5 Minutes With: Jessica Bird, Fashion Illustrator | Riley Studio

5 Minutes With: Jessica Bird, Fashion Illustrator

by Riley Studio |

Unable to proceed as planned with our photoshoot for our upcoming Collection 04, we needed to find an alternative solution. Inspired by Vogue Italia, we came across Jessica Bird who has brought to life our new pieces through her chalk illustrations. 


For our #5MinutesWith this week we spoke to Jess to hear all about how she got into fashion illustration, where she gets her inspiration from and how she tries to adopt sustainability into her practice. 


1) Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you got into fashion illustration?  

I studied fashion design at art college, drawing wasn’t a huge part of the curriculum but it was why I went to art college in the first place and the part I most enjoyed - i've been drawing my whole life. After uni I assumed like almost every other fashion graduate that I would become a designer. I worked in the industry for a few years before becoming tired of the unrelenting pace of it. I took a break and got a job in a shop, focusing my energy on developing my drawing. I have been life drawing throughout my time in my design roles as a way to relax and friends showed an interest in buying my work. Working in fashion it was just a natural progression to draw clothes and new collections. Gradually over the course of a year, interest in my work picked up and I managed to transition to support myself as a full time artist.

2) You have a clear style with bold colours and sharp lines, where did you get your inspiration from? What materials do you most enjoy using? 

I’m not sure how i’ve ended up with the style i have to be honest. My uncle Stephen Bird is an incredible ceramicist and his work is very colourful and expressive which I guess might have influenced me growing up, spending time around his work. Another early influence is Scottish painter Joan Eardley, I remember her haunting portraits of Glasgow street children in the galleries in Edinburgh. Egon Schiele is a huge inspiration for me, his line work is totally unique and probably inspired me to use charcoal which I now use exclusively for drawing. I’m not very patient and I enjoy working at speed to capture a moment/mood so I love that charcoal allows you to move quickly across the page. You can create different line quality depending on how you use it and it doesn't necessarily allow you to be tentative in your mark making, which I like. I prefer acrylics over oil for this reason too, they dry quickly and I often work charcoal on top of almost dry paint to create unique lines. 



3) What do you enjoy most about an illustration project? Can you talk us through your process?


I enjoy having a brief to work to, its like creative visual problem solving and it's a challenge each time to see how I can use my skills to communicate the client's vision within the boundaries they have set. My process depends on the nature of the project but usually I start by researching and gathering photos/images. I often work from multiple photos at once i.e i'll take a face from one image, the pose from another and then the clothing from another source. I often have to use my imagination to put flat images of clothing or perhaps just a cloth sample onto a body, imagining the final garment and how the cloth will fall - I think my fashion design background comes in useful here. Once I have the artwork I then usually take the finished piece to be scanned and then it can be manipulated digitally if necessary.

4) How do you try to involve sustainability into your practice? 


It’s something that i’ve become a lot more conscious about recently, I do go through a lot of paper and unfortunately lots of art materials i.e paints come in plastic tubes so I make sure I recycle everything I can, the art shop have special recycling points for empty paint tubes and I buy refills whenever I can. I try to shop locally with regards to materials - I buy Unison pastels, a small family run manufacturer of chalk pastels hand rolled in the north of England and Coates charcoal from renewable willow beds in Somerset. I try to be resourceful, the paper I used for the Riley Studio illustrations for example was left over packaging that arrived with an order of art materials. 



5) Vogue Italia was the first magazine to have an illustration as their cover page back in January this year, do you see a shift in the industry towards more sustainable solutions? How do you think illustration might be used by fashion brands in the future?


Definitely, they have just done another set of illustrated covers for the July issue using children's drawings and Harper’s Bazaar just released illustrated covers from a number of artists and designers with their response to the pandemic. I think the world’s eyes are on the fashion industry now more than ever to see how they react and respond to criticism of the current model that seriously needs addressing. Consumers are becoming far more educated and conscious with regards to sustainability so I think brands will have no choice but to step up and keep up, or they will be called out and left behind.   



Follow Jessica Bird on Instagram here. Our new Collection 04 will be launching next week.