Image Gallery

Process Gallery: Tara Dougans' Couture

published on 23 January 2013

See Tara Dougans' couture illustrations come to life in these process images, displayed alongside catwalk shots of her chosen looks and a Q&A with SHOWstudio viewers.

See Tara Dougans' couture illustrations come to life in these process images, displayed alongside catwalk shots of her chosen looks and a Q&A with SHOWstudio viewers.

23 Q&A Posts

24 JAN 2013. 15:13

Q. What collaborations have you worked on? Collaboration is really important to fashion illustration because your constantly reinterpreting someone else's designs. Is there anyone you'd really love to work with?
A. I just worked with a Japanese magazine which was really interesting I've been quite lucky because there aren't that many illustrators working in this way so the people I have worked with have been quite open to me interpreting their briefs in the way that I want to. The collaboration with students from the Antwerp Academy was also great. I really like to synch up with interesting brains so I'm always on the look out for people to work with.
Working with students on the Antwerp project was great, and I recently worked with a friend of mine on Decoy magazine. I like tackling anything that has alot of colour or print or a real exploration of shape, then it makes it so much more interesting to draw.

24 JAN 2013. 13:53

Q. What do you think makes a good illustration?
A. That's a taste question really. The most important thing is that it has heart. In general, with any creative content, I like to be surprised and I like to be delighted. I like to apply that criteria to my own work. I want it to incite something in me, or make me feel something.

24 JAN 2013. 11:47

Q. Tell us about the Margiela look you're working on.
A. It's one of the later looks. The garment has quite alot of colour in it. Yesterday I was really focused on pencil so I thought it would be nice to be more colour oriented today. Again, I think it's a graphic look so it will translate well onto paper. I'm excited because when you're drawing, it's nice to have a face because people always connect with eyes, so it's nice to try to put a personality onto what is essentially an object!
I will use one of the heads I prepared to find where everything fits, then throw the head, and the mask will be the new fixation point!

24 JAN 2013. 11:39

Q. In your work there are really varied references. From pattern to technology and obviously fashion. Where do you draw your references from?
A. I don't know, I don't necessarily believe in inspiration, I believe in absorbing. I find I'm either really in work or out of it, and if I'm in it then everything I'm doing is being funnelled towards that piece and if I'm out of it, then I just try to be a bit of a sponge and things naturally come to me. A recent illustration I did had cheetahs and condoms in it! And I'm not really sure where that came from! But that was what naturally came. I'm naturally drawn to really graphic elements and things that are going to be fun. I just like to keep my eyes open all the time.

24 JAN 2013. 10:24

Q. With so many fashion illustrators competing for recognition in today's industry, with the exposure via the internet, how do you separate yourself from all those people and find your own voice?
A. The thing you quickly realise is that most people just want content, they need to post something on a daily basis. That plays to the strengths of a creative because there will always be people who want to write about your work. But I don't pay too much attention, and I don't try to persue design blogs or anything. I only really use the internet for communication and for image research. You have to be careful about getting too involved with all that content because it can drown everything out.
It's interesting when you are someone who makes content, you might spend 6 months or a really long time building a piece of work, and then it's shown and it blows up and then almost immediately it's gone! And people get very excited about it but only for a day. It's an interesting thing to deal with because no one will really ever know how much of yourself goes into that work.

24 JAN 2013. 10:24

Q. Fashion illustration used to play a key part in communication before photography was allowed in the fashion show. What do you see the importance of illustration being now with the industry's obsession with instancy?
A. Perhaps it's a constant reminder that things do and should take time. An illustrator is not a photographer, I'm not a camera, it's not instant. I think there is value in setting aside time to complete a task. The more pressure there is for things to be instantaneous, the more people want to hold onto things that are steeped in tradition. For me, the emphasis is on craftmanship  and that is something that will always have relevancy. I feel that meaning is derived by process and process takes time.

24 JAN 2013. 10:23

Q. Do you ever start a drawing and become disinterested in it or do you always like to see each one through?
A. I don't often become disinterested. I'm very committed once I start something. That said I did once start a project that was an alphabet book of dogs, and I did 23, but after that I just couldn't finish them. I still have them. Maybe I'll use them at some point!

23 JAN 2013. 16:59

Q. How will you finish the design?
A. I'm not 100% sure about that. We talked about the difference between showing the work in person versus online, and I think that if it were to hang in a gallery then I would create a background similar to the first Dior image. I'll probably illustrate some more elements for the background and the idea is that the background will be just as animated as the foreground. So I think for now I will leave it with the solid red as a single design element to make it pop, but later I will add some digital elements.

