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3 Simple Fashion Sketching Exercises You Can Practice Today

3 Simple Fashion Sketching Exercises You Can Practice Today

How sketching exercises can help you draw beautiful fashion illustrations

Are you having a fashion sketching slump? Perhaps you’re still staring at your paints or a blank piece of paper. Maybe, the paints aren’t even out yet.

This happens to me only too often.

Let’s go through some ideas to get you focused on your fashion illustration.

Keep it Simple

You know when you see those amazing oil paintings in galleries and you think, “Is that a painting or a photograph?” You go up close and… incredibly, it’s a painting—but it’s so realistic!

I could never paint like that because I don’t have the patience. Honestly, I prefer to have painting sessions where I create as many illustrations as I can with whatever time I have. Sometimes it’s a day, other times it’s an hour.

If time is short, you’ll want to have everything you need within easy reach. So, keep your art tools in one place.

Okay, I haven’t quite mastered this yet, but I plan to! Having my tools scattered around the home, definitely causes unnecessary procrastination.

Because I don’t have a studio, I paint either at my desk (where I’m writing this) or on the coffee table. Both are not ideal, but we make do don’t we?

Chase the light

Usually, I draw for 1-3 hours at a time. And, if it’s a drawing day, I make sure it’s one of the first things I do. The light is always best in the morning, so I’ll spend that time sketching.

In an hour, I can sketch a few fashion figures, maybe 3-4, depending on how I feel. I’m not trying to copy a photograph or a face. Rather, I’m creating a suggestion.

And that’s the beauty of a fashion illustration; it’s simply a suggestion.

Fashion sketching needn’t be complicated. In fact, the word ‘sketching’ implies we’re drawing something quickly, and therefore fluid. There’s no pressure to paint a portrait, an exact likeness when you’re sketching. You are not trying to be one of the greatest renaissance artists of all time.

Fashion illustration allows for expression, so I like to think of it as drawing dreams. It’s perfectly okay if there’s a little bit missing. Maybe there’s a mist of colour or one single detail; this is what draws the eye in—like a focal point in a room; a fireplace, a mirror, a painting.

Creating a fashion model sketch can be a simple expression or interpretation. On the other hand, there is an art to simplicity.

Coco Chanel suggested, “Take one thing off.” I try to apply that to my fashion illustrations; I stop, before I go too far.

Fashion sketching: where to begin?

Begin with warm-up, fashion sketching exercises. You’ll want to restrict yourself in the beginning to free yourself later.

If that’s confusing now, you’ll see what I mean after I explain the three exercises in a moment.

Here’s a quick checklist before we start:

  • Keep your art tools together and accessible.
  • Begin as early in the day as possible. Night light is not ideal, even with a good daylight lamp.
  • Keep it simple. Remember you are drawing fashion, not portraiture.

It’s a good idea to have fashion images to hand wherever you go. It may be a collection of torn-out sheets from a magazine. Or, in my case, a Pinterest board of fashion figures. I also make collections from saved Instagram posts, and I collate a folder of scanned images in my Google Drive.

Another good resource is Readly. I can access tonnes of magazines (plus back issues) on the app for £7.99/month. It’s worth it if you’re a magazine hoarder, trying to be a minimalist, like me. Also, their app is pretty seamless.

Clear your space. Get comfortable. Sharpen your pencils. Let’s draw fashion!

Sketching Exercise 1

Draw the outline

Let’s say you’re right-handed. You are going to start drawing with your left hand. That’s it, follow the outline with your non-dominant hand.*

*If that’s not available to you, try this instead: keep your eyes on the model and don’t look at your paper or pencil!

Do not erase anything. Just draw.

Draw another fashion pose, and another.

You’ll likely end up with map-like line drawings. We’ll call them fashion islands.

Sketching Exercise 2

Draw in shapes

This may sound funny, but try this!

Squint your eyes a little. What do you see? Blurry figures with darkened patches?

