goodbye, London

My time in London is ending. Right now I’m a bit sick, and have spent days dealing with moving stuff. I can’t think clearly enough right now to write anything eloquent yet about the city of many skylines. It’s been good to me. I’m glad I lived in London.

click click – 17-10-12

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

These incredible photographs of elaborate nail art are by artist Helen Maurene Cooper. As a personal coda to my trend ender on nail art, the brilliant writer Brittany Julious recalls her own experiences growing up in Chicago.

Karma in the air…

  • – a project to support creative work founded by v.p.s. cartographie
  • Innovation Meltdown“a destination for sharing new IDEAS”
  • Corrine Monique“I’m a fashion designer & illustrator, photographer, stylist, & musician.”
  • nuitdepluie“art knows no boundaries, boundaries don’t keep me from travelling, travelling is moving, moving is living, living is breathing, breathing is speaking, speaking is communication, communication is friends, friends are life, life is love, love is art…”
  • nouvelle/nouveau – “You’re always haunted by the idea you’re wasting your life.”
  • rubyBASTILLE“books~style~food~fantasticness”
  • Zoë Hong – “founded on the concept of “future heirlooms”: beautiful, well-crafted pieces that transcend trend”
  • kelseyannedotme“hey hi hello”
  • 21 views and up“I’m 21 years old and I have views. The Up is about growing older and wiser (I hope!).”

it takes time

I have been live sketching runway shows for a little over five years now. Above on the left is an early runway sketch, Jeremy Laing Spring 2008. On the right is a recent sketch, Jean Pierre Braganza Spring 2013. You can see the progress between these two examples by scrolling back through my archives – not that I would encourage that use of your time. To my eyes now, I think what I have developed over ten seasons of hustling my way into fashion shows in six cities and sketching what I see is a nascent sense of sophistication – an early iteration of elegance. After five years of trying, I’m just beginning to master this anachronistic art form.

A few weeks ago, I was revising my portfolio and looking through the work I’ve created over the past few years. I’m not the sort of person who looks backwards much – I prefer futurism to sentimentality – so this experience was both psychologically uncomfortable and eye-opening. I realized that it was only early this year – 2012 – that my work both as a writer and as an illustrator made a quantum leap. It may be barely perceptible to anyone else, but I felt that something profound had changed in the way I create, without me even being aware of it. Before that invisible transition, my work seems provincial and sophomoric, and yet of course, I didn’t realize it at the time I was doing it.

The shifting levels of ability and taste rarely match as you develop your craft. Usually as a young person, your ability will exceed your taste. You will create questionable work with naive facility, and be irrationally proud of it without recognizing its shortcomings. If you continue, an imperceptible reversal occurs, when your taste exceeds your ability. Education and experience will reveal to you where your lack of skills limit you. Everything you create  will fail to satisfy you. This is the stage where you will be truly tested – discontent and discouragement will divide the dabblers from the dedicated.

I joked the other day about giving advice to struggling young creatives – “quit and get a real job, clear the field for stubborn perma-bohemians like me”. It is kind of mean and it is kind of true. We live in a time where the visual arts are saturated with young people who have been encouraged to pursue a creative career, all thrashing it out on the lower levels, resulting in all the ubiquitous internships and other forms of subsidized bohemia. Those who survive the economic necessity of mass attrition to become true professionals will only make it due to sheer persistence. Both the persistence to overcome the financial difficulty of getting through the beginning of a career, and the persistence to invest all the thousands of hours it takes to actually develop the taste, skill and intelligence to contribute something of cultural significance.

I just turned 30. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, even though I’m not as far ahead in my career as I thought I would be a decade ago. Back then, I vastly underestimated the challenges I would face and I overestimated my own talents and the modern viability of this specific niche. And yet, now that I have a much more nuanced understanding of what I’m attempting to do, I feel more determined than ever to continue, no matter how many years it takes.

When I investigate the masters of fashion illustration that I admire – especially the live runway illustrators like Joe Eula and Kenneth Paul Block – I notice that very few of them achieved acclaim until they had already banked decades of practice. Consistent elegance of line is a quality that the young do not have – barring the outlying cases of child prodigies – it is earned only with experience.

Mastering an art could be defined as that point where your abilities finally match your sense of taste. There’s only one way to get there.

paper dolls – The Cut magnetic dolls

This summer was an exciting one for The CutNew York Magazine‘s fashion news blog got a major makeover, adding tons of new features and content, making it a stand-alone online destination for smart women who dig fashion. I especially love the exhaustive, biographical lookbooks of style icons, more long-form posts like these ones, and of course the comprehensive runway image database with the super-useful trend search functions… and back views!

