Now that the veil between the living and the dead has been lifted and drawn again, it’s the perfect time of year to discuss one of the season’s most sought-after illustrators. Her name is Mab Graves, and if you follow artists on Instagram you have surely come upon her work. Among her trademarks are the large, wet eyes of the characters she depicts, the softness of the watercolor worlds around them, and the way that all creatures in her work appear to cradle one another as if to shield each other from harm.
Mab is the host of Instagram’s annual Mab’s Drawlloween Club, a prompt-led 31 day drawing challenge that aims to nurture artists’ creativity. Each year, Mab sets a list of drawing prompts, and many artists return again and again to hone the skills that they have gained in the past twelve months and to compare their works’ improvement from one year to the next. Mab herself takes part in the challenge as well (last year she illustrated each monster one after the other in a long, horrifying parade).
This idea of artistic self advocacy and the sense of encouragement drawn from Mab’s Drawlloween Club explains, perhaps, her own enormous talent. Mab’s work is both skillful and deliberate, her scenes feeling as though they have been ripped from our childhood books (that is, with a few more fangs, tears, and cactus girls). They feel Victorian but also 21st century, with elements of the far past and barely distant past sprinkled here and there. Her eerie scenes feel so full of life that it wouldn’t surprise us if dinosaurs began to saunter off the page with small elfish girls at their heels or if blood began to drip from bitten flesh to computer desk.
With narrative-heavy scenes, Mab’s illustrations are filled with stories of horror and sadness with such adorably baby-faced characters that it’s difficult not to empathize. Even the supposed cruelest of her monsters, the ones who drink blood or spook children, pull from the viewer a level of understanding and tenderness. Many characters in her work are recurring, and (if you read her Instagram captions) come with storylines and pasts. The children in her work have such personality, so many wants and needs, wishes, and values. They are beings who have been fully fleshed out, who live truly rich lives among the paintings and drawings in which they are appear.
Mab’s work is wrought with fairytale tones, or at least the nostalgia of the sweet books we read to fall asleep as children and the toys with which we imagined worlds. Her dimpled, elfish characters paint Mab herself as the Margaret Keane of gothic artwork. Pastel, monstrous, and geared towards adults with adventurous minds and a taste for the macabre, Mab is the hero our dead little hearts never knew we needed and she takes this position very seriously.
Her work is multidisciplinary, featuring various visual mediums, needle work, and physical productions of imagined creatures and objects often bleeding from her two-dimensional images into our three-dimensional world. She creates buttons, stuffed monsters, limited-edition dinner plates and plush illustrative ribbons. Mab offers themed packs such as “The Sick Girls Club Collector Set” which features a syringe pen, prints, postcards, and a cute little first aid kit clad with needle-wielding waifs. There are ways to literally enter the terrifying places that Mab has created. Be wary, once one enters Mab’s world, you may be too mesmerized to return.
If you enjoy work that is fantastical and creepy, that makes you feel like you are crawling out of your own skin, work that creates worlds we wish to visit (and worlds that bleed out into our own lives piece by piece), then Mab Graves is absolutely worth a look. Find her entire portfolio here or follow her on Instagram.