invitation – performative lecture “Silhouettes and Signals” at The Drake Hotel on March 16


After flying back from live sketching the runways of New York fashion week, I hit the ground sketching in Toronto with a series inspired by the Queen Street West style, currently installed at The Drake Hotel. It was an interesting challenge to draw three times larger than I usually do, inverting the usual value scheme by drawing on black paper, and focusing more closely on the silhouettes by reducing my palette to a single colour.

Now that live sketching fashion shows isn’t as unique as it once was, I want to stretch the skills I’ve acquired practicing this technique, combined with my speaking experiences, to create something new. In that spirit, I’m doing something different at The Drake Hotel on March 16th to kick off fashion week in Toronto.

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Images Courtesy: Bryan Da Silva/The Drake Hotel

“Silhouettes and Signals” will be a performative lecture combining live sketching on the iPad (using the Paper app) with a trend-theory lecture – sort of a Final Fashion post “in real life”. We’ll be examining various historical silhouettes and discuss identifying social attitudes through style. Sketching my way from the distant past to the 21st century, I’ll discuss how the shapes we make with our clothing are visual manifestations of ideas about sex, politics, money, youth, class, taste and other fun stuff, and even put my skin in the game with a few predictions.

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What: “Silhouettes and Signals” live sketching lecture

Where: The Drake Hotel, 1150 Queen Street West, Toronto

When: March 16th, 2014 at 2pm

Admission: $10

This is the first time I’ve ever done such a thing (although my talk at Apple Soho was definitely moving in this direction), so it will be a novel opportunity for the style-curious citizens in Toronto to see an experimental performance and kick off Toronto Fashion Week in a weirder way than usual. Please come!

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Images Courtesy: Bryan Da Silva/The Drake Hotel


speaking at Apple Soho in New York on January 30

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Apple Lecture Description


Very excited to announce I’m going to be speaking at Apple SoHo in Manhattan on January 30, 2014 at 7pm. I’ll be demonstrating how to use Paper and Pencil by FiftyThree for quick figure and beauty sketches, narrating the history of artists at fashion shows, and getting trend theoretical about why live runway sketching is having its fashion moment now.

If you’re in NYC on Thursday I’d love to see you! Register to try fashion sketching on the iPad for yourself and learn everything I’ve discovered about this type of fashion illustration.

Danielle Meder by Georg Petschnigg

Photo by Georg Petschnigg for FiftyThree

HP Days – Fresh Paint portfolio

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It was an amusing switch to go from the front row at a runway show to drawing at the Best Buy store at the Eaton Centre in the same week, such is the career of a fashion illustrator in the 21st century I suppose! Glam to geeky.

HP Days 2

This time, I was using the HP ENVY Touchsmart and a Nomad digital paintbrush using the Fresh Paint application. I always love the opportunity to imagine and sketch for a long stretch of time, and the results of exploring digital materials continue to interest me. After having spent over 50 hours on Fresh Paint in December, I was delighted to discover even more new techniques and ideas to play with.

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The first day, I was working more with graphic layouts.

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On the second day, I went wild with the paint mixing aspect, the red one in particular pleases me.

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style development

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In my portfolio, my illustration work has had two distinct, very different styles. The paper dolls are tightly-rendered, the live runway sketching is loose. For a long time, these two styles seemed almost unrelated, but lately, I’ve been experimenting with combining different aspects of both styles in a single illustration. The results vary, and I find it very interesting.

Recently I completed two sketches for friends (Trung and Tara), which gave me the opportunity to experiment in a way that I don’t usually have with clients. These two drawings combine the fluidity of live sketching with a deliberate composition. It takes a series of iterations to develop the motor memory, and then the final sketch is like a dance, where I’m performing a series of steps in sequence.


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drawing – House of Holland SS13

A friend asked me to contribute a few images of the House of Holland Spring 2013 collection for a video project, which offered the opportunity to try something a little different. I mashed up my two main styles; I quickly pencil sketched from runway imagery and video, and then hastily inked, scanned and quickly coloured in Photoshop.

The hybrid of my two disparate styles has ended up being very pleasing to me. It was fun to do!


Microsoft Fresh Paint – portfolio 2

Over the course of eight shifts at the airport using the Fresh Paint application at the Windows 8 booth, I created about 80 illustrations. Some took me just a few minutes, some took a few hours. I was very curious to see how I approached the project compared to the other artists on the project. The other artists all came from the same agency and have backgrounds creating corporate murals, street graffiti and classical portraiture. Those dudes (they’re all dudes) can spend all day on a single composition. Some of their work is very impressive as a result. I guess I have a much shorter attention span.

