|1970s Karen Winslow fashion illustration for McCall's 4170 Misses Jacket and Pants.|
From the desk of Toile La La at Art Fashion Creation:
Here, you have recently seen two posts featuring the story and artwork of fine artist Karen Winslow, a former sewing industry fashion illustrator. Today's post presents Part 3: the Karen Winslow Interview.
From 1970 to 1977, Winslow was an artist for Simplicity, McCall's, and Butterick patterns, illustrating clothing for children, teens, and misses - with pen, marker, gouache, watercolor, and charcoal. Her work appeared in the big pattern catalogs and on sewing pattern envelopes - as well as in monthly booklets - and in Earnshaw's Review, a children's fashion industry magazine (one of her favorite jobs).
During the time she created these illustrations, Winslow attended the Art Students League from 1972-1978 to learn to paint. It was odd to "switch gears", says Winslow, "One form of art was very commercial, and I used outline to make figures that were stylized and flat. The other form was serious, and I tried to create an illusion of light, form and space in a realistic manner." Freelance fashion illustration was the bridge from sewing industry illustration to Karen's focus on fine art painting today. Along with her husband Jack - at Winslow Art Studios, she currently teaches painting workshops and spends time with her children and grandchildren (who frequently model for alla prima portraits).
Over the course of our interview/conversation - it was especially interesting to hear Winslow's observation of the industry's transition from illustration to photography for promotion of sewing patterns. "Photography began to play a bigger and bigger role in the pattern industry, with illustrations and photographs sharing the same page," says Winslow. She mentions that around 1974, McCall's began to offer "Sew for Fun" patterns, offering projects primarily for teens: "This is where photography appeared more and more."
I met Karen after she left a comment at an Art Fashion Creation post mentioning the mysterious and unknown sewing pattern illustrators. Karen and I discussed the lack of artist attribution on sewing patterns and never really came to a conclusion about artist anonymity. The lack of attribution is still a mystery, but Wilson says she did manage to include her signature on a few illustrations - which you will see at post's end.
Toile La La: Karen, how did you find your way into sewing pattern illustration and did you study specifically for pattern illustration?
Karen Winslow: When I decided in high school that I wanted to be an artist, my parents were very worried. Since I liked drawing people, the guidance counselor suggested fashion illustration, and assured them that I could get a regular job doing art. So, after high school, I studied fashion illustration and advertising design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. At the school, I concentrated on fashion drawing and figure drawing. You were not specifically trained to do illustrations for pattern companies, that was just one arena that used illustrators. Since it was one of the only areas that used color illustrations, I applied to pattern companies and had my first job - in 1970 - as a design department "sketcher".
Sketchers worked for the designers, drawing out the designer's ideas. Pattern companies took their cue from what was popular: the "new" colors, fabrics, skirt lengths, pant widths, waistlines, etc... . They would copy a popular design, but simplify it down to a few key pieces for sewing enthusiasts. I worked specifically with the children's designer. These drawings were rendered in full color, but not published. Instead, these illustrations were sent to the art department, and another illustrator would then produce the drawing that would go into the catalogs and on the envelopes.
I really wanted to be in the art department, not the design department. I was more interested in the art part, rather than the design aspect...which I found a little odd, since (in fact) designers were just copying clothes that were already ready made. I don't think it really bothered other sketchers. I wanted to be an illustrator - illustrators were paid better than sketchers and their work was published in the catalogs. So, eventually, I applied to be a staff artist - which was much better for me. This was in late 1971, and my work started appearing in sewing industry catalogs and envelopes.
TLL: I am interested in hearing about your work environment and whether you worked with other illustrators in a studio near the garment designers, or if you completed assignments in your own home studio. Please describe your artist lifestyle during the sewing pattern fashion illustration years.
K. Winslow: As a sketcher, I worked in a room with the children's clothing designer and another sketcher. We each had our own drafting tables, taboret, brushes and paints. When I started working as a staff artist, I worked in a room with about 5 other artists. Again, we all had our own drafting tables and supplies. Of the 5 in the room, 2 of them were "correction" artists. A correction artist is like a proof-reader and does not illustrate. The correction artist checked my illustration to make sure buttons were spaced correctly, widths, gathers, top-stitching, etc... were in correct proportion for the clothing. In other words, a pencil skirt couldn't look like a flared skirt.
