Thoughts and Process: Making a Fashion Style Illustration

A fashion illustration of a woman in an off yellow hat, salmon business suit top, and green pants. She is accompanied by white flowers on her left side, by her patterned collar.

Despite this being only my second Thoughts and Process blog post, I wanted to talk about the most recent fashion illustration I finished in December and posted in January. As like before, I’m making this write up to help other aspiring artists and followers to understand elements behind my choices, and learn the technicalities behind my pieces, in the event it can help others too. I normally mainly do semi-realism illustrations and drawings, and while some of those are inspired by fashion I see in places, such as InStyle magazines, these types of illustrations from me are more rare, a different sort of challenge, but still very fun! This one doesn’t really have a name like the last one, maybe I can just call it Hat? That’s immediately where my eyes go when I look at this. Thanks for joining me as I tackle the thoughts and process behind…Hat.

The first thing to get out of the way is that I consider this to be a companion piece to the fashion illustration I did in 2019, and generally wanted it to share some aspects of the same style with some improvements. Because of this, I had a rule book I wanted to follow:

  • No face details, in fact, just no faces! I wanted the fashion to be the focus of the piece.
  • Thick black solid lines were a must.
  • Coloring needed to look painterly and like watercolor.
  • The actual model and clothes would be accompanied by some sort of feminine icon or symbol. For example, last year was butterflies. This year’s ended up being small, white flowers.

With those rules, this piece became infinitely easier to start than last year’s, and I charged straight ahead with my sketch. When I did my usual sketch scanning and anatomy fixing in Medibang, I ended up changing a lot more of the actual ways I’d be drawing the lineart as opposed to just anatomy. The hat was originally a rounder shape, but got changed to look much sharper and shapely than before. The hat by itself ended up being a really rough battle and struggle to get it to look like something I was satisfied with. I also thought the original model was a bit too skinny, so I plumped up her waist and hips. Other than that, the edits were basically just me trying to simplify each detail and line in the way I saw fit. I really liked the idea of some of the clothing folds being more edgy than round, just for that extra stylistic flair. You can see multiple instances of this in elements such as the character’s hips, shoulders, and jaw line.

A before and after image comparison of a fashion illustration sketch. In both, a woman is wearing a hat, business shirt, and work pants.

I know fashion illustration tends to lean on the skinnier side, possibly for stylization, and just the fact that fashion in general has favored skinnier and taller models throughout the years, at the very least in Western culture. However, I wanted to continue using the body shapes I normally do in my other illustrations, not just because I wanted to tie this to my other art pieces, but because I wanted the bodies of my characters to be more relatable to the average person.

So for the technical parts of the illustration that are the MOST helpful for fellow artists out there, here’s the breakdown of the tools used. Please keep in mind this illustration was done in Medibang:

  • Lineart: I used the Mapping Pen brush at a size of 15 pixels. I set the Ooze at 3, Number of Lines at 0, and Distance of Lines at 50. As long as the brush is a very solid and an opaque brush with some very minimal noisy/jagged edges, you should be able to achieve the same effect.
  • Colors: This starts in the same process, by using a magic wand or selection tool, expanding the selection by a pixel or two, and then filling that selected space with a solid color. Where it gets more stylized for this fashion illustration, is by considering where your light source is, and erasing a segment of each object with clean edges. This makes your coloring look more stylized and offset. But because you want the white areas to stay white, and light sources affect different objects in various ways, I don’t recommend actually offsetting your color fill selection, even if it saves time.
  • Shading and lighting: I used a fluffy watercolor brush you can find and download for Medibang here. I changed the settings on this brush to have 41% opacity (size varied based on how large I wanted the coloring to be), set Brush Spacing at 42, checked Rotate Along, put Rotate Angle at 50, Rotate Random at 100, Color Mixing Level at 0, and finally Complement at 100. If you preserve the transparency in your color layers when you apply your lighter and darker colors, you’ll save a lot of time during this process. Once you have these settings applied, just apply your lighter and darker colors in the appropriate spots on your objects, as dictated by your light source. My only other recommendation here is to not get too crazy with the shading detail. After all, sometimes simplicity is the charm in these types of art forms!
  • Watercolor edges: In most art illustration programs, you have the ability to apply an effect on any individual layer that can look like a watercolor edge. With Photoshop, you could use the Inner Shadow/Glow tool, in SAI, the tool is called Fringe. In Medibang, the layer tool is simply called Watercolor Edge. I set that at 10 pixels wide and at a strength of 100. Feel free to play with those settings if you think those parameters are too harsh for your illustration. This tool allows your actual coloring layers to look like they were painted with watercolors, and that the edges dried with some excess paint. This feature is absolutely vital in watercolor style paintings.
  • Other: On the very top layer of this piece are some solid white splatters to give this illustration some extra flair. I think it’s pretty self explanatory to say that you can just use a splatter brush to achieve this effect, but I absolutely must stress not to go overboard with the splatter. It should be considered a light accent to your piece, putting in too much will easily and quickly make the final piece look messy. The black inkblots on the lineart were done to make it look more like the lines were done through a more old, inky pen, which is again just extra flair for the illustration. Same advice as the splatter: don’t go overboard, but also make sure your blots, if you’re doing this, are much more opaque and solid than what I used! Yep, already criticizing a piece I made just a month ago!

