Illustrator Megan Hess Shares her Creative Process
Megan Hess is fashion illustration royalty. The Melbourne local counts fashion’s biggest players—including Chanel, Prada, Tiffany & Co., Vogue, and Cartier—as regular clients and her elegant and carefully curated illustrations are some of the most recognised in the industry. The graphic design graduate followed her passion for sketching over 10 years ago and has since become a household name, thanks to her distinctively sophisticated designs. Read on to find out how Hess creates some of the most desirable illustrations from her Port Melbourne studio.
When and how did you begin illustrating? Have you always had a love for drawing?
I've just always loved drawing and it's the one and only thing I think I've been good at! I studied graphic design because it felt like a ‘real’ job in the art world, but really always wanted to be an illustrator—I just never knew back then that it was a possible career choice. After working as an art director in advertising agencies for several years I packed everything up and moved to London. It was in London that I worked in a million different creative jobs and in my final job there I realised that I had a burning desire to be an artist.
At this time I’d become the art director for Liberty Department Store. While I loved art directing fashion, I loved illustrating it more. I started to do very small illustrations for Liberty and from this art directors saw my work and commissions began to follow.
After about a year I found myself with non-stop work. I wasn’t earning a fortune but I’d never been happier and I knew I was going to do this forever.
As my clients got bigger and better, I was able to be a little more selective and just work on briefs that I knew had a great creative opportunity. Then, in 2006, I got a call in the middle of the night from Candace Bushnell’s publisher asking if I would illustrate her next novel One Fifth Avenue. This was when things took off at rapid speed for me. Her book became a New York Times best seller and I met with Candace and she asked me to illustrate all her previous books, including the cover of Sex and The City. Once Sex and the City was released I was contacted by TIME magazine in New York to create portraits for them. Following this, I began illustrating for Tiffany & Co., Chanel, Dior, Vanity Fair, Italian Vogue, Bergdorf Goodman, and Cartier. Ironically, at the same time as my work finally took off I had my first baby. It’s funny, I always tell people that I haven’t really slept since 2006!
What is the your inspiration behind your illustrations?
Everything! I love just getting out of my own little world and seeing how other people dress, live, and create. I’m an observer and I love all the little details that make people interesting. I also think travel has a huge influence on me and provides endless inspiration.
What materials do you use to create your illustrations?
My secret magic tool is a custom Montblanc fountain pen—I affectionately call him "Monty". The pen was created especially for me by Montblanc and he's my most prized possession! I hand draw all my line work with Monty and ink, then I either leave it black and white or add colour with gouache and digital. I draw everything by hand and then scan into Photoshop. Ultimately all my work has to be a high res file and be emailed to any client anywhere in the world. Monty even travels with me—he always sleeps in the safe though.
What do you love most about illustrating?
I love that I get to create an imaginary world. When you illustrate, you have no limitations—anything you can imagine can be illustrated.
How long on average does it take you to create one of your illustrations?
Some of my illustrations are very fast. I usually post a quick sketch on my Instagram account each morning (@meganhess_official) and I only ever give myself 10 minutes for that because I have so many deadlines to get through! Most of my work can take anywhere from an hour to several days—just depends on the complexity of the illustration.
Where is your studio located?
Port Melbourne—I love my workspace. I've always loved to create a space that's inspiring to work in. My current studio is filled with all my artwork and all the little things that are inspiring to me.
What is your favourite or most memorable illustration to date?
I have so many favourite projects that it’s hard to choose! One of my favourite collaborations has been with Tiffany & Co. in New York—I was asked to illustrate their iconic 5th Avenue building filled with chic Tiffany & Co. people in the foreground! It was a dream project. Another collaboration that was wonderful to work on was with Cartier in Paris—it all centred around Paris Fashion Week and I created 10 bespoke illustrations for their Paris Nouvelle Vague Collection. Most recently I collaborated with Prada in Milan on an animation for their autumn/winter collection—the creative process of that job was probably one of the most exciting. In terms of individuals, I have worked on some very exciting (and nerve-wrecking) portraits—everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lopez to Michelle Obama.
What is your best-selling illustration?
I don’t think I have a specific best-selling print but the one I’m most asked about is my Tiffany & Co. building illustration. It was so much fun to create for Tiffany & Co. and I think it has struck a chord with other women who have a similar affection for the store.
Talk us through the process of creating one of your designs.
If it’s for a client, it starts with a brief and I always give myself a good amount of initial time to dream and get inspired about what I’m going to draw. Sometimes I’ll do initial sketches or create a mood board of concepts and ideas. Then I’ll discuss with my clients where my direction is heading. Then it’s to the physical drawing phase and I’m usually in absolute joy creating the final image.
Shop a selection of our favourite prints below and then browse Hess’s beautiful lifestyle collection.