How do you read an illustrated book with holes in the pages for your fingers? And what about a book in which you can reflect yourself, or one in which you can stroke a furry drawing or use all your senses to deconstruct and reconstruct infinite stories and worlds? There are actually two ways, both of which call for somewhat magical recipes, that not all adults remember knowing. One: inventing, and two: finding your inner child.

Since 1994 French author Hervé Tullet has conceived and drawn more than 60 illustrated books for children that were a revolution in the field. How? By putting in their hands not just a story, but a tactile, playful and interactive world. Pages full of ideas which each individual can build his or her own story on and which Tullet himself presents through readings-performances for groups of up to 250 children.

Today February 1st, Hervé inaugurates exhibition "Jeux de Notes" at Centre Culturel - Centre de Créations pour l’Enfance di Tinqueux. A rich initiative which is so very rare, completely dedicated to children and taking place in an exceptional structure. Here the author will present a puppet performance with one of his most famous characters, Turlututu, as the protagonist; an exhibition inspired by the book and cartoon series "Blop!"; an atelier and most of all a gigantic musical and interactive installation in which the kids can go wild experimenting with notes, dots, lines and colored scribbles.

Interview, Hervè Tullet, LTVs, Lancia TrendVisions
Interactive game "À toi de gribouiller!" on the site of Hervé Tullet

From illustrator of children’s books to author-illustrator. How did this step take place?I was working as an illustrator on commission, but it was hard because I think I was never really drawing well. As an illustrator I tried to express myself with constantly different styles. I thought having a single style was wrong, so I experimented and learnt about having something to say and how to say it.

In the 90s illustrated books for children were something new. Worthy editors of the genre were limited. There was much to explore: so I started thinking about ideas I could pitch. When I presented them to the editor he replied that was I was working on wasn’t a simple illustrated book but something else. It was true, I had found a style that worked well for children's books, but it still seemed infantile and flat to me.

When did you really find your style?Jean-Louis Dumas, the boss at Hermes, asked me to do some textile design work and some graphics for a catalog, with 2 styles that were opposite to each other. I had never done something like this before. So I used the same style of my book for kids. The work wasn’t accepted, but at least I had found my unique voice. I had understood that that was me. So I started giving shape to "The Five Senses", which is the union of all my styles in a single work.

What relationship do children have with your books and what interests you the most about their way of perceiving things?Children already know everything and have no prejudices. They are smaller and more open. Everything is understandable and you can communicate it to them with a vast repertoire of tools. All you have to do is show them a little something for it to become the beginning of something new.

Interview, Hervè Tullet, LTVs, Lancia TrendVisions
Interactive game "À toi de gribouiller!" on the site of Hervé Tullet

Could you give us an example?The book Little Blue and Little Yellow, by Leo Leonni is a beautiful idea, bred from a few bits of paper during a trip by train. It was Leonni’s grandson who told me, as I had managed to meet him. He said his grandfather and his father often had to travel by train from one city to another in the States and that to amuse his two sons his grandfather started thinking of a game, with bits of paper torn from a magazine. That’s how he came up with the idea for the book. One day an editor from New York saw it and published it.

I love this story because it is so fortuitous. From what I know, Leonni had no intention of writing a children’s book or getting it published. I think it’s a pity Leonni debuted with his masterpiece.

There’s always a touch of magic in your books or an invitation to interact, such as in "The game of let's go!". How do you conceive your books, what’s the trick?The trick is to not have any rules. In a certain sense I think my books are incomplete and the reader has to find his or her way of filling the gaps. You have to add something to the story yourself. If you don’t, the book doesn’t work. This requires energy, but those who put in the effort will be proud of themselves.

I've only written one normal book, "Press Here", that can be read by simply flipping through it. It’s my best seller and has sold 700 thousand copies so far. My American editor says it is my most traditional book, in a certain sense he is right. With this book you don’t need to do anything: it puts you at ease, the others don’t.

What relationship do you try to install with children during your performances?I always start by asking: "So, what do we do?". This means you’re putting yourself on the same level as them to work together. At the beginning I am not the boss. Afterwards the relationship changes and I become like the director of a very noisy and numerous orchestra, from 50 to 250 children. It’s almost like a theatrical performance, where I improvise and am constantly stimulated. It takes some time, 4 or 5 exercizes, but it doesn’t worry me. This is a very important point: I always try to put myself at ease. If something doesn’t feel right I ask: "And what do we do now?". From uncertainty something new and surprising always comes out.

Interview, Hervè Tullet, LTVs, Lancia TrendVisions
Interaactive game "Le jeu des yeux" on the site of Hervé Tullet

What are the biggest difficulties during a performance?The last time, in India, I had a group of 250 children and kids, from 7 to 15 years of age. Only about half of them spoke English, the rest only Hindi. As always, I took the megaphone and improvised. At the beginning they feel a bit lost, but then they find their freedom and in the end they draw tirelessly. The result is impressive: a huge collective drawing in which each kid can contribute with his paintbrush and colors. The incredible thing is that it always works no matter the location.

What does improvising mean to you?It feels like falling, like everything is complicated, you feel like you have no ideas. But there’s always something that will save you. You will always find space for surprise, first and foremost surprise for those who improvise.

