Chances are you’ve come across Megan Hess‘ fashion illustrations in your travels. After all, the Brisbane-born, Melbourne-based artist found her fame illustrating the book covers of Sex and The City author Candace Bushnell then went on to draw for the likes of Dior, Fendi, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Montblanc, Givenchy, Valentino, Balmain, Jimmy Choo and Tiffany and Co. Her elegant aesthetic, influenced by Old Hollywood glamour, has secured her spot as the artist in residence at the Oetker Collection, as well as in the homes of hearts of fashion lovers the world over. Despite her polished appearance, this stylish mother of two is refreshingly real about the struggles of starting a new business, and balancing work with family life.
How did you get your start as a fashion illustrator?
I studied graphic design because it felt like a ‘real’ job in the art world, but really always wanted to be an illustrator – I just never knew back then that it was a possible career choice! After working as an art director in advertising agencies for several years I packed everything up and moved to London. It was in London that I worked in a million different creative jobs and in my final job there realised that I had a burning desire to be an artist. At this time I’d became the art director for Liberty department store. Whist I loved art directing fashion, I loved illustrating it more. I started to do very small illustrations for Liberty and from this work other art directors saw my work, and little commissions began to follow. After about a year I found myself with non-stop work. I wasn’t earning a fortune but I’d never been happier and I knew I was going to do this forever.
As my clients got bigger and better I was able to be a little more selective and just work on briefs that I knew had a great creative opportunity. Then in 2006 I got a call in the middle of the night from Candace Bushnell’s publisher, asking if I would illustrate her next novel ‘One Fifth Avenue’. This was when things took off at rapid speed for me. Her book became a New York Times bestseller and I met with Candace and she asked me to illustrate all her previous books including the cover of Sex and The City. Once Sex and the City was released, I was contacted by TIME magazine in New York to create portraits for them. Following this, I began illustrating for Tiffany & Co., Chanel, Dior, Cartier, Vanity Fair, Italian Vogue, Prada, Fendi… Ironically, at the same time that my work finally took off I had my first baby. It’s funny, I always tell people that I haven’t really slept since 2006!
What inspired you to pursue this line of work?
It was just my passion – the one thing that I loved to do. The dream for me was always to have a career that was based around what I most enjoyed doing.
What has been the most rewarding moment in your career, so far?
I’ve had a lot of really rewarding moments but two recent stand-outs were sketching live for Dior Couture and sketching for Fendi in Milan were both amazing experiences. I would say the most creative project that I’ve worked on was an animation for Prada. Hundreds of frames to create one beautiful little animated piece; it was part of a global campaign and I was so proud to have worked on it.
Do have a mentor, or someone who has influenced your work?
I’ve always been obsessed with Erte. He was a Russian illustrator and one of the very first artists to bring fashion illustration to life as a profession. His work was so unique and I loved that he ignored all fashion trends and just drew a completely imaginary world. I search for original sketches of his work and I will always be inspired by him.
How do you measure success?
To me success is happiness and it’s being able to be your best-self, to enjoy your life and to have purpose. It’s seeing my husband and kids happy and fulfilled and helping them realise their dreams, too.
How do you feel about the future of your industry?
It’s always changing and I think that’s the beauty of it. Fashion is an ever-changing world and so too are the images that people draw and the messages that they convey. Social media has made a huge contribution to fashion illustrations’ growing popularity. It has allowed artists to really show their work to the world and I think it’s really formed a community that artists can feel connected and encouraged to keep doing what they love.
What advice would to follow your professional path?
I think if it’s what you really want to do then do it and don’t let anything put you off course. The more you do something the better you’ll get. Students often ask me how to find their style and I always say that if you just keep drawing, your style will find you. And my ultimate advice is to enjoy the journey as much as the outcome.
What challenges have you experienced?
Managing it all! In the very beginning the struggle was to find great projects to work on. I had no clients and I wasn’t yet a mother, so the initial challenge was to get things moving. THEN once my work took off after Sex and The City I had the opposite problem – I had lots of great projects and brands coming to me to collaborate and I also had just had a baby so it was quite overwhelming. Today I still find the biggest challenge juggling it all. I can now only take on about 20% of the jobs that come to me each year so I have to be very careful about what projects are the best fit – I’ve learnt that it’s better to do a smaller amount of jobs at 100%, than lots of jobs at 50%. At the end of the day I try to base this decision on what projects will have the best creative outcome. Some projects have huge budgets and others are tiny, but I always choose to work on projects that will fulfil me creatively.
Words to live by?
Enjoy the journey as much as the destination.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Still drawing, loving, laughing and traveling the world!
You can find Megan on Instagram at @meganhess_official
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