Find the dark areas, the shapes and scribble what you see. Get to know the figure and its interesting shapes.

Use a pigment pen, a felt tip or a pastel if it’s easier. You’ll be able to cover a large area quickly.

Don’t worry about detail. Keep it brisk, and be bold with your blocks of colour.

Sketching Exercise 3

Trace* an image

*I don’t normally recommend tracing an image. I think it’s the equivalent to copying and pasting if you’re learning to write in another language; you won’t learn a thing.

However, for the purpose of this exercise, I’m going to ask you to trace a fashion figure, because I want you to notice the difference between tracing and drawing body sketches for fashion, freehand.

Even though, you’ve been following an outline underneath your paper, you may notice your sketch to be a little wooden, perhaps?

When you draw fashion, freehand, your illustration may not be perfectly proportioned, but I bet it has more energy.

Try it. Trace a model in a magazine a few times.

Freestyle Fashion Sketching

Now you are free.

You are ready to draw fashion, freestyle – without restrictions, so you can use your dominant hand.

You have everything available to you. You are drawing in your own way.

This is how to draw in your own style.

Copying and tracing will restrict you, like following a set of rules. There are no real rules in fashion or fashion illustration. You make the rules!

If you are creating a fashion collection, then yes, a 9-head template is helpful to get the designs sketched on paper, fast.

Otherwise, if you’re creating a fashion illustration, go with the flow.

For more help with your fashion drawing, grab my Fashion Figures guide below and let me know how you get on in the comments!

Why Every Fashion Illustrator Should Have a Fashion Muse

Why Every Fashion Illustrator Should Have a Fashion Muse

Your Fashion Muse will help you draw when the drawing gets tough.

There’s nothing more frustrating for a fashion illustrator than wanting to draw when you can’t. And the weird thing is, the other day you could! I suppose you could call it the dreaded artist’s block or, as I sometimes say, ‘feeling a bit rusty.’

So, what do you do on those can’t-draw days?

Do you make a cup of tea or go for a walk? Or maybe you start tidying a cupboard. I have really organised cupboards, by the way. Yesterday, I made cookies.

My advice? Find a familiar face; someone you love to draw, someone you’re comfortable drawing. Because, strangely, some people are challenging to draw.

You see an amazing model, and you think, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to draw her,’ but then, for whatever reason, you can’t do her justice.

A fashion muse is a must because when every drawing is looking ugly; she will be the beautiful beaming light to remind why you started drawing fashion in the first place.

Your fashion muse embraces your drawing style. By having a fashion muse, it’s a really good way of coming back to the way you draw—in your personal style.

Did you ever see the film Mannequin (1987)? As a child, I watched it over and over again!

Well, it’s a bit like that scenario: Jonathan Switcher (Andrew McCarthy) and his magical mannequin, Emmy (Kim Cattrall), create amazing window displays together and everything comes to life.

Without his muse, there would be no magic.

Who is My Fashion Muse?

At this point, if you’re wondering who my fashion muse is, I confess, I have a few.

Although, I do have one particular fashion face, that I absolutely love to draw, so much so, that I’ll buy any magazine if she’s on the cover.

As obvious as she may be, my fashion muse is a face I grew up with—and she’s still entirely relevant today.

She is Kate Moss.

Specifically Kate Moss, circa 1992; she’s totally dependable. After all, Kate makes anything look good, so why not my fashion illustration?

Why Kate? Well, I’m not exactly a rock chick myself, so there’s no Kate-connection there. And there are other models I love to draw, of course, but, drawing Kate reverts me back to a time when I was a young fashion student in the nineties, ready to explore fashion and art… and Kate was everywhere; she was the model of the moment.

The Fashion Face

I remember drawing Kate wearing that headdress when she was on the cover of The Face, when she was holding a bird in Vogue and when she was framed in fairy lights—the Corinne Day days.

