The fashion industry is dynamic and fast-moving—with every season comes new trends, color palettes, and designs. And that’s exactly what makes a fashion illustration career so exciting. Fashion illustrators capture innovative trends in a variety of mediums, from watercolor to digital art. For artists who have an eye for style, this career path is the perfect intersection of fine art and fashion design.
Want to learn more about pursuing a fashion illustration career? Read on for a comprehensive guide, including day-to-day responsibilities, preferred degrees, required skills, and where to find jobs in fashion illustrating.
What Is a Fashion Illustrator?
In general terms, fashion illustration is the art of drawing clothing (or sometimes accessories, like handbags or shoes), either on its own or on a figure. Some fashion illustrators create digital compositions, while others prefer traditional mediums, such as pencil, pen, watercolor, or marker.
However, within that definition, fashion art illustrations can look very different from artist to artist, based on your individual interests or skills. A career in fashion design illustration could include:
- Live sketching at fashion shows or other events
- Working with commercial clients to create sketches from a creative brief
- Creating fashion illustrations for marketing, packaging, or advertising materials
- Translating designers’ ideas and concepts into fashion drawings
- Editorial illustration for fashion magazines
- Creating fine art to sell to galleries or reproduce as prints
Do you have to have an eye for fashion to become a fashion illustrator? While you might think that comes with the territory, it’s not a requirement. While some artists conceptualize their own clothing designs, others simply illustrate clothing and accessories that have already been created, like those that are shown in a runway show or already exist within a clothing collection.
In many cases, fashion design illustrations involve more than just clothes, so fashion design illustrators must also have deep knowledge of the human form, including an understanding of facial and body proportions. This is especially important when figures are drawn mid-movement—for example, walking on a runway. As an artist, you must understand how to show that movement through the clothes, like the way a skirt flows or pants crease as a model walks forward. You must also know how to portray texture and color, so your illustrations accurately represent the clothing designs.
What Does a Fashion Illustrator Do on a Daily Basis?
While every fashion design illustrator’s day will look a little different—depending on their clients, work style, and current projects—it typically consists of two main areas: business and art.
On the business side, you may spend part of your day sending emails, seeking out new opportunities, and attending meetings or phone calls with current clients.
On the artistic side, you will study photos, create drawings, paintings, and digital fashion illustrations, and make revisions based on client feedback.
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Fashion Design vs. Fashion Illustrating
At this point, you may be wondering, “What is fashion illustration? What is fashion design? And what’s the difference?” While both are important jobs in fashion, they differ in significant ways.
The ultimate goal of a fashion designer is to conceptualize and create clothing and accessories. This process typically includes sketching designs (which they can do themselves or outsource to a fashion illustrator), selecting fabrics, and working with manufacturers and retailers to produce and sell the pieces.
Fashion illustrators, on the other hand, focus solely on drawing the clothing or accessories, whether that drawing is for a designer, a magazine, or another client in the industry.
How to Become a Fashion Illustrator
Ready to get started on the path to becoming a fashion design illustrator? Here’s what you need to know.
What Degree to Pursue
There’s no one fashion illustration degree that qualifies you for the job. For most, the career path starts with a general interest in art. Whether you’re self-taught or earn a college degree, you must focus on honing your creative skills and developing your own artistic style. If you decide to do that through a college or university, many fashion artists pursue degrees in graphic design or a fine arts degree. Some schools even offer fine arts programs in fashion design.
Arguably more important than a degree is your portfolio. Aspiring fashion illustrators must build a portfolio to showcase their work and use when they apply for potential fashion illustration jobs. This is where you can show your individual style as a fashion illustrator. As you cultivate your skills and build your portfolio, make sure to experiment with different mediums and styles to determine what you truly love and what best represents you as an artist.
While there is no one degree that qualifies you to become a fashion illustrator, there are a few required skills:
- Ability to draw by hand or in a digital medium, such as Procreate, with a focus on illustrating figures, faces, clothing, and accessories
- Willingness to experiment with different mediums, from watercolors to markers to digital art, until you find your signature style
- Mastery of color and texture, so you can accurately illustrate a wide variety of clothing and accessories
- Understanding of how to follow a creative brief, so you can deliver work that meets your clients’ expectations
- Networking and relationship-building skills to help you find and maintain clients
- Marketing and branding skills to build your business identity and promote your work
Where and How to Find Fashion Illustration Jobs
Most fashion illustrators work on a freelance basis, although some companies do hire in-house fashion design artists. A wide variety of businesses and individuals can hire freelance fashion illustrators, including:
- Fashion designers
- Home sewing pattern developers/companies
- Art directors
- Event planners
Finding freelance fashion illustrator jobs typically starts with a robust portfolio of your work, which you can show to potential employers to demonstrate your skills and unique style. Beyond a portfolio, consider using the following resources in your job hunt:
- Marketing and branding: Marketing is an important aspect of finding freelance fashion illustration jobs. The industry is competitive, so it’s critical to make yourself and your work stand out. Learning how to build your brand, share your work, and grow a following on social media will help you get your name out there, so people can find and hire you.
- Networking: Networking is key in any career, but it’s especially important in the fashion industry, where it’s all about who you know. Attend as many fashion events as you can and get to know designers, magazine editors, publicists, and other professionals in the industry. Interact, ask questions, and strive to develop genuine relationships—eventually, they could lead to job opportunities.
- Mentors: Start by familiarizing yourself with well-known fashion illustrators. See whose work speaks to you, and then follow those illustrators on social media, study their work, and let them inspire you. In addition, use your networking skills to find an established fashion illustrator or designer who can serve as your mentor. Learn from them, both in your craft and in a business sense, and seek their feedback.
- Agents: Some fashion illustrators also choose to collaborate with an agent, who will work on your behalf to find clients and opportunities. If you choose to go this route, do your homework. Research agencies thoroughly to make sure they align with your chosen style. For example, you may find that some specialize in editorial, while others focus on live events.
Fashion Illustrator Salary Potential
Fashion illustrators in the U.S. make an average annual salary of just under $60,000 according to Glassdoor, although that can vary based on location and experience. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a slightly lower average, at about $53,000 per year, but that figure accounts for graphic designers of all types. Zippia reports that the top 10% of fashion illustrators make over $96,000 per year.
There’s no one right way to pursue a fashion illustrator career. Focus on developing your artistic abilities and unique style, compiling your portfolio, and networking with experienced professionals in the industry. You may be surprised at the opportunities that come your way.
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