Friday, 21 September 2012

An Interview with Fashion Illustrator Kelly Smith

Jillian Tasker catches up with the incredibly talented Kelly Smith.
What inspired you to pursue a career in fashion illustration?
I've always loved to draw, and in particular I loved drawing beautiful girls. When I started they were all eyelashes and no noses! Fashion just adds that extra element – it’s so bold and dramatic. It lends itself so well to illustration as it’s all movement, silhouette and texture. Half the fun is trying to capture that. When I had a positive reaction to the sketches I was doing – outside of family and friends – it became more apparent that I could possibly pursue it as a career.
What does a typical day look like for you?
A morning cup of tea, then email, Twitter, Instagram and various other social media checks… After that, I spend a few hours scrolling through new runway shows and fashion editorials and blogs. I usually spend a good few hours on the net, which can be a double-edged sword; it's as much an inspiration as it can be a distraction! I also spend a lot of time collating reference imagery for any particular jobs that I’m working on. After lunch it's down to work and pencil to paper. In the middle of a massive deadline my day can be total mayhem. Things get done as they get done, and contact, food and sleep take a back seat!
What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
I would have to say having my work published in Vogue. Although I’m completely addicted to buying magazines – some might say obsessed – and have a multitude of favourite publications, for me Vogue is still the “Bible”. To be featured in its pages was definitely a dream come true. I've also had amazing experiences working for some incredibly talented and wonderful clients. Two of my favourites have been designing scarves for Sydney based boutique label L'avion – it really is wearable art – and a special project with jewellery designer Samantha Wills that will be revealed very shortly!
What are some of the perks of your job?
Well, there’s nothing better than a sleep in! But working from home is extremely challenging at times as there can be a certain monotony about it, not to mention it’s sometimes hard to separate “work” from “home”. But the fact that I get paid to draw what I love all day is pretty much the ultimate!
How did you get your illustrations noticed initially?
Back in 2007 I set up a MySpace page for my artwork and it got the attention of V energy drink's V-Raw page that was all about promoting emerging talent. They featured my work on their page and that led to various online and print publications sharing and publishing it. It was pretty much the beginning of blogging and the boom of social media, so I was lucky in that regard that it had a snowball effect. I also used to make up promo print packs and mail them to different magazines…
What are the work processes and the materials you use to achieve your unique illustration style?
Unless it’s a portrait or a runway illustration, the majority of the ideas for the work come from my imagination. I’m so inspired by fashion, film and nature. I always work from a photographic reference so I’ll get an idea for an illustration and then select all of the imagery I need to make it a reality. I collage up my reference images, which are generally a combination of what I’ve collected or photographed myself. From there I sketch onto white card with LYRA graphite pencils and scan in the final drawing, which I colour over digitally. I've also just started playing with watercolour pencils and I feel like they might be something I’ll explore more in my every day work.
Are you a compulsive drawer – do you draw for yourself when you’re not working?
I try to! There's always so many ideas popping into my head and I always write them down for that spare moment I get to work on my own thing. It's nice to do something that's only for myself.
Which fashion illustrators do you admire the most?
So many! RenĂ© Grau, David Downton, Julie Verhoeven, Stina Persson, Kat Macleod, Cedric Rivrain, Cecilia Carlstedt… I'm sure I'm leaving some out. I love illustration that both captures a likeness perfectly yet does it almost suggestively. I love the “unfinished” look. If I could wish any skill upon myself it would be to draw more freely. That’s why I love these guys so much!
Have you had the opportunity to travel with your work?
To be honest I'm a bit of a homebody. I love to travel but I also love to do it on my own terms with the people I’m closest to. When I draw I'm in my own little world and I don't like to draw in front of people, or speak about my work. I'm a little shy that way, I guess.
What are some of the most challenging aspects of a career in fashion illustration?
Probably everything that is also great about it! Managing your own time, working from home, sourcing inspiration. It's a competitive industry and there's always that feeling that you need to get yourself “out there” more and evolve as an artist. But that in itself can be tricky as people pay you to do what you do so it can be scary to embrace change. But I think if you work hard and you truly love what you do, people will always respond to it. It makes it all worthwhile.
What advice would you offer to those wanting to begin a career in fashion illustration?
Work hard, push yourself and love what you do! It can be tempting to try to imitate another artist or mould your work into what you think it should be but at the end of the day we all have our own style and that's what sets us apart and makes us unique. I also think it's great as an emerging artist to enter competitions, submit to pretty much everything you can and really put yourself out there. Get a blog, share and network!

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