“I’m Malika Mutombo and I’m a 19 year old upcoming Belgian artist. I was born and raised in Belgium. but I am of Congolese descent. I studied illustration for a year, but there are high chances that I’ll change universities and study computer graphics with 2D illustration, animation and graphic design as options next year.”
After scouring Tumblr for hours and seeing a lot of amazing artwork from artists all over the world, and not being able to pick people easily to interview, I decided to let the artist themselves approach me, let their fans recommend them, and make my considerations from there. I received more responses than I’d imagined I would, and many of the artists were responding rapidly. I have a decent following on Tumblr, and I run in some pretty popular circles, but I was not ready for this. When Malika approached me about her work I was excited, because her talent fit the core theme of this site: a woman that can do both. And her skills are versatile, and while she seems shy at first, her work tells you there is fire there, too. Below you’ll find the interview she agreed to do for us, and hopefully you enjoy getting to know her as much as I did.
RXY: English isn’t your first language. What is? Do you speak any more languages?
MM: Yes, my mother tongue is French, and it is a requirement to learn Dutch at school in my city, so I know some basics. I was bad at Dutch in school, but surprisingly, I still can understand some stuff sometimes, especially when I read.
RXY: How has your journey through university been? Has it helped hone your art skills?
MM: Not going to lie, it has been terrible socially. I didn’t make any improvements and spent the entire year alone. My art skills haven’t improved, either, because my school doesn’t really insist on technique— we don’t even have an anatomy class, which doesn’t make much sense in an illustration department. I mean, since I drew things the entire year I still made progress, but not as much as I would have wanted to. There is still a positive aspect, though; they insist more on imagination, inspiration, and just doing your own thing, pushing you out of your comfort zone. That is something I had struggled with for a while. My whole life I’ve always been copying pictures, which is good training, and was doing photo studies without noticing. Now, I’m really good at copying stuff when I get asked to. It comes naturally, but I never was able to make my own drawings imagined by me until I had arrived in that particular school. That’s a hidden aspect of me they successfully made come to light, and I really respect them for that. I’m convinced it’s actually a great school. It was just not the right time for me go there.
RXY: You said in university that you decided to study illustration for about a year, but you planned to try 2D animation. Why choose to start with illustration? What has drawn you toward other mediums?
MM: I’m a really indecisive person. I’ve always been 100% convinced that my career would be art related but the art world is so vast that the problem became, ‘okay, but in what department will you actually work in’? I had planned to study animation and was really dedicated to this in high school. I passed exams and tried for entry into a really renowned school in Belgium. Their animation and fashion sections are known all over the city, if not the country, but I failed. I got refused with no explanation, and I was kind of down and thought it might not be for me. I also was scared to end up with no school to go to, so I randomly applied to a small school and didn’t really do research on it in the heat of the moment. Since I was kind of “traumatized” by my exam entry after failing for animation, I decided to apply for graphic design in that school. The teachers judging my work there said I was too good at drawing characters and stories to be there, so they put me in illustration which I didn’t mind.
This school doesn’t satisfy my need to learn more technically so I’m changing next year and I’m really glad because the new one combines a little of everything I wanted to do; it’s graphic design the first year and then it’s 2D illustration and animation, well it’s an option I will chose. There are others, so I really can’t wait, I feel like if I pass in school I will learn a lot, but also I won’t be confined in one career choice.
RXY: You use a variety of tools to create with from color pencils, to oil, and now you’re also doing art digitally. Which tool do you like using the best, and which did you begin your art journey with?
MM: If we really want to go from the beginning, the first medium I used is probably gouache in kindergarten. I remember doing paintings where we would put our hands in bowls with different colors in them and splash them on huge sheets of paper. I also remember using glitters and glue, my favorite, and also color pencils—Crayola to be precise, that my dad had bought for me. He also downloaded and had special files with Mandalas for me that he would print so I could color them. I also had a lot of coloring books.
At the moment there is no tool that I like to use more because things always turn out different. I could use markers for a while and think I’m good at it, but then mess up or simply decide to switch to something else. I think every medium has its own advantages and disadvantages. I’m still trying to figure them all out, so I don’t think I could make a choice at the moment. It’s also because I’m very volatile. I think I’m still trying to find something I’ll completely fall in love with.
