French illustrator Cosmo Danchin-Hamard is known for dreaming up colorful, atmospheric worlds that are simultaneously beautiful and cheeky. She whisks spectators into immersive visual moments with her highly saturated palettes, clever wit, and heightened, cartoony settings and subjects. These often feminist illustrations take inspiration from classic aesthetics like pop art, as well as her experience as a model in the fashion industry.
Danchin-Hamard uses her illustration practice to reclaim the creative power of fashion after the constraints and disillusionment that came from signing with a modeling agency at age 16. With a keen eye for color, pattern, and charming details, she’s now able to harness a creative control she sorely lacked as a model.
I was eager to learn more about Danchin-Hamard’s artistic philosophy and unique perspective, and she was kind enough to indulge my curiosity in a brief Q&A.
How would you describe your unique illustration style?
The clear line style has a direct link to comic illustration. I’ve always loved that black outline for drawings— I like things to be neat, defined. At the same time, I am very inspired by paintings, notably Pre-Raphaelites and Neoclassical. I like how women are portrayed in it: strong and powerful, but also delicate and feminine. It’s a bit hard to define a style that is, by essence, a mix-up of many things. Colors are also evidently a big part of my work. Whether it’s almost monochromatic or full of colors, I always try to search for a modern aesthetic.
How did you develop this illustration style?
By trying a lot of things! Funnily enough, my first-ever illustration style (back when I was 15 years old) was very close to comics. I would draw Lichtenstein pieces for hours. When I was studying illustration years later, I tried without an outline to see how it went, also because I felt it was more fashionable. I think at some point, I just started to draw to express something, because I had stuff to get out. That’s when I naturally came back to the clear line style and stopped asking myself too many questions. That’s when I started to really develop my style in its uniqueness.
How has your background as a former model influenced your point of view as a visual artist, and the themes you address in your work?
A lot more than I’d like it to. I was ashamed of my job back when I was a model— I felt like it gave people the wrong idea about who I was, and who I wanted to be. But I can’t deny today that truthfully, I love fashion; I love drawing clothes. I’m very inspired by the aesthetic of Jacquemus— I like the way he plays with shapes and colors. As a model, I didn’t get to choose what I was wearing, but in my drawings, I decide whatever I want my characters to wear! So clothes are more something that help me say something about them, and give them an attitude. It’s a useful tool. I personally love dressing up too, and have too many handbags.
Cats seem to be a common motif in your work. What is it about cats that you are so drawn to? (No pun intended!)
Cats are loners, but they’re also very needy and social; they can really crave attention. They’re a little devious, and very agile and gracious. I guess I identify with their way of seeing things. I like their instinct. Also, I had a cat for 16 years that really was like my son, and I think it’s interesting how our pets can become little people in our world. I like drawing animals because I am fascinated by them, and cats are just mystic.
What inspires your pieces? Other artists, reference images, etc.?
Paintings inspire me a lot. Old French and Belgian comics as well, with illustrators such as Will, P. Jacobs and Franquin. They’re my heritage from my father’s side, and I think the sarcastic, fun part of my work comes from them directly. They can be both very serious and hilarious, and I like that. I’m also inspired by nature. It sounds dull, but it’s true! Sometimes a sky color or a flower will inspire me to use a specific color scheme.
Your work is at once visually beautiful and sardonic. How do you manage to blend these two approaches in a way that is so satisfying?
This is the reason why I chose illustration: I am more of a visual translator for my clients than I am an artist, in a sense. Even when I create just for my Instagram feed, or for myself, I always tend to deliver a message. The comic bubbles are an easy way to do it, but I sometimes say a lot with an image that technically says nothing, in the sense that there is no text.
Even if you look at my very first drawings from when I was two, three years old, there is always a word, a sentence. “To mom,” or “Cosmo,” or “cat” next to a cat. It’s interesting because I think I felt like I had to write something to support the image as much as I needed to draw something to complete the wording, like one could not exist without the other. I still feel like this sometimes; I guess I would’ve liked to be a writer, too. I love my job because sometimes I’m both illustrator and writer.
As for sarcasm, it’s just who I am. I think humor can be a soothing process, as long as you don’t hurt anyone. And I also care that it’s a little dark, a little extreme, with no filter whatsoever, because that is who I am on a daily basis. You can like it or not, but it’s there!