Rebelle meets Frederick Watson: fashion illustrator extraordinaire!

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted anything on fashion illustration so I thought it was about time I turn my attention once again to this fascinating and drop dead gorgeous art form! And I’m starting off with a blast from the past: behold the lovely work Frederick Watson, an illustrator based in Toronto who is certainly old hand fashion illustration. Frederick began drawing at the age of seven and turned his attention to the world of high fashion after a sneaking a peek at a mysterious women’s portfolio while working in a department store in his early twenties and has been producing fashion illustrations from the 60’s to this day.

Frederick was kind enough to share some samples of his work with me and some anecdotes of his years illustrating gorgeous clothes and the women who wear them and why he’d love to see the return of illustration to fashion magazines and advertising. His style is definitely old school but I think you’ll agree it’s still stunning!


 
“When I was a small boy many years ago at the age of about seven years I was drawing women’s faces. At the age of 20 years I got a job at the Robert Simpsons Dept Store in Toronto working as a check room clerk. One day a woman dressed in a black suit, bonnet and veil with a large red rose draped over it and came in carrying a large folio. She checked it in and it was partially open. In it were the most beautiful drawings of high fashion I’d ever seen. I was so excited. That’s when I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. When she returned I told her how wonderful her drawings were and that I would love to draw like that one day. We kept in touch and she helped me to develop my drawings; I learned so much from her!”

 
“There are many artists that I admire. In New York, I met Kenneth Paul Block. He invited me to his home on River Side Drive and we’ve been good friends ever since. Then I met Richard Ely, another fashion artist in New York. He showed his wonderful art and gave me some of his posters which I framed and still admire. Then there’s Richard Cray; I wish I had that much imagination! I’m also influenced by Rene Gruau who’s art work I spent much time studying.”

 
“I love to see very high fashion art of the past. Artist from the old school drew by hand and did not depend on the computer. I consider myself one of the last of the old school artist. There are a few good ones left like Richard Gray, David Downton, Green Hill, Jae Hyed Crawford.”

       
  
” I feel that fashion drawings convey much more imagination than photography. Every magazine has the same beautiful face of a woman on the cover, which I think becomes very repetitive I would like to see some fine illustrations on some of the covers, I sure miss them!”

 

“No newspapers have fashion illustrations any more. Perhaps that’s a sign that I should give up illustration, it’s certainly why I started to paint large fashion art on canvases instead. Glamour – when women wore fine hats, veils, furs, pearls isn’t seen today to the same degree. Jeans and T-shirts and flip-flop sandals are now the norm! I suppose women do not want to suffer for fashion.” (Not always the case Frederick – there are still many of us ladies who will suffer six-inch stiletto heels in the name of fashion, trust me!!)


 
“I do believe that some of the fashion illustration books being published around the world are inspiring young people to see some of the fine fashion illustrator’s drawings and recreate the art form for advertising purposes in magazines. I’m concerned that most fashion advertising is conveyed through photography not illustration, as it was in the past. Most of the fashion houses that I once worked for in Toronto are using photographs instead which I think is a great shame.”


 
“My last advertising commission was published in the 80s for one of the houses called The Irish Shop. These days I am only painting fashion art for a gallery at the David Leonard Gallery in Niagara Falls Casino Plaza. I’m having work published with www art.com and am very lucky to I have had many successful exhibitions here in Toronto!”

I’d like to say a big thank you to Frederick for sharing his work with me. Be sure to check out his Facebook page facebook.com/frederick.watson3 for more info!

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Fashion’s Finest Lines: The Art of Illustration

For my last article for NOIR I had the opportunity to look into one of my favourite aspects of the fashion industry: the beautiful and ever-evolving art of fashion illustration. Here’s what I discovered about the genre which deftly marries art with fashion, and a look at the work of some of my favourite illustrators, both past and present.

Before fashion photography truly came to dominance in the sixties, illustration played an integral role in the industry with the stylised and elegant sketches of iconic illustrators gracing the covers and pages of style bibles like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.

