The French graphic designer Malika Favre‘s distinct and often very sexy style has made her one of the world’s most sought-after commercial illustrators. In addition to her personal creations, she works for clients around the world—publications such as the New Yorker and Vogue, as well as international brands like Sephora.

In her studio, Favre creates work that is characterized by a striking minimalism: no line, no shape, no color is wasted. But within this minimalism, she creates images of startling beauty and depth. In this wide-ranging interview, Favre talks about her life and art.

(Please note that Favre frequently addresses sex and sexuality in her personal work, which is featured, uncensored, in this article.)

Create: The last time we caught up with you was in 2016. What's changed since then about your work or your process?

Malika Favre: A lot has changed in the past five years. I was working crazy hours back then and eventually found a better work/life balance. Since then I stopped taking on advertising commissions to focus on editorial work which eventually led me to The New Yorker covers, my lifelong dream. I also moved from London to Barcelona recently to improve my quality of life and my vitamin D intake!

Favre’s February 2018 cover for The New Yorker magazine.  

Favre’s tribute to all the medical staff fighting Covid 19, created for @designersagainstcoronavirus.

Create: In fact, a couple of years ago one New Yorker cover was the traditional February issue that always has an illustration of Eustace Tilley, the 19th-century boulevardier languidly inspecting a passing butterfly through his monocle. What was it like to do such an iconic cover? What was the process for concepting your version of the illustration?

Malika Favre: New Yorker covers are a mirror to society and allow artists to share our vision of the world with others, so it is always exciting when I get one published. I loved doing this one in particular as the Eustace character is so iconic. In a way this is not a conceptual cover but an opportunity to update an icon to something that resonates with New Yorkers (and others) today. My approach was very instinctive for this particular one. I knew I wanted it to be a woman and a very strong elegant profile. The choice of drawing an African American woman in a dandy suit came very naturally and felt like the perfect update to the 1925 character.

Create: As we speak, most of the globe is still being affected by COVID-19, either in lockdown, or the aftermath. How has quarantine affected the way you work and/or live?

Malika Favre: The quarantine has affected every single of us for sure. Personally, I had been working from home for the past 8 years so didn’t need to adjust to a new routine as such, but what I realized was that my pace of work changed during quarantine. Illustrators are used to working remotely, and especially with photoshoots being canceled I ended up with more work than I needed—which was extremely lucky. That being said, I was slower and found it harder to motivate myself. The first month was the hardest but it eventually became a time for reflection and introspection. My pace of life was very hectic before that especially with travelling, so being forced to stay put allowed me to center myself and to realize that I didn’t really need all these things to be creative and happy. I feel very lucky to be in a flat I love with a job I love and a person I love. This is the real luxury.

Create: How do you describe your work?

Malika Favre: I’d say it’s colorful, bold, minimalistic and narrative—and sometimes it’s also very sexy.

Create: It is, yes—the erotica that you do is so beautiful. It’s sexy but also quite playful and even laugh-out-loud funny. What draws you to that subject matter?

Favre: This body of work is very personal to me. I think it’s actually how I found my voice as an illustrator: by designing my first sexy alphabet made of bunnies. As a kid, I used to draw naked ladies all the time—I’ve always been fascinated by the human body. Also, I love playing with things that are so broad, so universal, that anyone can relate to them, wherever they are in the world. And sex is the embodiment of that idea. It’s the most universal thing on earth.

When looking around, I realized that a lot of erotic art was done by men and was missing female voices, so I decided to share my vision. Also, I always try to add a touch of humor to my pieces, as I see sex as something playful and sometimes even funny. When I started, my portfolio was filled with sexy work—but one of the things I realized very early on was that I couldn’t do that type of work commercially. I tried a few times, but it just never worked, and I ended up frustrated by the result. It’s the one aspect of my work where I absolutely don’t want to compromise, so I made it a rule not to create erotic work for commercial clients.

Once in a while I do a new piece for myself, though, like Orgy.

Malika Favre's Orgy as a pattern and a rug. 

Create: When you were a kid, drawing your female nudes, how were those drawings received? What did your family think?

Favre: My mum loved it. She kept all my drawings organized by year, so that’s how I found them a couple of years ago. There are some really disturbing ones in there, believe me. There is one of a girl dressed in this S&M attire—apparently I was nine when I did it. I asked my mum, “Did you think I was—I don’t know! What did you think?” And she was like, “Oh, you know, you were nine. I just thought it was the hormones kicking in.”… Very French in a way.

