Last week I had the pleasure of speaking with Debi Griffin, the amazingly talented artist and owner of Illustrative Moments. She creates custom bridal illustrations and has over ten years of experience in luxury bridal design. Her renderings are created in a high fashion design, and are an amazing keepsake for the modern bride. Through photos of the dress and bride, Debi is able to capture this chic and glamorous moment in a completely new and exciting way. As a fellow artist I was more than excited to talk to her about the business and her designs!
Molly: Tell me a little about how you decided to start the business.
Debi: When I was seven years old I got Brides magazine and that’s how I learned how to draw. I would draw the brides and they were like my paper dolls. I ended up going to school for fashion and that’s when Vera Wang was really hot and I ended up getting this amazing job there. A few years later I got a call from Amsale, and from fall of 1999 until this January I have been with them. I was the Senior Designer, so I did all that plus I was sketching for everybody, for private clients, for celebrities, for the magazines. My friends would see the sketches when I would bring them home from work and they would say “oh my god I want that, can you do my wedding dress?” Before I knew it I was doing sketches for their aunts and cousins. When I got married my friend who’s a graphic designer suggested I draw a fashion sketch to put on the invite and I thought, that’s an amazing idea!
When I found out I was pregnant over a year ago I decided I would need something to keep me going when I’m home. We live on Long Island and the fashion industry is not exactly child friendly, and my husband is a cop so we decided I was going to stay at home. This business was the perfect option because I could still be involved in the industry.
In December of 2011 I started a small Etsy shop with just a few sketches, and I was still just throwing the idea around. I had to take that first step, and within a day I had someone asking if I could sketch their girlfriend in her favorite going out dress. It didn’t take long for the press, and it’s been amazing. I wish I had a lot more time to do it and really throw myself into it. I’ve had some very amazing experiences. I just had a bride who for all ten of her bridemaids she gave each of them a sketch as part of their gift bag. She sent me the video of all of them opening it up, which was really cool.
When I was a student I would love looking at fashion sketches in Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, and I would always say I would love to have one of those. There’s something about a fashion sketch versus someone drawing, it’s the proportions and everything. A blogger told me it’s a very coveted item coming from somebody in the fashion industry, to have that person do a sketch of the bride. At Amsale it’s a high caliber of brides, and now I’m able to sketch brides from every economic standing. It’s just amazing to be able to offer it to everyone now.
It must feel great to be able to make everyone feel special. They don’t have to own a million dollar dress in order to have a beautiful fashion sketch!
These days people don’t hold onto their dresses, they rent them, they give them away. My wedding dress I let one of my good friends wear to Vegas, everything down to the earrings I had on my ears. I enjoyed it for my time, now it’s going somewhere else. A couple can only saturate their walls with so many photos, and this is a new option. And it can be handed down. I’ve done generational sketches – there was a woman who had me do a sketch of her grandmother, her mother, and her wedding dress all framed in a tryptic that she put up on her guest room wall.
What a lovely keepsake! Going back a little, for college you went to Pratt?
I loved my experience at Pratt; I thought it was great. I still mentor, and I’ve been the senior critic for their bridal department for several years. It’s great to give back and work with kids and be able to say I’ve been in your position, I know exactly what you’re going through. Sometimes these kids have no idea what they’re about to get into in the industry, they think it’s all Project Runway and I’m like no, it’s isn’t, it’s not that way. I would love to teach there one day, in the next couple years. We’ll see what happens!
I am a huge fan of colored pencils for my own art. You use colored pencils as well as ink for your sketches?
I use Prismacolor pencils, permanent stylist pens, Prismacolor markers, I accent with metallic pens, and sometimes some white paint in it to give it some texture. I like to use a lot of mediums because once it’s finished it has a lot of texture. I always send clients the scans of the work before I mail them, and I’m like please don’t think this is what you’re getting, this is just a flat scan on a computer, when you get it it’s layers and layers of color. I love working with multi-medium, it’s a great way to bring life to your artwork.
All that sketching must take its toll. Does your hand hurt a lot?
Last night I was up pretty late working on a lace dress and I was like, I’m going to have some major arthritis soon! But I’m so finicky about details, I’ve seen where people sketch things and for lace they will just make squiggle lines, but I try and really mimic the lace and the beadwork and the directions they go in. I’m really detail oriented on that aspect.
So is lace the hardest detail of a sketch?
Yes, lace is the most labor intensive. You’re going from a life-sized dress to drawing it on a small scale and trying to get the same characteristic across on a 9×12” piece of paper. No matter how many hours I spend on it, in the end it’s just so beautiful, all the work is worth it.
And what do you do if you make a mistake?
I start over.
I knew that was going to be your answer!
One time I almost got all the way through, I was finishing it up and something happened, my hand just went out of the line. I could have put flowers there, sometimes people ask for a bouquet, but I was like no, I have to start all over. My husband was like, you’re crazy! But I had to do it, I couldn’t send out something I wasn’t proud of. It’s quite grueling, once you get so far into it and to make a mistake. I try so hard not to let that happen but it does happen. I never let my clients know about it, but there are some people who have had their sketch done several times!
How long does it take you to complete a sketch?
Once I have the photos, if I’m not working on several at one time, from laying it out in pencil, and then inking it and coloring it and then doing the texture and my whole matting process, it takes about four to five hours, and that’s uninterrupted which is rare. Some brides I’m really inspired by and I’m feeling it and it goes smoothly and quickly, but sometimes I pencil it in one night and then just let myself breathe. If you do too much at once that’s when you make mistakes or it doesn’t turn out how you wanted it. Or sometimes I’ll just do it all at once and it’s a really natural process.
