From clothes to accessories, fashion illustrations have a long history as a visual reference for a designer’s concepts or current fashion trends.
What makes a good fashion illustration, though? With help from content from Envato Market, let’s count down 10 top tips for creating great fashion illustrations to better your own sense of design and improve your illustrative work!
1. Understand Anatomy
It’s not always apparent if you’re looking at a stylized fashion figure that the artist is at their best when working from anatomically correct proportions. Knowing how to correctly draw a body allows for a variety of freedom when drawing figures and correctly drawing clothing. So whether you’re drawing from photographic reference or from life, you’ll be prepared with knowledge of the shape and proportions of what may not be visible when drawing clothed figures.
If you are presented with a figure whose body is hidden underneath a large dress, for instance, knowing the gestural form beneath it allows you to create poses that may not exist quickly and easily. Being able to move your figure around without having to directly copy from a photo or ask a model to make said pose means more flexibility when your client asks for a specific pose or concept.
2. Stylize to Optimize
When you do stylize your figure, after having learned basic anatomy, you’ll want to do so in order to bring more focus to a particular element of design. For instance, fashion figures are often long-legged and much taller than the average human. In average human proportions, a figure is six to seven heads tall, whereas a fashion figure is eight or even nine heads tall, with most of that additional length being taken up in the legs. This is often used to bring the viewer’s attention to the length of a dress or give the artist more space in which to create folds, movement, or texture within the fabric itself.
Exaggerate features of the figure or face of the figure in order to accentuate the designs being displayed. A tiny waist or large hips can show off the curves within a dress. Few facial features will keep the focus on the clothes or body itself. If the focus is on accessories or hair, make the hair big or understate the clothing. Much like caricatures or cartoons, exaggerations within the drawing will diminish some features or make others more prominent. Use stylization to tell a story with your fashion illustration.
3. Move With Purpose
A static fashion figure can be alright to draw, but you’ll find that it’s often a boring piece. Unless you’re telling a story about the serenity of design, you’ll want your figure to move within the space you set it. When you pose a figure dynamically, you create action for the clothing, hair, accessories or whatever else you’re drawing. You’ll also instantly aid your storytelling within your illustration. Is a figure dancing, walking, or flying through your picture plane? Answer such questions with your drawing. Illustrations tell stories through imagery.
Movement can also help the viewer understand what makes up the clothing you’re drawing or painting. We’ll discuss texture and weight within textiles more fully below, but understand that if a fabric is light and flowy or heavy and stiff, one of the best ways to show that is through how it moves when placed on a body or when the body itself is in motion.
A good way to understand how bodies, clothing, and various fabrics move is to watch models walk down a runway. They’re constantly in motion and often make a point to really show how their garment moves through exaggerated motions and turns.
4. Use Your Composition to Tell Your Story
In addition to clothing and movement aiding your storytelling, composition absolutely matters too. Is the figure frolicking through an empty white space, or are they in a setting complete with a background and other figures?
This is where fashion illustration may collide a bit with editorial illustration. Perhaps you’d like to illustrate the figure walking down a runway or through a busy city. Allowing a simple background into your work may help viewers understand the context for where or when a design is worn. Please note, however, that if a background is busy, it may overwhelm the fashion design itself.
Alternatively, you can eliminate many details if you use your composition to help fill them in. Perhaps you’ve decided only to create a line drawing. Allow portions of your figure’s movement, dress, and hair, to complete an image without having to draw it in. The viewer’s eye will do the rest of the work.
Take advantage of negative space and you’ll create more dynamic illustrations without having to create a background. Suddenly the plain white or solid color used within your piece is a part of the design itself, and you’re allowing the figure to exist not only within that space but because of that space.
5. Differentiate Between Fabrics With Texture
In my opinion, one of the most fun parts of fashion illustration is when an artist can show the weight and texture of a fabric within their drawing or painting. Whether they’ve taken the time to render corduroy or are skilled at showing the fabric’s weight through movement, I, as a viewer and artist, love to revel in these sorts of details. Instantly I understand the garment I’m seeing, and it’s far more tangible than everything being worn or shown looking the same.
Sure, it’s a green dress, but is it silk, tulle, or a heavy woven material? The way it’s drawn, the way it drapes around a figure, and even the way it’s colored or painted should give the viewer an idea of the sort of textile being depicted. At the very least, I want to understand what a garment may feel like when worn. If I’m being sold clothing from an illustration, for instance, I should be able to figure out if the clothing is warm and cozy or light and breezy. You’ll want to viewer to understand if the textile is smooth and soft or stiff and itchy.
You can show that something is smooth and soft by using longer, curved lines with illustrating, or show that it’s stiff and itchy with shorter, more rigid line work. Additionally, drawing in knitted textures would help the viewer understand that it’s a hand-knitted sweater versus a machine-woven garment or something made from jersey.
Practice textures within textiles by drawing swatches of your own clothing or experimenting with different textile styles you may be viewing in fashion magazines or on fashion-related websites.
6. Make Patterns Aplenty
Surface designs are often a big deal in fashion. They can make simple pieces more interesting and even be a focal point within an illustration. There are only so many silky dresses that will go down a runway before patterns start popping. Being able to really show off a Moschino show in illustrated form would be nothing without being able to showcase the patterns created for their garments.
Patterns can also tell stories in their own right. Classic patterns like houndstooth and chevrons may showcase current fashion trends or tell the story of clothing from a certain era. Consider the stories to be told of individuals who wear quiet, understated prints like simple dots or stripes versus loud, bright florals or paisley designs.
