drawing – engineered prints for scarves

The Shared Scarf Project is all about co-design. Master’s student Jen Ballie, The Textile Sampler, is testing out techniques of interactive, experiential design, by hosting free workshops. I went to one where we were exploring ideas for engineered prints for scarves, where I came up with the idea above, the watercolour buckling layers of tracing paper, creating an illusion of atmospherical depth. The one below I doodled over a roast dinner with friends on Sunday.

I very rarely work with colour and pattern alone, trying this out has been fun. It reminds me of embroidery, minute details executed carefully.

click click – 14-05-11

Welcome to click click, the sporadic review of what I find worth clicking on the internet.

I’ve mentioned that I’m bringing my paintbox with me everywhere – the results are mixed but sometimes turn out quite well. Drawing without any particular goal in mind, I tend to fall into playing with line, like this sketch. I did this while enjoying a drink with a new friend and reader, Andrew, who is a fashion designer with an awesome illustration style too.

  • Why fast fashion is slow death for the planet – while the public rarely looks past the price tags, a vast human supply chain churns out the avalanche of ubiquity that is high street fashion. So few take the time to examine the human and environmental injustice that a £10 tank top represents.
  • Post-Recession, the Rich Are Different – tangential to the issue of “cheapskating” mentioned in the article above, the definition of luxury for the rich is shifting further upstream. “this may be a reaction to the corporate push of commodity luxury. Clients these days covet things that aren’t mass-produced.”
  • Preppy power – the trendiest fashions for youth are angling towards class affirmation – that is, rich kids are dressing like rich kids again. This reactionary vanguard against hipsterism is outfitted by retailer Jack Wills in the UK, and the story of how that business is built is an interesting one. Thanks to The Fashion Recruit for the heads up.
  • Trend-spotting is the new £36 billion growth business – and it is the closest thing to capitalist mysticism there is. One of my goals is to sketch for a trend forecaster. Just putting it out there.
  • free telejam – I really enjoyed this MP3 file featuring female entrepreneurial masterminds Danielle LaPorte and Marie Forleo. Some very gnarly points in there to absorb.
  • Desperately Seeking Symmetry – Radiolab is a favourite podcast, and one segment in this episode (starts at the 20 minute mark) totally threw me. Did you know it matters what side you part your hair on? I knew hair is important, but I didn’t know that.
  • The Rise of the Superblog – fashion bloggers are watching the recent aggregation scheme NOWMANIFEST with interest. An excerpt from my comments“To give up total autonomy affects the ability to be creative and to make independent business decisions. For strong *personal* voices/visions like Rumi and Bryanboy, I feel that their independence is their unique strength. Combined together, something intangible, yet significant is lost.”

Proper karma for incoming linkers and commenters.

  • Cherie City “a guide to all the strange and exciting things to be found when you step off the main streets of Europe’s coolest cities.”
  • Anu Raina“It started with a piece of paper and india ink…”
  • THE DUSTY LOFT – “design + fashion + life + vancouver”
  • 48 Hour Adventure“city guides and other various travel musings by an Australian in London”
  • mehrnazart.com“Mehrnaz is an astronaut, a gypsy, and a king…but at the end of the day, she’s just an artist.”
  • A n i a . B“It’s amazing to know that in a city with so few fashion conscious people that there is a whole world of ones who get it.”
  • Alfred Kenney “Jewelry that embraces understated elegance, that lures the eye, unexpectedly and intuitively.”

mutual portraiture with Barima

Meeting kindred spirits in blogland is the best. I discovered Mode Parade through The Grumpy Owl, and only recently noticed we were both now located in London. Barima and I share a few affinities including flaunting our vast vocabularies and a fascination with the characters and fashions of the past.  Lately I’ve been bringing my paintbox with me everywhere, so today over tea in Soho we painted each other’s portraits.

My version of Barima. He pointed out that I didn’t quite get the shoulders right, a bit too square. He is right, of course.

Below, Barima’s version of me. At first vanity declared it didn’t like the emphasis on the dark circles under my eyes, but the more I look at this, the more I enjoy it. Thanks Barima.

when good advice is wrong

The unfortunate thing about advice is that when you are in the position of needing it, you are probably least able to ascertain whether it has any value. More than once I’ve been on the receiving end of good advice that is clearly from someone wise and experienced. Yet somehow in my gut, I feel resistance to it, and then I feel strong cognitive dissonance because it might be advice I should be taking. It only occurred to me recently that even good advice could be wrong.

