London Fashion Week kicks off this week, indulging us in a preview of the next season trends. So while we’re celebrating all things London fashion, Belle’s own Zuzana Ritchie caught up with fashion and beauty illustrator Sarah Smart and took a virtual sneak peek at what it takes to become a successful professional illustrator.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen you without your pencil and sketchbook or an iPad. When did you pick up your first pencil and never let it go?
I was always drawing on a fashion wheel as a child. Later on I was encouraged to go to a ‘red brick University’ to do a ‘proper degree’ because Art was not viewed as a lucrative career choice, I only took half of the advice but followed my inner voice too and studied illustration for the next four years. After the university I started working for various fashion magazines, whilst figuring out the marketing and business side of the illustration industry.
Did your time at the fashion magazines prove to be beneficial or did it derail you somewhat from your illustrating career?
It was actually great to work on ‘the other side’ and see how each art team of different magazines worked on various campaigns for eclectic number of brands but I was always drawing at my lunch breaks. In the end, I built up enough clients to take up illustration full-time.
Where and how do you find inspiration? Do you carry your illustrating tools everywhere, just in case?
Fashion photography images are a huge inspiration in terms of content. I like the style of 50’s illustrators like Hilda Glasgow, Andy Warhol and Renee Grau and love pouring over pages of vintage Vogue issues and last year’s exhibition ‘Vogue 100: A Century Of Style’ at the National Portrait Gallery was a visual feast. When I’m out and about I usually take photos, in case something catches my eye. I was in a coffee shop with my husband in Soho the other day and he looked at me in confusion, as I was simultaneously ordering coffee and taking a sneaky photo of a girl sitting nearby. I liked her outfit and the way she was sitting, so I snapped it to draw it in my sketchbook later that day.
Do you have a signature style you stick to and creative freedom when commissioned or does it always depend on the client or a brand?
I’m a real ‘pencil and paper girl’ who loves the raw, hand-drawn elements, watercolours and inks but my style is always evolving because it’s a natural progression. Recently I’ve been drawing with the Apple pencil on my iPad and I’m growing to love it more and more, as it brings out a new, bolder style in me. Most clients have a rough idea in their heads and once you work with someone a few times they are more likely to trust your style and opinion about what works best for their brand. I tend to adapt my style according to client’s vision but my illustrations are always hand-drawn and textured with inks and watercolours before I digitalise them, adding more contemporary elements.
Speaking of Apple, you recently hosted ‘Today at Apple’ live event at their flagship store on Regent Street in London. Which brand collaborations count as the ‘Wow’ moment in your career diary?
‘Today at Apple’ was definitely a real ‘WOW moment’ when I walked into their store and saw my name and my illustration work on the big screen. I was doing live-drawing of the guests, which was aired to the big screen at the same time, to inspire them with the ways they can use the Apple products. Another ‘pinch-me’ moment was illustrating live in the Gallerie Lafayette in Paris on a podium in the middle of their beauty department, sketching portraits for the customers. ‘Vogue Fashion Night Out with Hobbs’ was also a fabulous night – and a great night for London fashion – drawing at the speed of light for queuing fashionistas and another wonderful moment was at a Beauty Festival at the Saatchi Gallery.
What advice do you have for aspiring illustrators out there? What attributes do you think are necessary to make it in the industry?
Style, passion and drive. Aside from being able to draw, I think you just have to really love it. It takes some time to develop a recognisable style that works for you but once you find it, keep it fresh and exciting. A good business sense and knowing your worth are essential too. I am a member of The Association Of Illustrators who offer a great support should I ever find myself in a tricky situation when commissioned.
What’s next in line for you and how do you find juggling motherhood and running a successful illustrating career?
It’s definitely a juggle! Becoming a mum inspires me to work with lifestyle brands even more and I’d really love to collaborate with children fashion brands. The range of clothes out there now is so stylish, unlike the 80’s fashion we were sporting when growing up (sorry Mum!). I also value my time more and staying on top of business side of things became crucial. Having an agent now really helps, amongst other things they sort out the marketing side for me. I’ve also been involved in more personal work and wedding commissions recently, such as illustrating the invites, doing a live drawing at the wedding and other wedding-related illustrations gifts for the bride or the bridesmaids. I have a shop section on my website of all the personal work too.
- To find our more see www.sarahsmartillustration.com or follow Sarah on Instagram @sarahsmartdraws