23 JAN 2013. 16:35

Q. Can you tell us about the process for the Chanel piece?
A. I actually moved along relatively quickly with this one. It's interesting because working in this format you can calculate how much time each element takes. Yesterday I just needed to get the sequins down which took about 6 hours, which isn't that long considering the space they cover.  I already know there are things I will do digitally for this one. There are sequins on the white areas as well, and I think that will be a good opportunity to use photoshop because when you are working with lights, it's often difficult to pull it out on paper. But using a brush on photoshop I can use the brightest white and it gives the feeling of luminescence in a way that a pencil couldn't.
This is the head piece is the same as the one the model was wearing. I couldn't see in the photograph what it really was. It was clear it was quite organic feeling, there were little bits of fabric and feathers, so I did my best to represent the textures that you see in it.

23 JAN 2013. 16:03

Q. There is a nice mixture of organic materials and more synthetic or man made materials in your work. Do you have a preference? 
A. Always organic. Things from nature are the most interesting to draw. I guess there are more interesting shapes and textures . Man made texture can be more slick, but that's not a fun as drawing a pussy willow for example. There are man made things you want to touch, but if you're walking through a park, there are so many more things you want to get your hands on.

23 JAN 2013. 15:42

Q. How does it feel to be observed while you draw? Does being observed affect the way you work - if we weren't watching you, what would be different?
A. It's very intense. At the end of the day I feel like I can't communicate any more. Being so zoomed into something continuously isn't really a pleasant experience! If I was working on this at home I would have more breaks, go outside, talk to someone! But I'm being very productive!

23 JAN 2013. 15:18

Q. Do you mind sharing your craft or does it feel exposing? 
A. I feel very exposed. It's a really personal endeavour. I usually prefer not having anyone else in the room. It's so methodical, it's almost like watching someone meditate. It's not a craft that is that visually stimulating to watch! But it's a good thing for me to learn how to get over. It's good to put yourself in a situation where you don't feel 100% comfortable.

23 JAN 2013. 10:25

Q. Fashion illustration has gone through a fairly tumultuous time through that last century. What do you think is the role of fashion illustration now?
A. I think fashion illustration will become more and more creative. Because it isn't just a depiction of a garment any more. It has the chance to alter the context of the piece which is interesting, and it ups the responsibility of the image maker. It's interesting when you start playing with the designs and you begin to wonder whether the designer or the brand will like the new context that you breath into the work, or maybe they don't want to see their garments as hats! Illustrators should continue to float out with their brains and see what they can make.

22 JAN 2013. 15:42

Q. Your work is quite labour intensive with hand drawing being intersected with technology and the digital sphere. Why do you approach it in this way?
A. I suppose that the hand drawn and labour intensive aspect of my work started as something quite meditative. My natural inclination is to do things with my hands, but there was a point when I started to hit a bit of a wall just working in that way. When I'm working with fashion, which is essentially visual story telling, it makes sense to cross into a more animated and digital space. I had worked with time based media which isn't always the most fun, especially when your creating every second of movement, so I started working with GIFs. You can tell a really quick little story in 5 or 10 seconds and it seems like a natural evolution for my work to take, because I do see the work as being a playful thing. If you give a static image a playful wink, it just gives it a little something extra.

21 JAN 2013. 14:41

Q. Is there a specific designer/ brand(s) that you enjoy illustrating, that you feel match your aesthetic?
A. It depends collection to collection. Some times you keep your eye out for particular brands because you know they have a similar aesthetic. I'm known for doing quite a bit of Alexander McQueen, but now I'm focusing more on menswear. I hesitate to give names or focus on brands, I think I would illustrate almost anything if I thought it was interesting. I don't have any brand preferences.
I think it's shape I'm drawn to, you can have something very tailored and conservative and with an amazing print, but that will often just become quite a tedious print illustration. If you have a print and it's cut up into millions of pieces and it's constructed on shoulders then it becomes more interesting to draw.

21 JAN 2013. 14:40

Q. Did you always have an interest in Fashion illustration or was it something that you were drawn to later?
A. I was studying fashion, and I like to draw, so the two came together. I was lucky to have a strong community of people around me. When I was starting out a good friend bought me a tablet to get me going and various friends have helped me along the way.

21 JAN 2013. 14:32

Q. What inspires you as a creative?
A. I like riding my bike! I like to spend a lot of time alone, and I also like to spend a lot of time with people too, but especially since I've been in Amsterdam I have tried to go for a bike ride each morning. When your doing something physical you can disconnect and the fresh air and being outside is really nice. I don't necessarily think it's a picture or image that will be inspirational. It's more often a smell or a colour, I guess I'm more of a romantic in that way. It's peace of mind. It's so easy to be sucked into a vacuum of nothing. Sure, I pull tonnes of images for the projects I do, but the bigger issue is trying to find clarity. Its important to fill yourself, but its also good to pare it down as well, fresh air and moving around and laughing are all good for that!

