Forever a Feminist: An Interview with Annabel Trotignon

Don’t just call her an angry feminist, call her what she really is, brave, honest, and badass. I’m of course talking about feminist illustrator Annabel Trotignon, also known as “Troty.” She discovered her passion for creating illustrations two years ago by accident during her fine arts degree while learning how to use adobe illustrator software for her course. Before that she had never done illustrations but since then she’s never stopped.

Many of her daring and bold illustrations contain a big pinch of humour and cover a wide range of so called “taboo” subjects- everything from birth control to rape, that are definitely not for the faint of heart. For Troty there is no feminist subject that is off limits. The French and Brazilian artist spoke to us from her home in Lyon, France, and opened up to us about what feminism means to her, her favourite thing about being an artist and her battle with “vestibulodynia”; an overlooked condition in which chronic pain occurs around the the vagina.

The Curve: When you discovered illustration during your fine arts degree was there a specific moment when you decided to take it seriously and pursue it as a career?

Annabel Trotignon: Well while I was studying I was lost and didn’t know what I wanted to do and that was the reason why I started learning how to use illustrator and photoshop software because I was like if I can’t be an artist at least I can work in a creative area as graphic designer or video editor. When I began learning how to use these softwares I wanted to motivate myself so created an Instagram account to share what I was doing, and then I saw that people were actually liking my work. That’s what made me want to continue, and then eventually I started getting clients and people wanting to buy my illustrations so that was the moment when I realised I should pursue it as a career.

Annabel shows off her new illustration prints, now available to buy from her shop

TC: Your Instagram account now has over 14,000 followers. How did you feel when your work started growing in popularity, did it feel like a lot of pressure or were you happy about it?

AT: It blew up fast with one illustration I made about stretch marks because a big instagram account shared it which I wasn’t expecting at all. Overnight I suddenly had a massive amount of followers, so then I thought “oh my god what am I going to do now!? What am I going to post? Is it going to be the same?” Sometimes I still get this feeling of pressure but for the most part it’s very positive and stimulating. Even if what I create isn’t as popular as some other illustrations that I’ve done, I’ve learnt to be more at peace with my work and not to get validation from likes and not to put too much pressure on myself.

“What really inspires my artwork is my frustration to be honest! Being a woman in this world can be very frustrating and it’s what stimulates me the most in my creation.”

TC: Who are your biggest creative influences? Do you have a favourite painter?

AT: I really enjoy looking at the work done by other female illustrators who are also using art to defend people’s rights and talk about feminism and social issues. People like Liv Strömquist who is a comic writer, she uses humour and literature and everyday life references. She really inspires me because I like to laugh and learn things at the same time and she’s an illustrator so I relate to her work a lot. I also like Laura Callaghan and French film director Céline Sciamma. But what really inspires my artwork is my frustration to be honest! [laughs] Being a woman in this world can be very frustrating and it’s what stimulates me the most in my creation, and women in general inspire me.

TC: Your work covers a lot of taboo subjects- subjects like, periods, birth control, body image, and rape. Do you see your own work as controversial and provocative? For example, when you publish an illustration do you know this might shock some people?

AT: Yes I do know that some of my work might shock people. That’s what I am willing to do, I really do enjoy creating art that will provoke people. I’ve always enjoyed doing that, even when I was in university I made videos that shocked people. I like creating something that will get a reaction whether it be laughter, anger, or disgust. I think it’s because I think it will directly create something inside of people and hopefully they will have a greater understanding of what I’m trying to say.

TC: So as an artist, do you feel like it’s important to shock people in order to make them think and question things?

AT: For me, it’s my way of doing things. I also think there are many ways that work. I enjoy being shocked but I also enjoy learning things in a more non shocking way [laughs] because I think it’s important to have everything. Also the issues that I’m talking about have been around for decades and still nothing has really changed, well there are people who are trying to change things but no one will listen so I’m like “ok let’s shock!”

TC: Humour is another element you use in your work quite often. Do you think your use of humour is another tool that helps to get your message across, especially when you’re talking about a serious subject to make it more relatable and open up the conversation?