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The truth is, I get competitive. As the program’s token agency-free girl-artist, I wanted to produce beautiful work that was very different than the others, and prove I could master the Fresh Paint program and bend it to my will. Above all, I wanted to make the most of all the drawing time, and produce something I could be proud of. Since I had free reign to draw whatever I wished, reviewing the work now is a journey through various tangents, subjects and techniques that reflect my interests and my exploration through the program’s possibilities. This selection represents the best 10%, by my estimation.

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These first two are the result of looking for a glitch in the program to exploit, an intention I stated after the first week. I found a janky digital brush tool, which was so busted it couldn’t draw a smooth line, and I loaded it with 3 colours of paint. Then I would twist the brush as a I drew it across the screen which would make it skip and create involuntary jags. This way I could create a random, rhythmic pattern that would be wholly unique to the Fresh Paint program and the touchscreen technology. Artificial life!

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This silhouette came from a request by one of the kids in the booth, who said she liked Victorian fashions. I’ve been using silhouettes quite a bit over the course of this project. Silhouettes bypass the necessity of assigning an ethnicity to every figure, as well as allowing me to avoid creating facial features in low resolution.

This one turned out so well, and of course I have a deep obsession with historical fashion silhouettes. This successful drawing inspired a whole series from which the next four come in order of creation.

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I leaped back and forth between elegant historical female silhouettes and punk rock. At the time it was just a stream of consciousness to keep me interested in the process, but of course on reflection the juxtaposition is kind of fun.

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The sketch below is inspired by Johnny Rotten, especially his unhinged, glaring eyeballs. I was a bit unhinged myself on this day, feeling rotten and high on cold medication, getting tired of trying to keep myself together. These little punk rock interludes are probably the most expressive Fresh Paintings of all, letting slip a sense of the creative exhaustion that is inevitable after 50+ hours of coming up with ideas and rendering them.

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By the end of the series, I was finally getting a handle on how to make the Fresh Paint program actually appear painterly. I was working quickly and deliberately with a greater level of confidence, and I could almost make it seem as if I had used actual paint.

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The last few images were, appropriately, very simple. As with any medium, achieving a successful loose composition with just a few elements is far more challenging than doing a very tight rendering. By this time, I could just let Fresh Paint be Fresh Paint.

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Thanks so much to Microsoft, everyone at Black Chalk Marketing, Caroline Shaheed and all of the wonderful young event workers I shared this experience with.

Microsoft Fresh Paint – portfolio 1

Last week, I spent four days at Toronto Pearson International Airport, sketching on a touchscreen at the Microsoft Windows 8 booth. This gave me enough time to complete a significant body of work – between 6 to 12 illustrations per day, from which I’ve selected a handful of what I feel were the most successful images.

At first I felt a bit nervous about this project – would I be able to adapt my illustration style to the Fresh Paint program? It is a bit of a high-pressure situation to be performing your art in front of a captive audience. Once I started though, it became apparent that this challenge was going to be a lot of fun. Not only do I get to share the booth with a bunch of young, enthusiastic event workers, but at the same time I’m taking a bit of a crash course in digital drawing.

The idea behind Windows 8 is that it’s an operating system you can do a bit of everything on – work or play, as they say. As such, the Fresh Paint application is not a specialist, professional program with an overwhelming plethora of tools and options. It’s a straight-forward, simple toy with two basic options – either pastel or paint. It has a visual interface that is so easy – it was fascinating to watch both children and elderly folks in the airport figure out the program within mere moments.

That said, as a professional illustrator who is used to working with extremely versatile, complex software, adapting to the limitations of Fresh Paint required a shift in attitude. Although the programmers have done a great job creating a simulacrum of wet and dry media, knowing how to use paint doesn’t mean you know how to use Fresh Paint. Like every medium, it requires thought and strategy to use to its best advantage.

Using Fresh Paint is like a game. There are several available effects I can use – how can I combine these effects to create a composition? The canvas is low-resolution and landscape-oriented, which doesn’t adapt well to my usual style of figure illustration – so what is the creative solution to that?

There is this idea that digital art is by its very nature is slick and facile – I don’t believe that it has to be, although of course mine is by virtue of its subject. There is certainly a tendency to perfect and polish an image until it loses all sense of humanity. It is an interesting creative conundrum to attempt to allow an element of wrongness into a digital illustration. The oxymoron of deliberate spontaneity.

