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Sunday, 28 August 2011


We all have something we enjoy doing, but have you ever considered you could actually make a living out of your interests and hobbies?! Fashion illustrator Jennifer Lilya tells us how…
Words // Louise Dawson.
Photography // Zack

We all have something we enjoy doing – something we are interested in. But what happens when we want to make a career out of it? This is exactly what Jennifer Lilya decided to do and she now runs a business called Lilya Fashion Illustrations, and by now has clientele such as Elle magazine and Katy Perry on her books.

Jennifer working at her work station in NYC.
Jennifer first realised she could make a career out of her passion for drawing when she enrolled in the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

“Ever since I was a little girl, my favourite thing to do was to draw pretty pictures! I knew that I didn’t want to do anything else, so I enrolled at FIT for their wonderful fashion illustration program.”

Here she realised that it was a possibility, that she could make a career out of something she had always enjoyed doing. Once she knew she was able to make something of drawing Barbie dolls, fashion models and pop stars, she became determined to make it happen one way or another.

To be able to make a living from all sorts of hobbies including fashion illustration, Jennifer insists you need to enjoy what you are doing:

“You need to have a innate passion for it and a little something special inside to begin with – a certain flair or fresh style. That passion and talent can grow into something magical with practice and hard work. You just have to realize that you have it in you and then work to make something out of it.”

Breaking into any industry is hard work, but now more than ever while times are tough and people remain critical you really need to work hard to get yourself noticed. But please don’t let this put you off - there are ways to get yourself a range of potential customers.  You will notice that most businesses, and freelancers, whatever their trade will have an online website. The simple reason being that in doing so you are making your work available to people all over the world at a click of a mouse. If the thought of making an official web page sounds scary, then why not just start with a blog! From there you can let potential buyers and fans get to know you whilst also being able to commission you for your work.

In creating a blog or a website, you can also work from home rather than having to pay for an office, studio, store or workspace a.k.a freelance rather than start an actual business. This can save you thousands on rent, bills, tax etc. meaning that every penny you earn can go straight into investing in more goods to continue with your trade and the rest can go straight into  your pocket - sounds great I know!

If your talents like in a creative or arty trade then exhibitions are also a great way to get your work noticed. You may have to rent out a space (but it pays to ask around to see if anyone can help you out without any financial requirements – take your local library for example!) Exhibitions reach followers and fans of your work, people passing by who may never have heard of you before  - but wanted to have a look at what is to show as well as other artists, journalists, and people who work in the same industry who can all help spread word of you and your work.

 Another thing to do to help get recognised is to make and keep a list of contacts. Networking is extremely important when you want to get yourself noticed. If you attend the right parties and make ‘friends’ with the right people you could definitely be on your way to success. They may be able to help you in any problems you may have in establishing yourself or your business, and help you network through meeting other people. Remember that the more people who know about your work – the more potential buyers you will get in return.

As for Jennifer, she said:
“ I’ve always had steady work, but right now I’m getting a lot of recognition due to my strong online presence.  My audience has grown dramatically over the past few years and I love it. I think that people and clients are drawn to my traditional, yet modern, illustration style.”

If you really want to start a business or freelancing career out of your hobby but aren’t sure how to go about it, or maybe just not sure on what angle you want to take on it, then it is also a very good idea to apply for internships. Okay, so you may have to make more coffees during your internship then you ever will throughout the rest of your life, you will get to see how a professional works, and what kind of industry and environment they work in… more importantly however, how they make all of that work to their advantage. If you’re lucky, you may even be able to get a placement where you actually are able to get involved.

When starting any business or freelancing, you need to find something special about your work that you can market to the general public. With fashion illustration for example, the trade is slowly but surely re-emerging, meaning Jennifer has had to ensure her work fits the available criteria’s whilst still delivering a fresh and innovative flair in her sketches.
“Fashion illustration tends to be cyclical… and right now we’re seeing a re-emergence of it in a really strong way. I think people are craving something a little different and fun again!”

“Fashion illustrations are wonderfully expressive. They can tell a story and create a fantasy surrounding the garment and the person wearing it.”

