Anaïs Michel’s two-tone illustrations depict the “endearing and hopeful” moments of everyday life

The French illustrator talks us through how she landed on her characteristic style and shares some anecdotes from her time as a travelling artist.

21 September 2020

Anaïs Michel’s affinity with drawing goes so far back that she can’t remember a time without it. The French illustrator, currently based in Paris, has always had a strong connection with the medium. “It was always ‘my thing’,” she tells It’s Nice That, even if it did take a short while to pursue it as a serious profession. Rather than opting for art school, Anaïs decided to embark on her studies in political science – a move that temporarily stunted her creative process, but it wasn’t long until her passion for illustration started to make an appearance.

It all began when Anaïs travelled to New York between the ages of 19 and 20, opting to carry a sketchbook with her wherever she went (“A habit I’ve kept ever since,” she says). This was precisely the moment that her distinctive blue and red, two-tone aesthetic developed. “It all started with a funny story,” she says. “A few years ago, I travelled alone for months in Asia and ended with a long stay in Tokyo. I was frustrated as I had hoped this trip would be a catalyst to my creativity, but I couldn’t find the time nor inspiration to draw much. I was pretty broke and went to a 100-yen store and found this amazing television pencil, with its blue and red dual tips. I started to play around with it, and I haven’t grown tired of it yet!”

After a small stint of research, Anaïs soon realised that this pencil was meant for use as a utilitarian tool – either in accounting or carpentry – not so much in fine art. Yet who’s to monitor and say what tool you can use when creating a piece of art? A Faber Castell was therefore marked as her sole tool of choice (alongside paper, of course), particularly as it grants an alluring level of consistency and freedom in its output. “It becomes so simple yet allows for complexity,” she says. “And as a friend put it, it’s like removing one variable to highlight all the others.”

That’s not to say that Anaïs has never worked with any other styles of drawing; in fact, the illustrator had trialled several different techniques and mediums before this. Whether it was watercolour, charcoal or experimentation with digital illustration, nothing sat quite right with Anaïs and she never felt quite like she’d settled on something that was truly hers. Wary of not copying anyone, she found this process a little tricky at first; unconscious influence tends to take form in many ways and the continuous amount of work consumed on Instagram makes this even harder. But Anaïs devotes much of her time to defining her own style, which becomes evidently clear through her simplistic and artfully detailed creations.


Anaïs Michel (Copyright © Anaïs Michel, 2020)

With an absence of human figures, Anaïs’ illustrations evoke a sense of dreaminess. She cites the classics as her earliest reference points – Matisse, Kiki Smith, Louise Bourgeois, Henri-Edmond Cross and Nicolas de Staël – but what drives her process is the desire to create something with a “certain atmosphere”, specifically an “endearing, dreamy and hopeful” one. In this sense, her work is stimulated by architectural and environmental influences, as well as the small, sweet cadences of everyday life.

Anaïs’ work is therefore filled with fond anecdotes from the past. In Tokyo, for example, she recalls a time when she’d got lost while riding her bike in a residential neighbourhood. She tumbled upon a Lynchean coffee shop – one that could have been plucked straight out of the 80s – and started to draw from the pavement. “About 20 minutes into the process, a very elegant old man went out of the shop to bring me mosquito repellent, then went back in without a word. Then a folding chair and water,” she says. “He stayed a little longer every time he came back to bring me something, and eventually handed me a cell phone: he had called his daughter to use as a translator over the phone.”

The daughter asked for a photocopy of the drawing, and they proceeded to invite Anaïs in for a cold drip coffee. A “crazy” conversation was had and a beautiful connection made – an example of how Anaïs’ outside influences and experiences are a clear driver for her work. “They were the nicest people, so humble and polite. Here I was, this super tall French girl trying to crack jokes in broken English over the phone with this tiny Japanese family – it was a very funny situation, awkward in the best way. They ended up calling over a retired English teacher to show me the way home.”

GalleryAnaïs Michel (Copyright © Anaïs Michel, 2020)

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Anaïs Michel (Copyright © Anaïs Michel, 2020)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima. 

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