Textile patterns can also help coordinate various pieces when you match up a color or two from a print within other garments or accessories in a design. This is especially apparent when you’re illustrating a line of clothing and begin to notice how various pieces within a set, though not all worn together or by the same person, may call back to each other with the use of the same patterns or colors from a pattern.
7. Get Your Hair Done
Hairstyles, color, and textures can do a lot of an overall design. Different types of hairstyles may be worn by different people for a variety of reasons. Consider the way in which culture and ethnic heritage may affect the types of hairstyles a figure could wear. Not only will you be telling a story about who the person is or where they may be from, but you’ll also be allowing limits for the hair’s movement and style itself.
For instance, someone with very thin and straight hair wouldn’t be able to wear their hair in locs like someone with thick and textured hair. Learning how to illustrate braided, straight, curly, or other hair styles will also widen your skill set for every illustration occasion.
Hair can also help in the composition or be a main focal point as well. In terms of composition, the movement of the hair can be just as important as the movement of a garment. You’ll notice in many of the images in this article that most of the hair depicted is long and often moves with the dresses drawn in the illustration. You may want to consider hair to be another piece of the illustrated puzzle when creating fashion illustrations.
Additionally, hair can be a main focal point of a fashion illustration. If the story of the illustration is to depict a hairstyle or show off various hair accessories, the hair may be what drives the composition of the piece or even holds all of the action within it as a dress in a larger, full-body illustration would. Many of the tips for clothing apply for hair as well: form, texture, composition, movement, and style are all relevant points when featuring a hairstyle within your fashion illustration.
8. Focus on Accessories
Sometimes the entire focus may be not on a garment or hair, but on an accessory. This may mean a portion of the body is the only thing depicted in a fashion illustration or that there is no figure present at all. Additionally, you may be creating a full-bodied illustration and accessories may just feature heavily in your illustration.
Consider, for full-bodied pieces, what sort of stories can be told with the addition of accessories. Imagine drawing a beautiful, historical queen. What sort of accessories would she wear? Crown, jewelry, fancy shoes, and a scepter, perhaps. You can tell a story of decadence the more accessories you add, or of simplicity by only featuring a small bracelet or simple necklace within a design.
Consider, for accessory-focused pieces, what you would think about if you were drawing garments on figures: texture, patterns, composition, stylizations, and more. The same tips that apply to clothing and hair also apply to accessories. You’re telling stories with objects placed on or around a figure.
Consider, for accessory-only pieces, what sort of information you’d like the viewer to understand without seeing an associated figure. For instance, if you’re only drawing shoes and a handbag, coordinating the two based on material or design may tell a story of a well put together person. Or a pair of sneakers and a backpack would tell the story of a student or young person.
9. Understand Perspective
The topic of accessories brings us to another foundation skill: perspective. Understanding how objects exist within a space can only help you illustrate them in an accurate way. While stylization is definitely welcome within your designs, knowing the rules can help you break them in interesting and aesthetically pleasing ways.
Consider the idea, explored above, of only drawing shoes and handbags. In order to make those objects seem tangible without having a figure within your illustration to help, draw them as though they not only exist in space, but exist on a plane and someone could reach out and touch them. That will allow the viewer to better connect with the object and understand the size and shape of the object.
Additionally, if you have two or more objects together in a small scene or even floating about in space, you’ll likely want to show that they’re interacting. This means showing they’re on the same plane and subjecting them to the same style of perspective as well as overlapping objects, using similar lighting, and using the same design style to illustrate both (unless you’re making a purposeful statement or telling a story by not doing so).
10. Render Non-Textile Surfaces Differently
Much like being able to show how an object interacts with others within the same space, non-textile objects should be rendered so the viewer understands what is being depicted.
For instance, if you’re illustrating Cinderella’s glass slipper, you’re going to have to create a transparent, reflective shoe that the viewer will understand is glass or crystal or something similar, rather than something that looks exactly like a leather or silk shoe.
If the artist has created a metallic dress and they mean for it to be made of metal versus just being gold or silver in color, they’ll need to really showcase the reflective properties of that material (as well as construct it within the limits of a metal object) so the viewer understands that it’s not just paint that’s making something look gold, but rather gold itself being depicted.
Much like showing the texture, weight, and limits of movement within a textile, being able to render various objects so the viewer understands what they’re comprised of not only helps communicate concept design and storytelling within a fashion illustration, but also allows the viewer to better connect with what’s been drawn as being analogous to a real-world object or familiar material.
Let’s Break It Down!
Now that we’ve run through all ten tips for creating fantastic fashion illustrations, let’s break it down with a handy checklist:
- Understanding anatomy will help you draw fashion figures in a variety of poses.
- Stylize to optimize the garment, accessories, or design being depicted.
- Create figures in motion in order to keep your figure from looking static and stiff.
- Use both positive and negative space in order get the most out of your composition.
- Render textiles and show the weight and movement limits of them so viewers understand what sort of fabric is being illustrated.
- Draw patterns within your textile designs in order to create more interesting clothing or tell stories within your work.
- Don’t forget about how important hair and hairstyles can be to a design, composition, or your overall illustration.
- Don’t forget about accessories: they can complete an illustration or be one in their own right.
- Understanding perspective and how objects interact with one another or a figure within space will help you draw nearly anything needed for your illustration.
- Render non-textile surfaces accordingly so the viewer understands the difference between each surface within your illustration.