Interview With Illustrator Jacqueline Bissett
Recently Melanie sat down for a chat with Jacqueline Bissett, the talented fashion illustrator who has brought Thomas Sabo’s campaigns to life over the last few years as well as working behind the scenes with the costume designer for Allied (Paramount Pictures) and, of course, Melanie’s own pregnancy book from 2006, Blooming Beautiful.
Melanie How did you get started and when you first realised that you were creative and that you were good at drawing?
Jacqueline I started drawing at about the age of seven, my father is a retired draughtsman, so he just used to give me loads of paper and pencils and I just used to sit on the floor and draw figures all the time.
I didn’t know what I did want to do because I didn’t know what a fashion illustrator was, I didn’t even know that you could do design for a living. I was basically looking at pictures from Ladybird books, drawing the princesses because I loved them and all the clothes that were drawn in those books and I just used to sit and do pages of women changing the clothes.
Melanie And did people notice that you were talented at that age?
Jacqueline Yes, all through school everybody said I was really good at drawing and I used to do everyone’s art homework and draw for everyone in class – I wasn’t particularly academic or anything. But by the age of 16 I still had no idea what I wanted to do.
Melanie So how did the art get back on track?
Jacqueline Well it just became obvious that I was going to do art but the only choices I was put up for were general art and design courses or foundation courses and I knew you just had to draw still lifes and stuff like that so I thought, ‘no way, that’s just too boring’ but luckily my mum is and remains to be still an inspiration to me and she used to bring me down to London all the time and I loved all that, sort of, bright lights, big city.
By chance, we met the Vice Principal of Bourneville College in Birmingham he suggested I try the fashio course there, so that was it, I just applied and got in. It just was a chance meeting on a train.
Melanie I just love stories like that! So when you got there did you just think ‘This is it – this is where i’m meant to be’?
Jacqueline I absolutely loved it but the trouble was you had to do the pattern cutting and the sewing and all the other bits, I just was really rubbish at and I’ve got no patience. I like to do things quickly, I think that’s why I like a quick portrait, I keep focus for short amounts of time.
One of the tutors was an illustrator as well, and she told me to do fashion illustration. I was so surprised when I got on the course, it was at Epsom and it was a fashion promotion course, so it was a bit of fashion journalism, styling and photography but mainly fashion illustration, which I then found out you could do for a living. That was about 30 years ago and I still just really love it
Melanie Who were your mentors?
Jacqueline I was really lucky because one of my tutors Lynn Robinson invited me to set up a studio with her. She lives in France in Normandy now and we worked together for quite a number of years, we set up this studio in an architect’s office and she taught me everything there is to know about being a fashion illustrator. I was really inspired by her.
Melanie What is the most unusual job you have ever had?
Jacqueline The most unusual job that I’ve had were definitely the sex positions. It was for More magazine and I had to draw position of the fortnight. I have a little ‘Pocket Book of Sex’ which I used for reference , that and Google but if the kids were around when I was working, it was bit embarrassing!
Melanie You were the illustrator for my Pregnancy book ‘Blooming Beautiful’ in 2002. Penguin recommended you to me and I loved your work back then but only recently after seeing your work again realised you were the same person! How crazy is that? How has your style changed since then?
Jacqueline It’s so long ago that when I looked at the book online I could see how my style has evolved over the years. You never stop learning how to draw, and I feel that my work is at a better standard now. I loved the job at the time though- there were lots of exercises with you and your bump. I’ve always loved doing exercise drawings and have done thousands over the years! However I had to draw babies too which I’m not so happy about
Melanie So, you showed me your Thomas Sabo Jewellery character, Luzy. That was a big campaign for you for a good few years. Tell me about when you’re asked to draw the character for the brand. Does the company tell you what she’s called and tell you the life story or do you have to create that?
Jacqueline Luzy (German for Lucy) was created sort of between us really, I wanted it to be a two way thing because I started off doing sketches and they gave me the idea of wanting her to have long tousled hair and black and white stripes. They wanted her to look very Parisian, so I did lots of sketches and they picked out ones they liked. It was a very mutual thing, which is always really nice because you get into the mindset of the client and learn exactly what they’re after.
I worked with Thomas Sabo job for about six years. It’s really unusual to work for the same client for a long time – usually they like to try different illustrators all the time, they like to change their look from one year to another which is the nature of fashion.
Melanie So, what’s going on with you when you’re actually doing a drawing?
Jacqueline Drawing from life is like nothing else at all, it’s a very spontaneous kind of thing. I’ve taught quite a lot in the past but I think when you look at a model and you draw from life it’s really exciting. I suppose the adrenaline goes, it’s so instant and you’re literally looking at someone and it is the way you transpose that on the paper and it is very much the brain to hand process.
When it goes right it’s really exciting, when it’s wrong it’s soul destroying because you can have bad days and you feel it instantly if it’s going wrong, just as you do instantly if it’s going right.
The minute I meet somebody I start sort of mapping them out and working out how their face works and stuff and I don’t actually realise I’m doing it but people must think I’m quite intense because I’m looking at them and I’m sort of thinking ‘how would I draw that bit?’ and I can imagine you in brushstrokes.
Melanie Your brushes are so beautiful, aren’t they?
Jacqueline I love them and they’re not even particularly expensive brushes. Some of the best brushes are the ones that I’ve had for ages and that are quite well worn and the hairs go out at the side. Some brushes I pick up for just that effect, and other ones you want really smooth lines.
The ones I really like are with squirrel hair, they’re really lovely but a lot of the traditional oriental brushes are hog hair and they’re a bit coarse. So, it depends what bits you’re drawing. The bigger brushes that I use for the hair, the actual mane, are the real big sweeping strokes and then I go into detail with some finer brushes which are the smooth squirrel hair brushes.
Melanie What have your latest projects been?
Jacqueline Most recently I’ve been working on films. Recently I worked with Joanna Johnston, the costume designer on the Paramount Pictures film ‘Allied’ starring Marion Cotillard and Brad Pitt. It was amazing working with Joanna. We sat together whilst she described her design and I sketched. Sometimes she had a sample of vintage clothing to show me.
They were then shown to Paramount to give them proper vision of how the garments would look in each scene. I must’ve done about 60 watercolours altogether, it was an amazing job. I am working on a few more movies but I cannot talk about them at the moment – it’s all very top secret!