As a staff artist, I was not working with a designer anymore...I was part of the art department, and I was given assignments by the art director. Some illustration assignments went to freelance artists and the rest were done by staff artists. I worked staff, honing my skills and experimenting with techniques for about a year and a half. My husband went to the Art Students League and learned to paint. After deciding I wanted more from my art, I quit my staff position and began freelancing in order to go to the Art Students League 5 days a week.
I studied Classical painting at the Art Students League from 1972 to the beginning of 1978, while doing freelance fashion illustration for a living during the same period. Since I was no longer a staff artist, I worked alone and all of my freelance work was done in my apartment in Brooklyn.
TLL: Did you have illustration mentors or experienced industry artists who encouraged or guided you?
K. Winslow: I didn't really have mentors, per se, but my colleagues were always willing to offer suggestions or technical aid, if needed.
TLL: If you sew, was that knowledge an asset to your illustration?
K. Winslow: Yes, I did sew simple things, and I guess the knowledge helped with the illustrations. It is good to understand construction and how seams or fabric are supposed to behave.
TLL: Here are several questions to generate memories: Please describe a typical day working as a sewing pattern illustrator...
Did you work from live models or photographs?
Did you discuss illustrations with the pattern designers?
Were you interested in fashion design... creating inspiration boards, or ever making design suggestions to the pattern manufacturers?
K. Winslow: On staff, a typical day would be receiving an assignment, dressing the sewing mannequin in the mock-up garment, scribbling out ideas for figures, and having these approved by the designer and the art director. Then, this rough draft went to the correction artist. Tracing paper was placed over the rough draft and corrections were made on this. The drawing was then returned to me, and I incorporated the corrections into the finished illustration. Small swatches of various fabrics, as well as clipped photos of shoes, hairstyles, bracelets, etc. provided by the designers were used to create the finished pieces. The finished illustration then had to be approved by the designer, art director, fashion director, and others. If approved, the illustration was published as a catalog page and envelope. Turn-around was about a week, but could be less. On staff, I received feedback right away. When I freelanced, I had to pick up my assignment, which included a mock-up garment sewn in muslin, the designer's sketch, the swatches and the magazine clips of accessories, etc. Then, I went home and worked up a rough draft to return the next day or so. The correction artist marked the corrections, then I would return to pick up the corrected rough draft before working on the final colored illustration. With time constraints and deadlines, I often stayed up all night working on the finished product in order to meet the deadline.
Coming up with various layouts and poses for the figures was challenging. I poured over magazines trying to get ideas for poses, and I used a mirror... getting into a pose myself to refine what I wanted. When I freelanced, I sometimes could get a model, but mostly, I used the mirror.
Since I was in the art department, the art director, or assistant art director conveyed what the designer wanted... the look, the feel, etc. When I worked as a sketcher with the children's designer, she often asked for suggestions or opinions about designs, and that was fun. In the art department, I was only expected to translate the designer's idea into a nice, easy to read, illustration.
TLL: Karen, you previously mentioned the pattern designers specified exact ages for children in your illustrations. Were there many more specifications or suggestions regarding your artwork? Did the art director provide you with fashion tearsheets or other pattern artwork as inspiration?
K. Winslow: The ages, hairstyles, accessories, shoes, etc. were chosen for particular looks and provided by the pattern designers. In my experience, the artists were given photos and color swatches for everything. I was free to interpret these, as well as pose and compose my figures, in my own way... as long as it showed the clothing in its best light.
TLL: As a sewing pattern illustrator, did you meet any pattern artists with considerable experience in the industry?
K. Winslow: I only really saw other illustrators when I worked on staff. With freelancing, you are on your own. I have stayed in touch with one always helpful and lovely illustration buddy who was with me at Simplicity and McCall's, then went on to teach at the Fashion Institute of Technology and Parsons.
I transitioned entirely to painting by 1979 - selling my work through various galleries. Some of my illustration friends continued to work in the industry for much longer. Josie Vargas and Bina Abling both worked at McCall's with me. Josie and I worked in the design department at Simplicity. To my knowledge, they still work in the industry, although they primarily teach - for the Fashion Institute of Technology and Parsons.
TLL: What obstacles - if any - do you feel may be specific to the life of a female artist? And then, what qualities might a female artist contribute which might set her apart from that of male counterparts?
K. Winslow: While I was illustrating and going to school to learn to paint, I did all this before I had any children. One of the most difficult things about being a female artist is juggling family. Once you have children, getting to paint or illustrate is harder. Your time is no longer your own. In my particular family, my husband is also a fine artist. So, when our children came along, we took turns painting and taking care of the kids. I became a very fast painter, and I learned to paint and talk to kids at the same time. This skill helped a lot when I began teaching. I can paint and answer questions at the same time.
