Interview: Malika Favre on why she had to push herself to get rude to illustrate Penguin’s new Kama Sutra

Malika Favre’s cover artwork for Penguin’s new Deluxe edition of the ancient erotic handbook Kama Sutra exploded all over blogs and social media networks last week. We restrained ourselves from publishing them until we had a chance to sit down with the French illustrator to discover how she created these playful, sexually explicit (but in no way crude) representations of the book’s techniques – which have been artfully formed to spell out the letters of its title.

DA: Tell us a bit about yourself.

MF: “I grew up in Paris and I moved to London seven years ago to pursue graphic design: [which] seemed more exciting in the UK then back home. I worked at [the soon to be disbanded] Airside for four years, doing mainly illustration and animation direction. While working there, I had the opportunity to develop personal work to be sold through the Airside shop, as well as working on client projects.

“After leaving Airside last summer, I decided to focus on illustration and be independent – and I am now represented by the very handsome Frank.”

DA: What appeals to you most about working with outline, flat colour and negative space?

MF: “As a rule, I try to pare down everything I draw. I like bold and unapologetic colours, and organic shapes. I love the idea that you can’t hide behind anything whith the approach I take: every line and shape matters.

“Negative space is a beautiful thing. It plays with the eye of the viewer and allows you to imagine lines that actually don’t exist. I love that idea that you construct a drawing with what you guess: [it’s a] a very seductive and interesting [way] to explore erotic subjects.

DA: How did you come to work on this project and what was the brief?

MF: “Last summer,  Paul Buckley, the art director of the Penguin Deluxe series, contacted me about the project.  He saw the alphabet I did previously for wallpaper* and wanted me to tackle the cover of the new edition of the Kama Sutra they were about to release.

“The brief was to go for it really. The idea of this series of books is to pair a specific artist with a classic book, and try to push the boundaries of cover design. Paul wanted something very sexy and quite controversial.”

DA: How are the artworks used?

MF: “The big letters are spread across the front and back covers and flaps.  I liked the idea of hiding the words so that the letters only appear to those who look closely and unfold the cover.

“The book itself is the orginial text of the Kama Sutra and doesn’t contain any [internal illustrations] so the challenge was to create a sexy and appealing cover without being vulgar about it. I wished I had done illustrations for the inside of the book but that wasn’t the brief.

DA: For you, where is the line between elegantly sexy/fun and not – and how do you keep within in it?

MF: “There is definitely a line but I wouldn’t really know where it is to be honest. I think you just feel it when you have crossed it. I just draw things that feel naughty but sophisticated and appeal to my sensibility and eye.

"I actually am a bit of a prude and believe it or not, I had to push myself quite a lot for this brief as Paul kept feeling I was holding back. I eventually got there and that is the closest I have been to crossing it. In the end, I think that you can draw pretty much anything as long as you make it crafted and beautiful."

DA: Were you given any guidelines on what you could show, for example to comply with what the likes of bookstores would allow to be displayed on their shelves?

MF: “None whatsoever. I was told to go for it. At the last stage though, I had to change the M on the front cover as it was judged too explicit to sit on the front cover.  Paul loved it, but it was one step too far for Penguin and I felt proud to be censored.

DA: Take us through the conceptual and compositional process for one of the artworks please.

MF: “I started my process by choosing a reference typeface that I could start from. I like the boldness and generosity of Futura Bold so I used the letters as a starting points for the position.

The next step was the challenging one : finding a position that is both fun and sexy and doesn’t feel forced by the shape of the original letter.

"I always start in outlines to get the balance right and once I was happy with the overall composition, I got rid of the letter and started adding colour and details in places that reinforced the curve of the letter – freeing the shapes from the original reference while keeping it legible.

DA: What are you working on next?

MF: “I am working on various different projects at the minute, ranging from album covers to window displays and quite a bit of editorial. The most exciting collaboration for this year is a mini-collection for Volcom, the American brand clothing. I have always wanted to work with textiles and this time I get to design an entire range of clothes and have an input in the patterns themselves."

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