We catch up with Megan Hess, an author and in demand illustrator for big fashion and brand names, who has grown her career to greatness.
How did you make that transition from graphic design to fashion illustration?
I studied Graphic Design because it felt like a ‘real’ job in the art world, but really always wanted to be an illustrator – I just never knew back then that it was a possible career choice! After working as an Art Director in Ad agencies for several years I packed everything up and moved to London. It was in London that I worked in a million different creative jobs and in my final job there realized that I had a burning desire to be an artist. At this time I’d became the Art Director for Liberty Department Store. Whist I loved art-directing fashion I loved illustrating it more. I started to do very small illustrations for Liberty and from this art directors saw my work and little commissions began to follow. After about a year I found myself with non-stop work. I wasn’t earning a fortune but I’d never been happier and I knew I was going to do this forever.
As my clients got bigger and better I was able to be a little more selective and just work on briefs that I knew had a great creative opportunity. Then in 2006 I got a call in the middle of the night from Candace Bushnell’s publisher asking if I would illustrate her next novel ‘One Fifth Avenue’. This was when things took off at rapid speed for me. Her book became a New York Times bestseller and I met with Candace and she asked me to illustrate all her previous books including the cover of ‘Sex and The City’. Once ‘Sex and the City’ was released I was contacted by TIME magazine in New York to create portraits for them. Following this, I began illustrating for Tiffany & Co, Chanel, Dior, Cartier, Vanity Fair, Italian Vogue, Bergdorf Goodman, Fendi, Prada….. Ironically, at the same time as my work finally took off I had my first baby!! It’s funny, I always tell people that I haven’t really slept since 2006!!
How would you describe your style?
Chic girls in a chic world!
You’ve worked with many big names before, how do you balance many projects at once?
It is tricky at times to balance everything. I can only really take on about 10% of jobs that come in. Most weeks I have about 10 different projects that I’m working on. All the projects are with different clients all over the world and they really vary in level of detail. For example one project might be one small illustration for an invitation for Dior and another project might be a complete animation for Fendi that requires over 100 frames. All my projects are very different which is what I love about it.
Have you found any differences working in the US compared to when you first moved to London?
I find all countries are quite different to work with. All cultures have different working styles and sensibilities. On any given day I could be skyping New York first thing in the morning and then London and Paris in the evening. It’s like switching gears with every country but again, it’s the variety of creatives that I work with that makes my job interesting. I also feel that the more people I work with in different countries, the more I learn.
What project so far have you felt gave you the most creative freedom?
I would say Fendi. The entire brand is built on creativity and being brave. For them I created an imaginary Fendi Palace with almost ‘Alice in Wonderland’ rooms with Fendi girls. It was a mix of pretty and eerie in terms of mood. I had so much creative freedom, it was a joy to collaborate with them and create without restriction.
What is a usual day like for you?
Every day is different and that’s what I love about it. I get to work with different luxury clients all over the world! Sometimes I’m creating a tiny illustration for a bespoke event, other times I’m creating a giant illustration that will be the size of an entire building and sometimes it’s an animation. I love it and I love the diversity. Most days are spent working in my studio and other days are spent travelling all over the world on projects. I feel incredibly lucky to do what I love for a living.
As a lover of Disney myself I must ask about your collaboration with them, was it daunting to recreate Disney Characters with an already iconic look?
It was such an honour to work with Disney. As a little girl who grew up reading Cinderella, I never imagined that one day I would be asked to draw her for Disney! My brief was to re-imagine all the iconic Disney Princesses and sketch them in my style. I drew each character as if they had just walked in a Paris Couture show. It was a childhood dream come true to work on that project.
Do you have a process from idea to final product, to meet the clients’ needs?
I hand draw all my line work with a custom Montblanc pen and ink, then I either leave it black and white or add colour with gouache, watercolour and digital. Some of my illustrations are very fast. I usually post a quick sketch on my Instagram account each morning (meganhess_official) and I only ever give myself 10 minutes for that – because I have so many deadlines to get through! Most of my work can take anywhere from an hour to several days – just depends on the complexity of the illustration.
What do you love about the art of hand crafting your illustrations?
I think that as the world becomes more automated we need hand crafted and hand drawn things even more than ever! It’s personal and feels incredible to take a blank piece of paper and create something.
Lastly, what’s next for you?
This October I will release my 5th Book – PARIS! It’s been a year in the making and I can’t tell you how excited I am to share all my favourite Paris locations with everyone. It’s a city that makes my heart melt and it was so much fun to write and illustrate!
Interview by Jessica Saunders
Images: Courtesy of Megan Hess