Hamburg-based illustrator Mila Marquis is not only an accomplished contemporary artist who has been creating whimsical images to adorn children’s books and stationery for the past 20 years, but she is also one of our cover artists. Her ethereal and joyous images were first featured on our covers in 2015, and for Spring 2021 we are proud to bring her back with four new covers for the Mila Marquis Collection. We recently had the opportunity to chat with her over the phone to learn more about her work (and in case you were wondering, she is as sweet and friendly as one of her charming characters, and lovely to talk to!).
When and why did you decide to become a professional artist?
When I was a kid I was always drawing and playing instruments, so when I was 14 or 15 years old, I decided not to become a pop star but rather do some sort of fashion design [she laughs]. I studied fashion design actually and after I had my first son, Marvin, I realized being a single mother was somewhat restricting, so I decided to change my goals. I studied some media design, I worked at a marketing agency and finally, about 20 years ago I became a freelance illustrator.
Has anyone or anything in particular inspired your creativity and artistic passion?
There was a friend of mine who told me, “You are going to become an artist,” and I said, “Well, how do you know?” And she said, “That’s what you are best at and that’s what you’re always doing. Why shouldn’t you?”
Aside from music and art, what are your other passions in life?
Well, my kids, obviously. And I have lots and lots of plants, exotic plants, and I have three cats. I read a lot, and normally I go to the movies often but that’s not the case at the moment.
Where do you find inspiration? Are your cats and your kids depicted in your work?
My cats, yes. Inspiration comes from watching people, watching kids in the neighbourhood. Also, I’ve always loved tiny things, like in the Summer Butterflies cover where the proportion has shifted, as if you are watching something with a magnifying glass.
Do you see yourself reflected in your characters?
Yes, of course. I always try to see the bright side, even though times are hard. It makes me feel better, also, to draw these kinds of little scenes. It’s sort of therapeutic! Even if I’m sad, I try to be positive and draw smiling creatures. In general it makes me calm and relaxed, even just to scribble.
What kind of technique and materials do you use in your work?
I do a lot of pencil work and then scanning in and doing the colour work either in watercolour or on the computer. Other times, I work with acrylics, watercolour and gouache, and then scan it in and patch it all together on the computer. It’s all a big mixture. At the beginning I was doing just one layer of acrylics and watercolours but now it has shifted to combine everything. If I only work digitally, it’s a bit of a hassle to get structure and depth into the picture, which is why I also use gouache and watercolour on top.
Your work brings a lot of that joy to those who see it. What has been a memorable response to your work?
Usually, people tell me things like “Your picture makes me feel like a little girl again,” or “They make feel like I’m part of a fairy tale island.” Or even, “You put some light in my dark times.” That’s so wonderful to hear!
You have illustrated quite a number of children’s books. I imagine it would be quite different than illustrating postcards featuring a single scene. What can you tell us about that?
Illustrating a book is quite different from illustrating the greeting cards because I have to follow along with the story, and I’m restricted by whatever is going on there. That was fun to learn. I only started illustrating children’s books about five years ago.
Would you say you prefer illustrating children’s books or greeting cards?
It’s great to have that variety, as they’re quite different. My regular illustrations for cards are about being cheerful and friendly, and nice characters. And with books there are more characters to develop, and to keep throughout the book. A huge plus is I can finally draw some mean, grumpy, greedy creatures!
Yes, and in a book, you have to work with a whole set of emotions from the character, which you don’t have in a postcard.
Yes, exactly. And that’s what I like a lot about doing children’s books but on the other hand, I have more freedom when I’m doing my regular illustrations, my normal artwork.
You have been doing this for over 20 years. What has really helped you to get noticed, aside from being so talented?
I feel like I was really lucky in a way. I don’t really know if I deserve it because there are so many talented artists around the world. I guess I just met the right people at the right time. Maybe there’s one thing: I try to be kind to everybody, because no one likes to work with somebody who isn’t nice. If I don’t get along with somebody, even if it’s a great company, I don’t work with them. You also have to be reliable; it’s a matter of trust on both ends.
I know you’re not supposed to pick favourites, but do you have a favourite Mila Marquis x Paperblanks cover?
Are you working on any new projects you would like to share with us?
At the moment I’m working on Spring postcards for next year. And I just finished a couple of children’s books that are coming out in the fall.