Stéphanie Ledoux :
Sketches & Trips
25 December 2017
A globetrotter with a passion for drawing, Stéphanie Ledoux shares her time between her studio in Toulouse and her extensive travels, from which she returns with an armful of magnificent travel journals.
Three or four months per year, this young woman of 34 takes her pencils and notebooks with her to discover other cultures in order to enrich herself artistically before placing her memories on the canvas. Won over by the illustrations that Stéphanie publishes on her personal website, Latitudes was able to converse with the young French woman back from her latest trip, which took her to Papua New Guinea. Rather than a profession, Stéphanie speaks primarily about a way of life, off the beaten track.
When does your first drawings date from?
I’ve been drawing since I was old enough to hold a pencil in my hand, and I started keeping travel journals as a teenager. My first one was when I was in Tahiti at 13. During my holiday with my parents, I realized that this wasn’t interesting only for my family, but also my friends, their friends, and my father’s colleagues were asking to flip through my latest work.
And that reached the point that you could make it a full-time job?
My studies in biology led me to a profession that I didn’t enjoy, and I gradually thought of changing careers. Painting and travel journals took over. Since 2010, I’ve made them my sole activity. I’ve always traveled, without necessarily making my creations public, except for my personal blog. Nowadays, I travel in a more committed way, or off the beaten track. I organize my escapades based on what I’m going to be able to draw… rather than a profession, I’d rather call it a way of life.
How many times per year do you set out?
I go away three or four months per year, preferably in areas where there is a culture gap, if possible in places where I don’t speak the language. An entire parallel language develops when you’re frustrated with not knowing the tongue; sometimes that leads to incongruous situations and then drawings come to the rescue. I tend to draw more if I’m immersed in a context that I can’t understand. But I don’t necessarily like my whole trip being a movie in another language without subtitles! The journals provide the possibility of coming into contact with people in a different way from most tourists. My action inspires curiosity, surprise, amazement… I love the interaction created by the drawing, and it’s not infrequent that people also pick up a pencil to help me understand things when language acts as a barrier.
How do you prepare your trips?
I let myself be taken away to a great extent by who I meet and by chance. On the one hand, there’s what I choose on my own. I have a rather long list of countries that I’d like to visit. One the other hand, I’m also ready to listen to opportunities and invitations. In Papua New Guinea, I was the designated artist on an expedition by boat in the framework of a science project, in order to bring back images aiming to raise awareness of nature protection among the public. An amazing trip, with extensive logistical issues, like in the explorers’ time. I wouldn’t ever have planned that on my own.
Do people often tell you that you’re lucky?
I don’t really agree with that idea, it’s not just a matter of luck! For the four heavenly months that I spend on the ground, there are eight months of lonely work in my studio. Also, it takes courage to get out of your comfort zone and find yourself in an unknown place. Besides, like every independent job, it’s precarious in financial terms. People only tend to retain the social media façade with photos of dreamlike places. After that, it’s true that on a daily basis I feel I’ve achieved something by managing to combine my two passions, and I’m even more aware of this because I experienced something else beforehand, holding a job that I didn’t enjoy.
What’s your working method?
When I travel, I set out with a limited stock of portable materials. I ask people who aren’t professionals, who have other things to do, to pose. They kindly grant me a little of their time; I don’t want to make them pose for eight hours. Then I just draw a small sketch to catch the moment: the essential work takes place once I’m back. I often offer my portraits to my models. In some countries, I give everything away, and just to keep a memory, I take a picture of my sketch and a picture of the other person. Over time, the idea of making portraits on-site has become an excuse to meet people and have a good time. Once I’m back in France, the intensity of this shared experience leads me to draw one character or another on a large scale, as a way of reliving this memory.
How do people react when you give them a drawing?
From one country to another, they’re not going to react in the same way. Indonesians love having a picture of themselves, and you can be sure that on the next day it will be framed and put in a prominent place in their home. There are other countries where people don’t care and in extreme cases, like with nomads, for
example, I’ve already found my drawing rolled up and crumpled on the next campfire.
What’s the story behind the portrait on the cover of Latitudes?
During my last trip to Burma, in January of 2016, I went to an Enn village in the area of Kengtung, an isolated area in the mountains with few traces of modernity. They don’t have electricity or running water. They still wear their traditional clothing, speak their own language, and preserve their own culture. I started to draw the shaman and his wife, with the villagers watching me from a distance. The young girl on the cover seemed even more fascinated than the others and at the end, she asked me to draw her portrait. The idea of this voyage to Burma was to put together a book, so I kept all my drawings in order to be able to scan the originals. I hope to return there someday and find all these people again in order to offer them their portraits and show them the work that I did after returning to France, which is more spectacular than the sketch made in front of them in black and white.
Do you come to Asia often?
Yes, it’s really my favorite part of the world. I’ve already been in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia, China, India, and most recently in Papua New Guinea.
And in Thailand?
The first time was in 2004. I really love Bangkok and how this city is a central point in Asia; I love stopping here each time for a few days, absorbing the atmosphere of this large city, doing some shopping… There are people who set out to travel very quickly; on paper, I find the idea of traveling all the way around wonderful, but I think it would be very frustrating. For me, I need some time to digest after visiting each country; discovering a new part of the world, a new culture, isn’t painless… in Bangkok, I have my little neighborhood habits, which I find relaxing.
According to you, what makes the public so interested in travel journals?
I think it’s part dreaming, a certain subjectivity, and sensitivity. Everyone takes pictures; we’re flooded with images and ultimately, quality drowns in mass production. Drawing adds a “handmade” touch, an old style, which is attractive to people. It’s a way to slow down that requires you to stop for a moment, an antidote to fast-paced travel consumption. Just like how we often talk about meditating, full awareness, slowing down the pace of our lives… there’s also a favorable wind for drawing.
You just came back from Polynesia. What’s your next trip going to be?
I might be setting out for Costa Rica to take a break during the winter, but nothing’s certain yet. The trip that I took to the Papua New Guinea last year is going to appear in the form of a book with multiple authors, and I still have a lot of work to do, illustrations to submit to the editor. I’m currently at the “homework” stage of my work, which awakens the desire to travel again…