A new era for illustrators

Iris Apfel by Caroline Tomlinson

Iris Apfel by Caroline Tomlinson

Fashion photography surpassed fashion illustration a long time ago, but things are changing. Hand sketching and other forms of illustration are dominating the blogosphere and social media, resurrecting the art form.

Talented artists are taking to social media such as Instagram to showcase their work – sketches of runway looks, fashion editorials and famous people, reinterpreted into animation and illustrations.

Professionals and amateurs are changing the way we view fashion.

Madonna by Caroline Tomlinson

Madonna by Caroline Tomlinson

Social networking has spread around the world with remarkable speed, making it easier for people to connect and share ideas, and this has played a major role in the revival of fashion illustration, says Caroline Tomlinson.

London-based Tomlinson has worked with a number of fashion houses, upmarket retailers and photographers including Rankin, Fortnum & Mason, Marc Jacobs and Stella magazine.

Her popular inky, sassy drawings include the faces of fashion icon Iris Apfel, Madonna and rock legend Mick Jagger.

I meet her at 91 LOOP, Cape Town’s newest boutique hostel where she exhibited some of her work.

“There has been a tremendous revival of the art of fashion illustration… It’s definitely a big thing right now on Instagram, which is great because I am super busy right now,” she says.


Former model and illustrator Quentin Jones is one of the people who has a big following and is doing work for brands such as Chanel. “It’s amazing how social media has brought the genre into people’s radar.”

Tomlinson, who is a London art college graduate and now lives between Cape Town and London, was inspired by Roald Dahl books while growing up.

“They represent my childhood and my mom reading them to me at bedtime. That is probably my earliest acknowledgement of the illustration world”

by Caroline Tomlinson

by Caroline Tomlinson

“I went to art college, explored it more and I fell in love with it even more.

“After I did my Masters (degree), my focus shifted more to design but I have since come back to illustration… When you really love something, you can’t get over it.

“I have had my agent in London for over 10 years and it’s been quite an evolution.

“I mainly focus on fashion now, it’s a case of joining all the dots because when I wasn’t doing illustration I was doing a lot of fashion branding or fashion art direction. Now I am doing more of what I love,
instead of doing illustrations for banks, for an example,” she says.


It took Tomlinson about two years to refocus her portfolio from corporate work to fashion, and a move to Cape Town was just what she needed to rejuvenate her creative juices.


“I was in Cape Town, a long way from home and feeling a bit lost creatively. I think that is always the start of a journey when you are feeling a bit lost.

“I didn’t really know that any of this was going to happen, but then it all sort of fell into place and made sense;

“The amazing thing about Cape Town is that it gave me an opportunity to immerse myself in my work. I never had that opportunity in London and I am exceptionally grateful for that. Cape Town has been a huge part of my story and it will always be quite an important city to me,” she said.


Mick Jagger by by Caroline Tomlinson

Mick Jagger by by Caroline Tomlinson

Tomlinson’s signature is solid dark lines of black on white with pops of colour. She uses a mixture of techniques such as ink, charcoal, spray paint, watercolour and pencil.

Her sources of inspiration include visual bookmarking tool Pinterest, among other things.

“Sometimes I get told who to draw, but if I am doing things just for me I go with my instinct. Mick Jagger for example, is someone that I always wanted to draw. Other people such as eccentric fashion legend Iris Apfel and Emma Watson are people that inspire me by what they do, their fashion sense and what they stand for.

“They are strong characters and not superficial. They actually stand for why they are in the world of fashion, they love what they do and why it’s important,” says Tomlinson.


Using so many different mediums of drawing is quite a process, but it’s necessary for a perfectionist like her.

“I sometimes draw something 50 times in different mediums, scan it and then put it all together. What you see is a combination of maybe 40 or so drawings, so that at the end I have that really rich drawing that looks like it’s drawn in pencil and watercolour… which is what I really enjoy,” she says. “I do think that I can play more with colour.

Caroline Tomlinson

Caroline Tomlinson

“When I get back to Europe this summer I am planning do less commercial work for a little while and just push my own stuff because I want to play more with colour. My work has gone quite monochrome, which I love, but it would be interesting to have a bigger pop of colour,” she says.

“My drawings are not too perfect, but I hope you (the viewer) will walk away from them with a sense of energy… they should move you in some way;


“And also maybe with a sense of me, as they are personal. I do expose myself a little bit in my work by the very things that I have chosen to draw and the people that are very much on my radar.

“They (the illustrations) are like these little visual diaries of my interest and inspiration… you get to see a little bit of what makes me tick,” adds Tomlinson.


● Connect with Caroline Tomlinson on Instagram: Caroline Tomlinson

This feature was first published in the Cape Argus on June 20 2016.

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