Fashion skills 1: Help, I can’t draw!

A couple of days ago, a fashion student asked me how she could produce a fashion portfolio if she’s not very skilled at drawing. I told her, quite simply, that she had to practice endlessly her drawing skills and I suggested a list of fashion illustration books and also suggested she viewed the ‘How to do a Portfolio’ section of this blog. Every day I encounter more and more fashion students who need to develop their drawing skills. Design is a two-part discipline: there is the artistic/visual side, and there’s the engineering side. We will deal with the former in this, our first post of 2012.

First, if you’re planning on entering a fashion school or fashion design department you NEED to be able to draw well. I don’t mean senseless doodling (although that is quite useful at times), but to understand the notions of basic drawing principles. More importantly, after conquering basic drawing skills, you must be able to draw the human body effortlessly. Knowing the proportions of the human body is paramount in order to be a good designer. Sometimes, students forget that a designer works with, and for, the human body. If a student does not understand how the body works, how it moves and how the fabric moves when the body moves, (s)he cannot design properly. The student will find great issues when translating their idea to a tridimensional garment. Thus, human body proportions are at the core of fashion design.

Second, I will ask you the unthinkable: forget everything you think you know about fashion illustration, especially the notion that the human body measures 9 times its head. This is false and misleading, and it causes great trouble for beginners when they start designing and drawing. When students sketch a garment using the 9-head proportion without knowing real human dimensions, (s)he will have great difficulty converting their drawn version of the design to a tridimensional model. I see it all the time with my students! To avoid this, learn the following: The human body has from 7 to 7.5 heads and this is the proportion you should memorize to a ‘T’.

There are many techniques to help you achieve a proportioned human figure. The best thing to do, though, is to ask a friend of family member to pose for you for 5 minutes at a time so you can draw their pose using the 7.5 human canon. At first, you won’t finish your drawing, but after enough practice, you won’t even need the whole 5 minutes! Then, make things more complex by asking them to pose with elaborate clothing: a wedding dress, a prom dress, a frilly shirt or a printed outfit. Try different poses, and start drawing different people. Draw from what you see on TV while watching Glee, for example (imagine drawing Lea Michele while singing!), or just practice your people-watching skills by drawing girls that walk by you at the mall.

On this latter point, I advise you try the following exercise: Sit at the mall, near a womenswear clothing store. With your sketchbook ready (it shouldn’t be bigger than an 8.5” x 11” or A4 size), look at any of the people coming in or out of the store and observe what interesting clothing items they’re wearing. Choose whoever you feel has the coolest style, and draw them quickly while they enter or exit the store. [1] You’ll have to be lightning-fast: maybe you’ll have just a minute to do it! But because you have to be really quick, and you have to know your human canon by heart, your eye-hand coordinating skills will get developed fast.

Also try the following: While walking at the mall or on the street, ask people with stylish clothes you like to pose for a snapshot. Remember, always ask first! Then use those photos to recreate the human proportions and later draw the clothes.

All of these exercises will train your eye to remember details and proportions without having to look twice at the subject. Practice and perseverance are key! When you have dominion over the human proportions, you can try this next exercise they taught us at Central Saint Martins: take a photo from a fashion magazine (try choosing one where the model exposes most of her limbs; a model with a bikini is usually perfect) and cut out the model. Next, cut out the clothes and glue the photo to a white photocopier paper. Now you can make many copies of the same photo and draw over the figure. Think of it as a type of collage: this can be useful as a working sketch but also as a final illustration. You will have a perfectly proportioned body base to work with and you can see better how your final clothing item will look on a real person before you even make the pattern for it. It’s a win-win!

Good luck with your drawing!

[1] People usually don’t have a problem when you are drawing at public spaces, but you have to be careful nonetheless. Some people will not like you drawing them! So try to be discreet. On the other hand, if you wish to take a photograph of the person with their clothes, just like cool hunters do, always ask for permission first. Never take a photo of someone without asking, you could get into trouble!

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