Do you wish you could draw like the great illustrators of the fashion world, but find figure drawing hard?
The seven points we discuss here will lighten your fashion illustration practice so you’re not overthinking the process over creating the magic.
I know the feeling. You start drawing, perhaps, from a beautiful photo you found on Pinterest. You’re determined to do the image justice. But more often than not, your illustrated model looks wooden, like a mannequin in a shop window. She might even fall over if you stare at her long enough.
Let me ask you, has a mannequin ever moved you? Forget Kim Catrall in Mannequin (1987); we’re talking about the tailor’s dummies you see in the shop window of Zara.
Has a mannequin ever moved you, emotionally?
Of course not! Why? Because mannequins have no emotion. And where there’s emotion, there’s connection.
Connection is key for any creation. You want the viewer to feel something when they encounter your work. In essence, you want the viewer to feel connected.
Let’s look at how we can add movement to your fashion sketches, so your model evokes emotion and connects with the viewer—without falling over.
1. Begin with Sketching Exercises
You might be short on time, but it’s worth giving yourself some space and a moment to warm up. The idea is to restrict yourself before you draw so you can feel entirely liberated throughout your fashion illustration practice.
Sketching exercises can be simple and fun, such as drawing with your less-dominant hand or without looking at your paper. Or try a one-line drawing — keep your pencil on the paper!
Ten to twenty minutes of sketching exercises will be enough to get you ready to draw fashion.
2. Draw freehand
It may tempt you to trace a fashion image but don’t. Fashion illustration is an interpretation, not an imitation. If you were learning to write a new language, how much do you think you’d learn if you copied and pasted the words?
After a few sketching exercises, drawing freehand will feel free. Forget the outcome, have no expectations and draw what you see.
Squint your eyes if you like; the prominent areas will jump out at you.
3. Forget the rules of fashion illustration
Using a fashion figure template is fine for designing fashion. But, for drawing fashion, you want to explore, don’t you? Then why follow a template?
Draw outside the box!
As a rule, fashion templates are proportionately nine heads long. But there are no rules in art. Let’s not forget, fashion illustration is an art form too.
Do you think fashion designers stick to rules when designing their collections?
No. They try to break them. Continue with those ridiculously long legs if you must.
4. Leave a little to the imagination
When you try to perfect every little detail, ask yourself, ‘Am I creating a fashion illustration or a floor plan?’
Leave something out — one eye, one foot — let the viewer imagine.
When we want to create something that looks realistic, we often believe we must capture every detail, but imagination is always more exciting than reality.
5. Create a focal point
You might unknowingly focus on everything. Instead, take one thing and focus on its detail to create a standout piece within your fashion illustration.
Draw attention to something.
It might be an earring, the eyes or billowing fabric. Add more detail here and there if you like, but aim to illustrate a definitive detail, that lures the viewer in.
Catch the viewer’s eye with one key element, because people don’t take everything in at once; they’re distracted by a single detail.
6. Suggest movement
Are you looking for a quick fix to add movement to your fashion illustration? Okay, try this!
Imagine there is a gentle breeze (or a wind machine). Draw a few flyaway strands of hair.
Let the fabric float in imaginary water. Relax your grip on your pencil or paintbrush and go with the flow.
By suggesting movement, you create a moment suspended in time. The viewer may even feel like they’re, momentarily, stepping into the picture i.e. your fashion world.
With movement, you will warm the viewer more so than with a frozen fashion sketch.
7. Start with guidelines
You may want to get stuck in straight away. After all, I’ve suggested to be free and forget the rules of fashion illustration.
But, hold on, we’re trying to avoid drawing a wooden mannequin here.
To begin, I always start by drawing two guidelines: the shoulder line and the hip line. These two simple lines guide every fashion illustration I draw.
Not only do you define the angles of the body, you also split your fashion figure into three manageable parts: the upper area, the middle area, and the lower area.
It works with seated poses, side poses; pretty much any pose. And if you can’t see the shoulders or the hips, look to the elbows, the knees, the feet. Adapt this idea however you can.
Now you have a loose framework to help you draw your fashion figure without feeling restricted by proportions.
Let’s draw fashion!
Too often, creativity can become heavy, like wading through knee-deep mud; you’re stuck, and nothing flows!
It’s a good idea to find lightness. Make it fun, explore and draw more.
Give yourself a break. Some days are not drawing days, so draw a different model or choose a different day. For every illustration I’ve drawn, there have been at least ten I’ve disregarded.
The impressionist artist, Van Gogh almost gave up on drawing people when he decided figure painting was impossible. Luckily, he came back to it.
Like a photographer, find the light and keep going until something clicks.
Don’t think of these as rules, rather ideas.
Ideas are suggestions you might consider when you’re feeling stuck with your fashion illustration. These notes should relax you and remind you to keep it simple.
1. Play with drawing exercises
2. Don’t trace; draw freehand
3. Ignore the templates; play with proportion
4. Leave something out
5. Focus on a small detail
6. Create movement with a swish of hair or fabric
7. Begin with two simple guidelines; the shoulder line and the hip line
If you do one thing, remember to enjoy the process. And choose to see the outcome as a welcome surprise.
For more help with your fashion drawing, grab my FREE Fashion Figures Guide here.
“You have to make thousands and thousands of drawings before an illustration is perfected.” —Richard MacDonald