E-commerce site Etsy is a global marketplace for handcrafted, vintage, custom and unique items – anything and everything from glass art to personalized zipper pulls. It was founded right here in Brooklyn 14 years ago, and still has its headquarters based in DUMBO. Etsy is where we found fashion illustrator Joanna Baker’s shop.
Baker sketches and posts contemporary fashion and lifestyle illustrations for people to admire, purchase and even master on their own through digital tutorials and templates. She’s also been known to sell her original sketches on stationary, mugs and more at Brooklyn craft shows like the Renegade Craft Fair held in Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Sunset Park.
She loves to draw gowns and shoes – especially those that sparkle and highlight different silhouettes – in colored pencils and markers. She enjoys drawing her favorite pieces from couture shows during Fashion Week and whenever there’s a major awards show, and placing them all next to each other in one image.
“I’m usually sketching what I see in front of me, but it’s never explicitly a ruffle-for-ruffle detail,” Baker says. “That’s what’s so fun about fashion illustration; it’s an exaggeration. You can amplify, add details, add more movement and make something look more fun.”
Aside from sketching looks that hit the runway and red carpet, Baker also releases new work four times a season, much like a collection. For this upcoming spring collection, she’s thinking about incorporating more home décor and sweet treats to round out her illustrations, which gives them that lifestyle-brand feel.
“I think that’s what’s appealing; not everybody loves fashion,” she explains. “Most people can get on board with fun, brightly colored popsicles or the print of something fun and colorful.”
THE ROAD TO FASHION ILLUSTRATION
Baker studied studio art at Washington College from 2004 to 2008, and began her own handbag business from 2006 to 2008. She taught herself how to sew and created handbags on her dorm room floor, selling them on her own website. She says that she thought about attending a school that would help her properly learn the craft and industry.
“I had Project Runway on in the background as I was making my bags, which was right after the show had started [in Dec. 2004],” Baker explains. “I was like, ‘Parsons is known for fashion design, so why don’t I go there after I graduate?’”
Taking a leap of faith, she applied, got into the AAS Fashion Design program and moved to the city that she had only been to twice in her life for family trips. She graduated in 2010 after a stressful yearlong program and a summer internship, and later worked at J. Crew’s Upper East Side store with visual merchandising. She then got a job in fashion design at Macy’s and spent the next five years learning and growing in the corporate environment.
“I feel like what I’m doing now I couldn’t have done without that experience,” Baker says. “I think it’s important to have that corporate experience because it helps you to get good experience working with other clients, sending emails, making meetings and presenting in front of people – all of those life skills definitely can be applied to running your own business.”
Wanting to go back to her art school roots, Baker started sketching on the weekends and posting them on her fashion illustration blog. She quit her job at Macy’s in 2015, when she felt confident in her work and online presence to become a fulltime freelance illustrator.
In today’s day and age when social media can help make or break a career, Baker says Instagram is huge as a portfolio platform.
“When I first quit my job, I had maybe like 500 followers and I was able to build to 10,000 in a little over a year,” says Baker, who has 29,100 followers as of mid-March. “It was very quick; it didn’t seem difficult to do because you’d post something, tag someone and then they would regram it.”
Designers Bergdorf Goodman and Carolina Herrera, for example, regrammed her work in 2015, which allowed her to get more eyes on her illustrations and gain more followers. But she says now the platform’s oversaturated, which has made her look to other popular media – Snapchat, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook – to build an illustration community. Since many had asked her for sketching tips and tricks, Baker began creating content for her YouTube channel in July 2016. To date she has 23 videos, including tutorials on how to sketch basic fashion poses and how to render quilting, jewels and hairstyles.
Baker’s worked with private clients, who want illustrations of their families or for their weddings, and corporate clients like Hint Water and Kind Snacks for specific campaigns.
But her favorite project was in 2012 when she was a Top 5 winner of a design contest with Bergdorf Goodman and Christian Louboutin. At the time Louboutin was launching a line of shoes to celebrate his 20thanniversary as a designer. The challenge, Baker explains, was to design a ready-to-wear look based on one of his shoes and create a mood board around them. So she did just that and received an email weeks later that she was a winner. The prize was $1,000 to actually make the designed gown, which would then be unveiled and shown on a model at the 20th anniversary event. Her gown was also in a weeklong Bergdorf’s installation afterward.
“That doesn’t happen every day. You live it up for one night and then you’re back to reality,” she says. “It was a lot of fun and a great opportunity.”
Phone cases as style statements
Baker has dipped her toes into licensing, allowing some of her work to appear on holiday cards, gift bags and gift cardholders in TJ Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods this past holiday season. She’s also printing her illustrations onto phone cases in a partnership with CASETiFY.
“Your phone and what you put on your phone is an extension of your look, especially with the trend of these transparent bags recently … and the phone will be prominent inside your bag,” she explains. “I feel like they’re even more in display as an accessory item.”
She says her own phone case’s currently bejeweled, which has allowed her to ‘dress up’ the mobile device in a fun way. As she puts it, it’s another surface to put a print or another pattern on to make it look pretty.
Baker’s launching her first online class on April 5 called “Beginning Fashion Illustration with Marker Rendering.” She says this grew out of people commenting and asking for additional help on how to sketch certain subjects and even how to become an illustrator.
“I think there are a lot of fashion illustration classes, but that aren’t as detailed as the one I’m getting ready to put out,” she says. “Promoting that and fostering a community around it is the next step of my business.”
This five-hour class – complete with worksheets and downloads – will teach people, step-by-step, how to render fashion illustrations with markers, which Baker says is tricky when you’re first using them and trying to blend.