As I find myself more frequently writing advice-y posts, I have been thinking for a long time about how to tell when good advice is the right advice.

Whenever I go through one of my periodic existential crises (or, “freelancer’s vacations”) I start questioning my indirect career path. This is when I am most hungry for direction. Inevitably I begin to wonder if I’m doing it all wrong – there is very little information out there specific to fashion illustrators. Still, there is a heck of a lot of advice out there – in uncertain times, people deeply crave being told what to do. How to sort through it all? When is good advice the wrong advice?

when it is good advice at the wrong time.

The more practical advice is, the more perishable it is. Most business advice that is out there for illustrators is 20th century advice.  Because advice is almost always based on other people’s experiences, advice has a tendency to lag. So much of the available recommendations for illustrators were formed within systems created to support the demands of publishing. One of the wrongest pieces of well-intentioned advice I ever got was to avoid posting my work on the internet. It came from one of my favourite professors, someone I respect and admire, and it was an epiphanic moment for me when I realized even the best teachers could be wrong.

Another time-sensitive issue that will affect the usefulness of counsel is whether you are ready for it or not. Good advice for a novice won’t also be good advice for an established professional, or vice versa.

Sometimes taking instruction takes a while to practice – for instance, its takes me a decade to “get” watercolour illustration techniques I’d been taught as a teenager.

when it is good advice for everybody.

The traditional route for illustrators suggests direct mail to art directors, getting an agent, doing gallery shows. When I consider or make moves to pursue these routes, I feel frustrated. Why? I think because they are crowded channels. I become just another illustrator in someone’s full inbox. Sometimes I need to remind myself that doing what I’m doing – blogging as well as illustrating, and inhabiting the fashion industry rather than the publishing industry – has brought me everything I have so far. My situation is quite different than the art school graduates who are the main audience for the usual illustration career tips.

Which brings up the other problem with good, sensible advice, which is its tendency to become common sense. When you’re in a vast lecture hall or reading a bestselling book, the practical advice you’re receiving is a carbon copy, and won’t fit you any better than ready-to-wear. Worse, if you follow that advice closely, you are among a cohort following the same advice, which automatically diminishes the effectiveness of any action you take.

choosing the right advice for you.

So how to sort through advice, find what fits, figure out what to ignore and what to pursue? If you feel resistance, be wary. If it is standard advice, take the intended audience into account. Be aware of who is delivering the advice and whether their experiences echo your own. When it comes to practical stuff, the best advice is custom tailored just for you, and currency counts.

Above all, your own intuition will accept the right advice for you, at the right time for you.

self development

Over the weekend, I had a neat opportunity to get my photo taken with a pinhole camera, and then I was shown how to develop the negative into a positive myself. This was the first time I had ever been in a darkroom. The process is surprisingly simple, and I had never realized how chemical photography is a medium with illustrative possibilities before.

The halo around my head is an accidental water stain that looks like a deliberate highlight.

Thanks to Sebastian Sussmann and Guy Paterson at Double Negative Darkroom.

the economics of style – youth culture patterns

The original youth street style was all about poor kids dressing up rich. This observation, while watching this show, got me thinking about modern street style, and how it has flipped- rich kids dressing up poor. I was impressed by the pride that the Teds who were interviewed demonstrated, and how the modern attitude of hipsters is such a striking polarity – denial and distancing. It got me thinking about the relationships between money, youth culture, attitudes and perception. Is there a pattern here?

Like all fashions, youth tribes tend to fluctuate between rebellion and affirmation. Let’s take a look.

Rebellion – the Teds. Poor kids dressing up rich.

Teds were working class, blue collar workers, but on the weekend they cleaned up good, dressing inspired by the wealthy leisure class of the Edwardian era. Teds were, and are, proud. The style statement was upwardly mobile – they dressed to show that they were just as good as the upper classes.

Affirmation – the Mods. Rich kids dressing up rich.

Mods were proudly middle class. They didn’t want to just dress up on the weekend – they wanted, and got, the kind of jobs that allowed them to dress well every day. Mods have a lot of pride, reflecting how satisfying it must have been to achieve middle-class comforts unknown to any previous generation. That said, they provoked a lot of antipathy from other contemporary tribes, probably because taking pride in privilege is invariably perceived as snobbish.

Rebellion – the Hippies. Rich kids dressing up poor.

