BetterShared caught up with Dorcas Magbadelo, self-taught artist and owner of UK based illustration brand DorcasCreates. Having started her illustration journey in 2015, Dorcas’s work celebrates and uplifts black women by placing them at the forefront.
Tell me a bit about yourself and anything you think is important for your audience to know in order to understand who you are as an artist?
At the time that I started even though there were a lot of other black creators, if you were to walk into a shop to buy a greetings card, the chances of seeing an illustration of a black woman or girl on there was very low. It didn’t make sense to me to be creating work that wasn’t representative of not just me but of other people in my life; that’s why I started illustrating and it’s been really good to get a positive response. I have two different drawing styles. So, I have the brighter style which revolves around colours and patterns, and then I have another style where there are still a lot patterns but it’s primarily black and white. The difference between them is that one is more commercial, whilst the other style allows me to be more experimental and so I don’t have to necessarily make the subject of my work look human. Those drawings to me tend to look a bit like masquerades or spirits.
In some African cultures they have the tradition of mask wearing, would you say that your experimental work has been influenced by this?
I’m really into sci-fi, so I enjoy the concepts of time travel and the idea of time not being linear, so when I’m creating these illustrations I’m thinking about time being more cyclical. I’m thinking about the past, present, and future blending into one another and what that would mean spiritually as well. When you think about people who have gone before us, like our ancestors for example, I think about how that affects our lives now. When I’m producing more commercial work, obviously there are trends and patterns, but I’m thinking more about creating work that can stand the test of time. It’s not just about the patterns being trendy at that moment, it’s more about my audience thinking back to a memory or a time that my work reminds them of in their lives. Especially with my commercial work, you may think it’s just a card, or a tote bag, or an art print, but the way people respond to it lets me know that it’s more than that because we don’t always feel like we’re seen.
“Sometimes art can be exclusionary, you can feel like you don’t understand it or connect with it. I want every black woman to be able to enjoy my work and feel that it’s for them.”
Has anyone ever told you about what your art has done for them?
I’ve had a few, when I used to do craft fairs and art markets it was always really nice to meet people who would come with their kids, and on a few occasions I would meet little girls who would say that my illustrations look like them when they’re older. I would also get people who would say that my work reminds them of their friends, their girlfriends, or their sisters. I don’t necessarily illustrate real people, the ideas for the illustration do come from real people but they never come from one person’s face, it’s always one person’s nose and someone else’s eyes. I do tend to draw the same face, I think a lot of people who illustrate will always go back to the same facial features, so sometimes I have push myself to explore outside of that. To me they’re these made up faces, but they do actually exist. There’s been a few times where I’ve gone out and seen people and I’ve said to them ‘oh, I drew you last week, I drew your face, I don’t know who you are, but I drew you.’
The subject of your art is predominantly black women, what are the aspects of ‘black womanhood’ that you feel need to be magnified and why?
I guess that we’re multifaceted because when I first started illustration I said I wanted to do positive representations of black women, but now it’s more about putting a black woman in the center stage of the image and just presenting her, whatever you take from that as a black woman is up to you. We don’t always experience joy, we’re not always strong, we’re not always resilient, and that doesn’t mean that I want to take advantage of that and make work that’s depressing, but at the same time I want to create illustrations that show us as we are but in a stylized way. It’s important to me present a wide range of black women as well because we’re not all skinny, we don’t all look like supermodels and that is beautiful. I just want people to feel that connection, I want the work to be accessible to a wide range of people.
You like to read; do you have a favourite book or author, and are there any characters that have inspired your journey as an artist or otherwise?
My favourite author is Octavia Butler because I think that she creates interesting black women characters, and she’s a sci-fi author as well. The worlds that she creates are not too far off from where we’re at now which is scary, but I feel like she looks at things in really interesting ways. She talks about ideas around gender and sexuality, and how if we did meet aliens how we as people would interact with them.
“I don’t think that representation necessarily has to come from mainstream resources or from communities outside our own, we have to do it for ourselves.”
What is the most rewarding thing about being an artist?
Definitely how my work resonates with people because sometimes you don’t know. Often, it’s deeper to other people than it is to me. I did an exhibition last year and the illustration was this black woman just taking up space on the page. I had done the illustration right after I had knee surgery, so I was at home for a long period of time, and I wasn’t able to move anywhere and so I put all of that into the drawing. The way that the black community in my area responded to it was interesting because they were really drawn to that piece and they really connected to the idea of taking up space physically, especially in an area where you’re not the majority and where you can live your whole life and people can still see you as a visitor.
In what environment do you feel most comfortable creating art? Do you have an ideal set up?
I’m not a morning person so it’s never in the morning. I do all the admin stuff early and then when it comes to creating it’s more so in the evening time that I start to feel a little bit more relaxed. I’m a very messy person, so if something is cluttered I have to clear it in order to work. Also, I’m actually moving work spaces soon and my new space will have much more light and windows, artificial light can be draining. Lots of coffee and music which is always something like Jazz, Solange, and Christian Scott. I also do create playlists for myself to help me get into the flow.
If you could work on any project, what would it be and why?
I’d love to work on a movie in the costume department, or work in production where they create the sets. I think I would enjoy creating the environment for a character, for example the main character’s living space and their costumes. I love interior design and fashion so with my illustrations, I think that would work really well.
If you could only eat one dish for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
I would love to be working on lots of projects with different brands. I would love to have a homeware collection, a bigger workspace, and be living somewhere sunny. I think I’d just like to have more of a work-life balance to just be creative, to just think and day dream, and to just have that time to rest. It can be tiring as an artist to have to do all the business stuff and to do the marketing, I want to just be.
Follow Dorcas @dorcascreates.