In Conversation With Dahlia Mouton
last updated 07 September 2023
Interview by Rachel Moffat
Dahlia Mouton is a Parisian illustrator.
Her art is inspired by classic novels, fairy tales and frequent visits to the Louvre Museum. Dahlia is naturally curious about everything and interested in any form of visual art. She loves exploring new skills and crafts, from crochet to sewing or piano playing. She has worked with children as a nanny for many years, which has given her a good knowledge of children’s inner lives. While she’s particularly drawn to story illustration, she’s open to other media as well.
Dahlia’s Agent Anna Zieger commented:
“Dahlia is a unique talent. She just has that je ne sais quoi that makes her art standout. One of the most original and talented artists I’ve come across in a long time. She has a bright future ahead of her!”
How did you begin illustration?
Illustration is one of the skills we get to learn at a very young age. I started drawing when I was very small because my father took me to a lot of museums. He taught me to read the compositions, to look at a painting and really analyse it. I always loved to ‘read’, before I could read. I would just look at the pictures and take them very seriously. I wanted to do illustration from a very young age and have practiced through my entire life.
Where are you from and how does that effect your work?
I was born and raised in Paris. I’m very lucky because we have so many museums. I went to the Louvre a lot especially, and now I have an annual pass so I can go all the time. I also had a lot of access to other forms of art such as theatre and music. My Grandpa took me to see baroque music concerts, my Mum took me to fashion shows. I’ve had the opportunity to meet people from lots of different places, that’s something you get from a big city like Paris.
I think having a wide variety of influences like this was really beneficial. It’s also just such a beautiful city to walk around and draw in, which I’d really like to do more often.
How did you find Bright?
I found out about Bright through my friends who are artists. That’s one of the best things about art school, having the opportunity to talk to other artists. I asked a lot of people about work opportunities and Bright was one of the first agencies that I heard about, and it was the one that I heard about the most. So, I looked on the website and I really loved the variety of Agents and areas that they work in.
Your work is aesthetically unique to you. How do you approach translating your ideas to the page?
Very visually. I don’t have difficulty translating images from my mind to the page, I find it harder translating thoughts into words, so for me writing is more difficult. That’s why I prefer to focus on images. I love to be able to tell a whole story in just one image.
What is your favourite part of the illustration process?
My favourite part comes after I know what the composition will be. I’ll have an idea of the colour palette and when I’m happy that it has good bones and good structure I can move forward with it and have fun.
For example, if I draw a princess, I will draw her silhouette and have a vague idea of the colours I want. I will keep the patterns and fabric for later and it’s really a delight to think of fun little things I can do as I’m drawing: ‘Oh, I could add this here, and this there, and wouldn’t some pearls here be cute?’ and that for me is so much fun. Drawing is something that has never aged for me, never gone stale, it’s really just as fun as it was when I was a kid.
How do you develop your art skills?
Practice, Practice! I think that’s really the only way to do it. I try to draw every day if I can, but I also don’t force myself. I take life modelling classes, I find that looking at real life is always good for an artist. Looking at other art is good, but if you’re only ever looking at other artists’ work, you can get so far removed from real life and the human body that you’ll just be drawing caricatures of caricatures. It’s good to just log off, connect to real life and look at how a person’s body can move. I always learn a lot, even from just one hour of drawing someone.
What is your studio setup like?
The setup is very small. It’s in my bedroom and I don’t even have a desk, which was a funny choice but I have a piano in the room that takes most of the space. I mostly sit on my bed to work and I draw on a tablet, because it requires a very small set up.
I love painting, but it’s just a nightmare to have all that equipment when you don’t have a big artist studio. So, I just draw here, in my tiny little studio.
What is an average day in the studio like for you at the moment?
I try to go to bed with a drawing already started. That’s some advice I was given by a writer who said, ‘If you’re going to stop writing, stop in the middle of a sentence, because otherwise, it’s going to be too difficult to pick it up again’. So that’s what I do. I stop in the middle of a sentence, with a drawing already started, because if I get up in the morning and I don’t have something to go back to, I might not have any new ideas.
If I have a drawing, I will pretty much work on it all day and then in the evening I might go to work as a babysitter, which is nice because it forces me to take a break, something that is really important for artists. When you’re looking at the same drawing for hours you completely lose the ability to look at it clearly, to see the mistakes or problems. That’s also the reason that I like to sleep on it, because at night I might think, ‘This is brilliant, this is beautiful, this is perfect’, and then the next day I can look at it and see what needs more work.
Who/What have been your key influences as an illustrator?
There is an artist called Tomi Ungerer who was from the same region of France as my family. He has a museum in Strasbourg and his books were read to me a lot as a kid. He is an inspiration to me. I really liked his books because they were very mean, they were about villains and bad guys. There is one about an ogre who eats children but by the end of the book he’s a nice ogre. I love that because as a kid I was already leaning away from stories that were too sweet, they felt fake to me. I liked the Darker fairy tales. Tim Burton was a major influence for me too, I watched his movies all the time.
One thing that really made me develop my own style was art school. We had to pick an illustrator to imitate and I picked picture books from the 1960’s. There is one I had from Alice and Martin Provensen about the Iliad and the Odyssey. It had very simple shapes and colours and I thought it was absolutely beautiful and smart. That was a big shift for me, to move away from focusing on lining and line art and to focus more on shapes and colours.
What was it like seeing your work out in the world for the first time?
I sold prints for a while and I was really surprised by how quickly I ran out of stock. People sent me pictures of my art in their house, which was really such a big moment for me. It was incredible.
What did that feel like?
It felt fake. It’s always a shock to me that my art is not just little scribbles in my notebook but actually something that lots of people see and like and something that means a lot to them. It’s wonderful and I’m so excited to see my art in many more places.
To an up-and-coming artist, what’s one piece of advice you would give?
My two major pieces of advice would be:
To not give up. It’s easy to feel discouraged or to feel that there’s a lack of progress, but progress is only seen in retrospect. There have been many times in my life where I’ve felt like giving up, that I wasn’t moving forward anymore. It felt like, ‘Oh, this is as good as I’m going to get’ and I was always wrong. This mindset is common, particularly with younger artists. It’s easy to feel discouraged, it’s understandable, but you have to push though that.
My second piece of advice would be to get inspiration from a lot of places. Inspiration is everywhere and it’s not just other artists that will give you ideas. I get a lot of inspiration from reading. When I read someone’s words I have to imagine them in my head and it gives me those beautiful images that I can then translate into new images. Music is amazing for that too. I also really like history and historical fashion.
I think it’s good to lean into those other interests that we have for inspiration. They feed our imagination so much, even if they seem to have nothing to do with art. If someone is really interested in astronomy, in biology, in maths, it can work; it can make their art more special and beautiful. Lean into yourself.
What would be your dream brief?
I have so many! I would love to be able to work with the Louvre. That would be amazing because that’s where my love for art started. If I could make a book for them, I would love it.
I have favourite books that I would love to illustrate, Wuthering Heights is one of them. I would also love to illustrate Charles Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil that was translated by George Dillon and Edna St. Vincent Millay, which is my favourite book of poetry. I think poetry can be inaccessible to some people and having images makes it a lot less so.
I would love to illustrate books that are seen as complicated or tough, and help people fall in love with them like I did.
To work with Dahlia, get in contact with her agent Anna here.