What I learned about people working as a live event illustrator

Illustration drawing a person at a promotional event black and white photo

I have been a full-time fashion illustrator for 12 years now and for half of those I had the pleasure to illustrate live at various fashion and luxury PR events in Europe. 

Over 6 years of doing this, I observed things about people I believe are important and interesting which I am going to share here. 

Small number of artists do this as it requires a combination of specific skills. Not only does one need to be able to draw well but you need to be able to work fast under pressure while being  a great communicator at the same time. Latter reason is probably why some live event illustrators are not so technically skilled but are still in demand.

One important note: I have worked internationally and there is a huge difference in what I notice between cities, so you can only imagine what it is between countries. Still, these are some things I have observed to be true everywhere.

1. Every person is a universe 

I am a people lover at my core. I am not just talking about being an extrovert because introverts can also be people lovers. I am talking about the fact that even though I am aware that there are awful people out there and that even the best of us are riddled with insecurities and “flaws”, I know deep inside that most people are truly good and that everything we do in our lives is to connect to other people. 

Drawing another person is sharing a moment of closeness. Being willing to stand in front of me already requires a level of bravery not everyone has and I appreciate that even before we start. But then, when a person stands there (usually in a really great outfit they took great care to plan) I discover there is an entire universe in them. People are full of life and hopes and complexities and that’s endearing.

We all wear masks to just exist in society, but when people stand in front of me for a brief moment the mask inevitably slips, if only for a brief moment, and you can see there is a kind, interesting, gentle soul behind that cool outfit.

2. Women don’t know they are beautiful

The number of times women of all ages said to me: - Just make me a bit slimmer/ younger/ more beautiful.

It breaks my heart! I almost never saw a person for whom I thought I would need to do that.

I always come back with the same line “Oh, don’t worry for a second! In fashion illustration, everyone is young, thin, and beautiful” (which is true). 

What I really want to say is “Please don’t ever think or talk about yourself in those terms. You are gorgeous!” (which is even more true!)

Hearing this from girls and women whose biggest flaw seems to be that they are (sometimes) not top model-level beautiful and 22 years old is sad and infuriating at the same time. The level of beauty being pushed onto us as the “standard” is a talent on par with being a mathematical prodigy. Would anyone walk around feeling self-conscious about not being a great mathematician!? Highly unlikely. 

I am not even going to get into internalized ageism. That requires a post on its own.

3. Low self-esteem makes people difficult

This might be a bit controversial to say, but of the few not-so-nice experiences I had while drawing people at events, it was always with people who seemed to me obviously lacking self-esteem.

Also, I am using difficult as a blanket term for someone who lacks good boundaries and communication skills  but I am well aware this is highly subjective (This Harvard researcher makes a great case on types of difficult people)

There was a case of a woman who, when asked by a PR girl if she would like to have her portrait drawn by an artist said yes absolutely, and then proceeded to ignore me, refusing to look at me and repeatedly turning away from me. When asked if I am interrupting and if she would like me to come back later, she said no, her body language indicating she doesn’t understand what seems to be the problem. 

Or the woman who aggressively fidgeted so much that she resembled an overactive toddler and kept criticizing my work while I was drawing! 

Again, these are rare, and most people are wonderful, but when they do happen it can turn something magical into a chore.

4. Most men find it hard to be looked at

As my Instagram bio says, I am a raging feminist. This means that I am well aware of all the traps patriarchy puts out for both women and men and so many times I feel so sorry for men for failing to see and acknowledge all the ways in which they are also oppressed.

When I draw a person, male or female, I always make sure my gaze is curious but not intrusive. To see all I need to see but that the person doesn’t feel too “naked”. Sometimes, if I sense a person is feeling really good, I will start to be a tiny bit flirty with them as that makes people spark. 

But this almost never happens with straight men. Again, this is not always the case, there were certainly many different experiences, but men will stand before me in an almost defensive mode. They will try to communicate through body language and little jokes that they do not think highly of this little gig I am doing. Then as minutes go by and I simply look at them without asking for anything, without signaling anything sexual (something I am keenly aware of and make sure to stand far clear of), without judging, a palpable shift will happen. All of a sudden I can see they are vulnerable and open and I can see how hard it is for them. 

I think this is partly the reason men tend to interpret being looked at as sexual interest. They just don’t know any other way to be actually seen… or in some cases, see others! This saddens me as these are grown men, almost always coupled up so you would think they could have had a chance to experience this. All people deserve to be looked at with a kind curious gaze and I truly wish as generations change I will find that this is not a novel experience for males of our species.

5. People crave to be truly seen

And this leads us to our fifth and final point and that is, all people love to be seen as an individual and recognized on a deeper level.

This is precisely the reason I love illustrating people at events. It brings me so much joy when people are brave enough to stand before me despite their insecurities, see my drawing, and then be visibly touched and in awe of the illustrated version of themselves. All of a sudden they see there is a bigger, wider idea of themselves than they thought before. That beauty itself is not such a limited space. Many timese I see a person looking at their portrait and seeing beauty they never saw before. That they are interesting and that there is a vibe they give off that is much more than their physical selves. This is the power of art! It can show people that life and themselves are much bigger than our daily life can sometimes make it seem.

If you ever have a chance to be drawn like this, by me or anyone else, do it! Do it for yourself!

Remember, you contain a universe and the artist sees you even more beautiful than you are.

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