Born in the French countryside, Lapin Mignon (“Cute Rabbit”) had an idyllic childhood of imagination and simple pleasures. Today, she adopts a charming alias to distinguish her creative digital life from her corporate day job. Like two sides of her personality, she has managed to carve out a space for pure creativity as Lapin Mignon, where she can be free to dream up detailed watercolor worlds populated with whimsical, beady-eyed creatures. Drawing influence from nature and the great adventure stories of Jules Verne and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Lapin loves being able to make art however she pleases, without worrying about how the market will react. She’s found a way to be true to herself and have total creative control, while also being a full-time working mom. Impressive is an understatement.
Lapin speaks with me from her current home in England, where she’s raising her two boys and creating whenever she has a free moment to paint. In this conversation, she shares her upbringing in a creative family, the purity of creating with a childlike perspective, and how the story behind an artwork can be equally as important as the work itself.
Chris Kokiousis: Your work has a child’s sense of wonder to it. I’m curious when you fell in love with art or when you started really making art a big part of your life.
Lapin Mignon: Yes, so if I go back to the basis, you know, when I started, I’ve always been creating. My granddad would always say that if you leave me with a twig and a leaf, I will basically create something. So, since my very, very young age, I was creating, “crafting” with a lot. We never say the word art. Because I think it was too mundane…it was like “no, we’re not part of this world, you’re crafting,” you know, in my family.
But when I step back, I’m like, actually a lot of my family are artists, because my mum is creating laces, she’s doing some beautiful laces. She’s exhibited in national museums, but she will never say she’s an artist. She’s an artisan. She’s a crafter. And when I started studying art, I was coming from this background where I didn’t know anything about art, because where I come from, it’s basically the deep countryside in France. I lived between the fields and the sea. So there’s a lot of farmers in this area, not a lot of museums, and we don’t even go [to museums] as a family, you know. We prefer to have a walk on the beach in the afternoon, and we don’t go to big cities because it’s good to stay where we are.
So when I started my art study when I was 15, and I decided to apply for the optional classes, the classes were basically over two years. And usually you start with theory the first year, and the second year you go with your own project. And then you have to go in front of a jury and they will give you a mark. And this mark is really important, because this is one of the biggest diplomas in France. This is the degree you need basically to go to university.
And I have to say, I was a very, very shy pupil for all my school scholarship. And at this point, I remember having a chat with my teacher and saying, you know what? Because I don’t know anything about art, and I don’t have any background in theory. I don’t even know a lot of artists myself, but I’ve got a lot of ideas for my projects. But I was so scared that I would do theory the first year and it would shape me, and it would probably influence me too much. So I asked her if she could do me a favor — that I can start with my first year doing my project. So if I can swap with the last year, and then you know, the year after I can swap with the first year and I can do the theory. And she said, you know what, as an experiment, I would love to do it. Let’s do it.
Chris Kokiousis: Interesting.
Lapin Mignon: And I think it’s a big part of how I create. I try to be as much as possible, you know, cut from any type of influence. So we did it. I created a mobile, a lot of sculpture, a lot of drawing, and I created my project. And I chose dreams as a theme for all the artwork around it. And instead of studying artists, I studied a lot of psychology, I studied a lot of science around dreams, I studied a lot of Freud — all the theories around dreams. I did a lot of artworks, and then I stepped to the theory. And my teacher was like, you realize there is a lot of artwork here that is very close to movements in the 20th century called Impressionism. Where basically you’re here to put on paper how you feel things and how you put colors to things. It’s basically the beginning of the abstract. But you know, it’s all about how you feel things.
And I realized, like, hang on, there was a lot of artwork a little bit like Kandinsky and Miró. And basically, they were very similar to the things I was creating. So it was very interesting for me, because with my teacher and with the jury, we realized that with having a minimum of influences, I managed to recreate the fundamentals of some movement, basically. Like being able to feel, to create, to play with color and shapes, and to recreate these feelings on paper.
Chris Kokiousis: Yeah, there’s a purity in your art. A “doing my own thing” kind of feeling.
Lapin Mignon: And this is one of the reasons there is always a comeback to childhood, because for me, it’s really important to be back probably to the most, I won’t say the purest moment. But purest in the fact that you are less influenced and more inside yourself, you know, you’ve got your world. And I was lucky enough to have a beautiful childhood in my own bubble.
So I think every time I’m trying to go back into this feeling of being in myself, in my world, you know, in this very very comfort zone, and I think my art is all about it. And now I’m a mum, so I’ve got two young boys. They’re seven and three.
And it’s even more retrospection as well again on myself, because I see how they create, how they draw, how they paint. And I realize more and more things, you know, like the fact that what is most important is to get the joy and the pleasure of splashing colors everywhere. They don’t even care how the drawing will look. They will basically go [lifts up imaginary artwork] “How do you find it mummy?” “Yeah it’s nice” and then they will throw it away. Because the end artwork, yeah, it’s nice, but the most important [part] is the journey.
Chris Kokiousis: Definitely. Maybe you could tell me more about what the typical day looks like creatively for you, and how do you structure that? Or is it very free-form and you just play and you have a certain amount of time to play? What does it look like for you?
