Illustrating Fashion: Sue Dray

Illustrating Fashion: Sue Dray

Text by Laura Wend, MA Drawing student

DRAW (Drawing Research at Wimbledon), a postgraduate reading group focusing on interdisciplinary approaches to drawing, tonight, held its first event of the academic year at London College of Fashion, with a talk by fashion illustrator Sue Dray, chaired by Tania Kovats (Course Director, MA Drawing). In a discussion about the role of drawing within fashion imagery, Dray reflects on her practice and journey to becoming a fashion illustrator.

illustrating_fashion_04Presenting us with an array of her work, Dray begins first by reflecting on drawings from her childhood. Free and rich in colour and texture, she admires these early drawings for their freedom of expression, lack of inhibition and innocent candour.

The famous Picasso quote that “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up” seems to tie in well here with her firm belief that the education system can be damaging to creative thoughts and independence, where one becomes too critical. As a child, we don’t question the way of drawing, and seemingly, it is this unrestricted creativity and openness of gestures and liberating way that we as a child make a mark, that the illustrator has sought to explore and re-employ in her drawing practice ever since.

Having illustrated for ground-breaking liberal and feminist publications, such as Spare Rib and The Women’s Press, Dray reflects on the extremely laborious tasks of creating these drawings, having to separate the colours amid technological difficulties with scanning and printing at that time. She also recollects her obsession with detail and getting every line and fold right in the drawing. This can also be seen in her book jackets and cook book illustrations. Incorporating the narrative of each book, capturing so many different elements and specific details in each illustration, she soon realised this way of drawing would not be sustainable in the long term.

Delving back into this inner child way of drawing, Dray explored a drawing method of meditating, then using her non-dominant hand (her left hand) in dialogue with painting with her right hand. No longer concerned with getting the details right, she found this a liberating process where work became less about the detail, and more about the essence of the subject, about what she was trying to portray through the image and how it resounded with the viewer. No longer worrying about how she drew, but rather what the drawings were trying to say, works became more intellectual but also more simplistic in style.

Describing the run way as her studio, Dray captures the fast paced nature of the catwalk in her fashion illustrations. By asking What do we see when we look at the catwalk? What is the message? What is the narrative? How do I encapsulate 30 different outfits in to two drawings? Dray became less concerned with detail, instead making a response to extract the essence and spirit of the collection. Retaining this magic of drawing live, is also important for her when drawing from a photograph. She describes needing this discipline, to make the same marks you would if live, so not to return to this obsessive state of drawing, a process that for her could transpire extremely passive. Drawing very spontaneously and intuitively, she works in the moment with a focus on the haptic of creating.


illustrating_fashion_09Finally, Dray discusses the advantages and vast possibilities of drawing with an iPadpro. Using ‘Procreate’ to draw digitally, it allows her to continue recording models in a fast manner, with an unlimited colour palette, an array of textures and the ability to erase, undo and edit. With the advantage of having a portable studio at her fingertips, one than she can share with others at the click of the button, and many other artists, like David Hockney using similar software, it throws up many questions around the nature of drawing. It questions whether drawing on an iPad can have the same urgency and permanence as drawing on paper? Whether digital drawings can exist without being printed out as a physical copy? And what is the best way to achieve and archive such work? Certainly digital drawings allow for a slightly different quality to the work. Describing this method as liberating and progressive, Dray highlights the importance of being open to new tools and techniques, whilst keeping an inquisitive nature within everything you do.

Sue Dray currently draws backstage for Vivienne Westwood and Andrew Logan’s ‘Alternative Miss World’. Her work has been published in Sunday Times, Cosmopolian, Time Out, Fashion Weekly, Elle, New Scientist and The Observer.