Interview: Genevieve Santos of Le Petit Elefant

This week we chatted with Genevieve Santos of Le Petit Elefant, her online store that specializes in toys, crafts, and artwork. In the latest installment of our interview series, Genevieve discusses her transition from working in the film industry to setting up her own shop, her stint as a volunteer at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, and her favorite biking spots in Los Angeles and the Bay Area.

Twenty Two: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Genevieve: In a nutshell, I’m an artist, wanderluster, and kid-at-heart. I can’t stay in one place for more than 6 weeks, and aim to visit 30 countries by the age of 30. I’m currently 27 years old at 21 countries. I think I can do it! I live between the Bay Area and Los Angeles, taking full advantage of the fact that my work is incredibly mobile and flexible.

Twenty Two: Can you describe the transition from working in film to starting Le Petit Elefant?

Genevieve: It was the best change of my life. Fo serious. I worked at New Line Cinema in creative advertising for two years. I learned a lot about printing, color, and design, as well as the basics of being a business professional. In 2008, Warner Bros. acquired New Line Cinema leaving most of the company without jobs. I was one of them. This I did not mind at all. I was part of the transition team giving me double pay, and I earned a nice severance package and fun-employment, so I was set. I used this financial cushion to start my business, live in New York for 9 months and travel/live in Asia for 7 months. By the time the money saved had run out, Le Petit Elefant was earning enough for me to survive. I haven’t had a nine-to-five job since.

Twenty Two: Have you always been interested in working in a creative capacity?

Genevieve: My childhood dream job was being a traditional animator at Disney. I would tape my favorite cartoons and scan the credits to memorize names, and study my favorite Disney movies frame by frame. I’m sure it drove my parents bananas. I minored in Animation at the University of Southern California and quickly realized that animation wasn’t quite the dream job I thought it was. I never stopped drawing though!

Twenty Two: What’s the process you go through when you’re working on a new project?

Genevieve: If it’s for a customer, I first think of it as a collaborative process. It gives us equal accountability and investment in the process. I work very hard to get to know them – ask a million questions, ask for photos – just so I can a sense of who they are. I incorporate as much of their personality as possible, whether it’s through various hidden inside jokes or the way they smile crookedly. I try to keep them involved every step of the way, sending them progress of the sketches and drawings.

If it’s a personal painting, I pick one song to play on repeat, take off my glasses so I don’t get distracted by what’s around me (I’m very, very, very nearsighted), and paint. I’m usually a fast painter (a painting takes about 2-3 hours), but only if the idea of the painting is incredibly sharp and clear.

Twenty Two: What’s your typical day like?

Genevieve: This is a tough question to answer. My days are strange and vary day to day, and I think that’s what I love. The daily must-do’s are yoga and/or a bike ride, eat delicious food, answer work inquiries, put together online orders, draw, and restock inventory.

Twenty Two: Where do you find your inspiration?

Genevieve: Traveling! And my relationships. Every boy in my paintings is someone I’ve dated. I tend to draw myself and the state I’m in so my paintings are a pretty accurate chronology of my love life. I’ve started to branch out and draw my friends because not every boy can look like my long-time boyfriend. Luckily none of them have asked for royalties!

Twenty Two: You’re quite a traveler. Where are some of your favorite places to visit?

Genevieve: I have a two year cycle where I work for two years and play/travel for two years. I’ve found it’s the perfect motivation for working incredibly hard without getting too burnt out, and having a degree of discipline regarding leisure & relaxation. I love the Philippines but I might be a bit biased since I’m Filipino. Thailand has a special place in my heart, specifically Chiang Mai and the Elephant Nature Park, an elephant sanctuary where I volunteered for one week. Hands down the most incredible week of my life. There’s nothing like shoveling elephant poo, bathing elephants in a river, chopping corn with a machete, and eating buffet-style Thai food. I plan on going back for my 2013 backpacking adventure, along with Japan, Taiwan, Cambodia, Laos, and South Korea. Another favorite is India, just because there is no other country like it. It’s crowded, chaotic, jarring, and sometimes smells like cardamom.

Twenty Two: As an avid cyclist, where are your favorite places to bike?

Genevieve: I love biking to food! Nothing works my appetite and makes me feel less guilty about gluttony than a solid bike ride. When in Los Angeles, I stay in Los Feliz and I love that it’s a 30 minute bike ride from Downtown, Little Tokyo, and West LA. There’s a relaxing path through Oakland to Alameda that a co-worker showed me that I really enjoy. I’m also a big fan of tandem-bicycling.

Twenty Two: When you’re not working, how do you spend your time?

Genevieve: I try to do yoga at least once a day. It calms me and I consider it a gift to myself. It’s important to be able to set aside time for yourself. I also love driving down HWY 5 between San Jose and LA. It’s the only time I can sit, listen to music, be alone with my thoughts, and not feel any pressure to do work or check my phone. I also love trying strange and fancy restaurants, biking, and going on random, impulsive ice cream runs.

Twenty Two: How has living in Los Angeles influenced your work?

Genevieve: I have the greatest & most creative group of friends in Los Angeles, including your past interviewees Bruce of Bruce’s Buddies, Graham Keegan, Jill Aiko Yee, and Victoria Vu of Paper & Type. My favorite days in Los Angeles are those spent sitting around a dining room table, each of us with a computer or project out, laughing as we work, bothering each other for opinions on this or that, and then taking a break to cook dinner together. What makes those days even more magical is that they were often not planned. My boyfriend also lives in Los Angeles and he, as you can tell from my illustrations, is not only my muse but the muse that’s churned out the most hits! Los Angeles also has a great animation community and though I’m an illustrator and sewer, I consider animation my first artistic love.

Twenty Two: Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Genevieve: So much advice! I think you should learn the back-stories and histories of various entrepreneurs and realize that yours will be nothing like theirs. Be inspired but don’t follow. Listen to your gut and don’t think too much. Also try to let go of what’s comfortable and holding you back. It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do but it’s the difference between the talented and the entrepreneurs.

Twenty Two: What can we expect to see from you in the future?

Genevieve: Expect changes! The end of my two year work period is nearing a close, and I’m scheming ways to bring and leave my business as I travel & live in Asia for 7 months. This may mean employing someone besides myself, closing the online store, offering special one of a kind paintings inspired by my travels, or something that I haven’t even thought of yet… who knows! I’ve been taking mini vacations and trips, testing out different methods, and so far so good!

A special thanks to Genevieve for giving us the opportunity to learn more about Le Petit Elefant. You can keep up with her work by checking out her website, blog, online storeFacebook, and Twitter.

Click on the images below to see more from Le Petit Elefant.

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