Life as a fashion illustrator: in conversation with LCF alumna Daniella Marsh
We caught up with LCF alumna Dani Marsh to find out more about her life after graduating from BA Fashion Imaging and Illustration. She told us why studying a fashion illustration was always her first choice, her future plans to move her career towards animation, and how Instagram can be your greatest ally if you want to work as a freelance illustrator.
Illustrations by Dani Marsh.
Hi Dani. Let’s start from the beginning. Why did you decide to study Illustration?
It was never anything else! When I 14 we had this lesson at school where we had to look at potential courses that we could do in the future, and that’s how I found out about fashion illustration at LCF. I knew I wanted to be in fashion, but I also wanted to draw, so with this one I found I could do both. It was the only course I applied for when the time came, because I knew that was the one I wanted to do.
How did you parents react when you said you wanted to become a fashion illustrator?
They were very supportive. I come from a creative family, so I knew they would support what makes me happy. We came together to open days in London, and when I have exhibitions they’re always there in the front row – they’re my number one fans!
Having a network of support from your family and friends is very important in the creative industries, where you may not end up doing a very straight forward job, especially if you go as a freelance.
What attracted you about studying fashion illustration at LCF?
It was definitely the reputation of the college and its name — I knew it was going to be a really good university to study fashion and art. I also liked the fact that this course was quite specific, because there are a lot of general art and fashion design courses, but fashion illustration is quite unique in the UK, so I knew it would give me the focus that I needed to go into my niche area. Also, I come from a quite small village in Berkshire, and if I wanted to be in fashion I knew I couldn’t stay there, so the fact that I was going to study in London made it even more appealing to me.
Did you have a clear idea of what you wanted to achieve during your time at LCF?
Yes, I wanted to be the best! I wanted to have really good grades, but it didn’t happen straight away, obviously. It wasn’t easy in the beginning, because going from high school to uni is such a high step up, but I absolutely loved it. I never had any doubts if this was the right course for me or if I should be doing something else. I knew I had to work harder, do more live drawing, learn computer programs, etc.
It was definitely my love for the subject that kept me going, and the support from the course leader, tutors and all the inspiring people that came and talked to us. I started off not doing as well as I hoped, and then in my final year I managed to get the top mark in my class. It was so rewarding!
And now you’re back to LCF doing workshops with students. How did that opportunity come up?
I got a message from my course tutor asking if I wanted to come back to uni one day and do a session with the students. I had a short presentation about myself, my experience at LCF and my work, and then we did a workshop together. It was lovely, really good fun! It felt like coming back home.
Do you get a lot of questions from students during these sessions?
Yes! They always want to know how they can get through the course and get good marks, and what it is like when you finish. For the first one, it’s obvious that we all want to graduate with a good grade, but I always say to them that getting good marks is not necessarily the main thing. As long as you’re progressing with the work you’re doing and you feel that you’re learning, that’s what really matters.
About what it is like in the real world, I don’t really know what it’s like either, because the journey is different for everyone. It’s important to remember it doesn’t happen straight away, because when I graduated I put a lot of pressure on myself to get a full-time job, which is so hard to do. Instead, I’ve done a bit of freelance working which has been really rewarding.
What piece of advice would you give to current and future students to make the most of their time at LCF?
It goes really fast, so turn up to classes! Also, don’t resist new things, just give it a go and learn. It’s very important to be open, you can end up surprising yourself. If you can be seen to be really engaged and passionate, then your potential will be recognised.
Let’s talk a bit about your work. For those looking to follow a similar path, what is it like being a fashion illustrator?
That’s a question I get asked a lot. Basically, it’s just like being an illustrator but you’re more focused towards fashion. You might get involved with a brand or a designer and you go and sketch the designs, or you can also go into marketing and work in branding. Most of the fashion illustrators I know are freelancers, and it’s like being a type of artist. You can go on a number of different ways, it’s a very multifaceted role.
According to your experience, is illustration still relevant in the fashion industry?
I think it’s a great time to be doing fashion illustration, it’s everywhere! I feel like it comes in stages, there’s always a bit of a photography and illustration slant, and at the moment a lot of brands are focusing more on hand-drawing and artistic images. A lot of fashion illustrators are doing really well, with massive followings on social media and working with brands like Zara, Gucci…
There are a lot of opportunities to find your niche and get a bit of recognition to end up doing really well as a fashion illustrator these days. Especially with Instagram and our appetite for visual materials, it’s easier today than ever.
How do you manage your work as a freelance illustrator? Any tips?
Try to make contacts with people, going to creative events, putting yourself out there and reaching out to others to do collaborations. Also, social media is really good for artists. Instagram helps you to reach more people and if you can tag creative directors they could possibly see your work.
Even though it requires a lot of late nights and working on the weekends, it never feels like a chore, because that’s what I love doing. I’m always drawing anyway, even if I don't have a commission.
Tell us a bit more about your style. Your love for colours pops out immediately with a first glance at your Instagram account, but what else defines your work?
I’m really inspired by faces. I kind of collect them, I’m always drawing on the tube and capturing different features and faces, especially in women. I try and represent different ideas of beauty in my work, and I really like the tension between something really feminine, bubbly and bright with something a little bit uneasy and awkward.
Now more than ever, the fashion industry is more and more embracing different types of beauty, faces full of character and different body shapes. Everything is getting a bit more diverse, and that’s what I’m trying to put through in my work.
Do you have a favourite brand or personality in fashion that really inspires you?
I love Molly Goddard - I love her work, she’s fantastic! I love her models as well, she always uses a very diverse casting so you can see different faces. I always draw her collections when they come out.
Where do you see your career as a fashion illustrator going?
I’m trying to get more into moving image. I’ve done a few music videos as an assistant animator and now I’m in the process of applying for a MA at London College of Communication. After the masters, I’d like to go freelance full-time as an illustrator and animator, and eventually I’d love to work with one of the big animation studios in London and have a permanent role.
What about the fashion element, would you still keep it going ahead?
Definitely! I think fashion is always going to be a big part of my work because it’s what I love. I really like clothes and exploring different looks and styles, but I want to step away from working in the fashion industry and focus more on the artistic side of my work. But fashion will definitely continue being a big inspiration for my work.
- Follow Dani on Instagram and check her online portfolio
- Find out more about BA Fashion Imaging and Illustration
- Explore LCF undergraduate courses
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