listen too much to teachers or parents who say otherwise – if you believe in yourself, you can make a living. It’s not the type of job you choose when you want to make a big amount of money, but it’s a passion. If you have the ability but don’t choose to pursue it, you will live your life in regret.
NCM: When did you start painting for the first time?
Isabelle: Since I was about four or five years old. I always had a passion.
NCM: Do you have any favorite medium or do you like to experiment?
Isabelle: I love to experiment. I enjoy using canvas as a base, but I also enjoy painting and drawing on plexiglass and brown paper. I’m always happy to paint with oils.
NCM: How do you differentiate your art from other people since there’s so much art on the market these days?
Isabelle: Oh, I don’t feel the competition or even think about it. I like to meet other artists. I’m not competitive or jealous. I love to visit artists’ studios more than galleries.
A pivotal experience for me was a three week trip to Cuba. There I met many Cuban artists and worked along side them. Every Sunday I was showing my paintings and my sketches. I realized how fortunate we are here to have access to art supplies.
They taught me how they make white paint when they don’t have any on the island. There was no white paint! They used shoe polish and toothpaste. I gave them all my art supplies before leaving. That was a powerful experience.
When I returned from that trip I decided I needed a medium that allowed me to paint big. I liked the texture of oils, but I hated cleaning brushes. I took a palette knife to the canvas and learned it’s way easier to clean. So I started painting with palette knives. There’s so much more potential with oils. I also like to paint on old newspapers and shopping bags. I try to reuse and recycle.
NCM: What made you decide to come to New Orleans?
Isabelle: My first trip to New Orleans was 22 years ago for a one month stay. I knew the day after I arrived, that the bulk of my life would be spent here. I met the right people and felt like I was home. I decided it was time to really move here after Katrina.
NCM: Do you show in a gallery?
Isabelle: I don’t have a gallery right now. I open up my studio to people who are interested in purchasing art. People can contact me through Instagram and Facebook to see and purchase my art.
NCM: How do you deal with negative criticism? Has anyone ever said something to you that really hurt?
Isabelle: Since I paint a lot outside on the street, I think I learned how to focus on my work and not listen to the conversations around me. I can still hear what people say and enjoy a compliment. But to be honest, I don’t have that many critics.
NCM: How do you come up with a profitable price structure for your art?
Isabelle: I’m in a “medium price” range. My work was way more expensive when I was working with galleries. I’ve been surprised that more people haven’t jumped at the opportunity to buy my work at these (non-gallery) prices. I think some people maybe don’t feel comfortable buying directly from artists.
NCM: Do you think you sell more by yourself than in the gallery?
Isabelle: It was my destiny to sell by myself! I have had some successful gallery relationships, but most of my life it was more about representing myself.
NCM: If you had to pick one favorite of all your work, could you?
Isabelle: The next one I begin – the one I have on my easel!