I was thrilled to be quoted in a WIRED.co.uk article about how fashion illustration is adapting to digital media, alongside educator Sue Dray, who I just realized I have had the pleasure of taking a couple of fashion drawing classes from at the V&A and the National Portrait Gallery in London.
As usual I had a lot of other thoughts to offer the author of the article, Philippa Warr - here they are:
What’s the current state of fashion illustration with regards to technology - how much of your work would you say uses traditional methods and how much is newer approaches?
90% of the time, my work is seen on a screen rather than on paper, so regardless of the initial medium I use, I always have to optimize it to appear on a screen. Then again, even for extremely Photoshop-heavy styles, I start every project with a pencil and layout paper. So it’s difficult to break it down. Almost all of my work uses both digital and analog media.
How did you get involved with using the iPad for the WWD project?
It was total social serendipity! I happened to meet a guy at a party in Toronto, and later when he was meeting with colleagues from FiftyThree in New York who were launching the WWD fashion week coverage, he was able to make the connection between my specialty and their project. It was awesome to be brought in as a “ringer” - I’ve been working on my live runway sketching skills for over five years now, and they’re just now beginning to attract clients and commissions. Live runway sketching is a challenge - it takes years to be able to perform it reliably, never mind being able to switch it up in terms of technique or media. The fact that it was to be displayed in WWD - which has a significant history of supporting great fashion illustrators - made it especially meaningful for me professionally.
Do you have a preference in terms of media? And what are the pros and cons of using digital?
My goal is to have my illustration style untied from a specific medium, so I’m trying not to favour any particular material or program. In fashion illustration, there are fads for certain mediums and styles that last a few years and then fall out of favour, so unless you’re very versatile, your career will be very short.
The most profound difference with using digital is the ability to undo. So there is a tendency to perfect everything, to get caught in a loop trying to capture a certain gesture rather than just getting on with the drawing, or sensibly abandoning a drawing that isn’t working and starting over. The paradox is that to successfully draw in digital, smart artists may deliberately “mess” with the program - incorporating glitches or allowing imperfections to show, so that viewers can see the human hand in the creation. Viewer’s eyes slide off of too-slick images that look like they are made by robots. If the tools are almost too good, so you can choose to work against them. And as ever, knowing when you’re done is where the true artistry lies.
The most profound advantage to traditional materials is their intrinsic reaction to human touch. Humans have been using charcoal to draw since they discovered fire. There is no more sensitive interface than the human body. Digital so far can only offer a simulacra, and the subtlety and spectrum of the simplest materials elude it, even as digital can create ever more complex things.
Are there any issues with digital you’ve encountered that haven’t or can’t be easily solved? Things that need to be done by hand?
I’ve never used a digital brush that had the variety of possibilities that are in a paintbrush. You can approximate the appearance, sure, but the action is never as elegant as it is when it comes directly from a single gesture. As touchscreens and styluses get more sensitive though, there will be less of a difference.
Is digital the direction the industry is moving?
Yes. It is the direction that everything is moving. The combination of touchscreens, wearables, and scanning technology means that it won’t be long before we will be dipping our fingers in pixels that are programmed to behave like liquids, powders, or whatever, not to mention the way we interact with visual media is going to be drastically changing at the same time. Being able to participate in the early stages of this transition from a material world to an immaterial one is so exciting.
Does illustration struggle to keep up with technology or is it just specific types of illustration or perhaps just education establishments?
I don’t believe so. Just as illustration was borne by fire with charcoal, it will continue to develop in tandem with technology. To draw is a natural human form of communication - one that transcends barriers like languages, too.
On a more prosaic level, the illustration and fashion industries of course are coping with the media transition. I find that as a younger illustrator, there is very little advice I can take from the previous generation, as my circumstances are so different. A fashion illustration career in the 21st century is something you invent as you go along. To whatever level, if you embrace emerging media, who knows where that will take you?
What do you think is coming next? Either the next big thing or just features or functions that would make your life significantly easier…
I’m very hopeful that the next step is artists being able to create pressure-sensitive, customized digital brushes, so that every artist will have their own individual kit. And brushes that don’t just offer an imitation of real materials, but brushes that can do wild stuff that only digital could do. Just as the old masters built their own brushes, so will the new masters.
What are the most important things for students to get to grips with if they want to go on to have a career in fashion illustration or a related field?
No one can tell you how to do it. You must sacrifice more a reliable living in order to do something incredibly capricious. Also, it will take years before you figure out what kind of illustrator you are. If you’re up for it, go for it!