Hippies weren’t proud to be privileged. Even though they owed their considerable leisure, education, and liberty to the military industrial complex, they actively rebelled against their parents. Besides some major parties, they did have a major role in popularizing social justice, racial equality and sexual freedom. None of the other style tribes could claim credit for playing any kind of role in real political change.

That said, most people who look, act, and talk like hippies reject the label rather than taking pride in it, and the modern perception of hippies tends to be dismissive. I think this relates to “nostalgie de la boue”. This refers to when rich people romanticize poverty, for instance when Marie Antoinette and her ladies and waiting would dress up as milkmaids for fun and pretend to milk cows. Nostalgie de la boue provokes lingering distaste because it tends to be condescending and contrived. No matter what, rich dressing up as poor is disingenuous, and the result is that members of the tribes in this quadrant tend towards distancing and denial of their own membership.

Affirmation – the Punks. Poor kids dressing up poor.

Of all the tribes, punk strikes me as having the fiercest kind of pride, which makes sense because their style statement is an elaborate affirmation of authenticity – they embraced rejection, creating embellishment out of trash. These contradictions makes them an outlier on my axis diagram.

Affirmation – the Casuals. Rich kids dressing up rich.

Casuals were, like the Mods, proudly middle-class. The difference was a focus on sport and leisure rather than white collar work. Casuals take the hit from fashion circles for popularizing workout clothes as street wear and leading logo fetishization. Despite that, they display genuine pride – and share with the Mods an external perception of snobbishness.

Rebellion – the Chavs. Poor kids dressing up rich.

Chavs are essentially a further development of Casuals but without the money. From the outside they are almost universally mocked as the style statement is a tasteless exaggeration of the already borderline Casual ethos. Yet, they are essentially the last of the indigenous British style tribes, a modern iteration of the Teds, but without the redeeming factor of labour.

Rebellion – the Hipsters. Rich kids dressing up poor.

Modern youth suffers, if you can call it that, from an excess of advantage. When I walk through my gentrified neighbourhood in East London, there are upscale shops like Labour and Wait that sell tools and household cleaning items presented like precious objects, and the streets are full of boys wearing slightly too artfully paint-splattered jeans and un-scuffed work boots holding iPhones in their soft, un-calloused hands.

Nostalgie de la boue: we fetishize “functional” work because our own so-called work is so ephemeral and indulgent. Hipsters fixate on the trappings of manual labour with the same fervour that the Teds romanticized the clothing of a lost leisure class.

Hipsterism is fascinating to study and comment on for a lot of reasons. The self-loathing quality of it is quite striking. So much of its rebellion is turned on itself – a tangled Ouroboros of reactionary impulses that others have discussed at length. For the purposes of this post, I’ll limit the commentary to this: hipsters are hyper-aware that they are disingenuous brats, and unlike their counterparts the hippies, they have no redemptive qualities.

I say this as someone who admits to harbouring more than a few hipster traits. I have a blog and an indefinite 21st century job description, and sometimes I catch myself describing what I do in unnecessarily self-deprecating language.

So, is there a pattern? So much modern style movements reflect attitudes towards social mobility – but somehow, social mobility itself somehow still suffers from a weirdly feudal bias, like we’ve never been able to shake the birthright business. Rich>Poor and even Poor>Rich still have inauthenticity problems to this day.

Rich Dressing Up Poor suffer from the most complicated psychological contortions. Because they’re both highly educated and downwardly socially mobile – it doesn’t make a lot of sense relative to history, which is what makes the phenomenon so interesting.

Modern style tribes, Hipsters and Chavs, suffer from strong disdain – I think what they both have in common is a lack of meaningful work combined with hyper-access to products and information. They are spoiled and it is not endearing, though I feel sympathy for both groups. Their (our) future is so complex and uncertain, I don’t want to begrudge them (us) whatever indulgence they (we) enjoy now.

Future style tribes will likely be a reaction to hipsterism, which on macro terms will be precipitated by an end to prosperity. I think the next iteration could be a modern counterpart to punk – the aesthetics of scarcity. Cynical, perhaps? Is it weird that I consider the possible emergence of a new style movement an upside of a major recession?

beauty advice for the makeup-averse

or, My Mother Asked Me About Makeup

When you grow up granola, and reach a certain age, you don’t get the same initiation into adult female beauty rituals as your friends. When you say you want to shave your legs and wear makeup, your parents tell you not to buy into the capitalist product fake beauty conspiracy. You have to rely on friends and magazines and try to cobble together answers to your beauty curiosities. It took me a good decade to figure out what works pretty well for me, and not without disastrous over-plucking, garish eye makeup, and skincare mistakes.

