Friday, July 14, 2017

A Year of Fashion Illustration Classes

For the last school year, I've been taking fashion illustration classes at Canada College in Redwood City. This is the same community college where I took Pants Drafting & Construction, Bustier, Copying RTW, Intro to Theater Costuming, and Textiles. In fact, the professor for this class is the same as the textiles class, and she is basically everything I would've wanted to be in a different life: an illustrator, knowledgeable about the chemistry of textiles, and a teacher! And what a teacher -- I haven't taken a serious art class in more than fifteen years, when I took an introductory drawing class my senior year in high school because I dropped out of second semester AP Physics. That was all about shading and stippling techniques and I think I drew a pretty awesome pine cone, but that's about all I remember. And before that class, the last time I picked up my paintbrush to do a serious painting was in eighth grade. Even then, I was pretty lost because my teacher's instructions basically consisted of "get your paintbrush wet and then paint until it looks good."

The one painting from that era that I don't cringe at was copied from a calendar when I was in a horse phase. I don't have any real pictures of it, but I found it in the background of this picture from Thanksgiving four years ago. My parents still have it hanging in their dining room, bless them. 

With that background, it was like an epiphany when our prof actually gave concrete instructions on how to proportion figures, illustrate different fabric types, and use various media effectively. As I told her on my last day of class, I feel like a whole new world has been unlocked for me (you know, because I needed more types of hobbies that involve a cabinet of supplies). No more staring enviously at other artists' illustrations and wondering how they knew how to do that; now I can do it too! Er, kind of.

Last fall, after several weeks of drawing stick figures, blocked figures, various body parts, and types of fabric, our first assignment was to put all of it together to do a black and white drawing. I drew a 1920s-inspired figure wearing a beaded flapper-ish dress and holding a fox-fur stole. It's funny, I was so pleased with it when I drew it, but looking back at it now I see so many mistakes!

Her right shoulder is too high and her pose looks a little awkward. 

The next assignment was to do a figure in sepia and/or monochromatic pastels, i.e. not a lot of color, but shading and texture as a focus. I went for a 1930s look, with a drapey bias-cut satin dress and huge fur coat. In contrast to my first assignment, I still love everything about this piece.

In the category of draw what you know, most of my figures read as Asian. 

The third assignment was an illustration using colored pencils, so we were supposed to choose nubbly and textured fabrics to render. I illustrated what was meant to be a boucle wool coat with tweedy trousers. This was my least favorite piece from first semester, which at the time I attributed to the medium, but it's funny because I ended up using color pencil a lot during second semester. I think I just didn't know what I was doing yet. Also I went overboard on the background. Or maybe I just didn't like it because it wasn't a vintage look?

I realized that the white hair made her look a lot like Ororo Munroe, so in a late night, last minute decision I added in the background, then hated it. I've gotten too used to being able to Ctrl+Z everything!

Our final project was a watercolor illustration, and I went with an Erte-inspired Art Nouveau figure. Despite a mistake on the shading of the draped folds on her dress, I still love how this one turned out, mostly because of the cheetah. This was the illustration that made me fall in love with watercolor as a medium; I realized I could actually control the moisture in order to get the color to do what I wanted, instead of letting the moisture control me. It's amazing what a good teacher can help you achieve!

I debated whether or not to take Advanced Fashion Illustration during second semester, because I knew I was going to be super busy with prepping my AP students for exams, plus the inevitable exhaustion of pregnancy and the continued demands of caring for a toddler. I'm so glad I did it, though, because I was able to build on my momentum from first semester, and who knows when I'll be able to take another class? It took two years for me to carve out time for myself to take these classes after having SHB, and he's a fairly easy kid, so I figured I should do what I can while I still can.

We started the semester by drawing more "extreme" poses (read: more attitude) and working on profile and back views. This was my attempt at a Poiret-inspired cocoon coat (something I definitely want to make one day, if/when I find the perfect velvet fabric) from the back, using pastels and color pencils:

Backgrounds: not my strong suit. That tree is just sad. 

Then we experimented with timed drawings, where we used brush pens to quickly capture a figure's style and movement. Unlike my previous pieces, these poses were based on fashion magazine photos since the limited time didn't allow for coming up with and perfecting my own figure poses.

We also spent a class period playing around with acrylic paints in the Stipelman technique, where, according to our prof, you just smoosh paint around until it looks good. I somehow ended up painting a pink wedding dress. I don't even like pink.

The first official assignment was to render four different types of fabric. I did a floral jacquard, an iridescent silk dupioni, a gold-flecked acrylic sweater knit, and a lovely ombre organza that had little colorful crinkles in it.

My silk dupioni rendering looks too dark because of how the light hit the fabric sample. Doing the jacquard was lots of fun though!

