Marion Balac lives and works in Paris, where she also self-publishes her own books. She enjoys travelling from her desk; drawing wild jungles and animals, building shelters and wandering through mysterious abandoned caves…
Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your work?
I went to the Fine Arts School in Lyon but I was mostly into video-editing at that time. I was drawing but not really showing it to the teachers. Then I started a drawing-blog and one day, I discovered our school had a binding machine and it was a huge crush: I wanted to bind everything! Organising my drawings in order to make books was like editing videos: you try to find rhythm and consistency into putting images together. Suddenly, drawing became a daily activity: I started to print my own books and posters, and showed them in small-publishing fairs. I have met great people since then.
Nowadays I live in Paris, where I try to draw as often as I can. I like to use different tools, but rarely simultaneously. I generally end up drawing shelters, jungles, animals and minerals, wild life and pets…even though I never plan anything. These are elements that come to me intuitively and it’s like I have to explore them.
Since Spring 2012, I draw jungles: I saturate almost all of the space on the sheet by interlacing vegetation. But white sheet rejects it, seeks and finds its place in my image, taking an unpredictable and enigmatic form. This ongoing series will soon find its place in a book.
Are you right or left-handed?
I’m right-handed. I have also never handled my pencil properly, despite my teachers’ advice.
What appeals to you, or attracts you to, working in pencil?
I like the variability of the line: it can be thin, greasy, or almost transparent… It can express a lot of things in a very direct way and it’s not pretentious. You can’t fool anyone with pencil: it’s not as seductive as many other mediums, and I like this radicality. It’s a cheap medium that you can use everywhere, whether to organize your thoughts or to start a big project. I also like the touch of pencil on paper and the fact that both pencil and paper potentially stem from the same source (the tree).
What’s your favourite pencil? Brand? Wood? Mechanical?
I enjoy mixing them all together on the same page. There are many varieties of wood pencils, so I use them for working on the depth of my jungles. I like mechanical because it stops you from having to interrupt your work to sharpen the pencil.
Other than pencil what materials do you enjoy using?
In the past, I’ve used paint, china ink, watercolor… but for now, I remain focused on the pencil: it still has a lot to offer.
Could you tell us a bit about your creative process, from the initial image or idea to the finished piece?
I extremely rarely draw preliminary sketches. I start to work on an image without much in mind. Concerning my Hurralopecia drawings, I began to draw the jungle by saturating a corner, then at some point I decide to preserve an area of white. The white form balances the composition and the construction of the drawing. After this, I work on the depths of the greys while trying to preserve this pristine form that unfolds in the jungle.
How do you conceptualize/construct a piece? Do you think of it as a story, snapshot, or abstraction?
Sometimes I see my Hurralopecia drawings as snapshots of an ongoing action. Even if they are peaceful, I cannot help imagining the action before, or immediately after. Maybe that’s the editor in me working there. This feeling is accentuated when I work on a book, because I have to imply a logical sequence, a continuity. I never conceptualize before I start a whole new serie of drawings but work on variations on the same subject; chasing a hypothetical ‘perfect drawing’ gives me the opportunity to think more often about what I really try to achieve – and why.
Your pieces for Tiny Pencil feature the suggestion of a beast or, the trace of one, but not an actual beast. How do you feel about the unknown? How does the idea of the unknown factor into your work?
I like the idea that we cannot be sure if my white forms are benign or aggressive, and I wanted them to be ambiguous. Some people told me they find my drawings very peaceful and comforting but some others find them oppressing, maybe because of the details.
Drawing is perfect for suggesting: I hope to create feelings in the viewer’s mind, though I don’t identify them before I draw them, or even after. If the viewer is not sure of what he sees and cannot identify his feelings immediately, I’m satisfied. Especially because the ‘unknown’ in my drawings is something, which is not drawn: an area of white paper.
Do you find unnatural things terrifying or interesting?
This depends what you consider unnatural; social conventions are cultural and may be difficult to handle, but we are supposed to control them very naturally. Concerning UFOs and ghosts, I find them more funny and folkloric than really scary.
Can you tell us about a favourite piece of yours, or a favourite creative experience?
