Revered NYC based artist and fashion illustrator Bil Donovan is one of the field’s most prominent and vocal practitioners. Bil’s work regularly appears in publications such as Vanity Fair, Vogue and Elle, and has featured advertising campaigns for brands including Christian Dior, Mercedes Benz, Saks.
Well beyond just a practitioner, Bil is an educator and champion of fashion illustration through his role as Adjunct Professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology, regular public speaking engagements and author of Advanced Fashion Drawing/Lifestyle Illustration (Lawrence King). Finally, Bil is an active artist, creating paintings, drawings and sculpture under the name of William Donovan.
Recently in town for L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival, Bil presented at LMFF’s business seminar about the role of fashion illustration in the contemporary marketplace and opportunities for fostering successful collaborations between artists and brands.
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Your presentation in Melbourne was focused the role of fashion illustration in the contemporary marketplace. Many may first think of fashion illustration as being connected to fashion design – so what opportunities are there for fashion illustration outside of ‘conventional’ fashion design applications?
Fashion Illustration and Fashion Design are two different genres of work. One is versed in a foundation of anatomy and draftsmanship skills while the other serves a purpose of creating a croquis to use as a template to design clothing. Fashion Illustration has evolved and so have the opportunities beyond the scope of editorial and advertising markets to a variety of markets such as signage, licensing, web and package design, animation as well as a market defined as lifestyle.
Well what about fashion design itself – does illustration still form an important part of the design process for contemporary fashion houses? Do designers for major brands still illustrate? Or is it a technique of a bygone era?
I can’t speak for every designer but I do know quite a few who always create a drawing as part of the process of creating a design. So it still exists, and as an educator at the Fashion Institute of Technology, I have students, pursuing a career as a designer, who take my illustration class to have a command of the figure and develop their drawing skills.
I was recently commissioned to create a series of illustrations for the Halston Label, which has had a history of working with the incredible Joe Eula, so perhaps the design community is realizing the uniqueness and beauty of Fashion Illustration.
Would you say that a good designer should be able to illustrate manually?
It’s definitely an asset to have that ability. Visually documenting ideas is essential for the working process of anyone in the creative field.
Do you incorporate the use of computers into your illustrations, or is it exclusively paper and pencils, brushes and charcoal etc?
All of the above. I prefer to do everything by hand, I like the process of making a mark on paper, and it is more intuitive and satisfying then relying on digital software. Once I have the work completed then I will sometimes enhance it through those programs.
Your bio speaks of your creative utopia in Tribeca? Can you describe it or do you have a picture of it?
My studio is in downtown Manhattan, in an artist building bordering Tribeca. I call it my creative utopia, because it is a place I go everyday to create and explore ideas and make a mess. There is paint everywhere, my books, inspirations, masks and art… and a creative energy that surges through the space.
Can everybody draw?
Just as anyone can learn to throw a ball or learn to dance, anyone can learn to draw. Of course some will be more gifted than others but everyone can draw and paint. I could teach anyone to draw, think of how all children draw at some point or another…and those drawings are wonderful! Uninhibited joy on paper… so when do you want a lesson?
Ha, you know I really would… So you’ve got a 24-hour flight ahead of you en-route to Melbourne. What book/s will you pack on the plane?
I think I am covered, History of Australia, from 1606-1890 by Alexander Sutherland, Ken Follett’s, Winter of the World, and Tenth of December by George Saunders.
Bil Donovan presented at L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival’s business seminar on March 21st and hosted two fashion illustration masterclasses at Abbotsford Convent on March 23rd & 24th.
By Matt Hurst