True Story: I’m A Fashion Illustrator

fashion illustrator job

Tell us a bit about yourself! 
My name is Danielle Meder. I’m from rural Ontario – I was homeschooled in a log home on a hobby farm as a kid. We had goats and chickens and played outside in the woods a lot. It was a pretty idyllic childhood but I always knew I wanted to be a city girl. I was obsessed with history – especially film history, costume, and 20th century pop culture. Total bookworm, always at the library. I dreamt of being an author like Margaret Atwood or a costume historian like Valerie Steele, and of course I was always drawing.
Now, I’m a 31-year-old fashion illustrator. I still love the library, and I love big cities too. I live in a shared apartment in a gentrified residential neighbourhood in Toronto, while my studio is nearby in a less gentrified neighbourhood. When I’m not at fashion week my life isn’t very fashion-y at all.

I spend time with my guy, in the summer we like to garden. I cycle around the city, hang out with my friends. It’s a very diverse, tolerant city so it’s easy to meet many different kinds of people, which I really enjoy. I like living near my extended family too.

For those of us who don’t know, what does a fashion illustrator do?
A fashion illustrator, in broad terms, is someone who draws clothing, either on or off the figure. I’ve never met a fashion illustrator who does the exact same thing as I do in a practical sense. Everyone’s career is so different. Some are more like fine artists who sell their work in galleries or as prints. Some are commercial illustrators who work to a client’s brief. Some are professors.
Myself, I do a number of different, disparate things that are still all related. The nature of the work is that some of it is more visible and glamourous. I attend fashion shows and do quick runway sketches, either with watercolours or on the iPad. I also draw detailed, contemporary fashion paper dolls.

I have media and commercial clients that you may have heard of. I do speaking and teaching gigs, and have even collaborated on some performance art projects. I write my own peculiar brand of fashion analysis, which I call trend theory. Occasionally I do sketching at events and parties.

Then I have other work that is more hidden. Because I was trained as a designer, I have a number of fashion designer clients who hire me to do figure drawings (sometimes called croquis) or technical drawings (flats). Since I know the terminology and understand how clothing is made, I’m good at translating a designer’s ideas visually so their factories and clients can understand them.

I also do instructional drawings for home sewing patterns. My paper doll projects have led to occasional work as an artist or consultant on fashion avatar games.

How did you first become interested in this line of work? 
It’s not so much like I became interested in the work, more like my interests led me to the work? I guess I could have become a fashion designer, but I wanted more freedom. Fashion designers are at the mercy of an endlessly repeating schedule, responsible for materials and people and inventory.

It’s quite logistically intense and not at all as glamourous as it seems. I’m a bit too bohemian for that kind of responsibility. I like the independence and flexibility of moving from project to project, and the chance to invent my own career on my own terms and in my own time.

Tell us about your training and schooling! 
At 19, I moved to Toronto to attend university for fashion design. I was a very dedicated, self-directed student, independent to a fault. I started fashion blogging as Final Fashion in 2005, while I was still at school, at a time when there was just a handful of fashion bloggers. My professors advised me against it, back then people thought that if you were a blogger you would get fired from your job.

I did really well at school, got Honours I think? After graduation, I failed to launch in the sense that I’ve never gotten a full time job. Instead it seems I’ve entered my career by osmosis, gradually and idiosyncratically. Clients found my drawings on my blog and hired me, and one day I printed “fashion illustrator” on my business cards, and that was that!

You regularly attend fashion shows, which (to those of us who don’t work in fashion) seems very glamorous. Is it? What’s your usual fashion show experience like?

It’s nothing like it looks on TV. A lot of it is just the logistics of seating a large crowd in a large venue. During a brief flash of light a few models walk by and it’s glamourous, and then everyone leaves. So, glamourous? Yes, and no. The 40 minutes or so while everyone is getting seated is the best people-watching time, and sometimes the audience is more exciting than the show.

Very occasionally you will have the privilege to view a real fashion moment – an exciting collection. But the more shows you attend, the less frequently that happens, which is why fashion people are notorious for their conspicuous displays of boredom and entitlement.

For me, I’m always unfashionably enthusiastic, it’s always exciting because I’m drawing, and I love to draw fashion. I like the challenge of doing it quickly and in such an unusual, extreme environment. Expressing all of that sensory stimulation in the moment is what gives the live-sketching style its compelling urgency and liveliness.
Has being a part of the fashion industry affected your own style choices? 
I am much more discriminating than I can afford to be. Most of my clothing is second hand alterations, with a few high-end staples – my parka, glasses, and satchel were all expensive investments and are worn daily. I am a discriminating thrifter and kind of geeky about natural textiles. Quality is important to me, I take care of my clothing and I do a lot of mending, so I don’t do a lot of shopping.
Since I can’t afford designer clothing but I must somehow walk among people who do, solving “what to wear to fashion week” is a recurring problem I need to be intrepid about solving. Since I got my new studio I’m back to making my own clothes again – sewing shirts, shirt-dresses and skirts. I’m trying to invent my own unique style signature from scratch.

I’m extremely partial to workwear and natural fabrics, I need my clothing to be absolutely functional, and yet I also need to appear sophisticated in the context of a fashion show. The whole situation is like my-life-as-a-Project-Runway-challenge.

