Christy McCormick is an illustrator and artist who graduated from London College of Fashion
How did you get into illustration?
I have always been into art and creative work. From a young age I would be drawing whenever possible. I once painted up and down my staircase as a toddler. All-over the place, on the stairs and the wall!
I apparently used to take a notepad and pen to bed, instead of reading. Which could have added to my artistic side, but also means I can’t read now!
When I was doing my A-level in art my tutor showed me the work of David Downton (unknowing that she was in fact his wife), I was captivated by his imagery, use of line and overall glamour. This led me to base my final project on fashion illustration. I dressed up my friends, photographing and illustrating constantly, I worked from images of one of my friends so much that I could draw her without seeing or looking at a picture of her at this point! I studied so many great fashion illustrators found the whole field to be perfect for me.
What inspires you to create via illustration as a communicative medium?
My inspiration comes from many different things. I have always been interested in depicting the human form, particularly the female form and love creating portraits. Which is why I chose to study at the London College of fashion. I thought fashion illustration would be the best fit as its very much figure based. Striking portraits or emotive figures, powerful eyes, inspires me. Eyes are something I’ve always been focused on in my work and try to depict them with accurate detail and convey the feeling of the work.
In my final year at LCF I became very interested in Sustainability. It's a topic I’m very passionate about and think it's an important issue. This lead to my tribal illustrations, I found images of African tribes displaying ‘natural fashion’. Grass, plants, clay, and all things natural decorating themselves felt like such an amazing connection back to nature one that the fashion industry needs to realize. This inspired me a lot, and the images of the African people are so powerful, the eyes especially.
Talk us through your final major project for university this year?
For my final major project I created a sustainable nightwear collection inspired by the Amazon rainforest, deforestation and climate change. I began by designing the garments and experimenting with different print design ideas. I experimented with different mediums with the aim to create very organic imagery. I explored mono printing, ink, watercolors, acrylic, embroidery then moved on to screen printing, Photoshop work - to create digital prints. Digital printing was the best fit for me and it's the most environmentally conscious choice. But I also did screen printing to showcase different skills.
Something I got really into was dyeing. I wantedto use natural dyes and experimented with all the different colours you could create. Red cabbage creates this lovely purple colour and when lemon juice is applied the dye turns bright pink, it's really interesting how the natural vegetable dyes react to different materials and other plants. I also used avocado stones to dye. They produce a nude pink colour which is really soft and works well on silk, which is what most of the collection was made from. I tie-dyed bamboo jersey too with the natural dyes.
After designed I sewed the collection with help from my wonderful grandma and then created the look book with model Lydia Graham and photography by Theodor Brinch.
I called the collection 'wake up' as in all my research I was finding quotes like 'society needs to wake up', 'people are asleep to deforestation' - I also thought 'wake up' was a good play on the fact that it's sleepwear.
After creating and photographing the garments, my aim was to create an illustrated look book. However I moved on to the tribal illustrations as I felt like I had finished the ‘wake up’ project and was really happy with the photographs of the garments.
With the knowledge and understanding of sustainability a second project was produced, two different responses to the same source of inspiration – Nature. Deforestation and climate change impacts the natural habitat of tribal cultures and the depiction of this original source unveiled a beauty in naturalism. ‘Natural Fashion’ is a project aiming to make consumers aware of the action needed in the fashion industry. A series of illustrations were produced to demonstrate the many areas unethical fashion has on the environment and people. Illustrations of sweatshop workers demonstrate the maltreatment, which the fashion industry has produced. Tribal illustrations represent those who value and rely on the environment and land. Fashion decorations are thematic conveying not only the beauty and celebration nature deserves, but the connection back to nature and sustainability, which is needed greatly.
How did it come about? Why the amazon rain forest?
Nature has always been a good inspiration for me and tropical plants are my favourite. The colours, the scenery and jungles in the Amazon are really inspiring then when looking at it further and the alarming rate that deforestation occurs it made me want to create awareness. The whole sustainability and climate change aspect came into the project after all my research on the Amazon and impact of deforestation.
