Mathilde Cominotto

She has a thing for vases, women and mountains. She thinks everyone can draw. A conversation with an illustrator extraordinaire.


How did you end up at WISPER?

I did the educational masters degree at LUCA in Brussels and Liesbet (educational staff member at WISPER) was my internship mentor there. But actually we sort of met before that! During the third year of my bachelors degree we made booklets for our end-of-year exhibition. Liesbet had apparently bought one of mine and we only found out later on.

In what way do you begin your work? What does your creative process look like?

I'm in kind of a shift in my creative process right now. I've been a graduate for a while now and a lot of things are changing in my way of looking at things. Working from my own initiative is completely different from working in an Academic setting. My visual language can be described as: vases, women and mountains. (laughs) I find those elements coming back more and more in everything I do. I've started working smaller and also a little more commercially. Cards, stickers, small sculptures, without necessarily having to have a big artistic process beforehand. At Academies, commercial things are quickly seen as "the devil," while they can be very valuable and qualitative.

Why the vases, women and mountains?

The women are preferably naked women. That's why I'm also looking forward to giving classes with nude models, they fit well within my work. That fascination comes mainly from my own self-image, the beautiful female form, a feminist side, the combination of strength and tenderness, playful and voluptuous but at the same time also good... A naked woman is really everything mixed together.

The mountains come from my Italian grandfather. I never knew him but he left his memoirs behind which contained a lot about World War II. He had fought in the submarines, first in the army and then even in the resistance. My family is from the region of the Dolomite Mountains. During my master's year, I immersed myself entirely in his memoir, trying rather fanatically to recall and envision that area and the mountains. The mountains have stuck.

And then those vases... At a flea market in the Marolles, I once bought a vase with a crazy shape. I started drawing it again and again. Each time I made adjustments until it became a completely different vase.

What are your favourite materials to work with?

I usually start with a simple mechanical pencil, the most basic model there is. That's all you really need to sketch. I always have one in my pocket. I also like to work things out in Ecoline (markers) or black ink. Collage also comes back often, but not in the classic form. No cutting from magazines or newspapers!

Experimenting with different printing techniques is a winner as well. The bottom line is that everything should always be colorful or "bold," even in black and white. If not because of bright colours then because of great contrasts. I can draw tender figures, but the figure is not necessarily going to be drawn in a tender way.

I believe that anyone can draw. It all comes down to getting your muscles, your hand, your mind and your brain to interact.

What do you do in case of an artist block?

Usually flip through a book, look at the pictures, see if that does anything for me. And then just start re-drawing. Or returning to subjects I like to draw, that never hurts. I've already drawn 100 vases, but who cares? You can start in your comfort zone, and end up somewhere else.

But what actually works much better is being on the go, waiting for someone, hearing things around you.... So the moments in between. Unfortunately, that has to come spontaneously, and I can't just schedule it.

Also important: not everything has to be good right away. Once I had a severe case of artist block during my first master year. I completely panicked that nothing was good and out of sheer anger I started an 'ugly' sketchbook. I showed it to people: "Look, this is my ugly sketchbook, it contains all my ugly work. Later I did give the book another name, Elisabeth (laughs), because afterwards it turned out that those "ugly" drawings were full of good ideas and therefore also had their value.

How do you prepare to teach a course?

If it's a themed course, I like to make a kind of mind map. Then I can really start dissecting a particular topic all the way to the core, both in terms of technique and story. The next step is then to get artists involved. How did they do/address this? What can we learn from them before we start doing our own thing with the theme?

And finally, I always try to include some kind of playful element. As surprising/unexpected as possible, so that the students get a different perspective and are taken out of their comfort zone. For example, I turn off the lights and they have to paint in the dark. I think that is completely acceptable (laughs). That also helps me as a teacher not to fall into patterns.

What is the advantage of drawing or illustrating in group?

People can see that there is more than one way to tell or illustrate stories. Everyone has their own language, and sometimes you can only see that when you compare with others. There is no "right way" to represent something, only your way. And your way actually IS the right one! Anyway, you can't do anything wrong when illustrating. 'Ugly sketchbooks' not taken into account (laughs).

Either way, I really think that anyone can draw. In the end, it's just an interaction between your muscles, your hand, your mind and your brain. And you can train that like you train for a particular sport. Just try it. No obligations. Go ahead, do it. I accept every idea, every result, everything and everyone in my classes.

What does teaching do to you as an artist? Does it provide certain inspiration, new insights?

It offers me a very big "drive”. You see the students having fun, and that is very contagious. It creates the urge to continue experimenting at home.

Do you have a good tip for us? An exhibition, drawing technique, movie that we should check?

Definitely the Hockney exhibition at Bozar (Brussels). I haven't been myself yet, but have seen it at Centre Pompidou in Paris, and it was fantastic. Very strong, beautiful colours, very accessible, but it's still just rock solid work. And a wonderful film: "Ce magnifique gâteau," a Belgian stop-motion animated film.

What course would you like to take yourself sometime?

Something with photography, because I don't really know anything about it. It seems like a good move to master the basics. To be able to experiment with it myself, and also to learn to visualize my own work. And of course pottery too! Vases. (laughs)

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Written on Tue 9 April '24