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| Illustration | Styling

Art and Apparel

A blog by Sara O'Neill


Flawless Magazine


1. How did your fashion and art adventure begin?

I've loved art and fashion since I was a little kid, I think I knew I wanted to work in the creative industry since I was six or seven, I was always drawing and designing little outfits. I was obsessed with Pre-raphaelite and Impressionist art from a very young age and I was very lucky that my parents encouraged that. In school I went down the arty direction, doing GCSE and then A-level art, and then going to art college to complete my degree in fashion and textiles.

2. What were your first experiences of illustration and as a stylist?

After I graduated I waitressed for a year and it was in the restaurant that I met photographer Gavin Millar. We got chatting and he booked me for a magazine shoot and it just snowballed from there.

I didn't really keep up the drawing side of things after I left uni, but a few years ago I started again, just as a hobby. Around the same time I was styling a culture show for the BBC and I met art consultant Carrie Neely- she was putting together a couple of group exhibitions and invited me to participate. I got great feedback and at the end of the year, 2011, I had my first solo exhibition. Since then I've had another solo exhibition, been working on commercial and private commissions and signed with London-based Lemonade Illustration Agency at the beginning of 2013.

3. Two to three decades ago, fashion and art are entirely unlike, do you incorporate art or other mediums in your work if so, what does fashion mean to you and do you have any favourite models/photographers you like working with?

My styling and illustration work definitely influence each other- working in a team on shoots keeps my ideas fresh, and I can feed off the creative energy and ideas. From a technical point of view I have learned so much about lighting and composition from photographers and I bring that knowledge to my drawings. My illustrations started out just black and white, but recently I've been experimenting with colour and I think that has made me try different colour combinations in styling. When on shoots I meet a lot of great models, many of which make their way into my drawings- one in particular, Caroline Davis, has appeared in many of my pictures- she's a great friend and a fantastic subject. Pics of Caroline I've been working with a lot of models from Morgan the Agency recently- Caroline D, Lauryn G, Ella K, Caitlyn L, Rosie- I read their interview in your current issue and I certainly agree that they have very strong Belfast-based models at the moment. I have four photographers that I work with regularly- all amazing and with very different styles- Khara Pringle, Gavin Millar, Jim Crone and Joseph Jude.

4. What kind of impact do you hope to make in the fashion world in the next 5-10 years?

At the minute I'm really enjoying commercial work, in both styling and illustration- I've been working on a lot of great ad campaigns this year, so I hope to continue in that direction right now. I have loads of ideas, offers and potential directions that my work could go in so I'm currently trying to decide where to focus my energy. I'm very lucky that I love my work because it takes up almost all of my time, but I'm ok with that. I think that when you're freelance it's difficult to know where you'll be in ten years- the industry has changed so much in the past eight years that I've been working in it, and you have to adapt to those changes to survive, so as much as I have career dreams and ambitions, I'm also trying to stay flexible and open to what the future holds.

5. Your projects are a collaborative process. Tell us what is like to always be working with new creative people- photographers, designers, make-up artists and models.

I love working with creative people, although it can be challenging sometimes- there can be a lot of strong personalities and egos on a shoot! I tend to work with a couple of different teams which is nice, working with different photographers, models etc, keeps my work fresh, as everyone has their own style and brings something different to a shoot. I love to use local and upcoming designers' collections, and promote local talent, as it's a tough job and I think they should be supported as much as possible.

Working on my illustrations is very different- usually my own vision, with some input from the client, the model or advice from colleagues. Backstage pic

6. From casting the right model to choosing the right photographer etc, converse on how you materialise the concept or if you give any control to each team member to bring onboard their individuality and creativity. Give an example of projects you’ve done and how you have materialised the concepts and the whole experience. Mention names of people you’ve worked with if applicable.

A couple of weeks before a shoot I would discuss the concept with the photographer or art director, think about a location and then see what clothes are available, commission garments or track down more elusive pieces. I would usually have a model or a couple of models in mind for a certain shoot- one that will project the desired image- so I would make suggestions based on this. When the clothing is sorted I will contact the make-up artist and hairdresser with a brief, but usually leave room for their own interpretation- I trust the teams I work with to create a beautiful image. A great shoot I did earlier this year was a bridal ad campaign for the G Hotel in Galway. As this hotel is so highly stylised and so unique I had to let the decor be my inspiration for the styling- my concept was 'cartoon noir'- a mixture of bright pop colours and the femme fatale- elegant bias cut bridal gowns with unexpected pops of colour. Gavin Millar was the photographer on the shoot, and we had a very similar vision- we wanted it to be elegant but a bit rock n roll- I used Bianca Jagger's iconic wedding outfit as inspiration for one of the shots.

G Hotel shoot

7. You graduated from the University of Ulster with a BA Hons in Fashion and Textiles in 2004 tell us about the collection you designed for your final year and tell us about your final year thesis.

My final year collection was called 'Derelicte' (a homage to Zoolander ;) ) and the concept was 'Nature Reclaiming'- I photographed derelict buildings that were being taken over by nature, crumbling walls covered in ivy etc. I then drew inspiration from these images for the silhouettes, texture, and colour palette of my collection. In 2004 everyone was obsessed with Sex and the City and vintage fashion was becoming very popular, and that had a massive influence on my collection- it was very feminine and pretty, in soft muted tones of pink, purple, gold and green with lots of bias-cut silk, delicate knits and chiffon. The collection ended up in the Sunday Times and much of it sold straight off the catwalk. The make-up artist that worked on the show, Oonagh Boman, snapped up the main piece- a beautiful coat, and wore it a few years later at her wedding.

When I was at art college I was heavily involved in the Belfast punk scene, subculture has always fascinated me. My thesis looked at the difference between the UK and US punk scenes in the 1980s.

8. Professional stylist have procedure in place to ensure their work are not mediocre this might include a team of people working towards a photoshoot; discuss in depth the manpower involved in every shoot. And lessons learned from the past or advice you’ve received.

Stylists have to put a huge amount of preparation into a shoot- often it feels like the hard work is done before the shoot even begins. I always strive to find the right outfits, accessories and props for a shoot. Over the years I've built up a huge amount of contacts that I can call on- press offices, designers, retailers and with a background in design I can turn my hand to making bits and pieces if needs be. I will put in as many days and hours as I need to make sure that I have everything I need to do a shoot to the highest standard, every time. It only takes one bad shoot to damage a reputation, and if I am not prepared for a shoot I let the whole team down- once you're actually on a shoot, especially on location, you can rarely access any bits and pieces that you may have forgotten.

9. Sara any advice for aspiring stylist/Illustrator or anyone looking to get into this market?

It's useful to begin by assisting established creatives- only by being on shoots or working in industry will you really understand what's inportant- a strong work ethic, reliability, a good understanding of the basic skills and techniques and a pleasant disposition, eventually building on this foundation and developing your own style, making your own contacts etc. This takes time so don't become disheartened if you don't become successful as quickly as you had hoped.

E: sara@saras-designs.co.uk
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