"I’m of the conviction that once my illustrations are out there, they belong to the audience, not me."

Maria Morut, known by her moniker Jane Candy, is a Bucharest-based digital illustrator with a penchant for playfulness, the occult, and comic art, all of which are seemingly infused throughout her entire body of work. An alchemy of the soul, if you will. Maria’s artworks strike a rare balance between innocence and cheekiness, a harmony few artists manage to capture so coherently. What initially caught my eye was her unique approach to the recent Inktober challenge, featuring seductive depictions that weave together myths, perhaps lust, and even a hint of wanderlust.

Jane Candy was born from Maria’s efforts to navigate her personal struggles, eventually evolving into a life-long alter ego. Through Jane, Maria channels her desires to escape reality, creating a world that resonates deeply with her audience. Maintaining a close connection with her fanbase, it was inevitable for Jane to expand her horizons. This nudged the illustrator to start working on a comic book centered around this character, a project that’s been brewing for some time, aiming to fulfill her audience’s growing curiosity and demand.

Read more in the interview below:

CVLTARTES: I would personally characterize your style as a blend of comic art, neo-noir, and pop culture, with a hint of kink. How would you describe your own artistic voice?

Jane Candy: I would say my style has only two mandatory elements—Jane is a mix of classic Marvel comics with a pin-up “attitude” and feel. These will always be included as distinct flavors, as they are the styles I love the most. Except for those two, however, I have always left my style open to evolving. I feel that only sticking to one particular style makes me feel trapped and limits my full curiosity and freedom of expression. In this sense, I would say my style is simply “playful pin-up”.

Where do you draw your most profound themes and inspirations from? What is your, let’s say, ritual?

I get inspiration from literally anything out there. I could see a funny poster ad on a bus stop, or the clouds look funny that day, or I see a cute puppy, or my plant just bloomed in the window, and I will immediately have an illustration in mind. I see shapes and colors in the most mundane of things. Everything inspires me.

For the actual process, it’s weird to explain because most of the time I sit with it for hours and draw it in my head to an 85% before it even hits the paper. If I am not satisfied with it in my head, I can sit with an illustration obsessively for days, weeks even, until the “mood is right” and I’m ready for it to come to life.

I am not the must-create-content-for-the-algorithm formulaic type of artist. I will not plan out themes per calendar of posting, plan out a year ahead of content, etc. I also avoid politics and speaking in a heated world event moment. My art is meant to soothe and get people to be creative themselves.

Tell me more about the beginning of your artistic journey. How did it all start? When was, for example, your first sketch done? What about your first digital illustration?

My first sketch of Jane (her birthday, if you will) was on September 15, 2008, which marks 15 years of this firecracker of a character. My first digital illustration was around 2011, I would say, with my first digital desktop tablet.

I created Jane at a time of turbulence for my personal life as a soothing and self-comforting escape. She was intended then to be an example of what I wanted to be at that time, traits I felt I was missing, to hype myself up to do better. To give me confidence and strength. Along the way, I got a lot of messages from people saying how much she also empowered them and brought them confidence, which is a very unexpected and pleasant side effect I am very grateful for.

She has sort of become her own person, in a way, separate from me. She has evolved a lot during the years from that initial purpose, but she was (and still is) my best friend, so to speak. There was no thought of “I want to do this as a business”. I just go with the flow.

Have you chosen to pursue this line of work professionally, or does it remain a passion?

I chose design as a profession with all its fields—graphic design, UX/UI, motion design, commercial design and product, since it’s also an area I am greatly interested in and fascinated by. I also majored in both visual arts and product design.

I keep my art and my profession distinctly separate, even if one does influence the other in a small way. I want to grow Jane in a very specific direction, but I will never want her to become my main source of income. I want to keep it as a passion because, knowing myself, I will start to dislike doing it if I am forced to. Jane is where I am free and relaxed, and design is where I’m very serious. I like the balance of both of those.

I see shapes and colors in the most mundane of things. Everything inspires me.

Jane Candy/Maria Morut

Your illustrations often seem to tell stories or echo specific themes. What motifs or narratives find the most resonance in your work?

For Jane, I have kept her core personality the same ever since the beginning, and she will always stand for empowering others to go for their full potential and be fearless in following their goals. I feel this is her distinctive trait. Whether it’s exploring mysticism as an aid to understanding yourself and the reality around you or challenging people to be more confident in their curiosity and creativity. I’d like Jane to inspire people to be confident in who they are and what they like, even if society frowns on it. You do you; don’t waste time fitting in.