AT: Yes, because as we said before my work talks about things like rape which is a very dark and difficult subject that is very triggering for a lot of people. Sometimes I talk about these issues in a serious way with no humour because I just can’t make a joke about it. But humour is important because it will allow you to say certain things in an easier way that more people will accept because it’s not just dark, painful and difficult it’s also something that we can joke about. I mean obviously it depends on the subject but humour can be a good tool to use.

“I want to show people that they are not alone, that they can be seen and represented and considered as human beings.”

TC: What’s the general message you want to send people through your artwork?

AT: The big message I want people to get through my work is that your anger and feelings are valid and you should never doubt them and don’t listen to people who tell you otherwise. Be confident in your feelings and know that you’re not alone, that’s something that’s very important to me because we very often think we are alone in facing issues especially if you’re part of a marginalised community. I want to show people that they are not alone, that they can be seen and represented and considered as human beings.

TC: What does the word “feminism” mean to you?

AT: It means fighting for equality for every gender and person regardless of their skin colour, sexual orientation or sexual identity. 

TC: Why do you think feminism has a negative connotation sometimes and is such a misunderstood word?

AT: Because some people like to discredit this everyday fight because it doesn’t serve white people, men or cis people and it challenges a lot of privelleges that some people are not willing to give up, sometimes in an unconscious way. You hear people say “oh we don’t need feminism anymore, you can vote, you can have money, etc”, forgetting about everything else and making short cuts. I think it has always been the same “you don’t need feminism anymore” argument because ten years ago they were also saying that. People who use that argument like to focus on the extremes and forget about all the new issues and the importance of this fight.

TC: What’s your creative process like, from start to finish?

AT: Usually, I will be living my life and an idea will pop into my head whether it’s an image or a subject I want to talk about or even a quote sometimes, because I like to mix images and words. So sometimes it will be an image or word or phrase first, then I will write it down so that I don’t forget it, then I will forget about it [laughs], then later on in the week I will go through my notes and sometimes the idea I’ve written down is very vague so I will try and find the most effective way to express it. Then I will start to sketch, I do the sketches in my notebook or directly on my graphic tablet. It depends on the idea, after that’s done I move on to colours.

Annabel working on a new illustration on her graphic tablet in her art studio in Lyon, France

TC: The colours you use are so vibrant and strong, once the bare sketch is done I imagine just the colour selection and placement process alone must be difficult or does it just come easy to you?

AT: This can actually be a very stressful part of the process for me because I usually don’t think of the colour palette first. For example, if I choose the colour purple I will begin to fill a part of my sketch in purple and then I will try other colours to see what matches best. Sometimes I will see a colour palette in a photo and then I will save it and try it out on my illustration but the colour selection overall can be very challenging, it’s not very easy! [laughs]

when it comes to designing illustrations, the colour selection can be “very challenging”

TC: What would you say is the most challenging part of your creative process?

AT: It changes, but lately it’s been the colour selection but now I really want to make words and images work very well together, not separate them because I want to step it up. So right now the challenging part has been thinking of ways to really integrate words into my drawings in an effective way.

TC: Many artists struggle to develop their own artistic style. How did you find your own style and what was the most helpful thing you did in order to find it?

AT: When I first began doing illustrations it was actually more “what do I do? Do I draw portraits or do I do stuff that says something more?” But the more I did, the more I began to develop a signature style but I didn’t automatically decide it, it just came out naturally. I think if you are struggling to find your style, you have to practise everyday and it will eventually come. I also think artistic style is something that does change and I’m not particularly attached to my own style even though it is scary to imagine doing something else. 

TC: Do you have a favourite illustration that you’ve done so far?

AT: My favourite thing that I have done isn’t actually one illustration, it’s an illustrative testimony/comic I created about a condition called vestibulodynia. It’s my favourite because it goes further than just one illustration and it really speaks to me in a different way. Because it allowed me to share a very difficult personal experience that I know is also very difficult for a lot of other people too. It gave me the chance to help others which is a very cool feeling.

Part 1 of Troty’s comic about her personal experience with vestibulodynia, the english version is available here

TC: That particular illustration was obviously a very personal thing you shared, do you think that helped make people pay more attention to it, the fact that you did it from your own perspective and shared your story?