TLL: Of your illustrations - which are your favorites, why?
K. Winslow: I have been digging out whatever illustrations I've stashed away, and many of them have taken a beating. It is hard for me to say which illustrations were my favorites. I liked trying different things, and I enjoyed whimsical aspects. Earnshaw's Review (the industry magazine for kid's clothing) gave me the widest berth in interpreting and I could illustrate the clothing in more creative ways, so they were extra fun.
TLL: I'd love to hear any other favorite memories you want to share from your life as an artist.
K. Winslow: One of my funny memories as an illustrator was having a nom de plume. A person designated to "approve" my illustrations thought "Karen's" line work was a bit too cartoony, so I developed my charcoal/wash style as "Lorraine". Sometimes an illustration assignment was a toss-up between Karen and Lorraine. Either way I got to do the drawing. The art department all knew, and we all thought it was pretty funny.
I sent in my bill as Karen, not Lorraine.
Memorable things in the fine arts would be getting a major article in American Artist magazine (February 1991) and being invited to a museum in Japan to do drawing demonstrations to help celebrate Culture day (1992).
TLL: When viewing today's styles, are there any particular designers or trends you think might be nice illustrations or painting inspiration?
K. Winslow: Today's styles...um, I am a pretty practical person...after all, everything I own at some point gets paint on it, and I live in a very rural place. So, practical ensembles of shirts, jeans, and clogs seem to make up my wardrobe. If I could paint or illustrate a style... well, like most people, I loved Downton Abbey, and seeing those styles was amazing. For me, Downton Abbey was like seeing a John Singer Sargent portrait come to life. I would love to paint this. The colors, cuts, drape, hats... everything was so lovely! I personally love the styles in the 1920s and 1930s.
TLL: Did the pattern companies maintain illustration archives, Karen? I'm sure they must have maintained archives for the actual flat patterns and maybe even for the written instructions (which also changed with the times), but - speaking personally, to have witnessed an archive of sewing pattern illustrations would be heavenly! If a sewing pattern illustration museum existed, I would never want to leave.
K. Winslow: They had archives for a while. Some of the illustrations were up on the walls as decoration, when I was there, but these were usually ones that were selling the most patterns. Here's an odd fact, the sweatshirt pattern I illustrated (with the 4 figures) was one of their top sellers for a while, when I was working for McCall's. I thought that was really weird... really. I wondered - who would sew a sweatshirt? I found out that a lot of illustrations were donated into other archives (I think Parsons had some), but eventually they were thrown away. Josie recognized and managed to salvage some of my black-and-white Butterick illustrations when they were being tossed.
|Karen Winslow 1970s fashion illustration for McCall's 4220 hooded-jacket and top.|
K. Winslow: As a child, I loved to draw and never had enough paper. As a little girl in the 50s, I looked forward to getting my Betsy McCall paper dolls and making loads of extra outfits for her. That, to some degree, subconsciously influenced me to illustrate fashion. As a fashion illustrator then, I always felt like a grown-up playing with paper dolls... especially when I illustrated the children's clothes.
TLL: To expedite your illustration work, Karen - did you develop illustration templates for yourself... for instance, assembling poses, faces, gestures which you could reuse - or use again with minor adjustments?
K. Winslow: I did repeat some poses, but I always worked them afresh...using myself as a reference. Art directors might suggest a look or a feeling, but I was left to my own devices, for the most part. They were interested in getting clear pictures of the clothing construction in a visually pleasing way.
TLL: Karen, we never really came to a conclusion about the omission of pattern artist's names. Did you request attribution for your illustrations?
K. Winslow: I think I asked once about signing work... the response, I believe, was something like this: If you signed the illustration, people would believe that you designed the outfits. The bottom line for pattern companies was selling patterns. It was a product, and for a long time artists got to present the product. Perhaps, it was just cheaper to present the product with photographs, or they thought the patterns would sell better showing real people wearing them.
