Interview: Artist Marf

by Cass Art

Marf is a widely published cartoonist and illustrator who has worked as the editorial cartoonist for the Evening Standard, drew a daily pocket cartoon for Canada’s Globe and Mail and is currently working on a graphic novel. Marf has also made a compilation of original and published cartoons, many of which appeared on, one of the UK’s leading political blogs. These works were exhibited at the Guildhall Art Gallery in her recent solo exhibition called ‘City Blues’, on the recession and banking crisis. Last year, Marf was Artists-in-Residence at St John’s Primary School in Bethnal Green. She regularly visits schools around London to teach drawing and portraiture.

We find out how Marf feels about drawing, inspiration, distractions and life as a cartoonist.

Was there a defining moment when you decided you wanted to be an artist?

My father was a writer and my mother had a very artistic and creative mind, and so I didn’t know there were people out there who weren’t artists. I’ve tried to escape it – I’ve tried to be practical and conventional, but it always backfires, and I’m back to the drawing board, literally.

Who or what has influenced your work most?

Radio 4. I’m addicted to the news, and my day isn’t complete without listening to the Today Show and PM and the Westminster Hour – I tend to tune out the period dramas, because I find them a bit precious; I really struggle to keep a contemporary mindset.

How has your practice evolved since then and what are you working on at the moment?

By practice, I follow a daily routine. As a daily cartoonist, I was conditioned to work towards a daily, or even twice-daily deadline on a newspaper; publishing online, these deadlines are pretty much around the clock, so you need to choose your moment.

Where do you look for inspiration?

Sounds funny, but I go for a walk. The funniest things happen in the street, especially if you are tuned in. Equally, the stimulation can be too much, and too tiring. I have a lot of empathy and a walk down the high street can be exhausting, because I can sense the fatigue and strain of so many people. I worry that in Hampstead, where I live, that more and more people look through one another like ghosts. I don’t know why this is, and it spooks me. So I try and connect with people – not in the utilitarian, career-sense, but in the way the poet Donne urged us to do: “Only connect.” But that’s what artists do. We fight the tide, draw connections where there were none. We are different. We are original, hopefully. We fight clichés and convention. Not everyone is an artist. I think artists have remarkable empathy, and in all honesty, I think we see more. I even look into cars – to see who is at the wheel of the Bentley or Ferrari. The fat cat grows leaner and younger – and the older and wealthier crowd, grumpier. That’s what I see, anyway.

Where did you grow up and where did you study? Did these places have an influence on your work?

I grew up in London, Montreal – and then studied in Boston, Baltimore, Washington. I studied at Harvard and other places, but there is a funny New Yorker cartoon with some golden rules about cartooning, including a drawing of a guy wearing an ‘H’ (for Harvard) sweatshirt with a line through it. In other words, in cartooning, you really do have to undo your education, and not be too clever, or you lose your audience. In some ways, you are not trying to come up with the most startling thought in the whole wide world – if anything, you are trying to express what other people are thinking (but may be afraid, or too polite, to say).

What draws you to portraiture and do you make any other work?

Simply the variety – I think in the beginning some of my characters looked alike (at least, that’s what I think now). The more sketching and portraiture I do, the more various my characters on the page. Also, people are less spooked by a drawing pad than by a camera.

How would you describe your work?

Okay … progressing (I hope). I’m self-taught, so I’ll never feel pleased with myself, and always be in awe of others and their remarkable talents.

Could you tell us about your working method and process?

I’m no model when it comes to technique. I’m more, ‘Ready, Steady, Cook’ than Raymond Blanc – and I know where I would prefer to eat.

What materials do you use?

It varies a lot – everything from art materials to house paint to make-up. I have to say that really expensive materials are an absolute treat, and yet the frustrating thing is sometimes your best work is made with materials that won’t last. That’s just life, I think. I don’t know any artist who experiments with ‘posh’ paper, and yet the sketches can be the most arresting, and the freshest, most inimitable work.

Do the materials you use inform the work or vice versa?

This sounds crazy, but I actually freeze up when I use very expensive paper and materials I covet … think of the girl wearing stiletto heels, not wanting to walk wherever she wants, for fear of falling. The truth is, I’m best off splashing through the puddles in flip-flops, if that makes sense. So having very basic materials, that are plentiful, can be preferable to having a few precious materials I’m afraid to mess up.

What are the vitals tools in your studio?

Great music, or good radio – and NO phone. Texting and emails have got to be public enemy number one when it comes to creativity. Interruptions are lethal. It’s funny, because you know how antisocial it is to call in the middle of a crucial football game, or a match point during Wimbledon? Well, there should be a holy time for artists, when people know when not to call (and when to call). Artists make me laugh because sometimes, they need to concentrate, and go quiet – but they also need a lot of love and attention when they are suddenly free (or idle). It’s a pity they can’t have a red or green light over their head.

Images © MARF

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