An insight into her bold, clean and minimalist style
In a recent discovery of Malika Favre’s work, I could not help but fall deeply in love with her effortless and seamless illustrations which are not only physically beautiful, but also touched with intellect and wit.
Inspired by her graphic design background, Favre’s fusion of rich colour palettes combined with disciplined structure, mimics that of pop culture, inadvertently creating bold and timeless images.
Yet her work has gone much further than just capturing the eye. It has created social change, triggering movements and bringing to the forefront cultural problems that continue to persist today, gracing the covers and pages of magazines such as The New Yorker, Vogue and Vanity Fair. Her illustrations are inspiring, honest and unapologetic and with that in mind, I could not help but discover where she begins her creative journey…
Every morning, at approximately 11am, Favre starts her day with a cup of coffee and then gets drawing straight away in a compulsive and passionate kind of way. This does not surprise me, not only because of the sudden rush of caffeine that coffee graciously provides its consumer, but also due to the vivaciousness of her work. During this initial stage, her process appears almost playful stating:
“What is fascinating about illustration is that there are no limits. You are only limited by your imagination”.
Her research and idea generation are triggered by exploring clichés, which Favre admits is probably the most complex and time consuming part of her process. The challenge is to constantly adapt to what is relevant and current as people and trends will eventually move on. Yet one of the characteristics of Favre’s work is that it always has a narrative; a story embedded within the illustration that the majority can sympathise or even empathise with.
“An image can work at a first glance, but when you get closer to it, you discover a small detail that brings something else to the story”.
This allows Favre to reduce complex ideas into something visually very simple, yet with its meaning amplified. She does this through experimenting with metaphors, positive and negative space, shadows, layers and many other key tools. Photography is a significant tool in this initial stage, helping Favre to extract colours, patterns and graphic elements.
However the extraction of colours and creation of shadows is an art form in itself, as this is a critical moment in the procedure of defining the atmosphere of a piece. By varying colour palettes, this can change the meaning or feeling of an image. In other words, the choice of colour has to bring something to her work and accompany the story behind the illustration.
On the contrary, sometimes the absence of colour speaks volumes by using a monochrome palette. This way, it allows the shapes to breathe and work courageously on their own in order to tell the story.
I somewhat feel a whole new sense of appreciation for the splashes of colour that have become a signature element of Favre’s work, yet also a sense of guilt that I have previously taken what was a highly sensitive decision for granted. It is clear to me now that nothing is wasted, no line, shape nor colour. Every element has a logical place within the image. Her work has a purpose.
Thus, her clean and minimalist style allows her work to adopt a feeling of clarity, to propose a new perspective on the things that people don’t always notice; to make people see. This feature of Favre’s illustrations has enabled her to realise the social responsibility that comes with her role as a designer. In reference to her previous quote, “You are only limited by your imagination”, it is this that is the driving force fuelling Favre to voice the things that she believes in and take things further.
One example of this is when Favre created the cover of The New Yorker’s ‘Health, Medicine and Body’ issue in April 2017, in which the illustration, called Operating Theatre, was designed from the perspective of the patient, featuring four female surgeons. Her aim was “to capture that feeling of people watching you lose consciousness (as) most people have experienced it, but still remains mysterious”.
Yet the cover took on a whole new meaning when Susan Pitt, an endocrine surgeon at the University of Wisconsin, issued a challenge to her fellow female surgeons to re-enact the image in real life, shining a bright light (similar to the one that you would find in an operating theatre) on the women and other minority groups working in a traditionally white, male dominated field.
The response was profound, with the use of a hashtag on social media stating #ILookLikeASurgeon. Although Elizabeth Blackwell was the first female doctor in the USA to receive a medical degree in 1849, the traditional ‘male doctor’ stereotype frustratingly stood its ground. Therefore, the wording of this hashtag was a crucial one in revoking assumptions about what a surgeon ‘should’ look like and instead reflect the changing face of the profession, quite literally, in today’s society.
A more recent example of how Favre’s work has played a significant role in social design was when she created the cover for Arab News’ June 2018 issue called Start Your Engines. In September 2017, King Salaman of Saudi Arabia issued a decree declaring an end to the prolonged ban of female drivers from June 2018. Up until this date, it was law that women should receive a male guardian’s permission to travel, a law that was one of the many discriminative to women. One woman stated “Driving to me represents having a choice — the choice of independent movement. Now we have that option”, whilst another commented “It’s a dream come true”.
Within the illustration, Favre tells a story within a story, tremendously showcasing her wit. She says “I had this idea of looking at the car from the point of view of the woman who is driving, and so maybe the first thing you see is a woman with a headscarf and quite a colourful image, but then on the second layer you see what’s happening and you see that she is driving the car”.
The image has become one of the most retweeted artworks celebrating the occasion, with Saudi Princess Reema bint Bandar reposting it on Twitter, as well as it being the most downloaded illustration on Arab News’ website, despite its early stages of existence.
Yet alongside her wit is a stroke of symbolism. It is the notion that by the female figure driving, she represents the idea of moving forward not only physically but metaphorically. The image admirably focuses on the positive future that comes with this declaration instead of the negative past that is now a faded memory. This historic moment confirms how in our current cultural and political climate, the world is progressing towards gender equality.
The marriage between Favre’s playfulness as an illustrator and her discipline as a graphic designer may seem an odd juxtaposition but in fact serves as the key to her success. The way in which her striking illustrations target both the eye and intellect of the viewer not only makes her work instantly recognisable, but also sustainable.
Her passion for illustration goes far beyond the walls of her studio and in fact uses it to visually communicate world issues that are so mesmerising in their execution, that they inevitably capture the heart of millions.
If ever you come across one of Favre’s illustrations, I hope that you too are engulfed in the pool of colour, lines and shapes that are presented to you and hope that when you rise to the surface, you are moved to push your imagination as far as it can go.