Charlie Clark : Tell us a bit about your background
Maëlle Doliveux : I was born in France, but had a fairly international upbringing- living in New Jersey and Switzerland, the UK, and briefly in New Zealand. I work as a freelance illustrator, animator, fabricator and puppet-maker in New York City. My first memory is of hand painting on a giant roll of paper in my bathtub with my brother as a two or three year old. I haven’t stopped drawing since then!
CC : How did you get into illustration?
MD : After high school, I studied architecture at the University of Nottingham in the UK, but was always more interested in ‘paper architecture’ and concept and storytelling more than practicality in my own work. Objectively, I realized this did not make for ‘good architecture’ and felt conflicted. On a whim, I decided to take a year to study illustration in New York, mainly because it sounded fun, I could take comics electives and it would give me some time to figure what to ‘really do’ with my life. I had very little clue as to what illustration was. After a year of undergrad and some incredible teachers and mentors, I understood that it was basically all the parts of architecture that I was interested in – problem solving, developing concept and visual solutions and storytelling. I was very lucky to have interned for Sam Weber, Chris Silas Neal, and briefly with Steve Brodner, and I got to see the day-to-day of illustration, and realize it was an achievable career. I ended up staying in New York and switching to the Masters program at SVA, and graduated in 2013. Since then I’ve been lucky to have regularly worked for clients like Newsweek, The New York Times and Motorola, and have received recognition from institutions, including a recent gold medal from the Society of Illustrators.
CC : What are your favorite materials to work with? Why?
MD : This is a hard question for me. I really like working with many different materials, and switching between them depending on the project and my mood. I like working with cut paper, because I feel like I’m building a thing, and I like the craft of it- that this physical object is created out of flat sheets of paper. The manual precision and spatial thinking are fun for me. Furthermore, I enjoy that it allows me to choose colors separately to drawing.
I also do etchings and silk-screening, and love the printmaking process. There is something magical there about the image being revealed slowly, and there are opportunities for the unexpected- you’re never completely sure what the final product will be, and you’re not completely in control. I like working with an etching needle because the line is finicky, and I can’t over-do it, and I like tricking myself into making mistakes. I don’t want my work to look too clean/perfect, and know that my brain and hands would probably polish everything up if I let them. So I have to find ways to trip myself up sometimes.
Recently I’ve been working with gouache and colored pencil. This process has been very fun for me because it’s so immediate. I can sit down and start working on something, and in an hour or a few hours it’s finished, and doesn’t need any finalizing in Photoshop or photographing- it feels honest to me. As someone who’s moved around a lot, I also like that I could pick up some colored pencils and some gouache tubes and take them anywhere with me and make something anywhere in the world. The other mediums I work in can be a little more time consuming and have more ‘steps’ in the process, or are harder to transport.
CC : What are some things that inspire your work?
MD : Nature and travel – other cultures’ way of living and art, photography (Horst P. Horst, Alfred Steiglitz), Film (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Jan Sverak), Animation (Jan Svankmajer, Sylvain Chomet, Quay brothers), fine arts (Elie Nadelman, Georgia O’Keeffe), graphic design (WPA posters from the 1930’s), architecture (Brodsky & Utkin, Balkrishna Doshi, Gaudi), fashion (Alexander McQueen), dance (Justin Peck), theatre (Handspring Puppet Company), design (mid-century Norwegian furniture, Calder’s circus toys), comics (Bastien Vives, Joann Sfar), New York City, interpersonal relationships. That’s my current broad shortlist.
When I get stuck I try to go out to clear my palette. I went to the Botanical Gardens in Brooklyn a little while ago, and when I was there I sketched some of the plants with watercolor and some colored pencil. This gave me a little taste of the kind of simplified studies I could do, but I was longing for more of an opaque color, which is how I started playing with the gouache & colored pencil combination.
CC : Describe your creative process – how do you come up with an idea for a new piece?
MD : I start by reading the article/project pitch over several times. Then I’ll write down key words and do some word association of whatever comes to mind, and draw the first images that pop into my head based off those key words. After that I’ll take my dog on a walk. This is really where all my best ideas happen. There’s something about half my brain working on an immediate physical experience- the space, where I’m walking, my dog – and the other half has the project in mind on a low hum, that makes things click. I’ll go back to the studio, sketch some more, then redraw the thumbnails on the computer and send those to the client. Once something is approved I’ll do some color studies quickly on the computer, and then get working on the finish.
CC : Can you tell us about a piece / project that you worked on recently that you’re particularly proud / fond of.
MD : I recently did a spread for Newsweek for their feature story on the Bible that I’m still quite proud of. The piece was about how the Bible has been miscopied, mistranslated and misinterpreted by various groups since it was first written. I liked the subject matter, and was very excited about it, as it supports my personal views on religion and how it can be misused by people for their own ends. Also, I think I do my best work under pressure, and there was definitely heat in the kitchen with this one! I was abroad when I got the assignment, on a Thursday, it was due that Monday, and I was stuck in a car trip for the next two days. Luckily the time difference worked to my advantage, and I was able to work on sketches and color studies and get something approved on the Friday. I then had two days to draw and create the finished image. Mike Friel is an incredible art director to work with, and he put a lot of trust in me to pull this off in that time frame. He laid out the text, but encouraged me to play around with the details to make the text look more ‘manipulated’. It ended up being one of the most detailed pieces I’ve done with cut paper, and all the type apart from the bylines and the small pieces of paper sticking out were also cut in paper, which was a fun challenge. I think the limited color palette holds it together well, and to me, the red hands help support the concept of the piece. Needless to say there wasn’t much sleeping that weekend, and my hands hurt a bit from all the scalpelling involved!
However I’ll probably look back on this piece in a year and be embarrassed I liked it. I hope that’s a good thing- I hope to keep changing and improving. “Stasis is death”, right?
CC : Where do you see yourself in a year? in five years?
MD : In a year I’d love to be working with more editorial clients, with some dream publications I really admire (Nautilus, Plansponsor, The New Yorker), and working on a comics anthology I have in the works, in the hopes of getting it published. I hope my work gets better, evolves, engages.
In five years I could reasonably end up in one of three ways:
a) Creating New York’s new hit improvised puppetry live television series, that is weird and funny and definitely creepy. Also having published three incredible contemporary comics works.
b) Living in a small wooden house on a Norwegian coastline, writing and illustrating children’s books, as well as making large masks and costumes for local plays.
c) Living off my fame from my role as an extra in Law & Order SVU.
Or all of the above… we’ll see!
I'm a creative coder living in Brooklyn. I keep myself busy pushing pixels at B-Reel, building interactive data visualizations and curating WAVA.