21 JAN 2013. 14:31

Q. What do you look for when your selecting the look that you are going to illustrate?
A. Today it's a bit weird because I have a time limit. If I was at home and had unlimited time I might chose something different. I often chose subjects that I think will be fun to draw, but they often take the longest! I might chose something half between fun to draw, so difficult, but that can still be accomplished within the time. Print is important, or a certain a repetitive detail or a silhouette that has a particular look, that's what I really look for.
I also often think about how an image really grabs your eye, especially when thinking about how each image will develop digitally. If you think about tumblr, you can see so many images per minute, so you ask when do you actually stop. I thought that it's actually the subtle movements that really catch your eye, because you have to turn around and ask did that just move? The gif tends to be a fairly obnoxious medium, so I thought it would be good to do something that goes against it's inherent nature is. It's like a reward for patient people.

21 JAN 2013. 14:29

Q. Have you ever branched into other areas to illustrate, other than fashion?
A. I think the problem I have is that doing these particular projects takes quite a long time. To do a collection can take 6 months so by the time I'm finished one, then there's another season to draw. And I haven't had many gaps in between to venture into other areas. But I definitely would and will. I wouldn't say that fashion is the most interesting thing, I'm probably more interested in the portrait. But it's what I'm in right now.

21 JAN 2013. 14:29

Q. How would you describe your illustration style
A. Playful, maybe a little acid trippy. Sometimes I wonder where it comes from myself! I sometimes wonder where they come from myself!
Because the emphasis is usually on character, they are sort of portrait driven. It's hard though because I sometimes feel like I'm drawing the same person over and over again, even though each one has a different face. In the project I just completed, I ended up drawing a man that was a centre fold that was derivative of '70s porn, he has long blonde hair and he definitely looks quite different, but whats going on and the people you meet definitely climb into your work.
I would like to start shooting my own models and then drawing them. Right now I'm sourcing faces from a big pool, and then trying to make small tweaks so they are not recognisable. I often draw the actual models because you need the reference for proportion, so really I'd like to be styling and moving around models on my own and making those decisions myself. Combining photography and illustration presents a lot of opportunity, I also think photo re-touching is really interesting too. I work with a tablet so it would be interesting to see how you could manipulate an image kind of working with strokes.

21 JAN 2013. 14:27

Q. What qualities do fashion illustrations have that photographs or film don’t?
A. A line is very honest. I have quite a romantic feeling about the way drawing comes through the hand. A pencil can be really gritty or very precise, and it shows very honestly what its creator wants to communicate. You can have a photo realism, or a few gestural marks and both can be equally evocative.
I would like to branch into photography too though. One of my good friends in Vancouver just sent me his camera in the mail. I really want to explore with more real time imagery but before I just didn't have the equipment to do that. I'll be making some album art work for him. I've been focusing on illustration because that is what is in demand. But I want to work in all visual media.
I want to do a series of experiments and see what I can make. I know probably shouldn't try to do it all myself because you can't be a photographer, editor and all the other things, but I want to develop the various the skill sets. I think if you have an understanding of what the possibilities are, even in the initial stages of an idea, its better. I want to know how to do everything before I specialise!

21 JAN 2013. 14:13

Q. Where did you study? What has your path been up until now?
A. It wasn't until I did a study abroad that I really started drawing. I was living in an isolated student dorm and the walls were very white and I asked my mother to send a box of pencils and she did and I just started! Living in Amsterdam opened up my mind and ever since I have always made a point of making something on a weekly basis and the work has naturally evolved. Particularly when I was studying, you have to make an extra effort on your own work. I also worked for a digital agency when I was living in London. Last year I decided to go off on my own and freelance. It no longer made any sense to crush my own work into the night time. I have a Bachelors in Fashion Communication.

21 JAN 2013. 14:11

Q. Could you tell us who your favourite current and historical illustrators are and why?
A. When I was university I was fascinated with Aubrey Beardsley. Before I was doing what I'm doing now, I was working a lot with print without a figure, so I think William Morris and the arts and crafts movement was influential for that. I'm a big fan of Richard Gray's work. It's really beautiful. There are also a lot of children's story books, particularly form Russia, which I spend a lot of time looking at, especially for colour references.

Illustration by:


Image Gallery

GIF Gallery: Tara Dougans' Couture

23 January 2013
Tara Dougans captured the magic of the S/S 13 couture shows in a series of exquisite, melancholy GIFs.
Show Report

Show Report: Chanel S/S 13 Haute Couture

22 January 2013
Stephanie LaCava reports on the Chanel S/S 13 haute couture show.
Show Report

Show Report: Christian Dior S/S 13 Haute Couture

21 January 2013
Stephanie LaCava reports on the Christian Dior S/S 13 haute couture show.
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