What do you love about what you do?
I love creating. I love that illustration and art can open you up to so many different projects. Whether it's animation, photography, story making, designing, working at different scales, life drawing, body painting etc. It's so free and there aren’t really any boundaries in art. I love working with different materials and finding new sources of inspiration and collaborating.
What are your plans now that you are done with studying at degree level?
I am freelancing. I have a few exhibitions coming up. I have been selected for The LCF press show on 6th-9th of June so once I return from Greece (where I am currently) I will be going straight to that to do live drawing and showing my tribal illustrations. The LCF end of year exhibition will be at the Lime Grove campus in shepherd’s bush in July (1st-6th) and I am helping curate that. That will showcase all the media students’ work and I will display my collection titled 'wake up' and tribal illustrations project titled 'natural fashion'. I will also be looking for projects to collaborate on, am taking commissions and really going to pursue freelancing.
What are your biggest fears/worries for life after graduation?
I think money is always the biggest issue. After your loan is gone you start to panic a bit about the rent prices in London. But I am also excited to just get out there and start working full time. I try not to worry, I think there’s no point in worrying about stuff, I’m just going to try my hardest and see what happens!
What are some of the problems you face as an illustrator in a competitive industry?
I think a big issue in this industry is 'free work' it's so often I get approach to illustrate for people or magazines and it's unpaid. Which of course happens a lot and people and myself do take the work occasionally. But I do think it's a huge issue. Exposure is great and all that, but exposure doesn't pay the bills. You wouldn’t expect to get a free meal cause you don’t have the ‘budget’ for it... yet people expect illustrations for free..
What do you think are some of the challenges that face illustrators in the fashion industry?
It's a competitive industry, there are so many people illustrating beautiful work, so many different styles and techniques so finding where you fit in or if you fit in can be tough. My experience of the fashion industry has been very good. You hear a lot of 'devil wears Prada' type of stories. But everyone I've met has been very nice.... So far.
I did an internship at McQ - Alexander McQueen and although it was certainly hard work, it was really enjoyable and creative work, plus I had the most lovely bosses. I did my internship in the print department, working for both men's and womenswear.
In terms of illustrators working in the industry, I think it’s going to get easier. Photography does take over a lot, but I think illustration is making a comeback and designers liked to see their work translated to pen and paper. It’s another interpretation and way of showcasing the work! I went to the vogue exhibition at the national portrait gallery recently and seeing all the old illustrated covers of Vogue was just beautiful. They had so much more depth than the overly photoshopped images that are often featured in magazines these days
What positive changes would you like to see happen within the industry especially where illustrators are concerned?
I'd like to see some sort of minimum wage introduced, for any type of commissioned work.
What are your plans going forward?
I have a few exhibitions coming up and projects I'm working on to improve my portfolio. But freelancing and networking is on the agenda.
Where do you see your career in the next five years?
I hope to have partaken in many projects and collaboration and established myself in the art/ fashion world. I don’t know exactly what the future holds, but I do hope to have worked with some talented people, produced some good work and be able to look back and feel successful, what that means exactly I’m not sure!
What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators?
Be open to all areas of illustration. Experiment with different techniques, materials etc. Really explore and try to push yourself, if you have a ‘style’ that’s great, but that doesn’t mean you can’t explore other things.
Finally, what makes you fearless? (Fearless being the theme of this issue, we would like to know what makes you fearless to go after your dreams and ambition)
I try to live in the moment a lot; it's hard to be fearful if you don't worry about the future. There is of course a part of everyone's brain that screams 'what am I going to do?!?' But worrying about it and overthinking it won't make it any better. I like challenges; the process of coming to a problem and solving it is something I enjoy, so I guess I'm fearless, as I don't worry about the future. I just take it as it comes and if a problem comes I know I'll figure it out!
Interview by Thomasina R. Legend
Art by Christy McCormick
Published in VMM Volume 3, Fearless