[Text Box]Describing her own work as fun, fabulous, cool charming and witty, Jennifer is inspired by other illustrators and designers such as Antonio Lopez, Rene Gruau, Jean Michel Basquait, Warhol and anything thing else she see’s that is ‘poppy’ and fun.  She also said that what she draws is totally dependant on the season – which does actually make a lot of sense for a fashion illustrator, as after all you need to keep up with trends – and who wouldn’t want to spend their time aweing over gorgeous outfits?! Exactly – I couldn’t think of anyone either!

“Right now I’m really into Dolce & Gabbana and Prada. Next season I’ll be really into something else – that’s the exciting thing about fashion illustration – there’s always something new to be inspired by!”

She captures the essence of the designs adored by fashionistas worldwide at fashion week through various techniques of sketching and painting:

“My favourite technique is using acrylic paint in very loose washes, along with black ink lines to highlight shapes. I do everything by hand on paper.”

This is what Jennifer offers to potential and existing customers; she specializes her technique and produces beautiful drawings that sell well, really showing how you really can make a career out of something you enjoy doing if you’re serious about it and work hard.

Jennifer commented on why she thinks her drawings sell so well by saying:

“Fashion illustrations bring such life and energy to a garment, a collection, a product. It creates a story for the reader/ viewer to immerse themselves & get lost in. Pure fashion fantasy!” – From this statement alone you can see how enthused Jennifer is in what she does, which in a way speaks for its own accomplishment.

She went on to talk about the perks of being self-employed in a trade she adores:
Every day is a new adventure! I have freedom to make my own hours and to choose my own projects. I work with interesting clients and learn new things from each assignment. I’m also deliriously happy being able to paint for hours every day. It’s pretty amazing.”

It comes in handy if you have documented your work from the very beginning. Make copies of everything you give away of get commissioned, and keep all of them as well as original sketches or pictures you may have done for your own enjoyment. They can come in handy for showing how your work has progressed, to be looked back on for ideas and to be kept portfolios to show those who are interested in commissioning you.

According to Jennifer this is the best thing to do as it means you practice – and there is that old saying that practice makes perfect! She urges everyone to practice and wants to tell all future artists, illustrators and designers:

Draw, draw, draw. And then draw some more! Figure out your unique style and take it from there.  Take advantage of all the free online portfoliosites to get your work into the public eye.”

Coroflot, Behance, and Fashion Industry Network are great online portfolios to start with. It is safe to say that once you get the ball rolling, the realisation of what you can actually achieve will hit you.

“I’ve worked with Elle, Women’s Wear Daily, Katy Perry, Travel & Leisure and Mimma Ninni. My client list keeps growing by the day and I love the wide variety of clients and projects that come my way.”

“I have a ton of projects on my plate right now – helping to design a line of clothes, a bunch of illustrations for blogs & websites and personal commissions. I’ve started collaborating with some great artists, so I’ll be featuring those on my sites when the time comes. I’m also planning an exhibit in Brooklyn this November.”

In the midst of working hard to achieve your goals, Jennifer presses how important it is to keep inspiration flowing. This is why she makes time for other hobbies amongst her illustrations such as making collages, going for walks around NYC, listening to good music, people watching, going to rock shows, art galleries and museums. In doing so you can really get the most out of your creativity whilst learning more about your environment and the sort of industry you are in. So try not to swamp yourself under too many commissions and business meetings just yet!

Now you know that it is in fact possible to reach your dreams by earning a living out of what you enjoy in life, have a think about exactly what you want to do, and start by making a little plan of what angle you want to take on your passion, and how you are going to go about starting it off. Get blogging to document your work online so people worldwide can enjoy your hard work – believe me, you’ll soon be enjoying the benefits.  Your opportunities are endless if you work hard, so what are you waiting for… go and get yourself started!

If you want to find out more about Jennifer Lilya at Lilya Fashion Illustrations then please visit her website:



  1. This is a great article! I have recently begun the process of turning my passion into a business, and I can already say that all of this advice is 100% correct. I find that inspiration comes to me in the strangest places, but I work really well when I'm able to step back from my work and smell the roses. Great points and a very helpful and inspirational piece!

  2. I'll never do that until you really focus on the and love the style of Open Toe platform heel or some best design open toe platform sandals so just do that please!


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