Introducing: Black Childish

Mickaël Mehala aka Black Childish is a Martinican illustrator based in Amsterdam. With his unique practise of playing and integrating 2D with 3D, whether that’s featured on screens or murals, Black Childish always aspires to create work that is fun, bold and expressive. Drawing inspiration from his rich cultural heritage, as well as music and pop culture, Black Childish’s work features a colourful and playful side, where his characters transform into visual poetry that can be humorous or ethereal. As an artist that likes to explore techniques to evoke versatile textures and styles, Black Childish pushes the boundaries of what constitutes a 3D artist.

Tuesday 19 March 2024

Tell us a bit about yourself, what’s your story?

I am Mickaël Mehala and as an illustrator I go by the name Black Childish. I grew up in Martinique, a French Caribbean island, which is a big influence in my work due to the culture, the history, the colours, the nature, the people.

When I turned eighteen I decided to pursue my studies in Graphic Design in Paris, followed by a year in Gobelins specialising in Motion Design. After several years working in online media companies and animation studios like Konbini and PlusOne Amsterdam while developing my own style on the side, I decided in 2023 to embark on my own freelance journey, which has been exciting and great so far.

Last year was a crazy year, with highlights such as presenting my work for Omek at OFFF Barcelona, and collaborating with WeTransfer for their new transfer windows animated illustrations.

Your work contains a vibrant mix of 2D & 3D illustration, when did the love for combining these techniques emerge?

A few years back, before I delved into 3D modelling, I started (re)creating a 3D appearance using brush strokes in Photoshop because I didn't have access to 3D software. After learning Cinema 4D, I found myself not totally happy with the too perfect 3D look and hyper-realistic results it produced. To counteract this, I kept on adding imperfections like grain and painterly textures using 2D programs. This approach allowed me to blend techniques and craft something that blurs the line between different mediums, creating an ambiguous aesthetic.

How do you balance the humorous & surreal aspects of your work with some of the more serious subjects?

I’ve always enjoyed creating work with some playfulness, some twist to it. I love being able to tell a story, or a concept, in a very simple way, but with multiple layers of meaning. It can be through the use of cultural references, contrasting elements, metaphors, or a touch of visual poetry. I think the dreamlike and poetic side of my work is what helps me balance and harmonise the humour and the seriousness.

You’re a judge at this year’s D&AD awards, what excites you most about that?

Yes! This is a huge opportunity and I am so grateful for this chance at D&AD! I am super excited to meet new talented artists/creatives from the industry, each with their own journey and vision to tell. I always feel so inspired after hearing new stories.

Being a judge will also be something new for me, but I am very excited to see everybody’s great work, discuss my ideas and tastes with the other jury members, and learn more about that whole process! I am sure that this experience will shift and challenge my artistic vision and perception on some level, and I am looking forward to it.

What have been the moments during your career that have helped develop your craft?

The first important moment for me was working at Konbini, a big French online media. I was part of their Snapchat Discovery Team, and our mission was to create up to fifteen looping animated illustrations daily, in collaboration with the journalists writing and curating the content. There was a lot of creative freedom and we were allowed to use our personal style, which helped me develop it and explore more. But it also taught me how to adapt my style to the needs of the media and be efficient and fast with a deadline every single day.

The second moment in my career that helped develop my craft was my time at PlusOne Amsterdam, where I got the chance to be surrounded by amazing talented 3D artist colleagues that shared their knowledge anytime they could, and involved me more and more on 3D projects. I really appreciate the fact that the company was open to giving me that space to learn new skills in my own rhythm.

We love your work for Wetransfer! Can you explain more about the brief and how you approached it?

Thanks so much! WeTransfer commissioned me to create, design, and animate new illustrations for their file transfer product. They were drawn to my personal illustration style blending 3D and 2D touch, without a specific concept in mind.

They asked me to use existing artworks as a guide. While looking through my past work, I found a recent animation that was perfect for the project: a pair of feet in long socks and pink slides, with one foot tapping impatiently. This pushed me to imagine all the different things feet could do—like moonwalking or jumping of joy—to represent the different messages in the WeTransfer’s product.

They enthusiastically approved and gave me great creative freedom for the rest of the project. It was a great fit conceptually: taking something ordinary like feet and turning it into something fun, just like WeTransfer wants to make file-sharing a special experience.

What is the key to keeping your organic style when working on a more commercial level?

I would imagine that my past professional experiences at Konbini and PlusOne helped me understand how to balance the artistic side (with the colors, the playfulness, the organic exploration) and the commercial needs (which has more to do with « clean design », making sense, efficiency).

But I would say that posting personal projects online that are visually bold and colourful attracts clients that genuinely want that touch for their projects.

How do you get into the frame of mind to create your illustrations? (music/podcasts/research etc)

I listen to music all the time, all day! So that will be very present during my process. It doesn’t really matter which genre, as long as I can be stimulated with music. When I have to focus and work on concepts, do admin, or solve creative problems, I lean more into music without words like classical or amapiano or sometimes electro. Whereas if my tasks are more about execution - production workflow, I’ll go more for the US Rap/French Rap, Zouk or Afrobeats playlists.

If there is a project with a specific theme, I also love diving a bit more by listening to an artist or an album that would represent that project perfectly.

What’s your favourite thing about the creative community in Amsterdam?

What I like with the creative community in Amsterdam is that it is small, but quite united. It feels like people want to push the culture forward, there are a lot of events, networking opportunities, exhibitions etc, it is very lively.

To name a few: Omek, Bar Bario, Oscam, Awol, are communities/spaces that I find inspiring and important in my experience of Amsterdam.

Lastly, any dream clients?

Ahah I won’t be very original here, but I would say Nike for sure! This is a brand that I grew up with, and that has left a significant mark on my cultural perspective, so it feels like a natural choice. I would also be honored to work on the visual identity of a festival like AfroPunk, I love what they represent!

This being said, in general I prefer not to have overly specific expectations or goals. I enjoy leaving room for surprises and allowing opportunities to lead me to unexpected places!

Check out Black Childish's portfolio here.