I drew Kate a lot while I was in college and I guess I got used to her. I got used to her wide set eyes, her cupid’s bow lips and her high cheekbones—I desperately wanted those cheekbones.

And when I say I always draw Kate, I don’t mean I’ve created a million Kate portraits, and now I’ve perfected her. More that I refer to her as a guide for my fashion illustration. Because, each time I’ve tried to draw Kate, she sort of works—like magic!

My drawing may not look anything like Kate Moss, but usually, and unusually, there’s something about my illustration if Kate’s had anything to do with it. Suddenly my work comes together, and that’s the point; your fashion muse will bring it all together.

For me, when I go back to drawing Kate Moss, I feel like I’m catching up with an old friend. I’m with someone I know well, even though I’ve never met her.

Aside from my Pinterest board: Kate Moss {Fashion Muse}, I have a Kate book that I bought in the nineties. It’s simply called ‘Kate.’

It’s a great book with beautiful shots of Kate in the early days. It’s very nineties; current and old school at the same time. There are some amazing shots in there, which are just perfect for me to draw on whenever I need to get into that space—when my work isn’t coming out as well as I want it to.

When you have a fashion muse, you can draw inspiration from the fashion face you love.

The Happy Accident

Let me give you a real example of how Kate has saved the day.

One particular illustration, inspired by Kate, became a sort of happy accident.

I’d been looking in my Kate book and had painted this sideways glance. I never really liked this painting. I used too much ink, and the eyes became very dark, but I rarely throw art away because I like to try to rescue it.

Anyway, one day I opened the back door to our basement to find a red leaf on the doorstep. It was such a beautifully rich colour; I had to pick it up.

The leaf had fallen from the neighbour’s plant which was sat on a window ledge high up.

I decided to scan the leaf in Photoshop, to see how it would look on some of my illustrations, one being the Kate painting with inky eyes, that was in the rejection pile. Suddenly, I quite liked her.

A few months later, that ‘happy accident,’ influenced by Kate, became my best-selling greeting card, selling out in Fenwicks!

How to Find Your Fashion Muse

So, let’s work out who your fashion muse is—because every fashion illustrator needs a BFMF {best fashion muse forever}.

I’d start with Pinterest; it’s such a great resource for fashion illustrators.

Back in the nineties, there was no Pinterest, or any social media for that matter. So, it was really about trawling through magazines, tearing out pages and collecting favourite fashion shoots.

Now that we have Pinterest you can create a board and repin others’ pins, which is perfect for researching iconic fashion.

If you need a starting point, my Fashion Muses board is full of beautiful faces. Not forgetting my Kate Moss board, of course!

Other favourite faces include Jane Birkin, Brigitte Bardot and Christy Turlington.

Discover who your fashion muse is, simply, by sketching lots of people you love to draw, and then by seeing which of your illustrations really stand out—not just for you, but for your viewers. And don’t ask a family member or your best friend what they think because they will tell you they’re all lovely.

Which ones have significant engagement on Instagram, for example? Check your Instagram insights.

But it’s not just about engagement. Think about the paintings you particularly enjoyed creating and why? Who inspired you, and how?

These are questions you may not think matter, but it’s worth thinking about if you can find a fashion muse who will be there for you when your illustration goes awry.

The next time you’re feeling rusty, go back to your fashion muse and just see what happens. I bet she will turn out beautifully.

Have you found your fashion muse? Tell me in the comments!

How I Became a Fashion Illustrator in a Material World

How I Became a Fashion Illustrator in a Material World

I went from working in a full-time job to being a freelance fashion Illustrator, twice.

I didn’t know what a fashion illustrator was until I went to fashion college at sixteen years old.

Julie Verhoeven taught us fashion illustration on Tuesdays – which became my favourite day of the week. I remember she’d illustrate on anything: newspaper, a brown paper bag – something so simple, and yet all I knew was drawing in a sketchbook.

