‘A Document of Modern Living’: How to become a Fashion Illustrator

Richard Haines

How do you advise a budding artist? Encourage and suggest the correct path to fashion success? Well, it seems Harper’s Bazaar (HB) solved this problem in 1933, in ‘The Road To Fashion Art,’ its response to a reader’s letter.

Firstly, HB notes that becoming a fashion illustrator requires quite different skills from becoming a fashion creator, since:  ‘To design clothes you need about as much technique as is required for the drawing of daisies or mustaches on a telephone pad – just enough to get your idea across.’

However, a fashion illustrator needs have far more refined abilities in this regard and must ‘draw superlatively well.’  This assertion is perhaps the key to HB’s excellent advice – that fashion illustration is a branch of that ancient technique of drawing, and as such must be learnt and nurtured.  One need only look at some of the most well-known illustrators, Eric, or Rene Gruau to see evidence of this.  Or for more contemporary inspiration scan Richard Haines’ Instagram feed and examine the way emotion and movement are captured in every line.  His work encapsulates what HB describes as every art director’s wish – not to be shown every buttonhole and seam, but to receive an illustration that is ‘a document of modern living.’  Haines’ images of men striding the city streets are proof of this – at once showing the newest styles, and capturing life as it is lived.

Richard Haines

To achieve this, you must, HB says, ‘Draw and keep drawing.’  To start: life drawing, to gain complete understanding of the body.  Next develop an understanding of colour, keep building from this, to examine gesture of every kind, for example ‘the gloved hand picking up the reins.’

As your eye becomes attuned to these telling nuances, HB advises that the budding fashion artist is ready to begin looking for ‘the quality called chic.’  With sketch book in hand, an illustrator must observe all closely – visiting fashionable locations and venues, ‘look at ankle bones, hair waves, the hang of expensive tweeds.’  Everything is a potential source, from films to restaurant customers. Of course, HB states ‘Go to Paris if you possibly can.’

Richard Haines

Only there can fashion be seen in its purest form, alongside the best in dining, socializing, art and culture.  And HB is practical too – as well as this emersion in French couture style, you must, ‘Talk to printers, engravers; learn all you can about colour reproduction, first hand.’

Richard Haines

What this master class provides is a careful guide in how to shape your talent, how to focus on drawing as a means to evoke life, to show how fashion is an expression of culture and emotion, and how to work constantly at producing the most observant images that will trigger a corresponding feeling in viewers.

By Rebecca Arnold

All images courtesy of Richard Haines

 

‘The Road To Fashion Art,’ Harper’s Bazaar, December 1933

Follow Richard Haines on Instagram: @richard_haines