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How do you manage creative play and business?

A blog by London Fashion Illustrator Elyse Blackshaw

Fendi bag fashion illustration by London Fashion illustrator Elyse Blackshaw
Fendi fashion illustration by Elyse Blackshaw 2024

When talking with other artists, managing creative play and business seems one of the biggest challenges. For many creatives, the business element of art and design is not taught to us at university therefore you are forced to wing it through freelance jobs and learn from mistakes along the way. As the commissions roll in, creative play becomes less and less of a priority.

Here's how I include creative play into my monthly planning:

Life drawing by Elyse Blackshaw at Sketch Sesh 2019
Life drawing by Elyse Blackshaw at Sketch Sesh 2019

Any fashion illustrator will tell you that life drawing is fundamental. Not only does it help you to learn the human form, but it allows you to experiment with drawing techniques in a relaxed atmosphere. I personally prefer fashion themed life drawing, but any form of drawing practice will ultimately enable you to establish your style and feel confident when drawing. The varied pace of life drawing timed activities is also brilliant practice for live event illustration.

If you are based in London or just visiting, here are my top two favourite fashion life drawing sessions to attend:

  • Connie Lim - Renowned fashion illustrator Connie Lim hosts regular life drawing sessions with cool models at her Dalston studio and sometimes on location such as galleries. You can buy tickets through her online shop or follow her instagram to find out when the latest session is.

  • Sketch Sesh - Hosted by established illustrator and Central Saint Martins tutor James Davidson, Sketch Sesh happens a few times a year, celebrating models in the LGBTQIA+ community. It is a collaborative and atmospheric event that has fabulous muses such as Bimini Bon Boulash, A Man to Pet, Paloma Elsser, Giggi Goode, and even fashion illustration legend Sue Dray.

2. Screenshot inspirational images on social media

Burberry Slab Slides illustration by Elyse Blackshaw 2024
Burberry Slab Slides illustration by Elyse Blackshaw 2024

My screenshot album is FULL of inspiring images from instagram of models, accessories and still life images posted by established brands and emerging designers. There is always something for me to draw. If I'm stuck for time or on the move, I use iPad illustration to ensure I keep drawing. This image was created on a train to London! Capturing images enables me to try different compositions, such as this recreation of Burberry's ad for their new slab sliders. If I haven't been able to draw for pleasure for a while, I'll scroll through images I have screenshot throughout the month and there's always something to work from.

3. Look out for fashion events

Throughout the year, fashion illustrators are looking out for fashion events to draw from. From international fashion weeks to celebrity events such as The Met Gala, drawing current happenings is not only a fun way to experiment but is great for creating social media content. The events don't have to be so high profile, is there a store opening of an emerging brand or a interesting workshop taking place in a retail store? Look for ways to draw that not only allow for creative play but contribute to your business such as content creation, exposure and networking.

How do I ensure I am completing all my business tasks?

Creating a weekly timetable or schedule is really helpful to make sure I am completing all the tasks I need to do each week. I make these weekly as working as a freelance illustrator is extremely flexible and interchanging depending on the commissions that come through and the events happening.

This May I returned to the Royal College of Art to join their Innovation RCA department on the Creative Brands Accelerator. It is a 6 month mentorship, where I will work with industry experts to develop a brand framework, customer profiles and how to handle financial aspects of business. I applied to join the CBA to fill gaps in my business knowledge.

Whether you are emerging or established, addressing your weakness and taking time to evolve and develop is priceless. Being equally confident and skilful in both creative play and business is essential to success.


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