Before illustrating and conceiving books for children, you worked in the world of advertising and communication. What did you learn from it?When I was 20 I was not an illustrator and had no personality. Thanks to that world I learnt what working from morning to evening meant, what a meeting, a commission or a deadline are.

In the 80s advertising was an interesting job. Unlike today, it wasn’t a field run by marketing and numbers, but by creativity. Now the balance has changed: at the time it was the creative department that came up with ideas, while today it’s the client that asks you to technically develop their concept.

Interview, Hervè Tullet, LTVs, Lancia TrendVisions

Interactive game "Le jeu des yeux" on the site of Hervé Tullet

I have a romantic vision so I’ve always wanted to change the world. Advertising in that moment was a frontier to explore, and I had the impression I could change the world through the force of ideas, so I always had passion. But when I understood that was not possible, I decided to change career and be an illustrator.

Today I am happy to be able to work freely on my books and I am proud of being able to do it with great editors that count on me as a creative and not as a product.

Does working for children mean you still believe you can change the world?The only thing I know is that during each meeting something happens. I keep going onwards with constancy to build something. For example, I have been following a school for orphans in Malawi, where I go once every year.

Which of your books is the most personal?I think it’s "The Five Senses". I rarely use it in schools, because it speaks of me. It’s a book addressed to a single child and not to an audience.

What’s your relationship with tablets and e-books?A book is a book, a tablet is a tablet. Those who want to make an e-book should study something specifically for that digital format.

Interview, Hervè Tullet, LTVs, Lancia TrendVisions
Hervé during a performance in Los Feliz (Los Angeles)

Indeed in the app "Press Here" you drew from the original book to create a series of games.It makes no sense to create a digital copy of a book for tablets. My app "Press Here" is a variation on the book. Apps revolve around interaction, though for now tablets don’t allow much of it. My books are conceived to be interactive and remain so for long, so I don’t think they need to become e-books to be more interesting.

And if you were to creatively play with media tablets?I like the fact that tablets allow total immersion, depth: you can get lost in them. But so far I only see apps that are aping actual pages you can flip through. I’d like to experiment with all media, not just tablets.

In the course of your creative career, how has your way of relating to the new ideas that you come up with changed?Once, when I'd come up with an idea, I’d keep it to myself and never share it. But the truth is that the more you give, the more you receive. It works in all aspects of life, and also in the world of ideas. Today, as soon as I have an idea, I want to immediately get rid of it. To be able to find a new one the soonest possible.

What are your next projects, apart from the exhibition at Tinqueux?I am about to publish a new book, some game-books and "I am Blop" with Phaidon, as well as some reprints.
But the biggest project will be the exhibition in 2014 at Villa Savoye, designed by Le Corbusier.

Our magazine tries to explore elegance in all its forms: what is your idea of elegance?Never forgetting to say "thank you".


Photos © herve-tullet.com

Interview, Hervé Tullet, LTVs, Lancia TrendVisions
A performance in West Valley

Interview, Hervé Tullet, LTVs, Lancia TrendVisions
Hervé during a performance in Pasadena

Interview, Hervé Tullet, LTVs, Lancia TrendVisionsA Performance at Tate Modern in London

Interview, Hervé Tullet, LTVs, Lancia TrendVisionsInteractive game "Le jeu du Hasard" on the site of Hervé Tullet

Interview, Hervé Tullet, LTVs, Lancia TrendVisions
Interactive game "Le jeu du Hasard" on the site of Hervé Tullet

Interview, Hervé Tullet, LTVs, Lancia TrendVisions
Interactive game "Le jeu du Hasard" on the site of Hervé Tullet

Interview, Hervé Tullet, LTVs, Lancia TrendVisions
Book cover of "Les Cinq Sens" (The Five Senses) © Hervé Tullet

Interview, Hervé Tullet, LTVs, Lancia TrendVisions
Illustration for the book "Les Cinq Sens" (The Five Senses) © Hervé Tullet

Interview, Hervé Tullet, LTVs, Lancia TrendVisions
Illustration for the book "Les Cinq Sens" (The Five Senses) © Hervé Tullet

Interview, Hervé Tullet, LTVs, Lancia TrendVisions
Illustration for the book "Les Cinq Sens" (The Five Senses) © Hervé Tullet

Interview, Hervé Tullet, LTVs, Lancia TrendVisions
Interactive gam "The Colouring Book" on the site of Hervé Tullet

Interview, Hervé Tullet, LTVs, Lancia TrendVisions
Following a performance with the children of Villeurbanne

LTVs, Lancia TrendVisions, Hervé Tullet, Interview
Hervé during a performace in Marseille, May 2011

LTVs, Lancia TrendVisions, Hervé Tullet, Interview
Hervé Tullet at the Centre de Créations pour l’Enfance di Tinqueux prepares the exhibtion "Jeux de Notes"

LTVs, Lancia TrendVisions, Hervé Tullet, Interview
Hervé Tullet at the Centre de Créations pour l’Enfance di Tinqueux prepares the exhibtion "Jeux de Notes"

LTVs, Lancia TrendVisions, Hervé Tullet, Interview
Hervé Tullet at the Centre de Créations pour l’Enfance di Tinqueux prepares the exhibtion "Jeux de Notes"


"Let's Play Games" with Hervé Tullet © Phaidon

Interview by Fabio Falzone