Gothic Muses & Making Yourself Happy: Interview with Illustrator Morrighan Corbel

Selcouth Station’s Haley Jenkins interviews up-and-coming illustrator Morrighan Corbel about her work, her creative journey and what it means to be an indie artist today.

Note: Images are (c) Morrighan Corbel, 2017.

HJ: First off, why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do.

MC: I’m Morrighan Corbel. I’m twenty-one, I’m currently studying a degree in Illustration and I’m going into my third year. I started thinking of myself as an illustrator about a year and a half ago when I started doing comic conventions. I mostly focus on illustration that leans towards Gothic Art. I’ve always loved Gothic Art but I never really enjoyed the Gothic Art that I saw, I always felt it could be more nuanced, a little bit less sexualised, so I went for the more classic literature kind of Gothic rather than the Anne Stoke’s kind of stuff.

HJ: Yes, I remember studying a Gothic Literature module at University and it was really fascinating, but all the pictures, book covers or if we were told to go an look at Gothic imagery and write about what we saw, it always the same: a half-starkers naked lady in a white dress running from something. And I kept wondering, surely there was more than this?

MC: Yes that was always the kind of I saw and it wasn’t what I wanted to create, so it did put me off the Gothic for a long time.

HJ: Ah and what drew you back to it?

MC: I realized I was letting the wrong things influence my work. I was drawing all these bubbly, pastel coloured cutesy images and actually my heart really wasn’t it in, because I was doing it because I thought that is what people wanted to see. Last year on my course, in my last project, I had to illustrate Dracula and it really made me realize that I needed to embrace what I wanted to draw, rather than what I thought other people would make people happy, because I had so much fun on that project. Dracula has been one of my favourite books since I was thirteen and to be able to put it down in the way I had seen it in my head for so long down on paper...I just wanted to do more of that. So it was it was kind of realizing that art wasn’t something I should be doing to make other people happy and to just draw want I wanted to draw.

HJ: Yes and find your own method of expression rather than following the crowd.

MC: Yes and it stopped mattering that the art I was making was something I had never seen before. So I figured there would be people out there who felt the same way about it as I did and if I could just find one of those people and they liked my art, then that was good enough for me.

HJ: You’ve found one! *holds up hand* I really love your artwork, I loved how you set it all up, how you have ribbons of text around your muses and I love anything that is unconventional, anything that is trying to portray things in new and exciting ways. I just thought I hadn’t seen something like your work before. And the more I looked, the more I found things. For example, your muses have three hands and there is so much other detail to them that I keep discovering. I love coming back to work and finding something new each time.

MC: Thank you! That is definitely something I enjoy putting in images. Those pieces particularly were super experimental. At the time I was quite self-conscious about what I was going to do with my work. My teacher told me then to not worry about the grade and to go back to what I love doing and just have fun with it. So I did and ended up using loads of new materials and really changing up the way I worked. I was doing things in collage, using symbolism and mythology. I really enjoyed it and it was one of the things that really got my mojo back this year.

HJ: Which is especially useful now you are about to leave University. It is strange coming out of University as they teach you all the rules, then allow you to break them, then you are kind of left feeling slightly adrift because you have all this newfound freedom.

MC: One of the things I always say to new artists is: you can’t break the rules until you know them, and sometimes learning them is the hardest thing to do, especially if you have being doing something for a while and have your own rhythm. Then to have someone basically tell you ‘this isn’t very good’ feels really harsh.

HJ: It’s soul-crushing! I got fed up in University with people only giving me a simple ‘yeah I liked it or didn’t like it’ reply without giving me a reason. So I always made it a point to give very detailed feedback. It earned me the name the Butcher! People don’t like constructive criticism.

MC: Yes it can be hard for people to take criticism, especially young

artists and teenagers, sometimes you feel like you are talking to a brick wall! But I think everyone goes through it and you just have to learn to do it and accept the faults in your work properly.

HJ: Yes otherwise you are never going to evolve in your work.

MC: You sometimes have to admit you’re bad in order to get good.

HJ: What does “being creative” mean to you?

MC: To me it was always about being able to express the things I had in my head. I was always a super imaginative child, I was always the kid being told off for daydreaming, for being slow, for not being able to organise myself properly, and FYI nothing has changed! I’ve always looked for ways to express the stories and images I had in my head. For a long time I did that through creative writing, and I started reading fluently at three years old and never really stopped, so one of the earliest ways I learned you could express your imagination and the thoughts that you had was through writing. So for a long time that is what I did and didn’t think of other ways of being creative until I was a lot older. Being creative has always been about taking thoughts and feelings and putting it out there for people to absorb. That is one of the scariest things: being creative means putting your heart on your sleeve and putting some of the most personal thoughts, feelings and ideas you have and pushing them out there. It can be very vulnerable and leave you open to attack, but can also be incredibly rewarding.