I really liked the book Étudiant (“Student”) we made with Adrien Fregosi; a really big zine we made during a residency in Grenoble student campus: it’s a tribute to studentlife and amateur-drawing, and it was a great experience.
What size do you tend to work at? Why this preference?
I work on small sizes because I usually have the book in mind as an hypothetical target (instead of exhibitions) since my drawings. I recently started a bigger one (50x65cm): I was planning to draw on a bigger scale but I’m actually still drawing very small details, so it will take me more hours to finish it than I planned.
Do you have any early memories of drawing or, what’s your first memory of an image?
I remember doing a book in kindergarten: we made the drawings and then queued to tell our teacher the story we had imagined. She wrote the dialogues below our drawings. Mine depicted a fish in a river but I can’t remember more, except that I was extremely thrilled by this experience!
Do you keep a sketchbook?
No, only a notebook. I hardly manage to plan what I draw, therefore I rarely make preparatory drawings. I sometimes draw stuff on pieces of paper that I then immediately lose.
In what contexts do you enjoy drawing humans? It seems that your drawing work has a strong animal basis, do you prefer to deal with the human form in other mediums?
Even when I take pictures (I’m not a photographer and my photos are really dumb but you can still see them on similicroco.tumblr.com), humans appear very very very rarely. Humans don’t interest me more than that (graphically I mean!) or maybe just through short sentences and inner monologues.
Your use of colour seems very precise and deliberate. Can you tell us a bit about how you use colour in your work?
I would say I use it parsimoniously, probably because I’m not a very good colourist! Right now, I’m really into pencils and I’d really like to possess 5B or 2H in green, brown, blue pencils but I’ve never found some. Maybe I’ll do some acrylic on paper in the future, so that’ll make me work with colour.
What directions are you interested in exploring in the future?
I am currently working on a book that will be published by Super-Loto Éditions in 2014. It will include my Hurralopecia series and other drawings, but also texts and embossings. I’m very excited about this!
What would be your dream commission that you have yet to receive?
I do not consider myself an illustrator because I mostly do uncomissioned drawings. Yet people tend to see me as an illustrator since I chose to print my drawings instead of only sticking to originals. Sometimes people ask me to draw specific subjects, and accepting commissions is always a tough yet exciting challenge.
I’d really like to draw record or book covers for writers and musicians I love, or doing a summer residency in the wild woods with illustrators I like. Any exhibition or residency in a foreign country is always great, but I would really really really like to be invited to an island, any island – Iceland, Japan, Kerguelen: I’m yours. Ok, let’s include Hawaii too!
What are you working on now? What can we look forward to from you next?
What was the last film you saw in the cinema?
Inside Llewyn Davis by Joel and Ethan Coen, it was sad and funny, very moving.
What are the books on your bedside table?
I have the bad habit of reading quite a few books simultaneously, so on this list are some books I just started or finished, and some I’ve been reading for months: Tristes Tropiques by Claude Levi-Strauss, Entretiens by Gordon Matta-Clark, Abdelkader Benchamma’s Dark Matter; various books published by Monsieur Toussaint Louverture publisher, books by the talented Jeremie Gindre (La fonte des bois, Ric Rac, Un trou célèbre…), Les héros de la Pensée – ” An heroic performance bringing together seven renowned thinkers, who are held to talk on the principle of the Deleuzian ABC; on 26 different themes during 26 hours… while regularly drinking wine…” – and It’s Nice That Annual 2013 featuring my work, which I just received.
Coffee, nicotine, or booze?
I don’t like coffee, I do not smoke and I usually like drinks that contains more sugar than alcohol.
I’m a kid!
What is your favourite creature or beast?
Transfixing Ray Harryhausen’s Medusa, I love her!
Favourite city in the world?
I really enjoyed Copenhaghen, Stockholm, Granada, Budesti (which is a very small romanian village), Brighton, Mostar…but I wouldn’t choose a city over another, I haven’t seen enough of the world. Any city that I would be invited to work in, would earn many love points from me!
Favourite city to draw/sketch/illustrate/create in?
I think my work has really changed for the better since I moved to Paris, because my eyes have seen many great things since then… There are a lot of good artists here.
Where can people get a hold of your work, or find out more about your previous projects?
Marion’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.