Here are a few of Karen's illustrations - some with signatures:
|Karen Winslow 1970s McCall's 4104 Misses dress and top fashion illustration for sewing pattern.|
|Karen Winslow 1970s McCall's 3663 Girls bell-bottom pants fashion illustration for sewing pattern.|
|Karen Winslow 1970s fashion illustrations of Kenzo designs for the sewing industry.|
|Karen Winslow 1970s fashion illustrations of Betsey Johnson designs for the sewing industry.|
|Karen Winslow 1970s illustrations of children's fashion trends for the sewing industry.|
|Karen Winslow 1970s fashion illustrations of children's clothing designs for the sewing industry.|
|Karen Winslow 1970s children's sewing pattern illustrations.|
|Karen Winslow 1970s fashion illustration for Butterick.|
|Karen Winslow 1970s fashion illustration for Butterick.|
|Karen Winslow 1970s fashion illustration for Butterick - notice signature in weave of wicker chair.|
|Karen Winslow 1970s fashion illustration for Pandora.|
|Karen Winslow 1970s fashion illustration for Pandora - zoom-in of signature beside roller-skate.|
|Karen Winslow 1970s fashion illustrations of Kenzo designs for the sewing industry.|
|Karen Winslow (signed) 1970s fashion illustration for McCall's children's apron/tote bag accessory.|
Karen says, of the illustrations above: "If you look closely at the cover of the Butterick booklet with two women seated on a wicker chair (June 1974), I signed "WINSLOW" in the base of the chair as part of the weave. That booklet was the first one I illustrated for them. I did a lot of freelance work for Pandora and signed the little promotional postcard. On the little back view for children's apron/tote accessories - I signed "KAREN" on the bag."TLL: Karen, in addition to favorite subjects, artistic mediums, and preferred colors - would you like to mention artists you admire?
K. Winslow: I love to paint a good illusion of light, whether it is landscape, still life or portrait, my real subject is light. Painting people is always the most challenging...and I love painting people. I am primarily an oil painter, but I enjoy switching mediums. I like all colors, but earth tones seem to find their way into most of my work. As a fine artist, I like Rembrandt, Vermeer, Velasquez, Sargent, etc.
As an illustrator, I love Jessie Wilcox Smith, NC Weyth, Lisabeth Zwerger, Blanche Fisher Wright, and E. H. Shepard. A post featuring Winslow's admired artists and illustrators appears here.
TLL: Do you have any book recommendations for people interested in fashion illustration, or can you recommend fine art technique books?
K. Winslow: Books...well, I would always have people look at good illustrations. Look at, not just fashion, ... but line and graphics. Yes, I suggest students of art and illustration consider and look at all types of illustration and good paintings (go to museums) to see how other artists worked, so that visual problem-solving skills are improved. Painting and illustrating incorporate designing with line and tone. Studying the way other artists draw - and practicing a lot - will help improve your own drawing skills. Fashion illustration, especially for patterns, is a very narrow slice of the overall field of illustration, and an even smaller view of the field of art in general. Artists should be open to learning. Being an artist is a life-long journey... you never quite arrive. There is always room to improve and grow.
Bina Abling, a former illustration colleague at McCall's and now a teacher at FIT and Parsons, went on to write a book about fashion illustration. Abling's Fashion Sketchbook has had many editions, and it apparently is a practical, standard text in most fashion illustration classes. Bina also has very helpful fashion illustration videos on YouTube.
Looking at anatomy books or books on figure drawing, I think, is most valuable. Andrew Loomis wrote some of the most practical books on figure drawing and illustration. He was an illustrator of the 1940s/50s, and he wrote several terrific books on drawing, one being: Figure Drawing for All It's Worth. It was out of print for many years, but that along with some of his other books are now being reprinted, and they are worth buying!
TLL: Were you to mentor or advise a young person interested in fashion illustration today, describe your recommendations - or basic plan.
K. Winslow: My recommendations would be to learn to draw. Study with someone you admire and learn all you can. Go to museums. Go to the Society of Illustrators website. Soak up books with great drawings and illustrations. Nothing beats drawing from a model. Learn to draw figures well enough to be able to draw them out of your imagination. If you use photos, use them as references, not to copy, but to get ideas for poses. I don't think you can suppress your personality. It will emerge, even though the technique or purpose may change.
Both commercial and fine art are very competitive. Being successful is a combination of skill, hard work, marketing, and more often than not... luck, or being in the right place at the right time.
TLL: Karen, I have really enjoyed seeing your artwork - your 1970s fashion illustrations and your current paintings at the Brushwork blog as well. It is fascinating to learn all the details involved in the process of converting a clothing design to a fashion illustration one sees decorating the face of a sewing pattern.
K. Winslow: We may never know the many sewing pattern illustrators of the past, Toile La La - but they created a wonderful record of who we were and how style changes. I am glad I could help shed a little light on how the pattern illustration industry worked in the seventies!