Isabelle Dervaux on illustration and photo organizing

“When I illustrate, I’m alone in my studio working with one art director by email or phone. I don’t see the effect my work has onto others until much later when the work is published and seen. Now I like to work [organizing photos] directly with clients, often sitting with them in their homes, getting to know them and help them solve their problems right away, which I like better.”


Isabelle Dervaux is an accomplished illustrator who brings her unique perspective to commercial assignments whether in broadcast, print, consumer packaging or the web. A native of France, Isabelle received her education in Art and Art History at the University of Lille. After completing her studies, Dervaux soon made her way to New York where she cultivated a taste for bagels, knishes and New Yorkers, and developed a client list filled with the most well-known names in advertising, retail, publishing and entertainment. She has worked extensively in the United States, Japan and Europe and for everyone from The New Yorker to Barneys New York to British Airways to Vogue. She has received recognition from American Illustration, Communication Arts, Print and The Society of Publication Designers. Her work is also part of MOMA’s permanent collection and she has had several exhibitions of her work in Tokyo. Isabelle lives with her husband and two children in Brooklyn. For more of her work, visit her portfolio.

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This week’s featured mom has a foot in two distinct creative worlds. Isabelle’s illustrations have been seen throughout the world and are distinctly elegant and sophisticated yet playful and fun. They make us happy just to look at them. On the other hand, she also takes on the onerous task of helping families sort their multitude of photos and organize them with style and flair.



How did you get into photo organizing?

In 2008, we moved from a large craftsman style home in San Francisco to a small 2-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. That move (and a subsequent one to Brooklyn) forced me to deal with 15 years of kids’ artwork, photographs, memorabilia, and letters we’d accumulated. I dove into beat-up moving boxes and CDs of photos and replaced the chaos with nicely labeled containers and digital archives. Feeling liberated from the stress and guilt of ignoring my photos for years, I found the process so enjoyable that I began to create photo narratives for family and friends.

When I created a surprise movie slideshow for my cousin Liliʼs 50th birthday, everyone was delighted with the result. But gathering pictures for the project from numerous computers, hard drives, photo albums and mounds of untitled jpgs required a huge family effort. My business was born when I realized that the photo organizing process was as overwhelming for others as it originally was for me and that my new creative passion could also be a professional one.

I now use and teach the techniques Iʼve discovered to help busy families enjoy their photos and videos instead of storing them away to be forgotten. I patiently curate collections to choose the strongest and most important images and show how to recognize a great one. I also create slideshows that tell stories of people and families, containing collages and ephemera that complement the stories the photos tell.

We love your illustration too! Which talent came first?

Definitely illustration which I have done for more than 30 years now. I was always daydreaming in school and drawing in my notebooks thinking that my teachers didn’t notice.


What do you currently find creatively inspiring?

Random stuff, high and low art. Museums, photography books, art, Tumbler, magazines, friend’s collections and interiors, just walking around looking at urban decay and urban renewal, new restaurant decors, garage sales and flea market, thrift shops, funky stores.

Do you have any projects you’re excited about or want to share?

One personal project is to work on my husband Jim’s collection of students and work ID cards and business cards he had throughout the years. Right now they are all lovingly collected and stored away waiting to be dealt with. I’m planning to blog about interesting arrangements with vintage or family photos done by my creative friends.


How do you balance being a mom and your creative work?

I try to mix them both. I work at home so it has pros and cons and it can be isolating. Not having to deal with the commute is a good thing. But I need to be so self disciplined as to not be distracted by every constant demand.

Time management has always been an issue for me. I will be working on it forever it seems! When I was illustrating for a lot for magazines I was getting of a ton of assignments dealing with work-life balance. You know the juggling mom with pots and pans and a briefcase flying over her.

I used to have the bassinet in my studio, and then I brought a small table and chair with art supplies available next to my own drawing table that could be moved around to the kitchen. A stretch of 20 minutes was precious. A box with hidden supply of birthday presents that I put away would be a good trick to have if I was suddenly stuck on the phone. Another problem was the working hours and dealing with the time difference between NY and California.

Are there perks to your creative work since you became a mom?

I got to take Millie to Japan for a job when I was younger. I was so glad I didn’t have to have to dress up for work and do all the stuff that was expected from 9 to 5 moms. I got to work on interesting projects such as drawing Bjork and working on the poster for the play of the Good Body by Eve Ensler.

What were bumps in the road that you weren’t expecting?

Yes, kids get sick all the time. They may have special needs. I discovered the world of ADHD and learning differences. I didn’t plan the time spent at doctor offices, specialists and on pharmacy lines. That totally threw me off. Kids have so many vacations! I had learned to make a patchwork of summer camps for all seasons and when they were six years old sent them off to France so they could spend time with their grandparents.




What are the highlights of working as a photo organizer?

When I illustrate I’m alone in my studio working with clients by email or phone. I don’t see the effect my work has on others until much later when the work is published and seen.

I now like to work directly with clients, often sitting with them in their homes, getting to know them and help them solve their problems right away. I makes me feel good to see people getting results. I am fascinated by their individual stories because I have a family of my own; I don’t think I would have been as interested in doing this earlier in life.


