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Emmanuel Malin

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Beautifully grotesque, hideously intriguing, sublimely detailed and completely amazing: that just about sums up the incredible work of Emmanuel Malin. His spiralling, considered line work fuses with sometimes subdued, sometimes electric colour palettes that, along with peculiar and ascinating characters, enchant and entwine you – forcing you to absorb and share the feelings, journey or atmosphere of the subject matter. Emmanuel’s Dave McKean-influenced pieces are intense, delicate and rich in both story and technique.

“I always try, through my works, to make the environment a character itself. I want to show people the personality of earth, rocks, wind and air,” he reveals. “I want to create a place where the people looking at my images can bring a part of themselves to them and make a story of their own.” To illustrate his point, Emmanuel refers to one of his most recent pieces, entitled Acid Ghost Town, which he created as research for a top secret comic he’s working on. “A man’s visiting his subconscious while he’s under the influence of heavy acid,” he begins. “In the very early stage of his dream-related journey, his brain is reconstructing a ghost town made of different architectures from his memories.This will progressively become a huge city inhabited by his own demons.” As you can probably gather, strong ideas and themes are paramount for Emmanuel.

“My main influence is the world that surrounds us,” he explains, before revealing more specific, rather unsurprising sources of inspiration. “I have a special interest in pagan and animist cultures – they fascinate me and are a never-ending source of inspiration. I think it’s very relevant nowadays, when you look at the way people worship everything and nothing. I see good material in these themes to develop interesting points of view about our society and the future. I’m also obsessed by masks and the notion of ritual; I see lots of applications in these, in terms of design and storytelling.”

Without digital tools, Emmanuel admits that he wouldn’t be doing what he is today. “I never really liked painting traditionally and the physical limitations it implies in terms of time. I have no patience for the oils or acrylics drying, and it’s such a painful chore to wash the brushes after a working session. I was always too lazy for that,” he smiles. But while Emmanuel can laugh off his self-professed laziness when it comes to working with traditional tools, it’s a source of frustration for him. He’d love to paint on real canvas, but it just doesn’t suit his workflow. “The digital medium fits better to my logic. It’s way more flexible and I can adapt the picture in real-time when I have a sudden idea,” he says. “I like to introduce some improvisation into my paintings – colour experimentations – and I felt limited doing this with other media.”

The fact that Emmanuel works 90 per cent digitally is surprising considering his output. His images could easily be mistaken for completely traditional works – something he’s very much aware of. “I know it may sound paradoxical because my illustrations have a traditional feeling,” he says. “But that’s because I separate the picture and the process. The computer’s the tool, just the tool; I love it, but I’m a bit afraid of it at the same time, because when you begin to know software you can become stuck in routines and tricks. That’s particularly true about digital painting and I always try to keep that in mind.

“I always pay great attention to the very first stages of the creation process,” explains Emmanuel of his initial reaction to a brief. “Firstly, I brainstorm a lot and try to glean as many references as I can from books, films and even music. I think this is all essential to give a true soul to the designs and illustrations.” The working process begins with pencils, before moving sharply into Photoshop. “I love to let myself go and improvise,” he says. “And I love to test the limitations of a subject, as it often ends with something unexpected that you can explore further. Of course, sometimes I just feel dry about a concept and in that case I like to try tools or brushes I’m not used to and see what happens. I try to balance idea and execution to produce interesting images, and always keep unused sketches to experiment and get new ideas to use in future commissions.”


Emmanuel’s gearing up for another big year, with a few projects on the burner for games and comic publishers that he can’t possibly reveal details about. One thing he’s keen to mention is his intention to publish a book that he’s both written and illustrated – something we’re extremely excited about. What’s the best thing about being a freelance artist? “I’d say the greatest part is that every project is different,” he says. “It’s always a real excitement to begin a new job. As a kid, I was really frightened about adult life and getting a boring job. I’m glad I found a way to avoid that.”

Finally, Emmanuel offers a few choice words for those wanting to embark on their own artistic career. “I think you have to be confident and honest to yourself,” he smiles. “Know what you really want to do, build an adapted portfolio and keep making contacts. The thing is to keep working hard, be dynamic and be patient. And make sure you stay tuned and informed about the industry.”
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