Rene Gruau’s work is iconic in the world of fashion whose exaggerated portrayal of fashion design has had a lasting effect on the industry. During the 1940s and 50s Gruau became one of the best known and favoured artists of the haute couture world, with his signature style of bold, fluid lines perfectly suited to capturing its sexiness and glamour with striking simplicity. Gruau was also a good friend of Christian Dior and illustrated his first collection after the war.

Romain de Tirtoff, who worked under the pseudonym Erte, was behind some of the most innovative covers of Harper’s Bazaar, which commissioned his illustrations from 1915-36. His love of colour and elaborate interpretations of couture designs put Harper’s Bazaar at the forefront of creative innovation, with his illustrations beautifully depicting the art deco style of the period.

 

David Downton is arguably the most prolific illustrators around today and is responsible for some of the most iconic fashion images of the past decade. His loose, visionary style appears effortless and elegant with the sinuous lines of his work punctuated by sparse, delicate washes of colour and brushstrokes indicating a rounded cheekbone, flared nostril, tousled hair or the strict boning of a corset. David began his career when he was first sent to cover the shows at Paris by the Financial Times and was seduced by the world of haute couture – at the Versace show held in the Ritz. He also creates portraits of beautiful and elegant women, including Catherine Deneuvre, Dita Von Tesse, Cate Blanchett and the model Erin O’Connor, his artistic muse.

             

Historically, fashion illustration was hand-drawn or painted but recently, illustrators have taken the art form to new levels; a hybrid of digital and hand-drawn techniques. Jason Brooks has become one of the world’s leading exponents of fashion illustration and is noted in particular as being one of the first artists to embrace and popularize computer technology in his field. He studied at Central St Martins and works regularly for Vogue.

Digital manipulation allows more options and the freedom to play with images and make mistakes. Legendary designer Christian Lacroix is another illustrator who has perfected the technique of computer generated fashion sketches, which are loose and highly expressive.

                     

While photography may have replaced illustration as fashion’s dominant recorder, it remains an elegant alternative which tells a different story through a unique interpretation of the artist’s vision. Rather than creating a purely carbon copy of a model and her outfit, fashion illustration is the artist’s own take on it – a version which blends fashion and art to create something which is dreamlike elegant, classic and beautiful, making it well suited to capturing the world of haute couture in graceful, economical and teasing lines; powerfully suggestive with a delicate side.

When it comes to illustration, these sumptuous designs featuring brilliant observation of detail, style and demeanour, crafted in exceptional drawing and painting ensures this alternative look at fashion will continue to enjoy global popularity and appreciation.

There’s little doubt fashion illustration will lose its appeal, and hopefully it will only become more innovative and alluring. As the godfather of fashion illustration Rene Gruau once said, “The glamourous worlds of fashion and art hold a mutual fascination,” and fashion illustration remains their beguiling love child.

 

Rebelle meets … Leigh Viner: Fashion Illustrator

Leigh’s enthralling acrylic, oil and watercolour illustrations combine the worlds of high art and high fashion, with her subject matter varying from Lanvin’s spring collection to backstage beauty. In her illustrations, she evokes “a free flowing feminine expression” in rich, ethereal compositions that are by equal parts soft and strong, yielding both a powerful impact and eye-catching elegance. Errant sweeping lines add a raw, unfinished edge to the whimsical beauty of her work, which she discusses below …

What initially drew you to fashion illustration?

I love to experiment with different techniques and after painting on canvas for a while with acrylics, oils and watercolour decided to take it to paper and found that I really loved how I can use that as a medium to express my art as well. It just felt like a natural progression to illustrate especially with my interest in fashion-related influences. 

Are there any illustrators who have particularly influenced you or whose work you greatly admire?

I fell in love with David Downtown work years ago, so I am definitely influenced by his work. I also find so many talents just while browsing the internet that inspire me continually to challenge my work and to try new ideas. 

