Fashion Design

Fashion Illustration for Beginners: A Step by Step Guide

Fashion illustration is incredibly important in fashion design, just as much as paint is to an artist, equations to a mathematician, and medicine to a doctor. It acts as the voice of the designer, communicating his/her vision to the viewer. Fashion illustration is considered the first step in bringing your design to fruition, and it propels the design idea from conceptualisation to realisation of product.

Drawing fashion clothes

Every design begins as a sketch. A fashion sketch is the first step in bringing your fashion creations to life. These sketches are not accompanied by a figure, and its core purpose is to communicate your design and all its technical elements, such as length of garment and fit, to the viewer. The steps are quite simple when drawing a flat sketch:

Step 1: Draw the shape of your garment. The shape is also referred to as the silhouette of your garment. Ask yourself, is it a fitted or an oversized garment?

Step 2: Without design details, a garment cannot exist. Design details refer to both functional and decorative seams, volume like pleats and frills, fastenings like buttons and zips, and any other details from necklines, collar, and pockets to stitch details like embroidery. By adding these details, you give the viewer a better understanding of what the final product will look like.

Step 3: Refine the sketch by erasing all the unnecessary lines.

Drawing fashion figures

Unlike a flat sketch, fashion figure illustrations are more detailed with the addition of colour, texture, shading, and movement lines. To successfully communicate your design through a fashion illustration, you first need to learn how to speak the language. This involves learning how to create a figure, draw your garment design on the figure, and rendering that design to portray a certain textile, texture, and print.

Step 1: First you need to lightly draw the outline of your fashion figure. You can do this by either drawing a figure from scratch or using a fashion figure template.

Step 2: Now you can start with the fun part which is dressing your figure in your designs. Start by creating an outline of your desired silhouette on the body. Top tip: If you find yourself stuck in a creative rut, it is always a good idea to keep an eye on the latest fashion trends as a source of inspiration for silhouette, textile, and colour.

Step 3: Similar to the flat sketch, adding design details to your fashion figure will transform your design from being a simple shape into a piece of art. Because humans have soft bodies, it is important to indicate how the garment drapes over and around the body. Compression folds like wrinkles and volume create a sense of movement in illustration.

Clothing drawn on the figure can either be detailed, or it can be simplistic, forcing the viewer to use his/her imagination to fill in the missing details. Whether detailed or minimalistic, focus on creating illustrations that express your unique style with each element. When you are happy with how your garment design looks on your figure, you can outline your final figure with a fine liner, erasing all the unnecessary process lines.

Step 4: Once your drawing accurately depicts the silhouette and design details of your garment, rendering is the way by which you can convey information about the fabric, print, and colour choices that make your design unique. Adding shade during this stage is important to imitate a three-dimensional person wearing your design; this creates even more movement.

To render, designers either specialise in one kind of medium like paint, or a combination of mediums which include coloured pencils, markers and more. Taking the time to experiment with different mediums to accurately match colour, capture texture and prints, and display important design details will produce an illustration that is effective and visually compelling.

Step 5: As a beginner, it is important to study other illustrator’s work, but eventually you will develop your own signature style. To do this, you need to be willing to spend some time experimenting with different drawing techniques and rendering mediums.

There are a variety of things that determine your style; do you like using paint, coloured pencils, or do you stick to black and white? How do you illustrate the face of the figure? What kind of clothes are you designing? All these little details work together to create a look that is distinctively yours.

Fashion drawing templates

A croquis is a sketch of a human body that serves as a template for a designer to draw on, usually disproportionate to the human body. Often referred to as the 9-head figure, the exaggerated length allows the designer to display more design details in the illustration. When sourcing croquis templates, choose the pose best suited for your intended design and vision. The Shaw Academy croquis template (which you can download for free here) is an excellent blueprint to store in your library, giving you the opportunity to create strong and visually appealing fashion illustrations.

You can also create your own croquis template by using your body as a reference. To do this, you first need to take a full-length photo of yourself wearing tight clothing for you to be able to identify your body shape. Print and trace your shape onto a blank piece of paper, transferring all the important anatomy lines like your bust, waist, and hips. This exercise will help determine your body shape and allow you to experiment with different styles to find which one complements your body the most.

What you’ll need

To start your fashion illustration journey, it is important to invest in a sketchbook. The sketchbook is essential to the designer as it gives an insight into the designer’s collection of inspiration, thought processes, and displays idea generation and development. It has also been proven [Joicey and Nothdruft, 2013; Barnard, 2014] to boost creativity and help designers grow ideas and develop new ones.

Vincent van Gogh once said, “I sometimes think there is nothing so delightful as drawing.” When it comes to creating fashion figures, there really are no rules. Drawing, especially fashion illustration, is about expression, passion, and creating a delightful story and experience for the viewer.

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Marli Fourie

Updated: Sep 11, 2020


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