HJ: Do you have any rituals, routines and/or patterns you follow in order to get into the right headspace to create you work?

MC: I’m really still figuring it out. It’s only been a few years I’ve been doing art all day every day, so I’m still kind of working out what my routines are. Usually I don’t function well on little sleep, which means not necessarily waking up too early in the morning! When I’m prepping to draw I will listen to some music, especially when I draw big epic fantasy I like to listen to soundtracks. I listen to a lot of Japanese and French music too, particularly Cécile Corbel. She does a kind of folk music but with a contemporary twist. She did the whole soundtrack for Studio Ghibli’s ‘The Secret World of Arrietty’. She has a very old-worldly, very rural, historical fantasy style, which is lovely to draw to as it fits in with a lot of my themes.

HJ: What are you trying to communicate with your work, if anything? What is it you are trying to put across to the read about these wonderful characters?

MC: Most of the time I’m trying to communicate what I’m interested in. With the Muses, it was very much about my love of mythology and symbolism. There is Melpomene, who is tragedy. There is Erato, who is love and love poetry. There is Cleo, who is history. They are all things that I feel really link into my work and influence it. I research things I feel passionately about. I do book-based reading for my research, I’ll look at books, photographs, historical references and look up costumes as a way to learn more about the things I was taught. I’ve always loved history and archaeology, a lot of the stuff that I do is based on different historical aspects. I have a big love of the Baroque and the Rococo, so I take a lot of costume, relief and pattern inspiration from those eras. It depends what has caught my eye at the time, how I can pull little bits of it and collect it into my work.

HJ: How has your work method and style changed over time?

MC: It’s really changed over the last year and a half. When I started out, it was mostly what my partner introduced me to when we first met - comics, manga, digital art - which were all out of my circle. I started drawing the same time as I met him, so they were the biggest influences at the start. As I moved away from manga and more towards comics, I started to be influenced by more comic artists, I started reading around more and a lot of Western influences came into my work. I started developing more of my own voice and style. If you look at my work, you can definitely see the vestiges of my work with manga, especially in the faces. But as I discovered more artists, I moved away from digital. If you had asked me two years ago what kind of artist I was, I would have said digital as I was always on my tablet. But with those influences, I moved onto more traditional forms.

HJ: What kind of tools do you use? What are your mediums now you are moving away from digital?

MC: I’ve fallen in love with graphite and watercolour as a combination. I started experimenting last year and it kind of just followed through into this new love of charcoal, of very loose and expressive kind of shading. I’m still experimenting and it’s really exciting exploring these different mediums and figuring out how I can use them. I stagnated for a long time when I only used digital art, I stopped growing as an artist. I was stuck doing the same thing over and over again. I wasn’t sure how to get out of it and it has taken completely moving away from digital to fix it and finding what I loved in traditional. I’ve really fallen in love with textured work, things such as charcoal, water and foil. I want to take those back to digital at some stage and see how I can replicate them. I can now see the merits in both traditional and digital, I want to find a balance and mesh those together. A lot of the time when I’m working traditionally, if I want colour I’ll scan it in as grayscale and colour it digitally, which is a nice way of blending those mediums together. I can get the texture and look that I want traditionally, but digital is so easy for editing, for making sure your colours are right and being able to swap things out quickly.

HJ: So you’ve learnt to give yourself flexibility between mediums?

MC: Yes and I’m still experimenting. Those Muses were hugely experimental for me, I drew everything separately. The figures were separate, the flowers were done in oil pastels, they were massive and I then scanned them and scaled them down. The backgrounds were reportage sketches that were super messy, and I collated all these together digitally. It was the first time in a couple of years I had given myself permission to experiment, I’m the worst for thinking you have to do it ‘this way’ and its often a struggle for me to say: try this, if it works it works, if it doesn’t it doesn’t.

HJ: It is a good time right now for you, because at University you can do it all the time. When you are out working, you can’t do that and you have to make sure it doesn’t become a chore. You feel pressured to do well in the limited time you have available.

MC: I’m definitely feeling lucky as what I do now won’t make or break me. I’m definitely planning where I want to be within the creative industry. I don’t want the pressure in order to have to forcibly stagnate in order to get work. It’s always hard to find the balance between personal and commercial work, especially when you have bills to pay. The personal stuff doesn’t always give you financial gain.