So it is funny when my mom calls me up to ask me about makeup. She is going to be playing the piano at my cousin’s wedding, and she wanted a bit of a beauty ritual to prepare for the event. Just a little something – because it is an occasion, and because feeling beautiful helps to bring confidence to a performance.

My mom is a naturally beautiful woman – petite and bright-eyed – I’m pleased to think that when I’m older I’ll look like her. She almost never wears makeup, so my advice to her is essentially a pared down version of my own minimal routine.

1. Skin

Eat lots of veggies and drink lots of water – of course I don’t need to tell my Mom this, this is the advice she gives me! Beauty really does come from the inside – I met two raw food/juice cleanse entrepreneurs recently at a networking brunch and was struck at how incredible they looked. Mom eats great – she has better skin than I do as a result – and she doesn’t need to wear any foundation or powder at all. If she wants, a touch of tinted moisturizer will make a small difference.

2. Eyebrows

This is the one area that I think will make the greatest difference to how she looks. Nothing major, just a careful edit allowing the natural shape of the brow to do its thing. Women who have great eyebrows hardly need to wear any makeup at all to look polished and distinctive. It has taken me a long time to get my eyebrows to where I want them to be. I think Elke Von Freudenberg gives the best expert advice on eyebrows.

3. Eyes

I can’t imagine my mom wearing eyeliner. To me, this is the one thing that crosses the line, literally, between natural looks and artistic artifice – plus, applying it takes too much practice. Instead, I recommended my all-time favourite mascara – Clinique Naturally Glossy. This is the lightest, most natural looking mascara I’ve ever tried, and its amazing how one coat manages to make a noticeable difference in a very subtle way.

4. Cheeks

Blush was one of the first socially acceptable forms of makeup, which I learned in this book. Tastefully done, it works really well, giving a heightened illusion of health. I don’t have a favourite blush, I’ve only used a couple, but the ones I like best are creamy rather than powdery, because creamy ones stick to bare skin, whereas powdery ones need a foundation base to adhere to.

5. Lips

Lip stain! I’ve used one from Cover Girl, and for the Canadians out there, Joe Fresh makes an inexpensive lip stain that the beauty bloggers love. Stain takes a fraction of the effort that lipstick does, and looks super-natural. It doesn’t moisturize, so wear a touch of light balm (like Rose Balm) over top for softness and shine.

It pleased me that Mom asked me for advice because I think if she asked someone who is more into makeup, the advice wouldn’t be right for her. I am not anti-makeup at all, it is just that faces and routines are such an identity thing. For someone who doesn’t wear cosmetics, going from all-natural to full-makeup can be truly disorienting. Pros tell me that a heavy layer of makeup is better for photos, but I don’t see that reflected in my own photos where I’ve been “made up” – and I think it is because stuff on my face makes me feel weird, and the weird feeling comes across in my expression.

The greatest learning curve for makeup came along with the gift bags I got when I was going to events as a fashion blogger. Before I had the opportunity to try a lot of products, I found the wide world of tubes and powders very intimidating. I think the best advice I could offer someone who is new to the product game is to take advantage of sampling at places like Sephora, and to follow great makeup bloggers like BeautyGeeks who get to try a wide variety of products and who are able to bring context and intimacy to reviews.

Above all – relax, have fun with it, and take comfort knowing that a little can go a long way. Beauty isn’t just about how you look – its about how you feel, so easy does it.

drawing – portrait of Jenn

It was such a pleasure to be commissioned by a friend, Gary, to paint a portrait of his wife, my dear friend Jenn. I often hesitate to take on portrait projects because it’s not really my thing – not this time. I knew Jenn’s distinctive mischievous mouth would be fun to render, even though the paper version is a pale imitation of the real thing. Thanks Gary for a delightful brief!

The more I work with watercolours, the more I like them. The contradictions are what makes them so interesting – somehow achieving a controlled randomness is the goal, and approaching an illustration with planning and patience while still allowing for instantaneous improvisation is a trick that takes practice. I feel like I am over the initial steep learning curve, though I have a long way to go.

By the way, you should check out what my smart, fun friends are into: Gary edits Aggregation Magazine – a clever collection of generalist links, and Jenn is the online editor of FLARE.com, the website of one of Canada’s most respected fashion publications.