Cass Art catches up with the wonderfully talented freelance fashion illustrator Carol Ryder for the low down on how to get started with illustration. From the practicalities of clients and models to favourite her favourite materials and advice for a positive work ethic, Carol's expertise covers all the bases.
How did you find your passion in illustration?
Since childhood I have been obsessed with drawing faces and figures. When I was very little I was never happier than when I had a fresh pad of paper and some crayons, paints or pencils - but all I ever wanted to draw were people. As I grew older and my drawing improved, I discovered I could quite readily produce recognisable portraits, and by age 11 I was sending portraits of pop stars into magazines and getting them published. Quite a thrill to a little girl!
Can you explain your working process, technique and your favourite materials to use?
Although my illustration techniques vary, my ‘default setting’ is watercolour, which is what I'm known for and what people tend to want when they commission my work. Most of the time I use the little Winsor and Newton bottles of ink with copious amounts of water - which actually does most of the work - and sometimes a bit of salt for added texture. Beyond that though, when I'm just playing around, I experiment with mixed-media, pastels, pencils, markers, collage, stitch, photo-montage, photography, computer manipulation, odd stuff like nail-varnish, fabric, Tippex and glue … anything really that might keep me amused and possibly create some new and interesting effects.
What is it like working with clients and models?
I work a lot with models in a variety of ways - actually mostly when I organise catwalk shows which I do fairly regularly for my students. In this capacity, models are usually fine to work with - it's very rare to get divas these days! In terms of the figures and faces I draw, I usually draw from a combination of photographs; eyes from one image, hair from another ... that sort of thing. I would love to take my own photographs to work from, or work more from live models, but the cost of models and photographic studios are prohibitive, sadly. As for working with clients - communication can be quite tricky. Clients often have an idea of what they want from an image, but communicating this effectively to an artist can be quite a challenge! It's easiest when they like an image I've already produced, because then it just becomes a case of: "like that but with blonde hair, blue eyes and THIS dress" ... or whatever. I'm not very good at being patient, so endless to-ing and fro-ing with images drives me mad - so I'm happier producing work for myself, rather than other people - selfish!
What advice would you give to budding fashion illustrators?
Keep drawing, and try to enjoy it! Don't just produce work for specific commissions. If you put yourself under too much stress, you will only make yourself miserable, and it's difficult then to produce effective fashion illustration. If you have a healthy body of work under your belt - and I don't mean commissioned work, necessarily, just work you have produced to please yourself - you will probably be able to use images you've already created as a starting-point for new commissioned pieces. Oh, and don't over-work your illustrations. Over-working is too often the death-knell of a fashion illustration. I scan and save my work regularly throughout the production process in case I accidentally over-work it. If you do this, you can always return to an earlier, fresher incarnation of the piece!
Can you tell us a little about what's up ahead in the future for Carol Ryder illustration - where can we see your work?
Well, as I work as a fashion lecturer these days, my illustration work is directed more and more towards research into how fashion illustration is used to depict the 'fashionable body'. I am interested in the role of fashion illustration, and whether it is (or should be) used just as a tool for recording an idealised 'fashionable body', or whether it can - or should - be utilised as a means to change the way bodies are regarded in terms of fashion. My plans for the near future involve producing both illustration work and text to explore this idea. I wrote a piece recently for 'All Walks Beyond the Catwalk' which explains the premise in more detail. Because of my research interests, I'm hoping that my work will be seen more in academic circles, conference presentations, academic papers and the like - although I will always add new stuff to my website and I will always produce work for magazines and internet blogs simply because I enjoy producing informal stuff like this. Oh - and I have recently completed a set of 49 illustrations for a set of cards that will be published on behalf of the 'Rescue Mediums': a psychic duo from the telly!
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