RXY: Representation is a big part of your reasoning for creating the characters that you do. Do you hope to one day showcase your art outside of Instagram and Tumblr for audiences? Are there other artists that draw characters with the same body type that inspire you?
MM: Of course I would like to! My Instagram is still small and has been for a long time now, but I still try my best to be patient, which is very surprising because I tend to get my confidence hurt really easily and then give up. But I still haven’t now, and I kind of know it takes a lot of time.
I think that nowadays more and more artists are being inclusive when it comes to representing different people, but at the top of my mind I can’t think of any that I follow who does…maybe jijidraws and also octoplum on Instagram. I would like to be on that level, too, but I’m too scared to make something clumsy and be disrespectful. I want to be 100% sure I know what I’m talking about without either sounding like I’m a Miss-knows-everything, or as if I need a cookie, because I included a minority group. I don’t want it to be forced. Like those ads where you can feel they added two or three people of color so they seem diverse? They do it so they don’t get “bothered”, but they actually don’t care. I want it to be genuine and I aspire to get to the day where I’ll make stories that everybody that feels left out will be able to relate to. Until then, I just draw what I know which is cis women, generally black, but it can vary, and fat, because my whole life I drew thin white women, which well, isn’t me and I kind of had enough of it.
RXY: While looking at your art I saw a lot of what seems to be Sailor Moon inspiration in your artwork? What other anime, mangas, or other animated shows have inspired your work, and how long have they been muses for your style?
MM: It is true that Sailor Moon inspired a lot the story I’m currently working on, which is really weird because, I only have faint memories of this show. It impacted me a lot as a child, and same goes for shows such as, Card Captor Sakura and Tokyo Mew Mew. Back then I was really into the “Magical Girl” genre which would be considered “normal” for a little girl of my age, but growing up my tastes started getting mixed. I started being really into shows that are generally associated with boys; with a lot of action and fights— actually if there’s no cool fight scenes it better be really funny or I’m not watching it!
I’m really disorganized so I have the tendency of watching 20+ different animes at the same time, thank God for My Anime List or I’ll be completely lost, but sometimes I don’t even finish them and still be highly influenced by the plot and some key scenes. I really can’t name any, because I think even the worst anime I’ve watched still might have some influence on me and my work. I would say I’ve been seriously inspired a lot by mangas, animes and cartoons since I was fourteen.
RXY: I also saw that you also have your work in panels like in mangas and comic books. Do you see yourself one day illustrating a manga/comic book, or is that a project you are already working on?
MM: Yes I am, it’s called Mad Solar, and my whole story is basically done. I just need to properly divide it in chapters and actually start drawing something. It’s my very first super-serious and official work, so I’m kind of stressed about it. To relieve the stress about it all I’ve been drawing is future book covers. I don’t know if it’s an excuse but I feel like if I get proper lessons on perspective, and anatomy especially. I’ll be able to start at least sketching, but it could honestly be excuses since I’m a huge procrastinator.
I also feel that I’m not completely doing art that comes from me yet. I know I said I do but, lately I’ve been doubting a lot because I still rely too much on references and if I don’t have a perfect one with the exact same pose I want, I can’t draw anything. I think lack of anatomy knowledge is the root of this problem.
RXY: With art being something you want tied into your career, what career choices are you currently looking at for yourself? Do you see yourself being a freelancer? Showcasing your work online in a shop of your own where you sell prints?
MM: Freelance has always been an interesting alternative for me because a lot of artists on the web that I look up to seem successful at it, but I know it’s not an easy path. I want to be 100% sure I’ll be able to make something out of it, but I definitely don’t want to simply do commissions or sell art pieces that I managed to do once in a blue moon!
Animation is something that I truly admire, so it’s my number one choice, but I’m honestly open to anything art related that I would enjoy. I might become a graphic designer that does some commissions and sells prints from time to time, for example. To be honest I don’t feel like I could exclusively do one or the other, I feel like I would make a combination of different careers at the same time.
Find more of Malika’s work on her instagram: @sensitive.king