Lapin Mignon: So since I am a mom, I’ve got a very, very narrow timing to play with. So this is one of the main reasons I’m doing a lot of watercolor, because I’ve got my palette somewhere and just have to take a brush, to take water, doo doo doo, it’s done, you know. I don’t have to prepare the moment for that. And it’s very tiny, so you can have it everywhere, so it’s nice.
And yeah, I never plan to do some painting, you know? It’s not like, Oh I’ve got Friday afternoon free, I will do some painting. It doesn’t work like that. It’s like an urge — that feeling like, Okay, now I have to paint. Do I know what I will paint? I think probably rarely, because it’s really about the instant and trying to soak in a theme. Rather than thinking what I will paint and which color I will use, I would probably soak the same way I did it for dreams, where I was basically soaking in the theme of dreams, going to psychology, reading about other people’s dreams, asking people what they dream about. I will soak in a theme.
So for instance, there was an exhibition on love. So I was basically soaking in, what does love mean for me, what inspires me in love? But it’s not about color, it’s not about what type of paper I will use, not about what I will draw. I’m trying to soak in it, and once I feel like, okay now I need to go on paper, then I will basically try to almost switch off my brain. And I realized it later as well — there was a movement in art called Automatism and Joan Miró was a big part of it. It’s basically to leave your mind, you know, wander and don’t even think twice. And this is exactly what I’m doing.
As soon as I’ve soaked enough [in a theme], basically I will go and splash the paper. So I’m putting the color not on the paper; I’m putting the color on the table, and then I apply the paper onto it. So it will always create a lot of randomness, so I’m not mastering or controlling what is happening. I will do a lot of them and then once they dry, I will start to choose one because I feel more attracted to one, and then I will start to draw on it. But again you know, what I will draw on it is probably something that is completely automatic. So most of the time you see there is a lot of repetition, because when you’re in this automating mode and you’re trying not to think about it…and sometimes I will push myself to say, okay let’s do a random trait, and then, what should I do with this trait? And then you start to build around it and you start to create a pattern around it, and this is how usually little creatures are being created as well.
You know, the automation in my art is quite a big part of it. And then, I was fascinated by AI, because for me, AI is a true automation basically. You give a theme and it will go get the source, and this is how it inspires me, because I’ve seen so many things and this is what I can give you. So I was fascinated at first…and I say, Okay, automation is something nice. But I would like to go a little bit further the same way that AI is like, the biggest thing, you know, it’s bigger than humanity itself. There’s something that’s going to be 100 million [times] smarter than humans very soon, and it’s like a big monster that we are creating, and this monster is currently doing some art for us. And I was like, what is as big or even bigger than that, where I could create a type of automation, but where I can also try to stop having control…how can I lose control in the art? And I say you know what? Maybe let’s try to find some randomness in nature, or in the world around me.
And for the artwork I want to mint on Mint Gold Dust for the exhibition, I made an experiment using natural randomness. So, bigger than AI and bigger than humanity. And I basically start to do my watercolors, so dripping colors on my paper, and that day in July, usually I will put the paper outside and it will dry. That day, it was pouring rain. And I say, you know what? It’s pouring rain; it’s okay. I will leave it outside.
Chris Kokiousis: Hmm…
Lapin Mignon: I have to say I was like, What have I done? It was looking nice. And now, the color was starting to fade away and there was even some dust going onto it.
And I was like, it’s okay. You know what? Let’s embrace it. I have to say, I’m a control freak as well in my real life.
But it’s okay. Let it go. And then I left it for three, four hours outside. Pouring rain. You can imagine — I live in the UK so it was pouring rain and it was basically horrendous. And when I came back, there was even a slug who came on it, who was basically going around the yard. And I took a lot of videos and pictures, where you can hear the rain, see the slug going onto it, where you feel the watercolor being drained, you know, and being soaked in everything.
So then I took it back and I said, Okay, one step. And I had a look to my kid and said, “You know what, do you want to draw on it?” And they said, “Yes!” And usually I will do something entirely with them, but this time I say, let’s try to collaborate, but do whatever you want. And my seven year old started to create a big slug, because he said “Mummy, we have to draw some slugs on it,” because he saw some slugs on the paper. And I was trying as well in my way to take the paper back, you know, making sure that everything was homogeneous. Still feeling like a unique artwork and something in big unity, but you know, we were working together…
And then what happened is, I said, okay, let’s push it to something I’ve never done. I asked my three year old, because he wanted to do it as well. You want to do it, it’s okay. So let’s do it. And then he started to apply some colors and some papers as well around it.
So it’s basically an artwork done with the rain, done with the slug, and then with young children on it, and me trying every time during each phase to take back control of it. And every time it was like the fight for the power over this little piece of paper, and already something bigger than I. Because I figured, if it is nature, if it is another being, if it is the expression of childhood itself, like being no limits, no border — it was always bigger than myself and trying to take back this control.
And then, it was finished. And I realized, I took all these little videos, all these details, pictures as well, and I realized how big of a part it was [to the artwork]. If someone sees it as it is, they will be like, yeah, it’s just some drop of paint, it’s probably a little bit blurry, there are weird drawings on it. And when you know the story behind it, and when you can hear the rain on the paper, to be able to see it shining, I think this part of the journey is probably what I prefer.