I soon realised there was more to fashion than making clothes. I could draw fashion for a living; it was such an eye-opener.

Looking back at my childhood, I was happiest drawing people – eighties pop stars were my forte.

One of my youngest drawing memories was when I was eight years old. The school headmistress called me into her office, and I wondered what I’d done wrong.

“Look,” she said, eyeing above my head, “I’ve framed one of your drawings.”

I was embarrassed. Even at eight years old, I didn’t think I could draw. And, I knew my strange little figure drawing was definitely not wall-worthy.

Little did I know that, one day, drawing would become my dream.

I was fourteen when I announced to the school careers advisor that I wanted to work in fashion.

“I want to be a fashion designer or a stylist,” I told her. I’d read about a day-in-the-life of a stylist in Mizz magazine, so I knew a job in fashion was possible.

“Well, that would be very difficult,” the careers advisor said. “It may be better to work in a bank or something.”

I screwed up my nose and, undiscouraged, promptly applied to study Fashion & Textiles at Southend college, where I was taught by Verhoeven.

After finishing my diploma in fashion, I left home, aged eighteen, London bound, to study for a Fashion Design degree at Middlesex University.

Selling Art Online

Circa 1995, while sitting with a few friends discussing our big plans for the future, I declared I wanted to become an artist and sell my fashion illustrations. Someone in the group actually laughed and said: “Who would want to buy your art?” This person had never seen my work but made their judgement anyway.

Despite feeling slightly crushed, and wishing I’d kept my ridiculous ideas to myself, I decided, then and there, I had to prove them wrong.

After graduating in 1997, I continued drawing fashion whenever I could, between jobs; waitressing, sewing vintage Barbie doll clothes – which I loved, because Barbie’s obviously a fashion icon – then working in fashion PR and marketing for some ten years.

In 2005, I set-up my first website (on the side), to get my art online. It was an exciting time because social media wasn’t a thing, and having a website wasn’t as common as it is today.

So uncommon in fact, the Independent newspaper featured my website in the finance section under the headline, ‘The best £30 I’ve ever spent,’ next to a headshot of me with the sun in my eyes.

Not quite the press coverage I wanted, but I did get a flurry of hits to my site, not to mention dozens of emails asking for website advice. Still, all press is good press, as they say.

Creating a Business

Later on, I studied 2D Software Design at London College of Communication, while I was still working in fashion PR, (I love to learn new skills).

Armed with my design qualification, I felt ready to leave my office job and become a freelance fashion illustrator and graphic designer.

It was 2009, at the end of the recession, but it never occurred to me to be cautious. I was following my (fashion drawing) dreams, no matter what.

“Leap, and the net will appear,” I told myself.

I went on to study Fashion Illustration in Photoshop at London College of Fashion – a short summer course. It was a different style of drawing fashion to what I was used to, but the point was to evolve and explore.

I started selling greeting cards and art prints, under the name soul water, in around thirty stores including Fenwicks in Bond Street.

More creative endeavours followed. My most exciting moments were seeing my illustrations on a fragrance bottle in Harvey Nichols and on beauty products in Boots.

I was a full-time fashion illustrator, selling my art. Although, it wasn’t quite mission accomplished yet.

Failing in Fashion

There are two points to make here.

The first is to ignore those who dismiss your dreams.

The second is that, if you really want to do something, that ‘need’ will not go away, so you can either go for it or let it eat you up inside.

Whether you succeed or fail is irrelevant, because the only way you will fail is if you don’t try.

Let me put this another way: You’ve failed until you try.

By the way, I did fail. Although I don’t actually see it that way. Here’s why:

One thing I hated doing, as a fashion illustrator, was chasing invoices. Some companies didn’t pay for six months to a year. Others closed down and didn’t pay me at all. It was pretty soul-destroying.

Then there was the inventory. I had boxes of cards, envelopes, art prints and packaging stacked high around my home.

