I’m a Seattle Fashion Illustrator and I’ve been doing a lot of live fashion illustration events lately (locally and elsewhere in the US) and have been getting questions from other artists about how I prepare, what materials I take, and how long I spend on each sketch. So here’s a run-down of what I do for most events. Feel free to ask me questions in the comments if there’s something specific you’d like to know.
Before the Event
Work with the client to confirm the details of the event (when, where, and what sort of event it is)
Finalize the logistics (how early should you arrive, will a table, chair and good lighting be provided, should you bring your own paper or will they have paper ready with the logo of the event etc)
I like to prep some paper by sketching out a few common posses in my studio ahead of time. This allows me to complete more illustrations in less time, when I’m at the event.
Pack your supplies (see below for the kit I usually take)
Work out what to wear (high fashion clients and boutiques expect you to look the part too)
Here is my basic live sketching kit for events. It pays to take a back-up of your most essential items.
Fine Liner Pens
Water Soluble Markers in their own stand
Alcohol Markers in their own stand
Watercolor Palette (I prepare one with my most used skin tones and fashion colors)
Clear clipboard to sketch on (and protect their table cloth)
Two Pretty Water Glasses (don’t show up with old jam jars or paint-covered containers)
Completed fashion illustrations as samples
Sign with my logo and social media handle
Gold stand for my sign
Portable, battery-operated craft light (I added this to my kit after working two events that were so dark I had to use my phone flashlight to even see what I was drawing)
Sunscreen, hat, and paperweights for outdoor events
Some clients like you to incorporate their brand colors into each sketch, so I spend time matching paint and markers to get as close as I can ahead of time, and bring plenty of those colors with me.
I try to fit my whole kit into one small, black tote bag. Quite often there isn’t anywhere to store your purse or bags, so try to keep your ‘stuff’ to a minimum and looking tidy.
Make sure you discuss your sketch speed with the client ahead of time. I’ve gotten my watercolor sketches down to 8-10 minutes (marker sketches are a little quicker) but there are illustrators out there with a super loose style who can sketch in under three minutes. It pays to make sure you are on the same page and there aren’t any unrealistic expectations before you get there.
Things to Remember
Sign your work. You’d be amazed how easy it is to forget to do that when you’re working as fast as you can.
A sign-up sheet can help people to see where they are on the list, and let them know once your time slots have been filled. This helps to avoid you having to apologize over and over at busy events that you can’t take any more people.
Don’t undercharge. You won’t be doing yourself, or other artists in the industry, any favors. And if you accept a super low rate you’ll regret it once you realize how much work actually goes into live illustration. You want this to be a mutually-beneficial and enjoyable endeavor for both you and the client.
When deciding on your rate, make sure you factor in preparation time, travel, and all the years you’ve spent learning and honing your skills.
Always ask for a non-refundable deposit up-front to help pay for any supplies and time spent preparing. Then ask for the remaining payment the day before or day of the event. Try not to wait until after the event to get paid. Once the event is over the organizer will move on to the next job and it can be harder to get payment for an event that has already passed.
The Nitty Gritty
And lastly, a little word of warning. Live fashion illustration is definitely not as glamorous as it looks on Instagram. It is usually very busy and stressful, with customers crowding and bumping you (in one case I had a lady spill a whole glass of champagne down my back, and a little girl squish a cupcake onto my leg). And at one event someone’s kid ran off with $65 worth of my alcohol markers, never to be seen again. And through it all you have to remain professional, polite and charming.