In general, I infuse them with these ideas, but only subtly. Ultimately, I like to leave it free to interpretation, so it can mean something different to each person. And people often tell me what they see, which I find fascinating. I am lucky in that I get constant feedback and a chance at creative discussion. Periodically, I will ask for themes from the audience and pick one that will challenge me in a new way I have not tried before. This way, I learn what they like, but I also keep myself from being stuck in a comfort zone. It’s a very nice collaboration we have going on.

Tracing back through your portfolio over the past several years, there’s been a gradual shift from analog and comic strips to predominantly digital illustrations. What catalyzed this transition, and which medium resonates more deeply with you?

I think it’s a natural evolution for many artists out there. I have always wanted to find the best tools that would make my life easier and draw my ideas faster. Sticking only to paper and pencils can sometimes slow down the process and take too long. That always frustrates me. I transitioned from paper to scanning and photoshopping them digitally, then to a desktop drawing tablet, and now just a tablet and pen. I find this the best tool so far since I can carry it with me anywhere.

However, I am not stuck to tools; my art is in my head, so I can draw on anything as long as I can draw. Leaf, rock, walls (to my mother’s continuous despair in my youth), tables, anything you give me—I’ll draw on it. I think this is one of the things I would urge young and new artists not to get fixated on (both visual artists and designers). The tools surely help, but you are the artist; the ideas are in your head, not in that expensive tablet you “absolutely need”. You don’t. Just draw.

There’s an undeniable touch of mysticism that weaves its way throughout your artwork, witchy, as you so suggestively mention. Is this random, or is it a deliberate infusion? If the latter, would you be able to trace its origin or explain its significance in your work?

I suppose my art expression shifts in parallel with my own personal curiosities and the topics I research actively. Looking back, I was always a little witchy, being surrounded by it all the time.

From my grandma’s love of herbal medicine and gardening, to my mom’s continuous curiosity for reiki and shamanism, to my brother’s reading of atheism or folklore—to my own reading up on the occult, witchcraft, history of religions, mysticism, wicca, hermetics, alchemy, and even horror movies. It’s been very present in my life in one way or another, so naturally it will stick its tail into my illustrations as well.

I’m particularly intrigued by your current comic book project. How’s it progressing, and who do you envision as its primary audience? There seemed to have been some hiccups in its development; could you shed some light on the reasons behind those delays?

Funnily enough, the comic book started as a request from Jane’s fans. I used to take my dog Jack to a lot of the comics events in Bucharest that I participated in through Revista Comics. He has a very distinct, stubborn, and bright personality, and kids at the events got attached to him immediately and started asking for me to include him in my illustrations since they found him hillarious.

So the idea of a comic started for a Jane and Jack story. As far as the target audience goes, it’s a light kids comic that can be enjoyed by anyone who fancies a little laugh. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it combines Jack’s personality with a fantasy story that my then-partner had written but never used. We decided it would be a cool idea to do it, so I am in the process of working on that.

The hiccup was only due to a break in my career and a shift in jobs that took me out of illustrating all together. Sometimes, life happens. But keep calm; the comic is back in the works. I am currently at the coloring stage of the 55 pages of the first part of the story. All is well so far.

Art often serves as a mirror, reflecting the artist’s inner world. Are there pieces in your portfolio that hold profound personal significance?

My first Jane sketch is probably my most beloved one, since it meant a lot of courage on my part in that low moment. It was my first commitment to wanting better and fighting for more. It is a constant reminder of my growth, strength, and perseverance. If I’m in a pickle, I look back at it and get my oompf back. I’m of the conviction that once my illustrations are out there, they belong to the audience, not me. So I don’t particularly get attached to my art in that sense. It is for people to feel, think, and explore. No longer mine.

Assuming the comic book is successfully released, what are some of the aspirations and plans Jane Candy has for the near future?

I am currently handling a lot of legalities and paper work for the entire project, including the comics and illustrations. I have a few things on hold until that is finalized. But we’re chillin’ for a bit before I release it. I would definitely love to get back into the events with all the new stuff released. I miss interacting with Jane’s audience, meeting new people, knowing new artists, and starting up collaborations again. Keep an eye out; I have a lot of stuff cooking.

Follow Jane Candy on Instagram & Behance.

For the upcoming comic, check the Website.

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Romanian writer based in Cyprus. Co-founder CVLTARTES. Author of "Hailbringer: A Romanian Folktale"