"Myths and legends have always interested me, and I find it fascinating that so many folk tales have grown up around death and that so many legendary creatures are supernatural or undead. There’s something about the darkness of these stories that is riveting."
How did you two start collaborating and come to be Mysterious Corner?
Emily: We started collaborating together when we became a couple and had an idea for a series of little art books (so far we have Monsters and Faeries and Undead in the pipeline) – our work compliments each other nicely so it wasn’t a hard decision, and a somewhat organic one too really! Most of the images are individual works by either one of us, but there are a few which are pure collaborations, for instance “A Snuggle of Gnomes” was a drawing of mine which Matt then painted up. We decided that with our collaborative books, we needed to think of our own name for publishing, so that is how Mysterious Corner was created! In fact I think it was during a discussion we had when I lived in a very mouldy and tiny studio flat that had a corner piled high with various boxes and objects – and that corner was known as “mysterious corner,” which gave us the inspiration for the name!
I absolutely love your monsters, characters and subjects. How do you create unique characters?
Emily: For me I take a lot of inspiration from the animal world – and human too, but animals in particular. There is so much that is weird and wonderful, and often far stranger than anything an artist can imagine, that it is a great help to study and research real life creatures.
Matt: I usually start with a personality or character trait. If I want to draw a happy character, that will inform the design and the shapes of the creature. I often find myself pulling faces or standing up to act out the character’s movements or pose!
What is it about the undead that you’re so interested in?
Emily: For me it is Vampires. Not your modern, safe, garden variety Twilight vampires, but scary, seductive and dangerous ones. I’ve never been a huge fan of zombies though, they’re so revolting, and I’d imagine, pretty smelly.
Matt: Myths and legends have always interested me, and I find it fascinating that so many folk tales have grown up around death and that so many legendary creatures are supernatural or undead. There’s something about the darkness of these stories that is riveting.
Your characters often look charming or even kind – how has your ability to convey emotion through character development changed/evolved over the years?
Emily: I have always loved portrait painting, so bringing life to them has helped me bring life to my fictional faces and monsters. I don’t want the thing I draw to be one dimensional, I would always rather it have a personality. Sometimes I don’t even know what I’m going to draw till I do, so the personality can be a surprise in the end result!
Matt: I’m not sure that it has. Perhaps as I’ve grown older, my values and interests have changed which I expect influences the characters or creatures that I create. But I’m having such fun when I’m painting that some of that positive energy comes through in the work, which might explain why none of the characters look truly evil.
I love the work “The Kiss” can you talk us through that process from idea, to materials, to finished polishing?
Emily: I will answer this one since it is my own piece of work. The idea was for our Undead book so the subject matter obviously had to be something that came under that genre. I was initially going to paint just Frankenstein’s monster, but decided that it would be sweet to have the Bride there too. This is a fully digital painting which I started with just a line sketch and then worked over that with values in black and white. Then once the values were down I threw a fairly desaturated colour onto it, I didn’t want them to be too brightly coloured.
What advice would you give to artists who are just starting out when trying to create their own characters or monsters?
Emily: Study real-life creatures. Draw your pets, your family, go to the zoo and draw. Google images is your friend – you can find all sorts of extraordinary beasties to help inspire and inform your own creations. I try to think of what kind of creature it might be, is it carnivorous, does it live in water or a forest… in which case, how would that creature have evolved and what would it look like if it only ate a certain type of plant, or a certain type of insect? These things really bring a realism to creatures rather than thinking ‘oh I want it to have horns’ and patchworking a few body parts together to make a new beastie.
Matt: Try hard to build the character’s personality in your head, before you put pen to paper. If you understand the way the character thinks and behaves, it will help you decide how the character looks and moves. I find it very helpful to imagine the character as a living, breathing thing, rather than just a two-dimensional image.
Where are your main sources of ideas and inspiration?
Emily: Movies are definitely inspiring and what started me out being interested in creatures and monsters – the classic Ray Harryhausen monster movies and others like Legend, Labyrinth and other fantasy classics hugely influenced me. Other influences were classic fairytales and ancient myths and legends. The latter are probably top of my list for go-to inspiration.
Matt: My inspiration comes from many different places. Music often inspires me because it is a not direct visual medium, so lyrics or sounds can often suggest images to me, but I’m just as likely to find inspiration by walking in the woods or watching my favourite film, Flash Gordon.
Are you self-taught or trained? And what advice would you give to artists who are thinking about formally studying?
Emily and Matt: Both of us are self-taught/trained. The very boring and short answer to people wanting to become artists is that it is down to practice and millions of hours of it. There are no shortcuts, but it helps if you are passionate about art – then of course you are not going to find all the hours of drawing boring, but exciting!
There are so many ways to learn how to become an artist that formal study is only one of many paths you can take and hard work is the only thing which will produce great results.
What’s been the biggest learning curve of creating art together?
Emily & Matt: We work from home so our studio is also our front room! We have been working together in the same space now for just over 7 months and it is a very easy situation as our desks sit side by side and if one of us wants a second pair of eyes to go over a piece of work either of us is doing, then we can just tap the other on the shoulder! Art is a pretty solitary job so during the day we are fully immersed in our own desks and work.
What’s the most rewarding thing about being artists?
Emily: Being able to create a creature or character that didn’t exist beforehand is brilliant. More rewarding though is peoples reactions to a piece, if it makes them laugh, that gives me great pleasure, and if I can gross them out AND make them laugh, even better.
Matt: Most of the satisfaction comes from the simple joy of creation. It is wonderful to lose yourself in your imagination for a few hours, and then find that you’ve painted a picture at the end of it.
Do you celebrate Halloween? What will you do for it this year if you do?
Emily: I have never celebrated it specifically but always enjoy a good halloween party with fancy dress and carving pumpkins.
Matt: If I have time, I enjoy celebrating Halloween by painting Halloween themed pin-ups. This is something I have done in the weeks leading up to Halloween for several years.