We had the opportunity to interview the author of The Sky is Not the Limit, Jérémie Decalf, a French illustrator and photographer based in San Francisco. Since his childhood, Jérémie has been fascinated by space exploration including the Voyager probes and their discoveries.
What made you decide to write books?
It evolved naturally from my passion for illustration. I spent years packing stories into single images, and it felt like a natural evolution to pace that over multiple pages and incorporate text as part of the process. Combining text and images is fascinating. It needs to be taken into account in the image composition, and it provides rhythm and emotions that complement the illustrations. There is a magic synergy that is hard to find.
So many illustrators, comic books writers and painters—Jean-Jacques Sempé, Katsuhiro Otomo, Hayao Miyazaki, all the impressionist collection at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris… If anything, cinema is probably my main influence. The importance of composition, relationship between frames, pacing and structure of stories are a huge source of inspiration. For this book, I was also very influenced by the French poet Andrée Chédid, particularly her book “The Fabric of the Universe.”
I guess there is a pot of ideas simmering in the back of my brain. Some stories emerge from it once in a while and feel right. I have no control over this kitchen.
What is the process of writing and illustrating a book; how does it go from an idea to a finished work of art on sale in bookstores?
It first starts with an idea, a simple one. For this one, I wanted to make a kids book about the Voyager missions. Then it is about taking the time to flesh out this idea, giving it some shape, finding the tone, the structure. and the emotions that will transform this idea into a story. Then comes the fun and difficult parmaking a book. For the Sky is Not the Limit, as I knew that it was a bit of an unusual kids book, I decided to finish it entirely before looking for a publisher. I sent it to over 30 publishers in France. And one, Amaterra, said yes and turned it into a beautiful object.
Photoshop and a drawing tablet. I enjoy experimenting with watercolors, but I am not very good at it
At my desk, or outside when I pack my watercolors. More than the final drawing, watercolor is mainly an excuse to look at something for a long time. What I am looking at and the time I spend drawing engraves that something in my memory.
I hope this book will convey a sense of wonder and spark curiosity, and some humility, for the world around us. I also tried to show the reality of space exploration, and to some extent science in general. Science is a labor of patience, and that there is beauty in this.
Is there a particular art spread that is your favorite or maybe challenged you the most while creating it?
All the planets were a challenge. I wanted them to be accurate—but not too realistic and also evoke how gigantic those are. Jupiter was particularly interesting to draw. With all its storm systems, chaotic clouds and delicate color palette, I was not sure how I would pull it off. To my surprise, it emerged quite smoothly.
Not really. I spent a long time trying to find the balance between scientific accuracy and a sense of poetry. I can think of some sentences that were left aside, but the core structure and intention of the story cemented fairly early in the process.
I have a sweet spot for the page where the rocket breaks above the clouds. I really enjoyed finding the right light on it.
My partner and our dog, Huckleberry, make an appearance on the beach.
HARDCOVER; Releases: 3/13/2023
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A poetic odyssey through space with the groundbreaking Voyager 2 probe—past Earth, into deep space and beyond.
In 1977, a space probe was built to help human beings learn a little more about outer space. Soon, along with its twin, Voyager 2 slipped through the clouds and left Earth behind. The spacecraft traveled for years through the deep, infinite night. At last Voyager 2 reached its first goal: Jupiter. Then it met the spellbinding sight of Saturn. Then, going further than any previous mission, the probe visited the blue ice giants Uranus and Neptune. Past the boundaries of our solar system, Voyager 2 sails on, carrying a Golden Record for any new friends it makes in interstellar space…
This lyrical, atmospheric book introduces young readers to a pioneering NASA spacecraft that has spent over forty-five years observing and exploring our galaxy. With stirring poetry, luminous art, and fascinating back matter, The Sky Is Not the Limit will inspire future scientific innovators and foster a sense of wonder at our universe.
“Slight but evocative.” —Kirkus Reviews