So over the course of this project, the concept of the “New Aesthetic” has been on my mind. When creating work using watercolour, part of the art is letting the unpredictability of the materials play a role in the work. Whereas when using a computer program, everything is predictable – brushes are always the same shape and angle, edges react with other edges using the same set of data every time. So the only way to introduce a sense of artificial life into a digital image is to find a glitch in the program, and exploit that glitch in a purposeful way.

At the end of the week, they’re just a bunch of simple, superficial images I’ve created. Yet, I’m quite excited by them. I’m going to be doing another four days, so next week there will be a second portfolio, and maybe some more thoughts, too.


Microsoft Fresh Paint at Toronto Pearson International Airport

One of the things I love about being a fashion illustrator is unexpected, unusual gigs. This week and next, I’m going to be hanging out at the Microsoft Windows 8 booth at Toronto Pearson International Airport, fingerpainting on a touchscreen easel using Fresh Paint, the updated version of that classic program we all know and love, MS Paint.

Fresh Paint takes advantage of the touchscreen technology, you can use your finger to blend and swirl colours, similar to the way pastels or paint work, but without the mess. I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do with it – I’ll have enough time to create a fairly substantial body of work, and I’m planning on focusing on beauty and hair illustrations. I’ll post the best ones here next week.

Thanks to Microsoft for an opportunity to try something new and fun! If you’re flying in or out of Toronto and you see me, please say hey!

drawing – portrait exchange with Jonathan Pryce

My friend Jonathan, who is the keen eye behind Another Garçon and 100 Beards, 100 days, offered me a portrait exchange. Jonathan is brilliant at bringing out the best in his subjects, even camera-shy ones like me. Thank you Jonathan!

I just did some loose sketches from imagination using markers, and it turns out these gamine models inhabit my subconscious.

This portrait of Jonathan is the result of a loose sketch thrown down over a couple pints in Shoreditch, which I then took back to the studio and refined. I have impostor syndrome when it comes to portraits – I tend to do idealizations not likenesses. Jonathan has fine features and such sharp eyes, I think I managed to capture a fair approximation.

couture redux

One of the things I wanted to do while I live in Europe is attend and sketch at a Haute Couture week in Paris. Last week, I ticked that box… sort of. One of the things I’ve discovered about traveling is that your intended destination is ever-elusive. You can never reach where you’re going because no place is ever what you expect it to be. Even though every journey teaches you lessons, they are almost never in the subjects you thought you signed up for.

Anyway, I wasn’t that optimistic about my ability to attend any shows on my own modest merits. I put in my requests to every single show on the calendar, and when I picked up my mail in Paris I was surprised to open four invitations, three of which I was able to attend. None of the invitations were for designers I recognized.

There are so few haute couturiers, it seems a bit strange that some of them are wholly unknown outside of Paris. But what I was about to discover is that there is no correlation between official accreditation by the Syndicale and great fashion design. That “Haute Couture” can be every bit as provincial and uninspiring as any other fashion week – maybe even more so because the expectations are expanded by half a century of hype. I sketched at three shows, and none of my sketches turned out any good at all. What I saw either failed to ignite my imagination or offended my sense of taste. I didn’t even feel like sketching what I saw.

I sat outside of the Chanel Haute Couture show to watch the crowd, and it was a street-style circus as expected. The only difference from any other big fashion show was that sometimes a car would pull up, and photographers would cluster around it until an old woman – a couture customer – emerged from the car and everyone would just turn away.

This time, Paris turned out to be more about seeing friends, attending exhibits, and just thinking, than it did about fashion and drawing.

Once I got back to the office in London, I checked out the major shows on the internet, and sketched the above looks from from the Christian Dior and Chanel videos on my knee, just like I would if I was actually there. After a few tries I managed to get some decent sketches, even though I found both shows to be extremely conservative.

It makes me think that perhaps my reasons for attending fashion weeks are no longer valid. I have now been to fashion weeks in every major fashion city, including menswear and couture. I’ve learned a lot that I didn’t know before, seen how the glamour sausage gets filled, and even got to see a few outstanding shows, but after over five years of this I’ve found attendance is delivering diminishing returns… the more I see, the less any single experience stands out.

While I try to justify my purpose for existing at a fashion week by producing the best work I can, it really doesn’t seem to matter. Fashion shows are about fame and attention – they are for celebrities and pretty young things. Fashion shows are only incidentally about art, creativity, or even fashion. So it follows that very few people are interested in sketches executed at fashion shows.