Your illustration and photo organizing seem like 2 very separate disciplines. Does any of your work mix the two? Which do you prefer doing? Which is harder to find clients?

They use two different parts of the brain yes. I have to organize my digital files no matter what, so that is one commonality. They are related in many ways. Both are visual and use storytelling techniques. When I curate images and make books; once I have physically organized the images, I work with color, shape and composition to make it work. In both disciplines I use observation, design, humor and wit to to tell a story.

For illustration, I can get work from maybe 3000 clients who assign illustration so that is a very specific market. On the other hand, everyone has photos and could potentially need help with them.

Have you found unexpected perks from working for yourself?

I have to debunk the fact that working at home is the greatest thing but it works for me. I get to work listening to NPR in the background and work in my PJs at night when it’s too late for phone calls. My freelance life has enabled me to travel to Japan, Europe and around the US. Going to meet art directors in many cities around the world is an unique experience and seeing your name in print is nice!

How did becoming a mom change your career goals?

Flexibility. It’s different for everyone. I hated going to the playground by myself; that is for sure. Now I wouldn’t mind because I have sort of lost the shyness I had earlier in my life. Also, I’ve never been into soccer myself, so I’m glad my son wasn’t into sports, but if he had been a jock I would have found a way for him to do it in spite of my disinterest.

Somehow my assignments changed with my interests. When I was younger, I illustrated the gritty NY nightlife scene, and was doing more edgy and sarcastic type of work. Later on I got to do children’s books and illustrate the inevitable mom – work – balance articles for magazines which I could do pretty well.

Reading books to the kids gave me a new understanding of kid’s books that I used once I was commissioned to do it. I also kept the photo albums of the kids to keep for their own kids.

What do you think is the hardest thing about your career?

Keeping a consistent income and planning for emergencies. As a freelancer you need to pay attention to retirement, all types of insurance, taxes etc.–not exactly the sexiest stuff. Sometimes I envy the people that have a “real” job where that is taken care of for you –if you have a good one.Continuing to market yourself when you are busy is another challenge. Having an agent is great in that regard, to keep the work coming in.




Do you have any favorite creative activities you do with your kid(s)?

When we lived in San Francisco where my kids grew up, I used to make things and cook with them. I’ve always been a DYI-er, creating something from nothing. I loved preparing birthday parties for them or with them when they were little. We all went to the Maker Faire as a family when it first started in San Mateo. I used to keep boxes with recycled stuff they could play and mess up with like broken alarm clocks, colored paper, bits and pieces to break, take apart or make art with.

I couldn’t keep up with building things with my son Lucien once he got to be a teen. His dad took over when he started to play with machines, robotics, circuits and now code. He’s at college studying computer science now.

I love going on outings with my daughter Millie to take pictures. She came back home after studying two years in France and I am rediscovering NY with her; both of us with cameras in hand.


What’s one thing about your own creativity you’ve learned from being a mom?

You need to nourish it anyway you can. Use your creativity to do your chores. Use it to make boring things fun.



What’s a piece of advice you wish you’d had starting your career?

I had listened to the advice of an illustrator friend to open a Keogh account. I did that but couldn’t put as much as often I wanted into as years went by.

Do you have any advice for moms trying to balance career and family?

Prepare to have an earlier buffer zone or cushion for deadlines when things happen. Keep a bag near the door with things to do for them on the fly.

It’s unrealistic to think that things can be balanced at all times. Sometimes you live in balance but often that is not the case, because kids’ needs change as you go along. Once you get a handle on something they’re interested in they soon grow out of it. You constantly readjust until the next challenge comes.

You need to make decisions and give up a few things early on. After-school activities and weekend classes are overrated. Why people insist on having a multiple activities is beyond me; shuttling them back and forth while complaining about it, is crazy —absolutely exhausting; too stressful to get places on time. Better to put the money you’d spend on these activities in a fund for college. Or pick an activity for yourself that you enjoy that you can do with your kids, so you get satisfaction too!

Do you have any resources (websites, magazines, books, etc) that you’d recommend to moms interested in pursuing a career as an illustrator or photo organizer?

The shows at the Society of Illustrators on East 63rd Street are always a great way to see what the scene is with a yearly show of children’s book Illustrators in the fall. They also publish an annual book Illustrators to see the market. The juried book American Illustration that comes out every year is a fantastic survey of what is being done now. Communication Arts and Printare the trade magazines.

Continuing ed classes at SVA, Pratt, Parsons or maybe FIT will give you an overview and structure to build a portfolio. Get a babysitter as the classes are usually at night. I would recommend the book Art, Inc. by Lisa Congdon that just came out.

Specifically about illustration, Mike Fleishman’s Exploring Illustration and any book by Steven Heller with Marshall Arisman (Inside the Business of Illustration, Marketing Illustration or Teaching Illustration) are great books to start with about being an illustrator. I am quoted in some of their books!

I also recommend Photo Album by Vanessa Holden and Susie Cushner. The brand new APPO is the Association of Personal Organizers with about 600 members. It’s a great community for anyone interested in photo organizing.