Lilian Coquillaud (aka Oco) lives in Toulouse, Southern France. After a few years of Arts and Comicstrip school, Lilian became a professional artist in 2006. His graphic inspirations pushed him to create in different fields from graphic novels to illustrations, while constantly searching for new subjects that inspire him to experiment with traditional techniques. Lilian alternates comic strips with illustrations and other projects because he finds it hard to pigeonhole himself.
What particularly appeals to you about working in graphite?
The wonderful power of the grey scale, the pleasant black and white contrast and the funny mix with many different tools. I also like to have graphite all over my hands like a child.
Tell us about your creative process, from the initial idea to the finished piece.
The process doesn’t just go one way: it’s the subject who choses which way to take. I only write some ‘trigger-words’ around the concept to start it in a direction and then my work really begins. Yet I have never had the final illustration in my head because I think that it’s important to keep a little mystery. I don’t like to explain all the precise workings because sometimes the more information the audience has on the background of a piece, the more feeling or expression they miss.
How do you conceptualize/construct a piece? Do you think of it as a story, snapshot, or abstraction?
For my illustrations, I try to find a ‘before’ and an ‘after’ on a story. The final work is just a photograph in the story but it is partly a snapshot and abstraction too. Those are the three important ingredients for good interaction and which make up my universe.
Do you have a favourite pencil? Wood or Mechanical? Do you work with a variety of lead sizes and hardness? Do you also have a favoured paper surface?
A dark and fat pencil. More wood that mechanical. Sometimes I like to separate the tools of their respective techniques and the new effects are amazing. As for papers, like tools, I change them sometimes but my favourite paper is Schoellershammer, like in a Moleskine sketchbook: it’s real happiness for fat graphite.
What size do you tend to work at? Do you have a preferred scale?
My work has no particular tendency: I leave the scale up to the subject and my intuition. I would like to create some giant illustrations but I don’t have time and space for that: perhaps one day.
Your work has an extremely painterly feel to it. Could you tell us a bit about your technique and how you achieve such subtle tonal qualities?
So I use fat and dark graphite and with a cutter I scratch graphite to obtain powder. I display it with tools or my finger on paper to create free composition. After that, I take a lot of time to find a good contrast with graphite and eraser in hand. Details appear step by step: it is necessary to be patient and meticulous.
What is your favourite subject-matter and why?
I don’t really have a ‘favourite’ subject. Perhaps I see a mix of mythology, the supernatural and abstraction but I like to know that it’s possible to work with multiple subjects with my own style. It’s an exciting challenge to apply my methods to a new theme. If I produce a series of illustrations about mythologies for example; I always try to widen my research, as well as my creative path: like a tree of skills.
Do you keep a sketchbook?
Yes. I draw in a A4 Moleskine sketchbook but simultaneously I like to change scale. It pushes me to draw differently.
Some of the figures in your works have quite a mythological feel to them. Does mythology figure heavily in your work? Where would you say you draw most of your inspiration from?
Yes, mythology inspires me since my childhood but it’s recently that I decided to integrate this universe into mine. I read a book about old mythological tales like Gilgamesh and it’s very interesting to consider the potential of interpretation: no visual pollution, a freedom of expression. So you can say that in all my work, there is hint of myth.
Your work is quite visionary, as if conjured from other worlds. What is your dream life like and do they connect to your work? Are you a vivid night time dreamer? A lucid day-dreamer?
I like to think I am a lucid day-dreamer but music helps me to enter in this state. When I work, I cut myself off from the world and I bring in the stories. I think it’s a normal thing for all artists, just the paths might different.
Can you tell us about a favourite piece of yours, or a favourite creative experience?
For these four Tiny Pencil’s illustrations that I made, I decided to change my approach to the subject. I applied a layer of linseed oil on the paper to create a greasy surface, then I used the same process, scratching graphite with brushes like Chinese ink: it’s not the same effect but the graphite and pencil slide, creating a dark matt substance.
What are you early memories of drawing like?
I began to draw after having seen Dragonball and other Japan animation on TV. If I remember correctly, I reproduced my favourites heroes from these animations to amaze my friends at school.
What are you working on now that we can look forward to next? And what directions are you interested in taking your work in the future?
I work on two comic strips: one for adults and one for children but at this moment, I can’t tell you anything! Earlier, I spoke about Gilgamesh: it’s my big personal project for these next years. I have not started writing yet but a lot of work is waiting for me…
Do you also sell prints and originals? Where else could someone get a hold of more of your work?
I sell some originals artwork on Etsy: I attempt to regularly post new drawings. No prints for moment.
Right or left-handed?
Coffee, nicotine, or booze?
Coffee at the morning and booze at the night, like a lot of people.
Favourite city in the world?
I need to travel more so I refrain from answering this question!
Favourite city to draw/sketch/illustrate/create in?
Most recently: San Francisco.
Lilian’s work appears in Issue 3 of Tiny Pencil: The Beast Issue… Monsters, Machines and Unnatural Things! Available to buy here.
This interview was brought to you by The Tiny Pencil – fine purveyors of the pencil arts.