Chantal Saperstein Celebrates 20 Years Teaching Illustration 1

Twice a week Chantal Saperstein stands at the helm of a room full of hopeful illustrators. During the 6.3 hour class, she buzzes about energetically, remarking on shading and perspective in her authoritative French accent. She has been doing it for 20 years. And Chuck Pyle, director of the School of Illustration counts that as quite the feat. 

“ILL 232 is the bedrock skill class for learning how to think, be and do as a professional artist,” he said. “Eighteen students, two sections, twice a year for 20 years. That is a lot of talent shaped on their way to being illustrators. All of us are deeply grateful for her service thus far.”

During the class, students go through intensive development as they work through the process of creating an illustration. Witnessing this growth, Saperstein said, is what she loves most about teaching. “Some students are very clear—that’s what they want to do, and it’s wonderful, and we support them—their path is very clear all the way, but some of them are struggling and uncertain, and I love to see those students grow and blossom.”



(L–R) Associate Director Lisa Berrett, Chantal Saperstein and Director of the School of Illustration Chuck Pyle. Photo by Dax Santi.

One student who benefited from Saperstein’s “strict but kind” approach is David Lantz, who said he had trouble embracing color. “She knew exactly where I needed to improve and she wasn’t afraid to say it outright and confidently,” he explained. “She pushed me as hard as she could to get me more comfortable with the concept of color.”

Saperstein never set out to be a teacher. After moving to San Francisco with her husband in the 1980s, she freelanced for companies like Joe Boxer. “I was doing a lot of spot illustration, crazy spot illustration for all sorts of apparel, from pajamas to blankets, crazy stuff,” she recalled.

One of her designs showed up in a Joe Boxer television commercial around the same time Melissa Marshall, the Academy’s illustration director, bought one of Saperstein’s pieces. This burgeoning renown compelled Marshall to invite Saperstein, who is also an alumna of the Academy, to teach. But forging an art career wasn’t always easy for Saperstein. As a child in France, she hid in the bathroom to draw and paint.

“Everybody was against me,” she explained. “They said no, we don’t do art, that’s not something for our family, you cannot make a living.”

But when a family friend displayed one of her paintings in his furniture store, it bolstered her courage, and at 20, she put herself through art school in Bordeaux. After completing the program, she set out for Israel to continue her studies, but love got in the way. “I met my husband,” she explained, “and we came to America.”

Two decades after launching a career as a teacher, Saperstein reflects on her students. She has a soft spot for the ones who went against all odds to follow their dreams. “Barbara Bradley would always say never let things get in the way of your passion,” she said of the late School of Illustration director. “I am really moved by students who are working hard. I like to see those students blossom and come through, because I understand what it is to come through all of that.”