AT: Yes, and at the beginning I knew it was an important subject to talk about but I was debating whether I should speak from my experience or should I speak about it in a more general way like I have done in the past with other subjects. Because I had never shared my personal experiences through my illustrations before. In the end I knew that if I shared my personal experience it would ultimately speak more to people because you’re exposing something about yourself that people can relate to.

TC: As you mention in that illustration, vestibulodynia (also known as vulvodynia) is something that 10-15% of women struggle with, so why don’t more people know about it?

AT: Because it’s a condition that affects people who have vulvas so other people don’t think it’s important. Also, it’s about pain and usually if a woman says she’s in pain, she’s exaggerating, she’s lying. It’s also a problem about genitals, and pain during sex, it’s an overlooked subject because people think it’s normal for women to be in pain.

This disease touches so many feminist issues so I think it’s also because of that, that no one is talking about it, it’s very taboo. Even when it happened to me, I was already doing feminist illustrations but I still wasn’t comfortable to talk about it with friends because I wondered “what are they going to think? Are they going to feel bad for my boyfriend?” 

“I knew how women were treated by doctors, I knew how women experiencing pain aren’t usually considered, but to have to go through the process is still shocking.”

TC: What I found most surprising when I was looking at this illustration, was that you said you had to get your mother, who is a doctor, to write you a medical note in order for your condition to be taken seriously and treated. Can you elaborate more on what that felt like?

AT: When it happened I was like “what the fuck?” I knew how women were treated by doctors, I knew how women experiencing pain aren’t usually considered, but to have to go through the process is still shocking. When I asked for my mum to help me, all I could think about was all the other women or people with vulvas that are going through it and don’t have a doctor in their family that can help them. Maybe I never would have even heard of the word “vestibulodynia” if my mum hadn’t written a medical note for me to a colleague. 

TC: What do you think it is that attracts people to your illustrations, even if they don’t necessarily agree with your feminist messages?

AT: I think there are several reasons, maybe for some of my illustrations they like the style and colours, but some are drawn to the feminist aspects. My work is a bit educational, but also provocative and funny, so maybe this combination is interesting for some people. I get comments on my drawings saying that I try to represent everyone, even though it’s still a work in progress and I think I can step it up more. But I really like it when people tell me “oh my god thank you, I saw myself in this illustration, and it made me feel seen.” I think this is also important for people.

TC: Is that your favourite thing about being an artist, representing those who aren’t represented?

AT: I really do appreciate being able to do that, because for me the lack of representation is at the core of a lot of problems in our world. The fact that I can help, even in a small way, is very refreshing and peaceful for me to be able to do that.

TC: Can you tell me about something that’s challenged you recently?

AT: What’s really challenging me right now is Instagram! [laughs] I love being an artist and creating and sharing my art but Instagram is very complicated to deal with because you have to focus on numbers and every little detail like “is this going to work? Is it going to create enough interactions?” Because if I want to make a living from my art I have to focus on Instagram too and that’s not really what I signed up for at the beginning, I just wanted to create art and live my best life [laughs]. To have to think about all this other stuff that is stressful and isn’t artistic and that I don’t really understand even though I try to play the Instagram game by posting at certain times and use certain hashtags, it can feel a bit frustrating. It’s not an interesting subject, I don’t even want to talk about it with my friends because it’s social media, but at the same time I know I have to focus on it if I want to grow and find new clients.

TC: Do you ever get creatively blocked?

AT: Not really because as I said before my main creative motivation and stimulus is frustration and I have plenty of it, and I know I will have plenty of it all my life [laughs]! Even though it’s a sad emotion to be frustrated, this is kind of reassuring because I know I will always have something to say, even if no one wants to look at it, it will be my therapy [laughs]. Of course sometimes I will be overwhelmed, tired or not feeling it, but it will never be an inspiration problem. 

TC: If you could meet any person dead or alive, who would it be?

AT: Oh my god![pauses] Angela Davis, because she’s such a great woman! There are so many, but Angela Davis was the first name that popped up in my head.

TC: Do you have any upcoming goals or projects we should know about?

AT: I just quit my part time job, I was working for a newspaper in Lyon so I’m now a full time illustrator which I’m very excited about! I’m going to take advantage of all the extra time I have to develop stories like I did with my personal story about vestibulodynia that can go further than just one drawing, so my plan is to develop more comics. 

You can follow Annabel’s journey here :

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