TTLG Author/Illustrator Profiles

Marie-Louise Gay

Marie-Louise Gay

Marie-Louise Gay was born in Quebec City, on June 17, 1952. As a child she lived in Sherbrooke, Montreal, Oakville and Vancouver but Gay eventually moved back to Montreal, where she now lives. As a child, she found it difficult to adjust to so many new and different environments. With the encouragement of her parents, who accompanied her on weekly trips to the library, Gay found solace in reading. Ironically, despite being a great reader, Gay found little interest in the books' illustrations. As a child Gay herself did not draw very much. She began drawing out of boredom when she was seventeen and having difficulties in school, sketching in the margins of her notebooks before moving on to using full pages. Her mother suggested she turn her interest into an asset instead of wasting her time and Gay discovered that she wanted a career in the visual arts field

She began her training at The Institute of Graphic Arts of Montreal but found graphic art too restraining and as a result moved to courses at The Montreal Museum School of Fine Art. As a student, she worked on professional cartoon strips and editorial illustrations. She also began taking her portfolio around to various publishers until she found one that was willing to publish her work.

When she was twenty-six, Gay decided to further her education in illustration at The Academy of Art College in San Francisco. Gay enjoyed the experience so much that she stayed for three years instead of the expected one. During her last two years in San Francisco, she worked hard to sell her drawings to publishers of educational books. This experience was very important in defining her unique style with its bright colours and sketchy design. Gay attributes the change of using bright colours to the sunny climate of California. However, Gay could not identify with a San Franciscan lifestyle. After a few years there, she began to long for a place that felt like a home. She needed a connection to her history and roots, so she moved back to Montreal.

In Montreal, Gay began illustrating children's books. She reveled in the larger scale and number of drawings that are involved in picture books. She enjoyed the opportunity to create whole new visual worlds but often found that she was not interested in the stories she was given to illustrate. In 1980, she decided that she would try to write and illustrate her own picture books. Marie-Louise Gay has become one of Canada's premier children's authors and illustrators. Her prolific amount of work is available in both English and French. She gets her ideas from her own memories of childhood. Rainy Day Magic for example, was inspired by memories of what she and her sister did on rainy days in Vancouver. Gay observes the world she sees around her and uses both the unusual and the mundane as inspiration for her stories and illustrations. Gay understands that despite the limited size of a child's world, children's feelings are as complex as those of adults. She talks about the joy and pains of childhood and draws ideas from these emotions. She also observes her own children and draws inspiration from them. She regards the line between fantasy and reality, especially for children, as thin and obscured. Gay aims to create illustrations that reflect and compliment the text and text that describes and narrates the illustrations.

One might think that Gay's loose and distorted drawing style would be casual and random. However, Gay is very meticulous about her illustrations. She will work on one drawing, doing several drafts until she feels that what she has is perfect. Her works begin as sketches and doodles on a pad she carries with her at all times. She uses this pad to record moments of inspiration and capture spontaneous images. From these ideas her stories and images emerge. She works in an office at home but cannot work while caring for her children. Gay does her best work after her husband has left for work and her children have left for school. Her small office is filled with paint supplies and papers. She works primarily during the day for five to seven hours. However, she will work at night when she has a deadline to meet. Each drawing takes about five days to create. After the sketch is complete, she does the pencil roughs, which lead to the final pencil drawings, the lines are inked and then the picture is painted. Dedicated to illustration, Gay suggests that aspiring artists work at perfecting their skills.