Are there some dresses that are more fun to draw than others?
I love the brides that are really high fashion. I had a bride who wore three gowns in her wedding. She got married on New Year’s Eve and she had an amazing gown that was a Carolina Herrera customized ball gown. But then she also had a really fun Vera Wang gown and it had a black sash, big charcoal crusted beads, and it was a fit and flare but the neckline was all twisted and wrinkled, and she had this amazing black fascinator with black netting over her face. To this day that was probably one of my favorite sketches. It was so much detail and it was very chic, the whole feeling of it. When you have pops of color like that, or brides now who have all this texture in the skirts that looks like it’s torn up fabric, that’s when you can really let loose and it’s not such a tight hand. I just kind of go with it and make it look almost like fantasy.
Do you wish you could use more color in your sketches?
I would love to get into some more color. I’ve thought about offering the option to do prom and sweet sixteen. I had a photographer who does lots of red carpet photography ask if I would illustrate her favorite Oscar gown. That would be awesome, I would love to get into that area. After drawing lots of white and ivory gowns you have to make the rest of it more important and stand out. You don’t know how many white Prismacolor pencils I have down to half and inch!
So you illustrated your own dress?
I illustrated my own gown, and I custom-made my wedding album through a book binder, so the opening page of my wedding album is my fashion sketch. All the dresses were custom-made for the wedding, I even have my niece and all my bridesmaids dresses sketched, and then also I photographed the whole process of the dresses getting cut at work. It’s pretty cool, it’s like a diary of the gowns getting made. I still want to make my own piece and have it framed for the wall one day after I get done with everyone else’s.
It sounds like you’re so busy you’ll never get around to it!
My husband thinks I’m crazy, I’m always like I have to do work and he says, you don’t have to do this right now! I just love the creative aspect of it. I don’t sleep, I start working after my son goes to bed at night, and at nine o’clock I pull everything out and I’ll work until two in the morning. I love to draw brides. It’s been with me for thirty years now, since I was seven years old, this “drawing of the brides”. It’s very relaxing to me, and I love looking at everyone’s wedding photos. It becomes this personal thing where we’re emailing back and forth, I love it, it’s so much fun to be part of people’s special day.
What’s your next step?
I would love to get into paper goods and stationary. Ceci Johnson of Ceci New York, that amazing wedding invitation line, just had me do a sketch of her amazing Oscar de la Renta gown for her anniversary issue. I would love to collaborate one day with her, or any paper company. I would love to have my own line where the thank you notes could be of the wedding gown, or even their bridal shower invites. There are so many amazing things you can do with paper. And it doesn’t even have to be bridal, it would be nice to just keep doing some sort of fashion sketches.
My nieces would love when I would Xerox my sketches before I would color them in, and every time I would see them they would say “did you bring bride sketches?” and that was their coloring books. Their mother was like you have to make some wedding coloring books, these girls love that stuff! And all I could think was oh no, another thing for me to stay up all night thinking about!
Why is it that in your fashion sketches there is only one eye, and the other side of the face has nothing?
In the industry, at Badgley Mischka their sketches look like aliens, and Isaac Mizrahi sketches are very scribbly, you almost can’t tell what the gown looks like. For illustrators you want to have your own identity, where people will say that was a “Debi” sketch. The one eye came up because when I would illustrate when I was younger I would always get one eye perfect and then the other eye would almost be like Shannen Doherty from 90210, where the one eye would be a little higher than the other. It was my style, the one eye. People for the most part think it’s cool, but sometimes mothers will order a piece and say “I really want my daughter to have two eyes”, and I say that’s ok I can do it, it’s just my little take on it. You don’t know how many times I have to answer that question!
On a somewhat serious note, I know that you and your family had a hard time during Hurricane Sandy last year.
We lost our house. We lived right on the water in Long Island, and we got to our house after the storm and there was four feet of water in it. We had just remodeled and bought all new furniture seven months before the storm. In March of 2012 we had refurnished the entire house, the closets, the baby’s room, a brand new kitchen, everything. Since October 29th we have been living with my sister-in-law. On Monday we will hopefully get the keys to our new house, which is far away from the water! I just can’t go through it again. I lost everything. I lost portfolios of artwork, all of my stuff for the business, our wedding albums were gone. It’s very sad. When the storm hit we had a mandatory evacuation the night before, and the fire department was coming around with bullhorns saying we had to leave. I had two clients with sketches that were due the next week, so I brought my big drawing board and all my folders and my colored pencils, so the major things came with me. I was somehow still able with Sandy to fulfill the orders.
That is some serious dedication to your clients! Was there any bright side to all of the sadness?
All we had was our overnight bags, that’s what we were left with. When we came home we had to throw everything out on the curb. But once I got past all of that I realized that I was lucky. I was lucky that we had someone to take us in. My sister-in-law had a room for us, but we could have easily been in a shelter, or we could have been hurt. I keep trying to tell myself every time I get sad about it, every day I remember oh my god, that was in that drawer, something that you can never buy back. I hope it never happens again but now you just have to think that it could, that it’s always a possibility.
I’m so glad to hear that you’re getting to move into a new place. And hopefully you will get to have your new space soon so you can sketch even more amazing pieces for your clients!
UPDATE: Check out the amazing bridal illustration that Debi did for me of my wedding dress! The sheen of the metallic pens in person for the veil and shoes is awesome. I couldn’t be happier. Thanks so much Debi!