This summer was also an exciting one for me because I received my favourite commission of my career so far – to create a series of five magnetic dolls for a media kit to promote The Cut‘s new look to major advertisers. It was a dream job in a lot of ways – creative director Owen Fegan gave me a tremendous level of trust, encouraging me to produce the most fashionable, fun dolls I could. We couldn’t reference any actual designer items, so I was also in the unusual position of designing “generic” designer clothing that reflected the best of 2012. It was a terrific creative challenge. Every day I worked on this, I felt amazed to be doing something I loved so much for such a great client.

The finished dolls were printed on magnetic sheets and laser cut with incredible accuracy. The results were the most beautiful physical renditions of my paper dolls I’ve ever touched.

The first doll represents Fashions. She is inspired by runway fashions, especially the more androgynous, avant-garde, minimalist ones. I tried to create a set of separates that could be mixed in a variety of ways to maximize the fun factor.


The second doll represents Fame. She has a super-glamourous, super-feminine, red carpet inspired wardrobe, with sparkly accessories.

The third doll represents Love & War. So, naturally, a boyfriend doll! I had a lot of fun making him as cute as possible giving him a variety of items ranging from boho to posh, depending on which of the three female dolls he’s dating at the time. I haven’t done many male dolls – I think I should do more.

The fourth doll represents Beauty. I pitched something a little different this time – a bust with a range of eye makeup and lipstick styles to mix and match. Since this doll is magnetic and doesn’t require tabs, it was a chance to try something new. I’m not a beauty illustrator – I’ve discovered that this is a whole specialization unto itself. Still, I love a challenge.


The fifth doll represents Goods. She’s the shopaholic of the bunch and she loves accessories and trendy stuff – whether it’s half-tucks, arm parties, cut-offs, or crop tops. Inspired by all of the it girls, personal style and street style blogs out there, she’s a hip, pretty young thing.

Thanks so much to The Cut, and Owen – who is amazing to work with – for giving me such a wonderful opportunity! I loved it!

career karma – Tom Tierney

If you have any interest in paper dolls, you have encountered the work of Tom Tierney. Mr. Tierney is the quintessential 20th century paper doll artist, perhaps the only paper doll artist in the world who has created a name known outside the world of niche collectors. His prolific body of work covers vast swathes of popular culture – film stars, politicians, literary and historical figures, mythological creatures, the camp, and the bizarre. If a human-shaped subject could possibly be adapted to the paper doll form, Mr. Tierney has probably already done it.

Now in his eighties, Mr. Tierney lives and works in Texas and from everything I’ve read about him, he is a charming man with tremendous enthusiasm for what he does. Recently, he suffered a stroke, which must be a very frustrating experience for someone who lives to draw – and yet he has a wonderful sense of humour, is constantly working on new projects, and radiates inspiring vitality through his correspondence.

Before his iconic contribution to the world of paper dolls, Tierney was a commercial fashion illustrator in the 1950s and 1960s, when fashion illustration was still considered a necessary – and therefore even lucrative – aspect of the fashion industry. The nature of this career couldn’t possibly be more different now than it was then, and it’s fascinating to get even a small glimpse into that lost world. I am honoured that Mr. Tierney agreed to share some of his significant experience with me. Below, he offers his thoughts on creating paper dolls, and his passion for his work.


How do you choose a subject for your paper dolls, and subsequently research and choose the poses and items? Are the subjects inspired by popular demand, or your own interests?

As for choosing a subject for my paper dolls, I will have to give you a rather nebulous answer. Sometimes I will contact my editor at my publishers and suggest an idea for a paper doll book. Generally I do not get an answer right away because he then presents the idea to their editorial board for their approval. Sometimes the answer is “yes”, others “no”. Sometimes they come back to me with suggestions for changes in direction and if I agree then a contract is in the offing. Sometimes the editor will come to me with an idea and if I think I can do it justice, then we will go to a contract. Actually, if someone in the general public wants to see me do a book on a subject dear to their heart, it would be better to write the editor of the publisher and suggest the idea and that it be done by me (if they want me to do it, that is). Just remember that often the idea might already be copyrighted and owned by someone else! “Superman, for instance”.

Are there any “rules” for creating paper dolls? What do you believe are the defining characteristics of an excellent paper doll?

So far as I know there are no “rules” for making paper dolls. In fact when I first started making my own paper dolls and started putting a colored columnar base behind the legs, I got several rather uncomplimentary letters saying that I was wrong and breaking tradition in doing so, because there would be no shoes to put on the dolls. I tried politely to say that shoes and hats were the first thing lost once the doll was cut out, and further if people did not like what I was doing, they had the option of not buying them! Perhaps the only valid “rule” is that the clothes fit the doll and the tabs are in the right places.

So far as I know, there are no Paper Doll Police!

As to defining characteristics for an excellent paper doll, I really know of none. They are as varied as the artist and the viewer. After all, some people prefer Rembrandt and others like Picasso!

Can you describe your studio environment and how you like to work? What types of media and techniques do you use to create paper dolls? How long does it take you to develop a paper doll book from start to finish?

