Interview with the illustrator Malika Favre

Malika Favre is a French illustrator who lives in Barcelona and whose mantra is “Less is more”. In Malika’s illustrations, everything seems to flow, everything fits. That’s why her beautiful minimalist designs with their delicate lines, seductive gestures and vibrant, intense colours have managed to charm big brands and prestigious media from all over the world. And it’s well deserved. We were lucky enough to interview her this week, coinciding with the recent release of her new book Kama Sutra A-Z published by Counter Print Books. Come on in and read.

How would you define your style?

I am a French born/London based illustrator and a strong believer in “Less is More”. My approach to illustration is very design-led: I try and pare down my images as much as possible by removing lines and reducing palettes to their bare minimum.
I would describe my work as sexy, minimalistic, playful and narrative.

What did you want to be when you were a child?

As a child I probably wanted to be a fairy of something close but when I was around 10/12 I wanted to be a profiler or shrink actually! How weird when thinking about it now…. I was fascinated by people and behaviours I guess. It later converted into a fascination for True crime stories but I am glad I didn’t make it my carrer ; ) I later went on to study physics and maths briefly after high school before bifurcating into applied art when I was 19.

You were born in France, you have lived in London and you recently moved to Barcelona. What do you miss about your country? And what do you like the most about your host country?

I actually recently moved to Barcelona but I was in London for a long time indeed. I came to London after art school and what was supposed to be a year stretched to 14 years. While living there, I didn’t miss Paris much to be honest. I found London so much more exciting and vibrant and perfect fit for me.  Also I got to travel to Paris a lot over the years and always kept a close relationship to my home country.

How do you think you’ve been influenced by the fact that your mother is a painter?

She taught me how to draw and understand colours so my mum was a huge influence on my work. She pushed me a lot when I was a kid, taught me proportions and various techniques while letting me express my imagination more than anything.

“My mother used to tell me that my inner world was something I should really appreciate in order to become an artist.”

What role does colour play in your illustrations and how do you decide the colour palette?

Colour is a huge part of my work. There is a real world of symbols and emotions behind each colour or palette and one that people resonate to on a very primitive level. I use colours as the last brick when constructing a piece. The palette is there to strengthen the story of a particular illustration. I like bringing different layers of meaning into each piece and colour is a tool to add yet another one.

“I tend to take a very conscious decision regarding the use of certain colours, but I also allow myself to choose the palette that I feel is the most appropriate, without overthinking it too much.”

How and when did you find a visual language as distinctive and personal as yours?

One’s style has to come from a personal place. It is the sum of your experiences, your personal taste, the things you saw and lived through and the way you look at the world around you. The real turning point for me happened while I was at the Airside, the London design studio. They had a strong visual aesthetic to what they were doing and taught me to find beauty in the simplicity of my illustrations. I developed my style over the years by pairing my illustrations more and more until it became some sort of manifesto.

“Looking back, I can see sparks of my childhood drawings in everything I do now. The women, the curves, the narrative were a key part of my drawings. It’s a matter of connecting the dots.”

Which of your works are you proudest of?

I can’t really pint point one project in my entire carrer but I would say that my personal work and exhibition series are the ones I am the most proud of. From the Hide and Seek series to the Kama Sutra alphabet and Crazy horse series. When it comes to commissioned work, the Montreux Jazz festival is one of my favourite piece, probably because they gave me Carte Blanche and it shows.

Who are your main artistic influences?

I love Bridget Riley, Rene Gruau, Shigeo Fukuda, Aurore de la Morinerie and many more….

When you have to illustrate projects for clients, do they tend to condition your work or are you more accustomed to having a free hand?

It depends. I tend to take on projects that come with creative freedom these days but it is a luxury that I earned over time and wasn’t always the case. Compromising is part of working commercially and feedback is part of the deal when working with clients.
I thrive when given total freedom though, this is where I push myself the most. I become my own client and I am pretty sure I am more picky than all of them combined ; ) The perfect situation is more of a collaborative one, like when working with The New Yorker or other quality editorial clients. I respect the opinions of others and trust that they will make the final piece better than I would have on my own. This is a rare thing and one I truly cherish.

Do you follow a creative process?

“I work in a very intuitive way. First, I concentrate on roughly sketched conceptual ideas and then I begin to develop the visual part that fits with that concept.”

I trust the process and when I don’t find any good ideas, I let the project rests and I sleep on it. The creative process is a gymnastic.

Who would you like to work for?

As far as brands go, I stoped fantasising about working for such and such a few years ago but I would love to draw AOC or RBG for a cover! Drawing someone you truly admire is a real treat.

Is there a particular professional challenge you would like to take on in the future?

Freedom is the most important thing to me these days. I have always wanted to keep it small in terms of set up. I have an assistant but that’s about it so I am still managing a lot of things from my own studio : the shop, all socials, press etc… One thing I am focusing on at the moment are collaborations and personal projects and the ultimate dream would be to live of that.

How is the pandemic affecting you? What is your attitude with regards to these exceptional circumstances and their effect?

It is affecting me on a psychological level more than anything. As I mentioned before, the most important thing to me is freedom and 2020 kind of took that away from all of us. That being said, I was one of the lucky ones as my set up allowed me to keep working and for the shop to keep running. I found it very hard to focus and motivate myself during the pandemia, I frooze creatively for a few months and finally managed to pull myself out of this apathy recently thanks to the release of my latest book. I am very much looking forward to putting this year behind me though and hopefully move on to a better 2021.

Kama Sutra A-Z is your new book, that pays tribute to the ancient Sanskrit hindu text about sexuality and eroticism. What can you tell us about that? Do you also endeavour to bring movement to your illustrations?

The Kama Sutra projet happened in 3 stages, each few years apart. The first one was the design of the cover of the original Kama Sutra manuscript with Penguin books for which I designed the first 7 letters.

It was my first ever project as a freelance illustrator and I remember the excitement of it all. A few years later I decided to develop the remaining letters of the alphabet for my Pick Me Up exhibition at Somerset house. The letters themselves were designed there and then and I consciously decided not to redesign them for this book. There is something charming about looking at old work and leaving it untouched.I always had in the back of my head the idea of bringing these letters together into a book but it took me 7 years to find the right idea.

At that point, I had released my first monograph with Counterprint so I chatted to them about the idea and we all agreed it could make a beautiful book. Another thing that struck me when doing my research was how timeless and universal erotic poems were. The possibility were endless and the more I was reading and the more I realised that the curation was going to be very personal and showcase poetry that I personally found and tantalising. It didn’t matter where the poet came from or what decade or century he lived in as long as the words felt relevant and sexy.  One thing I wanted from the start was to have a balance between male and female voices though and the further back in time I was going, the harder it was proving but it was just about looking a little harder and finding these incredible women. The final selection feels right and reflects the timeless relevance of erotica as well as my personal taste in poetry.

As well as your professional work, what are you most passionate about and why?

“I love to travel, because it takes me out of my comfort zone and allows me to discover new colour palettes in situ.”

Which books do you recommend?

I am gonna go for 3 books actually: Ocean Sea from Alessandro Baricco, Loose woman by Sandra Cisneros, Dirty pretty things by Michael Faudet.

Somewhere to lose yourself in…


A dream…

Spending 6 months touring South America.

(*) Illustrations: Malika Favre.