Fashion illustration for the Instagram age

Gill Button
Oh how I’m loving the Instagram-fuelled return of fashion illustration that’s been percolating for the last year or so. Instagram is the perfect platform for illustrators, having an emotional, almost tactile pull that filtered-to-the-hilt photography generally doesn’t. It’s a craft that we love to try to get close to, so any indication of work-in-progress tools – brushes, marker pens, sketch books, paint palettes – adds an extra layer of appeal.

I think my first illustrator followee on Instagram was Tanya Ling whose work for Louis Vuitton and numerous other brands is delightfully energetic. Her @Tanya_Ling Instagram page is a work of art in itself, using the grid format to play with her sometimes abstract compositions, while @idea_drawings is dedicated to her painterly fashion illustrations. David Downton was another of my early followees. His archive is endless and he thrills his followers with old and new finished works, sketches and fabulous snippets of storytelling. I also love Kate Schelter, Justin Teodoro and Jeremiah Goodman.

Tanya Ling fashion illustration

david Downton fashion illustration

Then there are the illustrators who have been discovered by brands on Instagram, leading to brilliant and engaging collaborations. Jonathan Anderson came across artist Kelly Beeman when she tagged him last year in one of her renderings of his J.W. Anderson collection. He commissioned some more works and now her watercolours decorate his studio.

Kelly Beeman fashion illstration

You probably know about Gill Button (aka @Buttonfruit, top and below) and Helen Downie (aka @Unskilledworker) who have both been championed by Alessandro Michele’s Gucci. Their evocative portraits lend themselves beautifully to Gucci’s newly romantic (and slightly twisted) aesthetic, while the entire #Guccigram campaign has led to a huge interest in the art of fashion illustration overall.

Gill Button fashion illustrator

Unskilled Worker Helen Downie

Unskilled worker fashion illustrator

A powerful evolution of the illustration revival is the use of animation and time-lapse video to bring the images to life. I’ve been trialling the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil with an app called Sketchbook, which has a record function. This can be saved, then shared to Instagram using time-lapse to create a speedy 15-second video which shows the pencil and brushstrokes being drawn. If you love to sketch, I’m warning you, it’s truly addictive.

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The sense of watching an artist at work is deeply immersive. Gill Button, who illustrated the Dries van Noten AW16 show invitations also found another benefit from having her work shown on Instagram. Dries’ make-up artist Peter Phillips used her brushstrokes to inform his own creativity in the make-up designs for the show. As Button recalled afterwards, “I met Peter backstage and he was saying he watched the video from Dries’ Instagram of me drawing the invitations to help guide how he would do the makeup. It’s kind of come full circle, as I’ll go home and paint photographs that show his makeup. In the end, there’s a nice ripple effect of it all.”

Gill Button illustration

For luxury heritage brands including Hermès, Valextra, Smythson and Gucci, animated illustration is a way of imbuing their products with life and personality and works especially well with inanimate accessories. Unlike using a recognisable model or celebrity face, the viewer can bring their own imagination to the imagery. There’s a lightness to the work of Clym Evernden for Valextra or the many Hermes animations I’ve seen on Instagram that’s fun and charming without taking away from the serious craft of the brand. With mobile video content becoming ever more important for brands, this is a way for luxury houses to offer an immersive micro-experience to the 15-second attention span consumer.

My advice to any aspiring or struggling illustrator? Get yourself on Instagram and Pinterest. I recently consulted on a project where I had to help source illustrators and animators for a fashion campaign. I found lots when I searched agency sites but I was surprised at how few illustrators (including well known ones) were active on Instagram. The campaign I was researching for was courting creative influencers with a certain follower count. The creative influencer is going to be a growth area now that the ‘fashion influencer’ space is saturated. By having an active profile on Instagram, you can get discovered, promote your own brand and develop your skill as never before. Why wait?

WORDS: Navaz Batliwalla/Disneyrollergirl