How would you describe your style and has it changed over the years?

It has definitely changed over the years as I have built up more of an expression that I find works well with each piece and with experimentation. But I also love to revisit my old techniques like using charcoal which I used to do more of and add the style that I use currently using to make something different but in tune with my mode.

My work is definitely influenced by fashion and beauty and I tend to tell people that ask that it is a form of fashion related work but with free flowing feminine expression. I am actually in an exhibition in April called “Fashion Unraveled” at Gensler in San Francisco and found that was such a perfect way to describe my work really. 

Where do you find your inspiration?

Everyday moments, flipping through fashion magazines, music and the emotions it portrays, films, fashion design. I also worked as a makeup artist so I am drawn to the editorial approach of expression that it creates.

Does living in New York have any influence on your work?

I actually live in Denver at the moment, I would love to live in New York, but by just visiting the city I can definitely say yes it is a large influence, especially when I was walking around the city with my camera, I was never bored of finding something beautiful, interesting or inspiring to create. 

    

Tell us a little about your approach to illustration, your methods of applying colours and the materials you use.

For my illustrations I start with a simple pencil sketch and draw lightly until I feel it is going in a good direction, once so, I start to detail darker strokes and really detail the eyes and face first. Once I feel comfortable I finalize with pen and prepare it for the watercolors which most of the time is completely on a whim, I do not plan the colors so much and just let myself go with what I am feeling in the moment. Then to finalize for prints I take a high res photo of it and add a few digital touches or color if needed. 

In your work you mix fine lines with vivid brushstrokes of colour, how do you arrive at the elimination of detail?

A bit like I describe above in a sense that I find beauty in the imperfect. I want to find relativity and something unexpected especially when drawing from the influence of fashion, where at most times can be out of reach for most of us. 

 

What makes a successful fashion illustration and an interesting fashion subject?

 A successful fashion illustration to me is when it just feels right and stopping when I have that feeling. I have had many pieces where I didn’t listen to my gut and continued working on it only to find the end result I was not happy with at all, to the archive and/or trash those have become. Also I find an interesting fashion subject is one where I find passion for a design I may be looking at, the colour the flow. If it grabs me and I find influence then I definitely want to create from that. 

Illustration is often used sparingly in magazines in favour of photography, but what would you say fashion illustration can convey that a photograph cannot?

Emotion in the sense that there are so many artists with their own interpretations of fashion and I think it is appealing to readers to see how that is represented. I do not think one is better than the other, I feel they are on there own separate entity of expression, more of an add on so to speak of the end result. 

How would you describe the allure of fashion illustration?

I am currently coveting a print by Cecil Beaton titled Lady Abdy from the 1930’s that is just so timeless and expressive of that era. Again I feel that art is just a wonderful form of expression that opens up a deeper level of relativity that draws others in on another level. 

What are you working on right now?

I am currently preparing for the “Fashion Unraveled” exhibition hoping to get a few new pieces ready for the show and just personal work to share with others on my blog and etsy shop. Each week though brings anew and I am just so happy and blessed to get to do what I love each day

             

Fashion Illustrator Spotlight: Sara Singh

I recently came across Sara’s illustrations while researching an article for NOIR and intantly fell in love with her gorgeous style. Sara is a New York based illustrator who boasts an impressive client roster including Givenchy, Jil Sander, Tiffany, Bloomingdales, MAC cosmetics, Este Lauder, Lancôme and Vogue in America, Italy and Japan, for which she produced a stunning front cover featuring the above image.

 

For Sara, fashion illustration is the perfect medium for telling story, not just of fashion, but the body beautiful as well: “The body is endlessly intriguing and drawing is a kind of stenography describing it,” she says. “It’s faster than painting, but still tells the story.”

 Her fluid illustrations are primarily executed in a blend of undefined watercolour, sharp lines of ink and vivid brushstrokes of colour, creating an impressionist take on runway fashions.

Mwah! Gorgeous!

