Meet these UAE-based artists who are making fashion illustrations popular
Not too long ago, the fashion world had been mourning the demise of illustrations, conceding that the art had lost its relevance with the growing popularity of fashion photography. Today, that trend has been changing, and fashion illustrations are slowly and steadily making a comeback, owing to the rise of social media and a cut-throat competition that demands innovation at every point. What space do fashion illustrations occupy in this new order? How do brands benefit by roping in fashion illustrators? We spoke to three UAE-based professionals to get a sense of what goes into the making of a fashion illustration, and why this trend is here to stay.
When she was studying fashion in Edinburgh, Sara Japanwalla found herself drawn to vintage illustrations from the '50s and '60s. "I loved how feminine and glamorous they were and tried that romantic style for my own projects." That romance also reflects in some of Sara's works now - be it the flowing drapes of a gown, the floral motifs or soft and breezy colours.
Her love for fashion illustrations may date back to her college years, but it wasn't realised until nine years ago. Having moved to Dubai in 2005, she took to the city "like a duck to water", and worked at a wedding boutique briefly. Finding the job creatively limiting, Sara decided to take a leap of faith into a career that many back then would have dismissed as being unconventional. "In no time, I started getting requests for live illustrations and murals," she recalls. Several years and challenges later, she is now one of the foremost names in the world of fashion illustrations in the UAE.
So, what goes into making a fashion illustration? Sara says it's all about telling a story in your own style and creating a mood that is as whimsical as it is edgy. This also makes a fashion illustration stand apart from, say, a graphic design illustration, which is often more minimalist and practical, children's book illustrations that are typically eye-catching and storyboard illustrations that require you to be imaginative. "A fashion illustration is typically centred on textiles, clothes and couture," says Sara. A good fashion illustrator is someone who, according to the 34-year-old artist, has an eye on what's trending on the catwalk, seasonal colours and prints, as well as various cuts and styles of garments. "This way, your knowledge will reflect in your drawings because you know exactly where to add shading or texture, and how the clothes flow to make your sketches come alive."
Today, the digital world has opened a brand new platform for fashion illustrators. Sara herself commands a following of approximately 14,000 on Instagram. "Thanks to Pinterest and Instagram, artists now have a platform to express themselves and show their work. A vintage art form like an illustration can be mixed with photography or Photoshop for the best of both worlds. I think that's something people really crave now to make their brand stand out."
PR agencies are also routinely roping in fashion illustrators for events where they can sketch live. How does the creative process unfold at such events? "I think you need to really know yourself as an artist before you go ahead and draw live, and it's not just about drawing but the ability to understand what each client wants and deliver something that suits their brand and house style." She adds that while live illustration has a spontaneous quality to it, working on personal projects is great in that she can be as detailed as she likes and be more experimental. "I like illustrating without a deadline because I have the time to teach myself some new techniques online and create something interesting, which I can use for the next live gig."
Samar A. Sadik
A woman dressed in a Christmas tree gown. An uber stylish witch flying on a broom. Three young girls flaunting elaborate leopard prints. Welcome to the fascinating world of Samar Sadik, one she describes as "chic with a touch of whimsy". Her illustrations, to be found on her Instagram page @samarsadikdesigns, reflects on a classic-yet-quirky aspect of fashion.
Being fascinated by all things fashion, combined with her love for drawing, meant that fashion illustrations was an obvious genre to explore. Today, what makes her work relatable is the fact that, instead of focusing only on high fashion, it reflects on an idea of everyday style. So be it women enjoying their drinks poolside or simply relishing a hot cuppa at home, Samar makes the regular seem fashionable.
Having been raised in the UAE, she studied graphic design and even worked in the publishing industry for a while. Today, she runs her own design studio, and fashion illustrations are an important part of her work. The skill in the genre, according to Samar, is in understanding the nuances not only of fashion but also of the body. "In fashion drawing, the proportions are different and, in order to draw them easily or in our own style, I think it's essential to have an understanding of the basic body proportions first. Also, posture drawing and knowing how clothes shape the body is important. Learning how to add movement makes an image more interesting as opposed to being static. Finally, one of the most interesting-yet-challenging things to do is to draw texture and pattern of a fabric," says the Jordanian artist.
