Fashion illustrator Jessica Durrant started drawing when she was 3 years old and is now a recognised name within the fashion industry with big names under her wing, working for clients such as Lancôme Paris, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire and NYX Cosmetics. But what does it really take to succeed as a fashion illustrator today?
When did your fascination with illustrations and drawing start?
I started drawing when I was about 3, it came naturally to me as I was curious to create. I was always drawn to be outside and loved drawing people and nature. Two common themes that have really stuck with me all my creative life. I think I never wavered in wanting to be anything but an artist. I never really was drawn to a career that would take me away from drawing and making things. When I was in 4th grade we had a guest illustrator come in, and he was a comic strip artist that was very well known for making funnies for the Sunday paper around the country. He drew things for us, and I think subconsciously that example stuck with me all my life…knowing that artists can make a living and do amazing things.
Why fashion illustration?
I love illustrating because on paper anything you create is possible and can sometimes be easily translated. Designing clothes or products take time and there are a lot of rules. I love having an idea, grabbing a piece of paper and just making it visual almost instantly. I can explore anything I’d like with no boundaries. I like my world to be slightly surreal, and make the viewer think and feel things that are solely translated on a piece of paper.
When was the moment you would say your career started to grow?
I began selling prints and originals daily through my Etsy shop. I was packing up dozens of orders every week and getting emails from companies and brands… I just thought to myself, “How did they even find my work?” It was a slow progression, but I think hard work will always lead the right people to you if you make work true to your own style and your life. I had extreme faith and perseverance that I could get better with my artwork and I could make powerful things if I pushed myself and didn’t give up. I didn’t really make a choice to start working on it full time…I just did it.
If you were to describe your style of illustrations, how would you describe them?
There is always a bit of moodiness to them. Whether it’s something purely about fashion aesthetics that I love, or about something a bit darker or that allow you think about if there is a hidden meaning behind some of them. I would describe them as romantic, emotional, opulent, powerful, strong and vulnerable.
Can you give us a brief outline of your career path? From when you started to how far you’ve come today working with brands such as Lancome, Avene, NYX and QVC.
I started by drawing sketches and focusing on doing the best I could and then putting it out there. I had an Etsy shop and a website, and I also had a lot of people share my work. There were brands approaching me because they had seen my drawings online whether it was from a blog, Pinterest board or Tumblr. Then I began using Instagram in late 2012 and that allowed a whole new way to connect with my audience. My first big job was with Target and over the years my work has become much about illustrating for beauty and haircare brands. Right now I am working with Sephora in Paris for some rebranding projects and NYX cosmetics for some website illustrations. It’s super fun!
How is it to work as an artist on a day-to-day basis?
I can only imagine the huge competition between all the talented people trying to succeed in the industry. I think most illustrators will tell you the same thing – don’t pay close attention to other artists. There is room for everyone! Every artist creates something unique and the right projects will work out for each one of us. I don’t like to think about competition with anyone, but myself. And in the 6 years I’ve been doing this, that’s been my mantra and I’ve never felt like I needed to compete. I just stay true to what I love to do and know that the right projects always work out.
What does a normal day look like for you?
I’ll try to keep it simple. I wake up and have coffee. On a good day, I read and write before I pull out my laptop. I usually get to checking emails at 8 am and make sure I am up to date on client feedback, revisions and any logistical work that needs to be done. Once I tackle the emails, I check if there are any Etsy orders that need to be shipped. Then I do some watercolour painting warm ups to get my flow going for working. I usually post a couple times every day on Instagram, if I have something fun I want to share that I’m working on. I then get to painting or editing work. I usually work on 2-3 freelance jobs at a time, and that keeps me busy with the right flow. I take a lunch break by usually going for a walk for about 30 mins and having a healthy lunch. Iced coffee and some chocolate get me through the afternoon and I also try to make a little room to do my own personal painting if I have time. I usually end my day around 4-5 pm. Sometimes later if I’m on deadline. When an illustrator is on deadline, you work around the clock. I also love to cook and make cocktails, so usually, when my boyfriend gets home we chill out and cook/grill together and walk our dog. He makes me laugh, so it’s such a treat we can unwind together every day. We watch a lot of Netflix on weeknights. I love to unwind by taking a bubble bath and watching comedies on my iPad and give myself a manicure and facial. Then I usually go to bed right before midnight.
How would a normal procedure go working with a new client? From when you get a draft until you see the printed finished product used by your client/in a magazine.
Usually, a new client, once we agree on the project, I get a brief and a timeframe to work within. I do a lot of research, in the beginning, to gather inspiration to get me excited to create something beautiful for them. I try to do the sketches in a few days. I feel like most times it’s best to work when you are excited and inspired, which tends to mean that I work quickly on a project to avoid making it feel stagnant. Most client work takes about a month, sometimes a little less or sometimes more for bigger projects. For many projects, it takes a while until your work gets published. It can be everything from 6 months to a year, and other it’s within a few weeks. It all just depends on who the client is and what project you have been working on.
So, what is your go-to tip for aspiring illustrators?
I always say the same thing, and it sounds cliche…but you need to believe in yourself and stay true to who you are. You will fail and it’s what you do with that failure that will be the most important thing in your career. Keep going. Don’t give up. Make what only you can make, and be real. People will see it if you create from a place of authenticity and passion.
Do you want to be a fashion illustrator?
As told to Lene Hille