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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!