The Enigma of Making Monsters: A Chat with the Illustrator Hattie Stewart

June 27, 2014 • Fashion

Hattie Stewart is an enigmatic modern illustrator whose work you may recognize from the pages of NYLON, monstrous covers of PLAYBOY and VOGUE, and more. She’s also a staff illustrator for ROOKIE magazine.  She has a fresh perspective on the art form fashion illustration, fashion and digital art — one of the best in the business at the moment, which is saying something, since fashion illustration is a dying (and oft reborn) art. I had the opportunity to pick her brain. Here’s what she had to say…

How where you first introduced to fashion illustration?

I was at school flicking through Vogue and I would see illustrations and features on artists like Daisy De Villeneuve and Julie Verhoeven, who’s work I adore. They were my first introduction into fashion illustration but I was especially indulgent in Verhoeven’s work as she seemed to me not just an illustrator but an artist, although her work was wildly prominent in the fashion world it seemed to bridge the gap into other creative fields and this I found exhilarating.

What attracted you to fashion illustration?

I’ve always loved the fantasy and theatre of fashion and I’ve always loved to draw so it was nothing more combining two passions. All the things I love eventually inform or inspire another aspect of what I do.

How would you describe your aesthetic?

Bold and tongue-in-cheek. Colourful and playful with sinister undertones.


What does a typical workday look like?

Really depends on the day and what I’m working on. Sometimes I’ll be working 24/7 on several different projects whilst high on coffee and other days I’ll wake up late and play around in my sketchbook or go to an exhibition. Working from home sometimes is like working in a room with no windows – you don’t know when it’s day or night so you don’t know when to stop and put the pen down. Because of this I try to take it easy on myself sometimes and take a day or two off to just play around with different personal projects, wander around London or catch up with friends.

Who do you look up to/ are your inspirations?

There are so many inspirations and influences in my life and they can come from all manner of places. I love watching documentaries about anyone or anything as I love to hear peoples stories, not about how they came to be but how they got there. I find this interesting with artists also, their journey is much more inspirational to me than seeing the final success. If I’m in a melancholy mood a certain piece of music can inspire me or a certain book or certain friend. There is never one person or one thing I go to for inspiration because you never know when it will come. It’s like someone making you jump – it comes from nowhere and makes your heart beat faster.


How much ‘freedom’ do you have when you collaborate with brands and magazines, such as Nylon?

How much freedom I have depends on how I, the illustrator, looks at a brief.  Completely open or completely limited briefs both have their pro’s and con’s – one offering too much choice and the other offering too little. I personally like restrictive briefs as they force me to think differently and edge out of my comfort zone which ultimately makes me a better artist and quicker thinker. I also like open briefs as I can then breathe a little and play around and experiment. To me it’s all about about balance – if I had the same thing all the time I would be bored and my work would be dull. As for working with clients most of the time they come to me because they know what I can do and specifically, the style in which I do it. Sometimes the brand/magazine who have a specific aesthetic/colour scheme which I need to make sure comes across – this sometimes means bending my style slightly to adhere to their audience which is absolutely fine by me as a collaboration isn’t just about myself it’s about working in a team – I can do what I want when I’m on my own.

What do you compare illustrating to?

I don’t really compare it to anything, I try not to compare things generally. Everything to me is one and the same and everything crosses paths and inter weaves eventually. Illustration is merely another creative realm to play in and if you begin to compare it you limit not only your freedom of expression and possibility but ultimately it’s value so eventually your own.  If you see things instead as one big melting pot of opportunity and wonder then your imagination will cease to have borders.  For me it’s another way to express myself so I guess the only thing I can compare it to is freedom of expression.


How do you go about with a new project?

I tend to just dive right in. Usually when reading a brief I will automatically get a couple of ideas and so I tend to build on those.  Whenever I do a big project it inspires my personal work and then in return my personal work inspires my commercial work so usually whatever I’m working on at the time a project comes around I already have a punch of themes or ideas I can use to inspire it.

What is your favorite illustration?

Usually the one I’ve just finished. Although right now my favourite piece I’ve done recently is the doodle-bomb cover of Interview with the glorious Elle Fanning.

What’s the most interesting art work you’ve ever seen?

This is a tough question! Thinking about it however I think the piece that has resonated with me the most over the years is Pauline Boty’s My Colouring Book, 1963.  The piece to me is stunning and heartfelt. She connects the written word to symbolic imagery into a piece that is incredibly honest and expresses raw emotion with deliberate intent that doesn’t exclude you, it makes you feel those emotions yourself where it becomes a personal piece to the viewer also. The bottom middle of the piece that shows a cold yet calm room accompanied with the words this is the room I sleep in and walk in and weep in and hide in that nobody sees….colour it lonely please is something so beautiful to me it resonates deeply.


We’re you interested in fashion growing up?

Yes although my style was definitely questionable! Style for is just another reflection of my personality so I’ve always had a love for it. I don’t follow fashion the way others might and I definitely pick and choose what I delve into. I love it’s freedom of expression and the play, collaboration and drama of it all.

Why do you think fashion needs illustrations as an art form?

How else would beautiful prints or t-shirts designs or fashion campaigns or even the designs themselves be created if illustration didn’t have a part to play? Like photography it’s all part of the message or style that connects the brand with the viewer or consumer. Without illustration the fashion world would be a very dull place.

How does your personal life affect your creative output?

Incredibly so. What I like and personal interests are automatically reflected in my work. If I didn’t know myself and what I liked then I would never of been able to develop a personal style.


Is fashion illustration here to stay given the digital age?

I think because of the digital age it is even more prevalent and more important than ever before. For example without it Kenzo wouldn’t be like it is today and the brands wouldn’t have an even harder time to engage online. There is a lot more collaboration as due to the digital age and social media the barriers have broken down. I think for a long while things had become very stale and now illustration has become another way for brands to express their identities in a playful and visually engaging way.

What is next for you?

Anything and everything I hope.


All illustrations by Hattie Stewart…obviously. 

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