Back in the day when glossy magazines first started appearing for sale, drawing was the only way to showcase the latest fashions and trends. Once photography arrived on the scene, illustration was pushed to the side so much so that it eventually became obsolete. However, now things are changing and New York based fashion illustrator Rachel Chiu is the latest bright, young, talented illustrator making this medium her own and bringing it back into the forefront.
Her illustration features minimal compositions, expressive line work and a truly exquisite attention to detail. I was first introduced to her through a friend who urged me to get an illustration for myself. So I emailed Rachel and not only was an illustration illustrated, but an interviewee was interviewed. I love the illustration and this interview is one of my personal favourites.
I love your aesthetic – the minimal compositions, expressive line work, and attention to detail all help to create truly beautiful illustrations. How did you develop your style and where do you draw your inspiration from?
I’ve always loved the simplicity of black and white. I like strong, deep colors and contrast and am attracted to art that has a focus point in the composition. I take inspiration for this in all aspects of my life, from the way I dress myself to the things I’m attracted to when I travel or shop. I just believe that each piece should have a focal point that grabs the eye, and in the case of fashion illustrations – I try to make it all about the clothes!
The minimal simplicity of your illustrations speaks of the confidence you have in your work. However, has there ever been a pressure to conform with other illustrators or to change your style and add unnecessary embellishments to your illustrations?
I do find myself studying the work of other illustrators and while there hasn’t been direct pressure to depart from my style completely, I have had projects in which the client has a specific aesthetic in mind, and I have to cater to their needs. But I always see this as a way to break out of my comfort zone, perhaps even to expand that zone – and a good way to experiment with new techniques.
Do you illustrate using traditional methods or do you prefer to use digital methods? Why?
I do traditional illustrations in the form of hand drawings; pencil, micron pens, and brush markers are my true calling! I do however use programs like Adobe Photoshop to to adjust colors. I’ve also worked on an app called SketchBookPro which is really amazing! I quite enjoy quick sketches on digital programs such as the one i mentioned; you can really get a lot across in a short amount of time.
What are your creative process when starting an illustration? How long does it take to complete a drawing?
I usually start the process by sketching out the composition in pencil. I then slowly fill in the details with a micron pen and work out the the exact placements of all the components. The final touch is filling in the shading with the brush markers to bring the drawing to life!
When you do use colour in your illustration it is always incredibly striking. What is your approach to using colour?
This goes back to my point about being really attracted to contrast and creating a focal point for the piece. Using color allows me to do that.
As someone who is trying to build their reputation in the fashion illustration field, what do you think are some of your biggest challenges?
I think exposure is definitely the biggest challenge. My work is all visual, so I’m always faced with getting the right people to actually see it. However, with social media, I’ve been able to get the word out – I am grateful to Twitter and Instagram!
Do you approach fashion illustration differently when you work with clients?
It depends on the project, certain clients have a specific idea in mind when they come to me, but there are other projects where I’m able to have more creative input right from the beginning and I can pitch some of my own ideas. So far it’s been a nice blend of both.
Fashion illustration has been a fashion industry tradition for nearly 500 years. Which fashion illustrators have had the greatest impact on your work?
I actually really look up to and admire the work by Aitor Throup. I interned at his studio a few years back and it was such an amazing experience. I felt so inspired by the attention to detail and the imagination in his drawing style and it was surreal to see the designs turn into actual garments.
Fashion magazines seem to rely heavily on photography rather than illustration, yet as an art form fashion illustration seems to be going from strength to strength. Do you think there will ever be a resurgence of fashion illustration in magazines or has the function of fashion illustration changed?
I really believe so! I think already I’ve seen a renewed interested in illustration. So long as the use of an illustration strengthens the article’s message and the two can work to support each other. I believe that fashion illustration can totally make a comeback.
Thank you so much Rachel!
And aren’t the images stunning? They are all of my illustration as it was being completed – LOVE. When I recieved my illustration in the post it was a little like the Christmas of my childhood – I was that excited.