HJ: Definitely. A lot of artists today have to promote themselves in order to be seen. How do you handle the promotional side of being an artist? The networking side?

MC: I have a love-hate relationship with promotion. I have a Twitter, an Instagram, my website and I used to have a Facebook. I’m incredibly socially anxious and I’ve always struggled with worrying about what people think of me and my work. So when it came to starting to work and going out there as an illustrator, it was really hard for me to connect and promote myself without feeling pushy or immodest. But the buzz of meeting new people and going to conventions has been the best thing that has happened to me in a long time. For three days I’m forced to socialize with people, instead of worrying ‘does this person like me or did I make a good impression?’ It is this constant go-go-go of hearing feedback, talking to people, making friends and having nice conversations, which has made me a lot more relaxed about promotion. Because in order to make a convention a success, you can’t just sit behind your table quietly otherwise people won’t engage with you and won’t buy your work. I’ve learned it is not about being pushy and immodest, it’s promoting work you’ve taken a lot of love and time to make, and helping people find ways to love it too, which is a much nicer way of thinking about it. Some of the best friends I have made are from conventions and social media, they mean the world to me. Everyone welcomed me so much at the convention and you do feel part of the community, feeling that you are surrounded by people that want you to do well makes it so much easier. Con Family is best family!

HJ: Do you have a favourite artist or artwork?

MC: I’ve always loved Art Nouveau. That had a big influence on my work. My favourite artwork would be ‘A Lady on the Swing’ by Jean-Honoré Fragonard [see right], because just the colours and the movement it is so bright and Pop-y, it makes it so palatable. It puts together a lot of things I love in art, it has beautiful composition, the curves draw your eye so nicely, the colours are exquisite and the figures are stylised, it is all really beautifully rendered. It is also horribly dirty in a really beautiful way!

HJ: Do you have a dream project? Something you want to work towards? If you had all the money and materials available to you?

MC: There are so many things I want to do. I’d love to do character design, I have a huge love of comics and I’d love to start working on them. For the moment, if I could be given any project, it would be a comic project, which would involve character design, lots of environments and lots of things that would push me. I’d love to do a web comic one day but I’m still new and want to do a few smaller projects before doing that. It is still something I’m learning so much about. I’ll be doing my dissertation on whether indie comics are having a Renaissance right now. It is really an exciting place to be! There is work being done with independent comic brands, independent publishing, around the rejection of a lot of mainstream publishing and the calling out of a lot of shady business practices. There is a real DIY work ethic in the comics community where people are standing up and saying “actually if you aren’t going to give us what we want, we’re just going to do it ourselves.”

HJ: It used to be you could only get noticed through the big companies, but because of these conventions, because of social networking, because of these tools now available to us, we can do it all ourselves, we don’t have to go and promote ourselves like creative whores. It is truly an exciting time!

MC: I think that is a change that is happening over the whole art industry at the moment and I’m really excited to be going into that soon. The creation of this “we don’t need you, you need us” kind of ethic amongst illustrators, where illustrators instead of relying on big companies to come to them with freelance work, they are just doing what they love and building quite successful careers by sitting, putting the hours in and maybe working a second job. But their creating this kind of portfolio of images they love to create and people are coming to them and asking for them. So rather diving into freelance and doing jobs you don’t enjoy, they are sitting, drawing and waiting for it to be picked up. I really love that DIY career.

HJ: And with outlets like Kickstarter and Pateron now, the fanbase can to support an artist, which allows the artists to partially live off their creations.

MC: I’m so excited about that. Art has always been this relationship between patron and creator, and a lot of the time that has meant a lot of the people going to them or hiring them for work. But this new relationship that is coming up now where people are donating a certain amount a month to see the work the artist wants to create is so amazing and exciting to see. That people are willing to support artists in the proximity of what they want to make!

HJ: It is so full of positivity and encouragement, it is a breath of fresh air after having to go to the big companies for so long. It is a wonderful turn of events.

MC: It is, it is wonderful to see creatives living off what they want to do with their artwork rather than other people want to do. We live now in an age where the career is dead, you are never going to stay in one job for longer than three or four years, that’s the nature of the beast now, both economically and socially. It is nice to see this up and coming realization that we don’t have to rely on companies for work and there are plenty of ways they can create our own careers and still have people support us. That is only going to become a much bigger thing as artists reject lower paid jobs and move towards a partially sustainable job where they can live off their own work. To be honest it takes a lot of pressure off. You are always going to get ‘that’ client, people who don’t pay on time, and although this will always be an unstable beast to ride, it is comforting to have that support network.

Website: - Twitter: @MorrighanCorbel