stef mitchell and the return of fashion illustration
A new guard of illustrators are reclaiming the art form and redefining it for a 21st century.
In between takes at MILK studios, Australian-born, New York based photographer Stef Mitchell honed her other great passion for fashion illustration. A couple of years and a published book of her drawings later, and Mitchell is part of a new guard of fashion illustrators currently reclaiming the art form and redefining it for a 21st Century consciousness.
With the industry, and the ways we consume fashion, in constant flux, the simplicity of illustration has been enjoying something of a renaissance. i-D caught up with Mitchell to find out why we can't get enough of this new form of illustrated fashion.
Why were you drawn to fashion illustration?
It wasn't in a direct way really; I just enjoy drawing certain photos, most of which are considered fashion pictures. Helmut Newton, or Ellen Von Unwerth photographs for example. Just pictures that I think are really graphic and that I like the shape of.
I've always drawn for fun, but things evolved with free notepads and pens at MILK studios in New York, as well as a lot of inspiring books lying around. It was something I did when I had downtime there. That then turned into a book and led to people buying my drawings.
Fashion illustration seems to have fluctuated in popularity since the explosion of personal camera devices. Why do you think that people are increasingly interested in this medium again?
I guess the fact that everyone has an iPhone and takes pictures now has taken some of the magic out of photography. We see it all the time — which I love — but there is definitely an over saturation of images accessible to us at any moment. Maybe this has made drawings unique again; it's something different and consequently people are into it.
Would you say that illustration's function is even more artistic now; that it's used less as a practical resource and more as a creative interpretation of the clothing or the mood?
To be honest I have no idea, I don't really follow many other fashion illustrators. I've seen Grace Coddington's sketches though and they are awesome.
You take photographs as well. Do you see your approach to these two disciplines as similar or distinct?
The only similarity I see is that I like the visual imagery of what I'm looking at with both drawing and photography. Otherwise I consider them to be very different, though I'm working on combining the two and seeing what happens.
Do you think illustration can capture something different to a photograph?
I think illustrations can capture something different yes, mine in particular are quite simple and don't usually have faces, which probably allows someone to project their own mood or feelings onto it. A photograph is usually a more direct way of communicating. As a viewer you react to multiple aspects: the lighting, the model, their pose, hair, and makeup for example. It's a more critical process, especially for anyone who works in photography and is used to being part of the process of creating images themselves.
Your own drawing style is quite impressionistic and experiential—what inspires you to draw a particular subject?
It is more the shape of something than the concept of it. For drawing, I like if something is amusing as well as being visually attractive, even if it's subtle.
And what kinds of messages do you think you portray through your work?
It hasn't been on purpose, but I guess a feminist theme could be interpreted. A lot of dominant women, or women in strong positions.