Being French Algerian, my mum had a tougher upbringing than I did. I think she felt proud more than anything else, proud that I had a strong female voice and that I wasn’t scared to explore sexuality in my work. I was brought up in a very open family, so I’ve always perceived sex as being something funny and beautiful, rather than a taboo.

I still remember, I gave 69, which was another erotic piece I did, to my grandma at Christmas. It took her a while to understand what was happening on the paper—and when she did, she burst out laughing and told me it was beautiful.

Favre’s erotic work, such as 69, is frequently available in her online shop in various forms.

Create: So were you a very artistic child?

Favre: My mum pushed me to draw from a very young age, and it’s something I’ve been obsessed with since then. Growing up, I drew every single day. My family was a bit New Age and didn’t have TV, so my brother and I had to find different ways to entertain ourselves. For me it was playing, reading, and drawing.

My mum was a stay-at-home mum and was always creating things. But the truth is that she could never get around to selling any of it—she struggled with the business side of it and kept giving her work away for free to friends and family. She could create all these amazing things, but she never made a living of it.

By the time I was a teenager, an artistic career didn’t seem viable at all. I was quite materialistic and headstrong back then, but I remember wanting to earn decent money and have a stable job. I never felt art was an option. So I kept drawing as a hobby but decided to pursue science for my A levels, followed by engineering prep school. I loved physics and mathematics back then and wanted to become an engineer. But after a couple of months in prep school studying like a maniac and barely seeing the light of day, I realized I was never going to be happy doing that as a living.

In high school, I loved the fact that I got to do a bit of everything: French literature, philosophy, English, sciences—but when I arrived in this postgraduate course, It was all about science, forget the literature, forget everything else. I missed all those other things, and I quickly felt frustrated. I was 18 and didn’t know what to do with my life.

The only thing I really knew how to do was to draw, so I decided to apply to art school. I chose advertising rather than fine art and still had no intention of becoming an artist. I thought I was going to become an art director in an advertising agency. I have never spent a day working in an ad agency.

Hide and Seek was Malika Favre’s first solo exhibition. It featured this charming minimalist animation.

The artist designed the official poster for the world-famous jazz festival.

Create: What would you say is unique about your work/approach?

Favre: What is unique about what I do is the same as with every other artist that draws from a personal place. My work is the sum of all my experiences, from my family to my upbringing in Paris to the type of art I was exposed to, the people I met along the way, the things I love and the places I discovered. The style in itself is only the peak of the iceberg but what matter is the emotion and stories you convey through your own work.

Create: How do you find a balance between personal work and client work?

Favre: It is a hard one to balance! I always feel like I don’t do enough personal work, but I still try to do as much as I possibly can. Sometimes I just feel I have to do it, and it becomes a matter of finding the time for it. I tried taking a day off every week to do personal work, but that just doesn’t work for me. So I take breaks—quite a lot of breaks.

On a smaller scale, I also try to feed my online shop regularly. My shop is a great outlet for me and allows me to breathe. When I think of a print concept, I make time for it during a week where I’m not that busy, or alternatively evenings and weekends.

I really need to do self-initiated work; otherwise, I go crazy.

Create: Where do you find inspiration these days?

Favre: Anywhere really. I don’t think you necessarily have to go far to find inspiration. You just have to be curious and open your eyes to the things around you. Beauty is everywhere.

Create: Can you talk about your process a bit? How do you approach an assignment or a project?

Favre: When I receive a new brief, the first thing I do is a lot of photographic research—a lot. If it’s for a specific place, I’ll go there and photograph it. If it’s for a more general concept, I do a lot of online research. I always start on Google, with image searches for the most obvious things I can think of that link to the brief, and then I start jumping from one thing to the next. It’s a very organic process. I never know what I’m going to find.

Then I start sketching. I sketch digitally now, just because a lot of my work doesn’t really translate into pencil sketches—it’s all to do with colors and bold shapes. So I just very roughly draw in Illustrator…. An idea often leads to another concept, so I go back online and start exploring some more.

A unique collaboration based on images by celebrated photographer Sebastian Weiss.

And I do that, back and forth, until I have enough ideas. I usually produce a lot of sketches, maybe four or five different ideas for an editorial piece, for example. And then I pick the ones that I think work best and present them to the client.

Create: So when you start sketching in Illustrator, you don’t necessarily know what form the piece will take?

Favre: I always start drawing with some kind of a broad concept in mind. But the composition is something that evolves organically. I never know what the final piece will look like. Often the best things happen by accident, which I find fascinating.

Create: What's your advice for aspiring illustrators?

Favre: To work hard, be patient, and be nice.