When I was coloring this piece, I was dead set on making the color scheme more of a yellow and brown kind of aesthetic. I was planning on the character’s top to be yellow, a black undershirt, some brown pants, and a yellow hat. But I, for the life of me, could not bring myself to like that kind of color scheme when I actually executed it! The salmon red top ended up winning in the end, a faded colored hat ended up sticking, and now I got green pants. I keep some Satoshi Kon art around my workspace when I paint and draw, his works were notorious for lots of browns and reds in his films like Millennium Actress and Tokyo Godfathers. I probably absorbed my love for that type of coloring subconsciously…oops.

Now as for the pattern on her top’s neckline, this ended up being a side project I spent an hour on in of itself. I knew for sure I wanted to make this a vector pattern, so I made the pattern in CorelDraw 2020, made some clean flower and stem shapes, and exported the pattern to Medibang as a BMP. The reason I was dead set on vector was so I could upload the pattern online to be used for others if they were interested, as well as make resizing easy. Granted, it’s not a particularly detailed pattern, but with the collar frill being as small and thin as it was, I couldn’t quite justify making it overly extra.

A vector pattern of some white flowers accompanied by green stems, leaves, and buds, all on a black background.

So why did I make this illustration? Simple: my younger sister previously wanted a series of illustrations done like this. I had done one for her back in 2019. She’s very much into fashion illustration and marketing, and originally wanted my 2019 piece as a commission. Since it was close to the holidays, I just made it for her as a gift. She got an 11 x 17 inch print of the 2020 illustration for the holidays, just a little later sadly because of mail delays. She was a little peeved I made it for her since I asked for no gifts this year and she felt guilty she didn’t get me anything…oops.

A fashion style illustration of a young woman in a large skirt, black jacket, and white work shirt. She is accompanied by a few butterflies.

The 2019 illustration I made was done in Photoshop before I broke up with that program for the third time, and was inspired by some of the fashion in the Caligula: Overdose video game. I had played that game for a while and got burned out, but I loved the characters and art direction in it so much that I couldn’t help but want to make my own spin on it. Honestly, look back on the 2019 illustration, I don’t think I did a very good job. There’s parts of the face shape and hair that looks a little too anime-ish for me, and while those aspects may have been inevitable with the source inspiration, I still find myself discouraged that I let those aspects I didn’t want slip inside. I do really like the paint effects inside the skirt, but even then it’s clear there’s too much focus on it. But other than that… is it shameful to say I loved and still love the simplistic ways the butterflies came out? I’m not completely negative with my older artwork, I promise!

With that said, I’d like to continue these kinds of fashion illustrations I’m making year by year, even if my sister gets tired of it. They allow me to play around with other tools and brushes I normally wouldn’t touch, and are very interesting insights into how my artwork and values improve year by year. So expect to see another companion piece to these two sister pieces in December 2021! That’s all I have to say on Hat, and its sister…skirt? If you got this far, thank you very much for reading, and I wish you the best until we meet again.

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