My studio is rather spacious as it is the 2nd floor mezzanine of an old 1894 building. I have divided it into two sections with the front 2/3s as a display area for my art and the back 1/3 as my actual work space which has a drawing table, a large table sized paper cutter, a desk with my computer, and shelves all around for storing art materials, folios filled with my finished art, and book collection. The furniture in the display area is mostly Victorian, including a 2-3 hundred year old wooden painter’s mannequin, a couple of antique music boxes, and a large Victorian styled doll house and several metal doll houses of the 1940-50s era. As to media, I prefer to draw and paint on Bristol surfaced 2ply illustration board in colored inks. I usually work about 1/4th larger than the printed work. I generally draw everything out on tracing paper (to be sure the costumes fit) and then transfer them to the illustration board. The longest part of doing a book is the research which can take a week or two. The actual rendering of the book is about two more weeks, give or take.

You have an enviable background as a fashion illustrator at a time when there was much more practical demand and professional validation of the craft than there is now. Can you describe what it was like to work as a freelance fashion artist for department stores and other clients in the 1950s and 1960s? What would a typical work day be like?

Doing free lance fashion (and movie poster) illustration in the 1950s & ‘60s was oft times pretty grueling for me. I was a greedy little cuss and often put in 12 to 18 hours a day, often 7 days a week. I was lucky to always have a rather large studio, first a loft on the lower East Side and later my own brownstone with a floor through studio and four floors of living space for me and my family. I had several agents in the years I was in Manhattan so I had little contact with my clients except through my agent who was responsible for pick-ups and deliveries, etc. My Father was my business manager and he and my mother lived with me, freeing me to do little else than draw, and draw, and draw. Usually my agent would arrive in the afternoon with the merchandise and layouts around four in the afternoon all of which would be due back to the store the next afternoon. There were days when I would turn out as many as eight fashion figures a day, sometimes more before Christmas and holidays. When I was doing movie posters I had more time and they were fitted in between fashion jobs. Fortunately there were slow times during the year when you could get out and meet people and do other things than just draw. I guess I have always been somewhat a workaholic.

After a successful career as a freelance illustrator, you have managed to establish a well-earned reputation in a very specific niche. What do you think are the qualities and circumstances that have allowed you to not only make a living from your passion, but thrive on it?

I suppose that the secret to my success, such as it is, is that I love to draw. There are times when I feel rather naked if I don’t have a pencil or a brush in my hand. Also, I love the research and “getting to know” my subjects, if they are historic, down to studying their body language and incorporate that in my paper dolls… Right now I am in a bit of a pickle due to a recent stroke. My drawing hand is still a bit weak, but improving daily, and hopefully I will soon be back in the saddle again.

Thank you Mr. Tierney for sharing your time with me. Wishing you a speedy recovery!

click click – 01-10-12

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

Photos of the grounds of Versailles, taken between 1907-1920, via Rococo Revisited. On a more contemporary, less poignant note, I’m going to watch this documentary tomorrow.

Karma for commenters and linkers… a long list of lovelies this edition!

  • Lucis 7“I’m Luci and this is where I like to post some of my works as fashion designer, random writings and share things i like.”
  • Living Life Barefoot“Sometimes life is a little more fun when the shoes come off.”
  • feather spirit“connecting to creativity, soul, nature and self-care”
  • Un Petit Bijou“a place for my musings on my personal style, building the perfect wardrobe, fashion and the little (often forgotten) things that inform individual style, elegance and grace.”
  • Caroline Fryar“Knitter. Spinner. Designer. Gardener.”
  • SSTATUS“the only blog where the things you don’t care about get talked about like someone cares”
  • AnybodySomebodyNobody“a style blog that is for those who live in Dubai and further afield, don’t like the term ‘fashionista’ and just like to hear about what’s beautiful, unique and coveted in the eye of this beholder.”
  • Clare Herbert“I’m a writer, non-profit communications specialist, mentor & student currently based in Dublin, Ireland.”
  • The Mixtape Journal – Tara’s London style blog.
  • Planet617 Photography“Boston based photographer primarily interested in collaborating with fashion professionals to help bring their creative vision to market.”
  • Smoking Lily“Our creations are sewn and silk-screened in-house by a handful of talented women who believe in making quality goods that they love to wear, and hope that you will too.”
  • Psynopsis“I wasn’t only interested in discussing self-adornment, but also in art and the wider aspects of fashion, styling and design”
  • The Tea Stylist“bringing style to the art of tea appreciation”
  • Hepwright’s Vintage Fashion“you will find wonderful hand picked vintage clothes, accessories, homewares, textiles and collectibles”
  • Wardrobe Oxygen“Personal Style by Alison Gary”
  • Breeyn McCarney“works to balance her interest in politics and world events with her drive to create beautiful objects of fashion.”