Tell us about an average day on the job.
Tricky! One thing I love about my work is that it’s so varied. I guess on a pretty usual day, I get up in the morning, have my coffee and breakfast, and then walk or ride to the studio. I have my second coffee and I answer my email, get the admin out of the way & do a little internet socializing as we blogger-types do. If I’m on a deadline, I’ll start working on that. If I’m not, I might work on a blog post.

It takes me forever to do proper blog posts these days. Usually they involve a few weeks of thinking and researching and writing and drawing. To me, blogging is more like art than my illustration work. It’s a sandbox for expressing my own ideas, and I enjoy experimenting.

I’m a morning person, I’m very sharp in the morning and then I tend to think less clearly as the day goes on. If I’m working into the evening I like to do more physical, less analytical tasks like cutting and sewing, or inking, or colouring on photoshop. Often while listening to podcasts or watching whatever on youtube. I work in a lively shared studio so it’s nice to have other people around to talk shop with, brothers and sisters in self-employment and the visual arts.
Can you tell us a bit more about the nuts and bolts of your job? Who hires you?
Fashion designers, home sewing pattern companies, art directors, authors, publicists, software developers, colleges, event planners, curators, game developers, etc… all sorts. I’ve done some pretty random gigs. I’m totally self-supported, so I don’t get to be as picky as some.

Do you do commission work?

I don’t do a lot of portraiture, it’s very much a separate discipline from fashion illustration. Occasionally I will do a personal commission, if the client understands and appreciates my style and the subject has a fashion element.
How/where do you find clients?
They find me usually! I don’t like cold calling and I rarely pitch. When I have time, I try to work on interesting personal projects that are visible to new audiences. That’s as self-promotional as I get.

How many hours a week do you work?

I have no idea, I never keep track. It doesn’t help that a lot of stuff I do for fun could be work-related, or that a lot of stuff I do for work is a lot of fun. I don’t usually spend more than 6 hours a day in the studio unless I’m on a deadline. My time is my own, so I work less when the weather’s good and more when it’s crummy, like this winter has been. Every week is different.
How long does one drawing take?
A live runway sketch takes just a minute or two, not counting the six years it took me to learn how to do it. A paper doll with a decent sized wardrobe is a couple weeks of work.
How are your drawings used?
Many of my drawings are not useful, though some of the better ones are delightful. The useful ones help give form to an idea that doesn’t yet exist, or transmit an idea from one mind to another.
What are the biggest benefits of your job? The biggest drawbacks?
The greatest benefit is that I get to be me, and that I am the best and only person who can do this job! I truly feel like my work is a natural extension of my interests and personality.
The biggest drawback is that my work is inseparable from myself, so all my professional problems are also existential crises, and every fuckup is my own damn fault.
Do you see yourself doing this forever? 
Yes, I’ll be drawing until my wrist goes, I really can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s reassuring to me that many of the greatest fashion illustrators do their best work in the second half of their lives. Yet I also occasionally feel an urge to share my clothing designs, in spite of my better judgement. Maybe I’ll become a fashion designer some day, if I can figure out a way to do it on my own terms.
What’s one thing you’ve learned on the job that any of us could apply to our lives?
Intention matters. The way you feel and think is revealed in the character of the lines you draw.

Thanks so much for sharing, Danielle! Do you guys have any questions for her?

P.S. True Story: I’m A Supermodel

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  1. Shannon Butler

    This is amazing! I love when people get to have very niche careers that make use of their talents and that still allow them a lot of freedom.

  2. Jeneric Generation

    My favorite part was at the end: "Intention matters. The way you feel and think is revealed in the character of the lines you draw." I have been learning that this is so true. I loved this interview! Thank you both for sharing.

  3. Viv Smith

    What did the six years of learning how to do this look like?

  4. Lulu

    This is such a lovely true story – thanks so much for sharing!

  5. evelyn rowland

    danielle, brilliant interview! cleared up a lot of questions and inspired me to stay me 🙂

  6. Danielle

    Thanks everyone for your kind comments, it makes me glad!

    • Nayab Syeda

      Hi Danielle,
      If I were to ask you where can I start as a fashion illustrator, and how to find clients what would you suggest ?
      I am very interested in fashion illustration
      but I have no idea where to and how to begin. Can you please offer some help? Thank you.

      • Karen

        Hey Nayab!!

        Hope my comment is not too late, anyway thought it might be useful for someone in your same situation 😀

        I’m also a fashion illustrator, I’ve eight years of experience, and I’ve created a FREE email course to help all fashion illustrators to give their first steps 🙂

  7. Tina

    thank you for this inspiring interview, i loved it! i would love to have a job like yours 🙂

  8. Camri

    You have the perfect job! I am looking into being a fashion illustrator and all of your information is useful! Thank you

  9. Merina Steimel

    Love your story. I was a fashion drawer and i dreamed too much and love to dressed up on babie dolls. I stopped for 25 years for my own reason as I am deaf. i am back on now and trying to remember my drawing again and i am attending a course in two weeks time.I am looking forward to it. It’s my dream. I hope it’s never too late. my dreams is I would love to go to Milan for the winner. I am proud of you for your successful!!!!! keep up with your dreams work.

  10. Afreen Fatima

    Hey, it’s so so refreshing and cheerful feeling reading ur blog, I’m fashion illustrater looking forward to make my dreams come true and have a good job in Fashion field.

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