An Interview with Fashion Illustrator Gary Kaye

We asked Gary Kaye about the role of watercolour in contemporary fashion illustration.

How important is the medium of watercolour in fashion illustration?

Traditionally its been very important because it allows a very fluid approach, which is useful when drawing different fabric qualities. There are lots of early Vogue covers that feature illustration using watercolour, and at times when illustration was the first option in magazines, water based illustration work was widespread in fashion.

Are there any fashion illustrators that spring to mind whose use of watercolour is key to their style or aesthetic? 

David Downton, Mads Gustavsen, Antonio, Bill Donovan, Rene Gruau (probably more Gouache than actual watercolour).

What are the benefits of using watercolour in fashion illustration? 

It can give a sense of movement, an important factor in fashion illustration. Describing garment qualities with a lightness of touch is a useful aspect of fashion illustration, so being able to layer translucent washes of colour, building it up bit by  bit is a good way to achieve this.

Are there any projects you have worked on whereby watercolour was central to the process?

Last year I worked on a project for a Japanese fibre manufacturer called Cupro, which was produced using only watercolour to give subtle, shadowy, non-specific visuals of garment types. The idea was not to be too clear about garment designs but to say something about how the fibre can be used in a variety of clothing areas.

In a discipline such as fashion illustration which is becoming increasingly digital, do you think it’s important to maintain a relationship with physical materials?

Personally I do, as I always start the process with hand rendered work, which may then be developed further using digital processes. I think there will always be illustrators who prefer to use a more traditional medium such as watercolour despite – or because of – the predominance of digital processes. Watercolour can be unpredictable, which is often part of its appeal in making visual statements.

Above: Gary Kaye’s illustrations for Japanese fibre manufacturer, Cupro.

You can see more of Gary’s work at

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