Sunday, 5 March 2017

A chat with Illustrator Merlin Evans

(Image: Self-Portrait, Merlin Evans)

I distinctly remember being very young - perhaps around six years old - and sitting on the floor of my Grandad's house watching the Lady of the Cold episode of the Moomins and being mesmerised by it but also, completely terrified to move.

Even now, actual shivers. 

Since then, I have been obsessed with Tove Jansson's illustrations and all of her tales about those whimsical, yet weirdly profound little beings. 

A couple of years ago, whilst at Latitude Festival, after we'd survived a near-encounter with death en-route (read more about that here) and we'd tired ourselves out trudging through the the thick mud in the main arena, James & I took a meander through the faraway forest and stumbled across a cute literary set up filled with Moomins publications and paraphenialia. Whilst browsing, we were told that they were just about to start a comic-book workshop hosted by Merlin Evans, who had just illustrated the latest Moomins books, so we took a seat and gave it a go! 

It was so much fun. We challenged ourselves to create characters, morphing them from heroes into villians through subtle changes to facial expressions and body language. 

It ended up being one of my highlights of the festivals so upon my return home, I decided to chance my luck and contact Merlin to ask if she would mind answering a few questions for this little space, and kindly, she agreed.

(Image: Boy Bat, Merlin Evans)

Now, I initially posted this interview up not long after (sometime in 2012) but I noticed recently that I'd lost a load of old blog posts (I think sometime during my blog re-design, so here's a transcript of the chat we had.

With hindsight, I wish I'd asked her so much more (I was conscious of being a fangirl nuisance at the time) but I think she is blooming great so I hope you enjoy and make sure you go and check out her work... 

Hi Merlin! For those who are not yet aware of your glorious work, can you tell us a little bit about what you do…?
I am a freelance illustrator that specialises in detailed hand drawn b/w pen and ink drawings, created whilst hunched over quite a bit. I also create etched comics (drawn onto copper plates) which I run through a fairly old printing press in West London.

The style of your illustrations reminds me of William Blake’s etchings; who do you draw inspiration from?
That is incredibly flattering! I love William Blake! I draw inspiration from so many things, but as a potted list mine would go as follows: old medical illustrations, Gustav Dore, Edward Gorey, Victorian etchings for goods and merchandise, Osbert Lancaster, Ronald Searle, Greek myths and legends, Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts, Durer, Escher, Matisse ... too many!

(Image: Self-Initiated, Merlin Evans) 

How did your collaboration with the Moomins legacy come about?
Well, I gained a place on this great comics/illustration internship at londonprintstudio which meant studying, drawing and teaching sequential illustration for 6 months. Part of the internship involved pitching to publishers (such as Jonathan Cape, Walker Books and Self Made Hero). I pitched some of my more detailed black/white illustrations to Emma Hayley (Managing Director of Self Made Hero) and she said that my style would suit this new Moomin book they were doing - and so it was done! Just a question of really good luck/timing I guess. The turnaround on this project was quite tight if I recall. I think it went from sketches to final inked drafts of all the images in about 2-3 weeks.

If you could illustrate any book in the world, what would it be and why?
I would like to illustrate Christopher Marlowe's 'Faust' as it's got everything in it - science, magic, and good dose of silly flirting and limb flailing. It's also just really beautifully written. Also, Christopher Marlowe is a quite cool.

What’s been the biggest highlight of your career so far?
I think probably getting my cushion designs sold in John Lewis was rather good.

(Image: Afternoon Deer Tea, Merlin Evans)

What’s spinning in your studio soundtrack right now?
Replace studio, with small bedroom with myself and 4-year-old daughter squashed in, and replace spinning with sort-of-playing-ish from a dodgy laptop. Song would be from 'Brave' soundtrack (daughter rules music roost). In an ideal world where I had a large spacious studio it would be nice if it was filled with First Aid Kit playing quite near my desk.

What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t an illustrator?
I would like to say floating through space whilst working for NASA, but most likely, a Primary School teacher.

And finally, what are you looking forward to next?
I'm quite excited in general about so many things! I plan to do a project this year which involves drawing lovely museum objects and enlarging them to rather huge sizes, and depositing these paper creations about the place in London for folk who find it hard to get to Museums but would still like to see inspiring objects about the place. Perhaps it's a silly idea. But I'm very much looking forward to putting it into action.

(Image: Christopher Marlowe - After a few emails back and forth discussing our mutual love of Christopher Marlowe, Merlin also emailed me across this sketchWhat a babe.)

Much love, 
L x 
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