Rebelle meets … Fernanda Cohen: Illustrator

Originally from Buenos Aries, Fernanda Cohen is a Brooklyn-based illustrator who first turned her attention to fashion when she was commissioned to illustrate an advertising campaign for Ikram, a high-end boutique in Chicago owned by Michelle Obama’s stylist. She has created window displays for boutiques on Fifth Avenue and her vibrant iconography has been featured in T-shirts for the GAP and commissioned by Tiffany & Co to advertise their jewellery.

Most notably, Fernanda has become a fashion illustrator known for drawing realistic female bodies and celebrating the female form. Her illustrations are bursting with energy and movement created by swirling and looping lines emboldened with a strong use of colour in both gouache and ink.

 

What first got you into fashion illustrating?

I started illustrating fashion thanks to Ikram, a high-end boutique/owner based in Chicago who’s actually Michelle Obama’s stylist, who became aware of my work through a competition I’d entered. What’s ironic about it is that at the time I was working on my Food Affair personal series, which featured naked, fat people eating passionately!   

What is it about fashion illustration that you particularly enjoy?

I love drawing women. I feel I truly understand women’s curves and body language, which allows me to have a lot of fun with them. I have also always loved the detailed intricacies of fashion, its constant need for cyclical change and the extensive variety of combinations of shapes and colours it offers.    

Can you tell us a bit about how you create your illustrations and the materials you use?

I sketch mostly in my head before I actually pick up a pencil. I do my research, depending on what the subject-matter is, and find all the right photo reference if needed. I also often photograph myself when I know exactly what I want and I can pose for it myself. Then I draw it with a pencil first; outline it with either a brush and ink or an ink pen; I select my colour palette before applying it and then I paint it. I use mostly gouache, though I’ve been experimenting with professional markers lately.      

How would you describe your style and has it changed over the years?

Just like aging, my style today is more of what it was when I first started. What I mean by that is that if my work – according to what they tell me – was a bit whimsical, a bit funny, a bit conceptual and a bit feminine when I graduated from university, now all those characteristics are even more emphasized and combined with layers of my own maturity as a person plus the inevitable polishing professional experience adds to it.   

What inspires your drawings? Does living in New York have any influence on your work?

Social commentary and observation feeds my inspiration constantly. Living in New York has naturally influenced the way I view everything, from human behaviour to the way we present ourselves. Being exposed to so many different cultures has also changed my style in ways I can’t quite put my finger on.   

Can you tell us a little more about the work you did for Sex and the City, Tiffany & Co. and the Gap?

The ad agency BBDO came up with a great idea to get these pens with ink that disappeared within two hours, to go with the slogan of the Sex and the City’s shoe brand Te Casán, which read “Buy them while they last.” So they hired me to do non-stop, 10-second shoe sketches at the premiere of Sex and the City: The Movie in New York. (2008)

I illustrated a small catalog campaign for Tiffany & Co. in the U.S., which advertised its new diamond bracelet. They wanted something decorative and elegant, so I thought zooming into where the bracelet would be would be better than showing a full figure. (2009)

 

Last year The Gap commissioned me a line of 4 designer T-shirts for its Product (RED) campaign. I did 2 figurative designs, and 2 designs using hand-lettering. The shirts came out in every single Gap store in the States, London and Paris. They all had my name, bio and signature printed on the back of each shirt, which was more than I could have ever asked for. I was thrilled and humbled. (2010)

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on creating my own boutique hotel/social club in Buenos Aires, where I’ll have the chance not only to illustrate its walls but also to create a creative, social scene that brings all the arts together.

Rebelle meets … Artist Andrea: Fashion Illustrator

Kicking off my Fashion Illustration series is an interview with the lovely Artist Andrea (a.k.a Andrea Peterson). Andrea is a fashion illustrator based in Phoenix who regularly contributes to the cult British publication Amelia’s Magazine, creating visual reports for its London Fashion Week coverage. Based in Phoenix, she often works from photographs to produce her own fluid, elegant and intricate take on catwalk couture, in beautiful, dreamlike watercolours. She chats about her style and work as an illustrator.