In a highly competitive fashion market where brands are almost always trying to outshine and outsmart each other, innovation is the key. The resurgence of fashion illustrations have been an outcome of that. Today, fashion illustrators can be seen at many events, where brands look for unique activations, such as live sketching. The main challenge, says Samar, is to draw as many guests as possible in a very short span of time while ensuring everyone is happy. "Also, it gets tricky to focus on getting the work done while chatting with guests. Personally, I love socialising, but I am also very conscious of time as I try not to spend much time per artwork."
It is then tempting to ask whether an art form such as this can become a part of the fine arts? "I don't think we should be confined by a style or a definition. We live in a time when experimentation is encouraged. Every artist is free to express their fashion artwork in the way that defines them or their artistic style," she says.
It is this freedom to imagine and experiment that also frees an illustrator from the conventional path of studying fashion in order to become an illustrator. In fact, Samar says that while it is definitely an additional advantage, it is not absolutely essential. "When I get commissioned to draw an outfit, in addition to having a keen eye on drawing details of the fabric, I am more focused on expressing a mood. I have a lot of appreciation for the physical work that goes into making a dress, but I strongly believe it's all about how an outfit makes you feel."
(Photo: Neeraj Murali)
When you win one art competition after the other in school, you begin to discover the artist in you. Aoife Coen did the opposite. Not only would she find conversations on art a tad "uncomfortable", she also began to believe that drawing itself was quite uncool. Possibly because it is not one of those things that always helps you earn a living.
At 24, however, she has found a balance. An account manager by day, she does illustrations part-time. What initiated her into it? The loneliness experienced in her initial years as an expat in the city. "Since I didn't have many friends here for the first few months, I started to draw more often than usual. When I could finally afford a tablet to do illustrations, I started posting them on Instagram," she says. Compliments have, ever since, poured in from English singer Dua Lipa and Donatella Versace.
Aoife, who hails from Ireland, says what truly draws her towards a fashion illustration is the detailing it demands - different textures, colours, embellishments. "The tiny details are so important because those create the bigger picture. I tend to make realistic illustrations when I am drawing very detailed dresses, but on other occasions, I will just decide to do the extravagant long legs, tiny waist, dramatic eyes and hair just to change a little."
The techniques involved in a fashion illustration, she says, are usually exaggerating every detail one draws. "For example, if there are feathers on the dress, you make them twice as long as they should be. If there is a train on the dress, you would make it extra long and wavy as if it's flowing in wind. If there are diamonds/ sequins on the dress, you make them stand out by drawing a white 'X' on some of the diamonds to make it look like it's really sparkling. Also, with a classic fashion illustration, you usually exaggerate the model too - she will be thin with curvy hips, her legs will be super long and waist tiny. The eyes and lashes will be too big for the face and the nose will be almost nonexistent. I don't do this style very often, I prefer to make them more realistic because I find it more of a challenge and rewarding when they turn out to look life-like."
Realism in fashion illustrations! That is something the art world could look at as a genre in itself. Aoife says that it's a matter of time fashion illustrations found their way up the canon of fine art. "Fashion is one of the most talked about and followed arts today so I don't see why fashion illustrations couldn't become a fine art. Also, the more fashion illustrations are being reposted by celebrities on Instagram, the more of them are popping up. There are many famous illustrators already because it has become such a popular trend, for example Hayden Williams and Idochev have become so well known on Instagram that they are now collaborating with many well-known fashion icons. They definitely make it look like a fine art."
While she makes a case for fashion illustrations to be considered fine art, she confesses to still being moved more by the pictures. However, both have a purpose. "A photograph works better if you want to advertise fast and if you want to advertise the clothing. An illustration works better if you want something unique and you want your brand to become better known, more talked about."