I began to long for space, simplicity… security.

Maybe I could become an art teacher to supplement my income, I thought. So, I took a teacher training course while I had the time.

Then, I got a part-time job packing orders for an online fashion company. A year later, a full-time position became available. I was already happy there and I loved the product, so I went for it.

After three years of self-employment, I was back to working full-time.

At this point, some would assume I’d failed at freelancing, but I don’t think I did.

With every client job, I’d learnt something new—in other words, clients often asked me for something I’d never done before, and I got to discover a new skill. Learning on the job is the best experience you can have. I’d also managed to get a few more qualifications under my belt.

Now I was ready for something different.

Designing for Digital

By this time, digital marketing was taking over from print media, and social media was, virtually, taking over. So, it was brilliant to be working for an upcoming fashion brand in the online space.

I became the website girl; updating the homepage, designing landing pages; copywriting, merchandising and creating editorial content.

As I said, I love learning new things, so I made it my business to research more about software, online marketing and customer behaviour.

On the way to work, I became obsessed with listening to business podcasts. The hour-long commute became my favourite part of the day.

All the while, I kept a handful of design clients, which meant sometimes working until 3 in the morning and getting up at 6 am. I rarely slept longer than five or six hours.

Six years later, something had to give.

Rather than burn-out, I started to crave creative freedom, so determined was I to learn more. You could say I was a bit of a free spirit trapped in a full-time office job, like a fly trying to find its way out of a closed window.

I call this ‘e-commerce episode’ a hiatus, during which I downloaded as much of the digital world into my brain as humanly possible. And I’m forever grateful for the experience.

Going Solo

I think the company email said something like “Zoe will be leaving the business to pursue her passion projects.” And I suddenly felt a bit airy fairy.

Far from being the carefree bohemian I aspired to be, I’m a very practical person, and I’d always saved my money for a rainy day—subconsciously knowing I would eventually go back to a freelance life.

It was 2018 when I left the workplace (again). I immediately threw myself into a lifelong dream I had: to put on a solo exhibition.

I booked a small white gallery (mainly to make myself go through with it), then, gave myself only a couple of weeks to plan, promote and illustrate everything.

A bit of a crazy thing to do? Yes, definitely!

Still, it was exhilarating.

Doing something, only because your heart wants to is the ultimate freedom.

Like travelling. You really want to go somewhere, so you go.

I didn’t mind that I didn’t sell a single illustration. I’m not so deluded that I think everyone will flock to wherever I might be and buy, buy, buy.

My mission was to challenge myself and, ultimately, see my art on walls.

Was it financially viable? No. But I felt richer for doing it.

Summary

I would love to tell you that you can make a huge living from freelancing in fashion, but in all honesty, you’ll most likely need more strings to your bow than painting pretty pictures.

Here’s what I can tell you about being a fashion illustrator:

  • Live with less, draw more.

Every freelancer knows you have to be creative in all aspects of your life including eating, spending, indulging. Live simply to live creatively.

  • Work in fashion for the experience.

A background in fashion helps because you make connections within the industry. I’ve never had an agent—many of my client work has come from people I’ve met in previous jobs or through social media.

  • Understand that being a fashion illustrator is more of a lifestyle than a job.

You have to be multifaceted. Digital marketing is paramount to business, as is the software that comes with it. Get comfortable with it. Learn and absorb as much as possible—and keep learning!

  • Experiment by all means, but ultimately do what you do.

What does that mean? It means never try to be all things to all people. When I started my greeting card company, I made the mistake of trying to sell all kinds of cards. In hindsight, I should have sold one size card, one envelope, one style, i.e. simple fashion illustrations.

“Our life is frittered away by detail… simplify, simplify.” –Henry David Thoreau

Fashion Notes

Keep it simple, keep learning, keep evolving and keep creating.

Are you surprised by anything you’ve read about being a fashion illustrator? Let me know in the comments!