Thursday, October 13, 2016


Illustrator Holly Nichols sketching next to her collection of Copic markers in her Boston-area studio [photo by Lisa Richov, courtesy of Holly Nichols]

Copic colors capture both casual and couture with precise perfection at the hand of fashion illustrator Holly Nichols. Vivid blues and pastel hues accent long legs and haute hair with elongated elegance. A 2013 graduate of Endicott College, Holly's Fine Arts background combined with the strength of social media become a springboard for a career sketching for clients like Saks Fifth Avenue, Barney's New York, TRESemm√©, Neiman Marcus, Disney and others. Initial postings on instagram draw enough interest from fans to inspire a life-changing decision to leave education and pursue illustration. Keep reading for our exchange on technology, piracy and success...
Traditional Illustration and an expressively inspired "reality"  [photo courtesy Holly Nichols]

Art may present an idealistic perfection, while reality surrenders to defined existence. In visualizing fashion as 'art,' what stands out as you translate a 3D concept into a 2D drawing? Tell me about an instance(s) where an illustrated 'moment in time' captures something more vividly than the moment itself. 

For every artist this concept is different. For me, I try not to capture reality but the whimsy attitude that fashion can create. I want to create something fun and expressive that oftentimes exaggerates the way a garment actually looks, which I hope gives it new life. 

I get comments that I am promoting unrealistic expectations of what the female body should look like (which I can admit I see the perspective of), but I'm not trying to create realistic depictions--they are all imaginary.

Artist Fernando Botero has done the same thing, but his depictions are of a different proportion (his figures are exaggeratedly large). This idea of creating something "new" is why I enjoy being an artist. We can dream something in our heads and create a new reality on paper.

Digital Illustration using procreate app for iPad--Can you tell the difference?

Aspirations are achieved at a moment's notice; every road starts somewhere. What prompted you to pursue illustration/fashion illustration and what inspired you to stay? Do you see your medium/skills changing to adapt to technology (e.g. social media, computer aided drawing, etc.)? And do you see technology helping you achieve your desired results? If you could be someone or something else, who/what...and why?

Before I was illustrating, I was traditionally a fine art painter (mostly oils, acrylics and watercolors). I took an interior rendering class where we were introduced to the medium of alcohol markers. I fell in love.

While I didn't continue to draw the interiors, I decided to try sketching fashion with these markers, and through the rest of my college career, fashion remained a core theme in my work. I've stuck with the medium because they're mess-free, portable and very complementary to the theme of fashion. I do think it's important for artists to acknowledge changes and trends, and recent shifts are certainly apparent. 

I purchased an iPad pro, which is essentially a very large iPad (the same size as my sketchpad) that is designed to work with the Apple pencil. Certain apps and digital brushes allow me to create work that looks nearly identical to work I would sketch with traditional media. It's equally important for artists not to lose that "hand touch." It's quite difficult to learn the fundamentals of drawing technique with digital media. In the end, nothing beats a pencil and paper.

If I could be anyone else, I don't think it would be a specific person, but a person from a specific decade. I'd love to live in the gilded ages and just observe the extravagant fashion and drama in decor.

An Elie Saab gown

An individuals is defined by his/her unique sense of style. Are there brands/designers you are partial to? Describe your "look." Does this come out in your illustrations (e.g. color palette, subject matter, accessories, etc.?) If you could be an in-house illustrator for any fashion brand, who would it be?

I'm a huge fan of the traditional couture ateliers--Dior, Chanel, Valentino and some "newer" ones like Ralph and Russon and Elie Saab. My palette is certainly a muted one--mostly neutrals and blush tones. 

If I could be an in-house illustrator for any brand, it would definitely be Elie Saab. There hasn't been one thing he's sent down his runway that I haven't loved. While he's definitely known for his signature look of fairy-tale like beaded gowns, he continues to surprise and evolve; all of his work is very dramatic, which is the perfect formula for an interesting sketch.

A Holly Nichols original design

Some say that imitation is the highest form of flattery. As the "flattery" is seemingly widespread in fashion (and many industries in general), do you agree with that statement? How do you react when you find others have "borrowed" your images? What is your opinion of the thin line between flattery/ inspiration and piracy?

I would say that yes, imitation is the highest form of flattery, but there is also a very clear line between "inspiration" and completely stealing work. There is nothing that makes me happier than seeing someone write "you inspired me to sketch this!" and they have sketched a creation and tagged me in it. It's really upsetting to see your image published without credit--or worse--stolen and reproduced elsewhere for sales. 

Artists absolutely cannot be afraid of standing up for their work; if something seems wrong, it is completely justified to say something. People who are not artists may not be as familiar with copyright laws as artists often are, so there is a lot of educating to be done. At the end of the day, we must keep creating and not let a select group of people abusing our work stop us from doing so.

Original design by Holly Nichols

A recent NY Times article (here) cites the comeback of fashion illustration. Nick Night proclaims, "We are so used to seeing heavily edited visuals that the true tradition of an artist with pen, ink or paint and paper can make a startling impact. Illustration in today's world is incredibly powerful." Do you agree? In your opinion, what drives the power of fashion illustration?

I totally agree and--for my sake--I truly hope it stays as popular as it has once again become. As mentioned before, I think the reason people are attracted to illustration is because it creates a fantasy. Many (if not all) of the clothes I depict are ones I could never come close to attaining. It's a new way to celebrate fashion, without becoming bankrupt!

Saks Fashion Week Campaign 2016 

Everyone defines "success" a little differently. What would you credit as "successes" in your career over the last few decades? What would you attribute your successes to?

Success comes when you can find complete love in what you do every day--which for me started when I quit my job to pursue this as a full time career. You can branch from that and define success as when people or brands you have always admired and respected start to both recognize and commission your work. 

I would attribute my success to a lot of support from my family, practice, sacrifice of time and the power of social media. It's amazing how artists today can expose their work to the world in an instant--where even ten years ago, it may have taken a lifetime to grow admirers of your work. It's absolutely incredible. So many artists are able to create careers with the help of social media, but I think it's important to only use it as an aid and still remember that the most valuable tool to grow as an artist is through networking and events, when you're able to make more personal connections.

Another Holly Nichols original!

Five Favorites--your choice... and 3 words to describe yourself.

Cereal (as an anytime meal, of course!), Cats/Dogs, Lavender, Autumn afternoons, String Orchestras. Three words... quiet, creative, confident.

For fun--what do you have set as the background of your phone?

My current background is a sketch I did of a girl in a bet yoga headstand (I'm starting to get back into yoga, so it's my motivation)

Portrait of Holly by Lisa Richov

Lastly, anything you care to share about philosophy, dislikes, etc.?

Philosophy: When it comes to art, life or career, the first person you need to please is yourself. When you are content and confident in your self (or your artwork), you will naturally attract others or create an interest in your work.

Dislikes: I don't have many, but I get frustrated when people lack the ability to look at things objectively or sympathize.

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