Genevieve Santos - Le Petit Elefant

For our inaugural interview, we are pleased to introduce Genevieve Santos, the sole proprietor of Le Petit Elefant and children's book illustrator based in San Jose, CA.




Genevieve Santos is an illustrator born, raised and living in San Jose, and sole proprietor of a small stationery company, Le Petit Elefant. Wanderlust got the best of her so she's traveled to 31 countries before turning 30, sometimes backpacking, sometimes by camper van, sometimes on her own, but always with a sketchbook. Her love for animation started at a young age, and is what drives her to draw the slightest observations. She also has an insatiable weakness for ice cream.



How did you find your career path?
I’ve drawn since I could remember. When I was little-driven to perhaps one day become a Disney animator-I recorded my favorite cartoons on VHS tape, and studied each illustration frame by frame. This, in all likelihood, made me the worst 5-year-old to watch cartoons with.

At USC, I majored in Communication and minored in 2D Animation, which turned out to be more of an experimental exploration of the medium rather than anything that could substantially train me to become a Disney animator. But by the time I had graduated, I had shifted gears and went into creative advertising. I worked for two years at New Line Cinema, all the while suffering through rush hour traffic to take figure drawing workshops across town. Though I was working in advertising, I never stopped drawing. Then, one of the best things ever happened to me: Warner Bros. absorbed New Line Cinema and I was laid off. The decision was made for me. Sitting comfortably with severance and unemployment money, I now had the financial cushion and full freedom to truly pursue what I wanted. So in 2009 I started my little stationery business, Le Petit Elefant, so I could do what I love: get lost in the world and express it through art. 

What inspires you?
Traveling, nature, good films, all art. I think you can find inspiration anywhere, and that it largely depends on your outlook. For me, inspiration comes from being observant of what’s around you, open-minded, and receptive.


How do you get into the creative flow?
I think the key to getting into the creative flow, and more difficult, maintaining the creative flow, when you’re a full-time creative is to remember to make art for yourself. For me, this translates to taking classes. I love learning and finding new ways to express creativity, especially in a field I know nothing about. The quality-bar is set pretty low but the joy of exploring and learning is at their peak. In the past I’ve attended character design classes at Animation Collaborative, a watercolor retreat on a farm in Mendocino County, and a pastel workshop in Point Reyes. In all these cases, the art I created was just for me.

Currently, I’m into ceramics. I just completed a 6-week course in wheel throwing at Higher Fire in San Jose, and instantly fell in love. The medium is not dissimilar to watercolor--you have to be patient and accepting of the medium having a mind of its own. There is beauty in the happy mistakes and unexpected surprises. I’m also enamoured by glazing. Glazes look like dulled, gray slop and throw in some intense heat, it transforms into something so brilliant and exquisite.  

What's on your current playlist?
A lot of K-pop! EXO-CBX’s mini album, “Blooming Days,” is on heavy rotation. I’m casually learning Korean so I try to immerse myself in the language by way of K-pop and K-dramas.

Where are your favorite places to travel?
Japan. I’ve been there three times now. In March, Kevin and I visited Naoshima Island, an art island. Our friend Yoko highly recommended it and it was one my favorite parts of the trip. Another time, we went in the winter, and explored Hokkaido for the Sapporo Snow Festival. The level of detail in their ice and snow sculptures is incredible. The Hokkaido Prefecture is also famous for their dry, powdery snow (perfect for skiing and non-melting snow sculptures), seafood (all the best uni comes from this region), and dairy (ICE CREAM!!) so needless to say we enjoyed exploring and eating. 


New Zealand also has a special place in my heart. The country is breathtaking. I spent two weeks traveling by myself by campervan. I built a routine of waking up, hiking, painting, making tea and breakfast, driving and wine tasting, then settling down at the next campsite. Rinse, repeat. It was blissful. 

And of course, The Philippines. Obviously. I lived in the Philippines during a portion of my adult-life and I think the experience was very informative in the art I create today.

Also, I want to give a special shout to Houston, TX! It has to be one of my favorite, underrated food cities. I love its diversity, food scene, Museum Row, and the warmth and kindness of the people. It reminds me a lot of San Jose which is perhaps why the city resonates with me. I think I would totally live there if it wasn’t so hot.

What inspired you to create Philippines and Filipino American art?
As a Filipina-American growing up, I had to compromise a lot. No dolls looked like me; I had to settle for a blond one. I never saw myself in cartoons, movies or children’s books. The closest wins were Lea Salonga as Princess Jasmine, or Rufio from Hook. Lots of people have advised to draw or write what you know. So, tired of the lack of representation, I decided to make art that looked like me and reflected my own culture and heritage. 

It started with the boba girl. I was craving boba but unable to have any so I drew the boba girl to satiate my craving. I made a couple prints and to my surprise, she resonated with so many people and their love for boba. I made a few other pieces like Ramen Kiss, inspired by the classic scene in Lady and the Tramp, but instead of spaghetti they’re eating ramen. I dabbled in general asian culture but nothing purely Filipino. There weren’t many cards or art prints with Tagalog. At the time it felt a bit risky. But as more customers shared how nice it was to see art that reflected their culture, I stopped worrying--it became important to me. I decided it would be worth it just to see at least one happy Filipino customer see their culture and heritage celebrated.

How have those products been received?
As I travelled to various shows around the US, I learned that Filipinos are EVERYWHERE. At a comic convention, a young woman walked by my booth, did a double take, walked back and yelled, “OMG ITS TAGALOG!!!” Her friends gathered around and were just so thrilled to see people that look like them on greeting cards, using phrases native to their parents, eating food they ate growing up as kids and were probably ashamed of because it was stinky, or weird.   It means the world to me that my artwork brings so much joy and a sense of home. 


I also love when people ask what the various tagalog phrases mean, or when a non-Filipino buys a Tagalog card for someone, Filipino or not, because they know it’s rare and special to come across it. 

Since I have the ability and now a growing audience, I want to make art that’s inclusive and connects with everyone, because our stories are all important and need to celebrated.  And that’s priceless.






How does your community uplift you?
I’m starting to see more and more Filipino artists at comic conventions and craft fairs. We all support each other, since we understand the shared pressure and obstacles faced to become a professional artist, and not a nurse or engineer. Patrick Ballesteros has become a great friend of mine. We text each other feedback on new products, how much to price this, should I do this comic convention, etc. We even coincidentally worked on our own Rose and Paige Tico sisters art print for Emerald City Comic Con. Patrick had the wonderful idea of debuting our pieces on social media at the same time, so that we could cross promote each others. 

Do you have any upcoming projects that you are excited about? 
My grant proposal was approved to paint a mural in the Northside Branch Library in the city of Santa Clara. I already collaborated with graphic designer Tamiko Rast on their bookmobile and library card. This will be my second mural ever and I’m super excited.

I’m doing San Diego Comic Con for the first time this year! I feel like Jessie Spano from Saved by the Bell--so excited and so, so scared. Luckily, I have a lot of great friends who have been advising and assuring me. I’ll be debuting a lot of new products including a Filipino foodie line of enamel pins, cards and a tote bag. 



All photos copyright: Genevieve Santos le petit elefant.

Jeannine Roson