When did you first begin drawing/illustrating and where did you study your craft?
Let’s just put it this way, I can’t remember ever not drawing or being into art; art was just always something I gravitated towards. I studied at East Carolina University, and my high school teacher also pushed me forward with artistic encouragement.

When did you first start to focus on fashion illustration?
Living with my sister in New York City was when I began to turn my attention towards fashion illustration since she was attending the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York at the time and studying fashion design. Her fashion sketches and studies piqued my interest and soon our living room became one giant artsy mess of paint and patterns.

Tell us about the work you do for the magazine and being featured in Amelia’s Compendium of Fashion Illustration? What inspired the front cover?
The front cover actually features Ute Decker’s ethical jewelry and so, for the figure I didn’t want the clothes to distract, but needed the piece to still be interesting. Plus since Amelia’s Magazine is all about ethical fashion and Amelia being a Climate Camper herself, I found myself leaning towards nature for inspiration. So “nature” meet “fashion” and voilà = hot pink forest nymph!

Of the latest London Fashion Week shows, which designer’s work has been your favourite to draw?
It’s hard to pick a favourite because there were an absolute overload of amazing designers this year – especially the ones that Amelia’s Magazine covered and I’m seeing photos on twitter I think “ahhh, I wish I had octopus arms and could illustrate them all!” But if forced to pick, I’d have to say Charlie le Mindu because I love ostentatious surprises and he is full of them!

In terms of the outfits you choose to draw, what makes for a great subject?
A great subject usually includes something a bit flamboyant, with either an interesting pattern or material, and I admit to being also attracted to how the model’s hair and makeup compliment the design as well.

In recent years, there seems to be a return of illustration to the pages of fashion magazines which have long been dominated by photography, why do you think this is?

In a world where it is now so easy to share digital photos as soon as they are snapped, fashion illustration is a welcome reprieve to the creative side and imagination inside everyone. Within the nuances of fashion illustration, the viewer finds expression and art beyond simply an instantaneous snapshot.

What do you think fashion illustration has over photography – what can an illustration convey that a photo cannot?
I think fashion illustration and photography work well together actually, to present both the literal and overall emotion. I think illustration conveys more emotion and a presence of “being there” than the quick snapshot of a runway model.

Who would you rate as the most iconic fashion illustrator of all time?

Well I love Art Deco and have a gorgeous Erté print based on the italian heiress Marchesa Luisa Casati (who lived her life as a fashion icon) hanging in my bedroom, so I’d have to go with him. (Erté is the pseudonym for artist Romain de Tirtoff.)

Aside from fashion, what other subject matter inspires your work? How would you describe your style?
Life, dreams, emotion, all present inspiring moments, glimpses, instances. Basically inspiration can come from anything and everything – that’s the beauty of it. In Amelia’s Compendium of Fashion Illustration I describe my painting style as idiosyncratic surrealism; there is also a fluidity I tend to have within my work, perhaps due to my love for water and swimming. That fluidity transfers over to my fashion illustration as well, which compliments the medium – watercolors – with which I typically use to illustrate.

What are you currently working on?

For illustration I’m currently working on a music album cover and fashion illustration commissions that come my way. As far as my personal paintings, I recently had a small epiphany for a series I’m currently working on… I want the series to be viewed together, so the details are a surprise for now, but it will definitely reflect the feminine mystique and a type of surreal transcendence.

How would you like to see your career as an illustrator/artist progress and what would be your dream commission?
I look forward to pursuing more illustration projects as they come to my door, and future gallery shows with my painting. I’d also love to become involved with a company to reproduce my work in printed form. A dream commission of mine is to work with a designer developing specific illustration artwork for handbags and pattern-work within clothing… My imagination is endless, as it seems the possibilities are as well!

To see more of Andrea’s work visit www.artistandrea.com