Fashion Illustration 101: A guide to making it in the industry

Tracy Turnball loves to doodle. The talented illustrator has been working at her craft since she was little and her list of current clients range from Nylon Magazine to Benefit Cosmetics and L’Oreal. We caught up with Tracy to find out more about how she got her start in this career, how she created her signature style and we discuss her recent work for the WGSN Lingerie team.

Fashion Illustration career tips

Fashion Illustrations for WGSN


Hey Tracy, tell us about your background in illustration. Did you start drawing at a young age?

I was always obsessed with drawing when I was a little girl. I was at my happiest with an art pad and a bunch of pens and pencils. I was forever sketching characters and designing outfits. My grandfather loved to draw and paint and encouraged me to do the same. I suppose I did take a career change in a way, I trained as a fashion designer at Newcastle Polytechnic (Northumbria Uni) and went on to work in design and education for a good number of years. I was always really interested in fashion illustration and when an opportunity came up for me to work as a fashion illustrator I took it. I’m now working as an illustrator full time represented by my agents Illustration Ltd.

How did you develop such a distinctive style? 

Just as fashion is always evolving and changing, I try to keep my work fresh and contemporary. I change my style quite a lot, influenced by what’s current in illustration I tend to experiment and adapt my style constantly. I’m drawn to illustrating strong characters with unusual features, and I like to incorporate a quirky feel to my work. I think fashion illustration is just like clothing design, drawing styles go in and out of fashion.

What have been your coolest/most fun projects to work on?

I’ve had a few, I was commissioned to do a couple of beauty spreads for Nylon magazine which was good fun and also Benefit Cosmetics. I loved working on the WGSN intimates illustrations. I’ve always wanted to illustrate for a fashion prediction company so it was a dream come true.

Best piece of career advice you’ve been given?

“Shy bens get nowt” it’s a North Eastern saying meaning if you don’t ask you don’t get. I think you have to be a little pushy especially in the fashion business. I used to teach illustration at Northumbria Uni and often quoted this to students.

What method(s) do you use when creating your imagery? Are you addicted to Photoshop/Illustrator? Or pencil and paper all the way?

I work both by hand and digitally and quite often mix the two. I’d say my favourite medium is still digital, I prominently work using Photoshop and my Wacom Cintiq which I love! It’s so versatile; I love experimenting with brushes and textures.

Working on something for a new client! Exciting stuff! #exciting stuff #fashion #trend #fashionillustration #wacomcintiq

A photo posted by Tracy Turnbull (@tracyturnbull1) on

How much of a role does social media play – as a means of getting your work out there?

I’d say it’s crucial, also online portfolio site Behance Network is invaluable, so many editors and ad agencies use this as a tool to find new talent ( that’s how I was commissioned by Nylon Magazine). I love Instagram too it’s not just about showing your work it’s also about finding others, it’s fantastic to be able to follow illustrators in other parts of the world and be able to communicate with them. When I was studying I had access to a couple of illustration books, that’s all there was out there, but now the world is your oyster.

How did the collaboration with WGSN come about?

I was contacted by WGSN Swim and Intimates editor Katie May Atkinson. I’d been recommended by one of my very lovely ex-students who I used to teach, (thank you Hannah).

Fashion Illustration career tips

What’s next for you? 

I just spent the summer exhibiting in London, with a number of other big illustrators at an exhibition called INSIDE OUT: Fashion Dreams on Paper exhibition. It was all very exciting and very nerve-wracking at the same time. Next up, I’m booked to work on WGSN women trend and intimates so it’s a fun, full packed time for me!

Like this? Follow Tracy on Instagram here and her website here.

WANT MORE? Check out five expert tips on how to design a print and graphics collection here

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