Interview: Becky Donnelly's Fashion Creatures

October 02, 2017 12:00 PM

Quirky girl from Dublin with a penchant for drawing fantasy creatures relocates to London after art school. Her Instagram portraits of gremlins in Miu Miu and Marni catch the eye of the iconic purveyor of style and Editor-in-Chief of Love Magazine, Katie Grand, and voila, illustrator Becky Donnelly's career is born! We can't wait to see what Donnelly's frolicsome gremlins get into next, but in the meantime, the artist took a moment to chat with TWELV about her fashion illustrations and incipient modeling career:


Karen from TWELV: Tell us a little about your family and upbringing in Dublin. Is it true that your mom is Sharon Bacon, the former model?

Becky Donnelly: Yes, she is, and my Mum is gobsmacked that you found her! I grew up in Dublin with my Mum and Dad and my brother and my dog, a pretty normal upbringing. We lived near the sea, so I do miss that, living in London. 


K: Fast forward to today, you're living in London, working as a model and represented by Tess Management in London (which also represents models-of-the-moement Adwoa Aboah and Georgia May Jagger.) How did you get into modeling?

BD: I first signed with Tess when I was 16 after meeting an agent when I was on a work internship with one of my Mum's friends. I took a break from modeling to focus on university, and I worked at an animation studio for a while. I've since left Tess and recently signed with First in London. But I'm only just getting back into modeling now, so it's all new for me. 


K: In recent months, the internet has been abuzz with your fashion illustrations, especially your Miu Miu and Marni sketches of looks from Fall/Winter 2017 that were featured in Love Magazine. How did this come about–did Love's Katie Grand commission the sketches?

BD: It all happened so suddenly and fast! I did some illustrations of the Miu Miu and Marni collections and put them on my Instagram. Because Katie is involved with the Miu Miu shows, I tagged her and the casting director. I woke up the next day and Katie had followed me and gotten in touch and asked if I'd do some illustrations for Love. She's been really supportive ever since. I still can't believe it's all happened just from a post on my Instagram. But that's the kind of thing that can happen nowadays with social media.


K: I love the way you describe your fascination with "freakish gremlins" and your obsession with the intersection between "perfection and peculiarity." At the same time, you are young and fabulous, living the dream, walking the runway during London Fashion Week. But instead of the typical Instagram modeling shots on beaches in bikinis, you favor humorous selfies with naughty gremlins. Please tell us how your unique perspective came about.

BD: I’m a bit of a cynic and I've got a goofy sense of humor, so that's been at the forefront of most things. The freakish gremlins are definitely a representation of me in a lot of ways, so I often unconsciously think they way they do. I love fashion, and I've had some really cool opportunities in the industry. But nowadays, particularly with social media, you see these images of perfection all the time, and for me, when you see something really beautiful and then you look a bit deeper and something is off, I find that endearing. It gives off an authenticity and uniqueness that I like. It leaks into everything I do.


K: Did you develop your gremlin characters and unique sketching style in art school or did it come about more recently?

BD: I don't think there is any specific period in time when I developed a style, it's just been a gradual evolution of my personality and my experiences. But there have definitely been standout things in my life that inspired me. I'll never forget the first time I saw "Nightmare Before Christmas" when I was a kid. I love Tim Burton! Gris Grimley has also been an influence. But I think it's just best to "let it be" and find your voice in art. And it's nice when you feel that what you're putting on the page is a direct representation of how you feel or what you want to say.


K: We love the animated gremlin sketches you did for The Love Magazine. Can you tell us a little bit about your methods? Do you sketch with colored pencils and then scan and animate on the computer?

BD: I’m a bit of a technophobe, so I try to hold off on the digital 3-D elements until the very end. Hand-done work has an authenticity to it that I really like to retain. It has an intimacy that you can't really capture in the same way on computer. I mainly work in watercolor and pen and the I just keep the digital element just for cleaning up and adding movement.


K: Your fashion sketches have featured designs by Miu Miu, Marni, Marc Jacobs and Alexander Wang. How does your inspiration to sketch a particular design come about?

BD: Given my involvement in the fashion industry, I see new collections all the time. I can't pinpoint exactly what it is, but because I come from an animation point-of-view, I respond to a design that conjures up a unique character in my head. The Miu Miu collection is the perfect example. I just saw it and thought, “I could have so much fun with this.” I knew the clothes would look great on the models but also on my little creatures. I don't think about it too much. If I see something that inspires me, I just go for it.


K: You posted an illustration on Instagram in April of an Alexander Wang design featuring a very long-legged, blonde-haired girl in a boxy black jacket who looks strikingly like you! Is that a self portrait? 

BD: I’m so flattered! It's a model called Lexi Boling who I think is absolutely stunning. I take a huge compliment, thank you! 


K: Have any designers given you direct feedback about your sketches or commissioned work from you?

BD: That’s the amazing thing about Instagram is that you can put something out there and the designer actually ends up seeing it. I've gotten some really lovely feedback from designers. Bobby Abley featured one of my illustrations on his page. 


K: Sketching is an essential step in the fashion design process. Have you ever thought about working on your own clothing or accessories line?

BD: Not really. I kind of like creating a fantasy, something that almost can't be real, with exaggerated proportions. I have huge respect for designers, and I don't think I would even have the skills to do that. Character design is more my strength.


K: I’ve been on a lot of fashion shoots, and it seems that the priority of a model is to meet the expectations of the photographer, while the priority of an artist is self-expression. Do you ever feel that there is a conflict between your model self and your artist self?

BD: For me I find that coming from an artistic background is an advantage in modeling. I'm a bit camera shy, but I think being an illustrator helps because it's more about creating a composition rather than thinking, 'Do I look weird?' There is a collaborative aspect to modeling, when you're working with the stylist and the photographer to create something, which is really rewarding. I love being a part of that process and creating something special.








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