I seriously love this fabric; it's hard to appreciate the gold flecks until you see it in person and the light hits it right. I'm really pleased with how I captured the fuzzy boucle-ish texture though. This outfit is based on the actual costume I created for our high school's production of post-apocalyptic Antigone. One day I'll get around to blogging those costumes...

My inspiration for this figure/outfit was a combination of Zac Posen's 2016 Met gala gown for Claire Danes and the announcement of Noma Dumezweni's casting as Hermione in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I had this lovely iridescent organza with periwinkle in it and I imagined what Hermione's head-turning Yule Ball gown could've been. 

The next assignment was a fashion illustration portrait, where we were supposed to focus in on the face, which we hadn't really done before, while still illustrating at least part of an outfit up close. I chose to illustrate Anna May Wong, whom I've blogged about before, in her iconic Travis Banton sequined dragon dress.

I based the pose on this photo. I love how the sequined dragon turned out, but got carried away when doing the fabric at the bust area and it makes the dress look much less fitted than it actually should be. Also her face got too slim and doesn't look so much like Anna May Wong as it does my mom...

Then we spent several weeks working on an advertisement using a fashion figure; I really didn't want to spend that much time working on a random fashion line, nor did I have a business I really wanted to promote, so I ended up making a propaganda piece instead, for International Women's Day! I figured that I might as well advertise for something I actually care about, i.e. women's rights, and not a perfume or handbag.

I really wanted to capture the feel of teens-era women's suffrage posters, with the Art Nouveau-inspired font style and the vaguely military/heraldic imagery. I used an actual slogan from the women's suffrage movement on the banner.  

Our final project was to put together a presentation board with the technical flats, specs (measurements), photographs, and illustration of an actual garment, as if we were trying to sell/manufacture it for RTW. I chose my Roaring Twenties dress, as I figured that it would involve relatively few measurements, and since I came up with the pattern on my own, I could say it was really MY garment that I was showing off.

Even though taking these classes made for a hectic year (hello, late night drawing, rushing home from work to drive across the bridge in time for class, and extended screen time for SHB while Mommy finishes up last minute cutting and mounting on the days assignments are due!), it was so worth it to be able to make beautiful art again. I remember being in college and having an Elfwood account (anyone remember that site?) and marveling at their artists of the day and being so blown away by the art of Stephanie Law and Anke Eissmann especially, and wondering if I would ever be able to draw anything that beautiful. I've still got a long way to go, but art like that feels achievable instead of impossible now.


  1. I'm really impressed. All of those look incredible.

  2. I totally agree with you on what a difference a good teacher makes. I never would have gone to study art if it wasn't for that one teacher who pushed me and got the head of the school to let me join the adult life drawing classes to prepare me! Your work looks really awesome, I'm curious to see what's next!

    1. That's why I love being a teacher! I just wish I had had such a dedicated one when I was still figuring out what I wanted to do with my life.

  3. so interesting. such talent. Thank you so much for sharing all of this.

  4. Your work is stunning Cindy! Beautiful, sensitive, masterful-You are a Renaissance Woman.

  5. This is so neat! I'm also really impressed you managed to get through the classes. Even without a toddler I'm pretty sure I would have just dropped out after three weeks! Your illustrations are awesome, what a new world you're in! You can do anything!

    1. Our prof was really so encouraging though, and so clear in all the steps required to get to this point. If you ever have time I highly recommend the classes at Canada!

  6. First of all, I'm in awe of anyone who can work full time, while having small children. Add pregnancy and night school to the list and I'm even more impressed. Then you can draw. Beautifully. Now you are just showing off. Of course I am kidding (and more than a little envious).

    Wow, you are talented! Beautiful work.

    1. I only work part time, so I'm right there with you about the awe for full-time working moms! I am also supremely fortunate in having an easy kid and supportive husband, or else this night school thing wouldn't work at all.

  7. ELFWOOD. Gah! Thank you! I've been thinking of 'that website with all the amazing fantasy art on it - whatever it was called' for months. What a relief. And Stephanie Law. Her images were my favourites on Elfwood.

    Also. These drawings are amazing! I'm so impressed!

    1. Hahaha yessss I knew someone else must know about Elfwood and Stephanie Law!

  8. Ooh, I loved Anke Eissmann. She had the best Eowyn/Faramir fan art out there, and that's definitely my OTP. I'm very impressed with your artwork! I used to draw a lot, and even started out college as an art major, but I was never good at drawing people at all. (Much better with landscapes.) I miss doing art sometimes, since I basically never did it again after having an awful semester and switching to music. I'm also jealous that your community college has such fun sounding classes! Not that I'd be able to take one any time soon, especially now that I have two kids and rehearsals for two ensembles during the week. But still. I hope you find a way to keep the momentum going!


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