Interview: Illustrator “Deanna First”

Having studied fashion design, when did you realize that you wanted to be an illustrator?
I’ve wanted to be an artist since pre-school. When the time came for me to decide on a major, I was debating between Fine Arts and Fashion Design. I ended up getting a Bachelor Degree from Kent State University where I studied Technical Design. I worked in the fashion industry a few years at Elie Tahari, J.Crew and Ralph Lauren. Once I discovered there was a job that combined my love of art and fashion, I knew I wanted to be a full-time illustrator!
How would you describe your style?
I have two styles; one is loose and sketchy, the other more vivid and detailed. Both are full of fluidity and movement.
How would you describe your creative process?
I’m a night owl and find that I am most inspired once it gets dark. I put on relaxing tunes while my cat peeks over my shoulder while I work. I start by sketching everything by hand before scanning my work into the computer to add further shading and playing with colour-ways.
What is your favourite medium to work with?
I prefer pencil and pastels. I like using my hands to smudge and shade, so these mediums are perfect for that.
Are there any techniques or materials you would like to explore in the future?
I would love to work more with oil paint or painting on unconventional objects. 
What fascinates you?
I’m fascinated by human emotion. I love drawing eyes mainly because you can feel so much about a person when you look into their eyes. I’ve never really been a fan of drawing objects or anything else that is not living. I lose interest far too fast if I don’t feel a connection. 
What is your source of inspiration?
Oh wow, where do I begin? From the latest models to the impeccably dressed women on Fifth Avenue; I take a huge inspiration from their clothes and hair, and constantly gather ideas for my sketchbook. I go into the city to people-watch, and also flip through old fashion mags, taking the eye of one model and the lips of another to keep on hand and use in a future illustration.
What motivates you?
The fear of not living up to my full potential motivates me. 
Do you have a one favourite illustration amongst your work?
It has to be one of my personal projects inspired by Kate Moss. I love working in neutral tones with charcoal and soft pastels. It’s difficult to be completely satisfied with a “finished” piece of art, but with this particular illustration, I’ve never felt the need to go back and add more. That is rare for me.
Looking at your client list, how does it feel knowing you have worked with so many esteemed brands?
It still feels surreal to me knowing that I have worked with some of my dream companies. When I started my journey a few years ago I could not have imagined some of the opportunities that have been presented to me this past year!
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
I just finished a live sketch event in partnership with Papyrus at The Daily Front Row’s Art Basel fashion and art extravaganza at The Faena Art Dome in Miami. I attended Art Basel last year as a guest and this year was able to actually be part of one of the main events!
What do you think it is about illustration that appeals to people?
I think it is always exciting for people to see how an illustrator interprets a reference image. It’s fun to see how an artist adds in their own unique twist and which elements inspire them when creating.
What do you think sets your illustrations apart from others?
I have several different illustration styles. I’m capable of a sketchy style and of a more realistic style. This attracts a wide range of clients since my work can appeal to several different tastes. 
Do you have a favourite artist (illustrator or otherwise)?
Stina Persson, David Downtown, Michael Carson, and François-Henri Galland. I’m drawn to artwork with a strong sense of emotion that incorporates fluidity and movement.
Do you have any advice for aspiring illustrators? 
Yes! Don’t give up too soon and don’t be afraid to take risks. I did not go to school for illustration. After working in the fashion industry for 2 years I picked up a part-time job to save money and grow my client list while continuing to illustrate on the side. Patience is key in order to achieve your dreams. 
What would you be doing if you weren’t an illustrator?
I would be doing something involving saving stray cats/dogs and/or opening a specialty chocolate shop. I have a sweet tooth that is a bit out of control and have always had a love for animals and urge to try and save them all. 
What are your goals for the next 5 years in your career?
I love this question! In the next 5 years I plan on opening a separate work studio with all glass windows overlooking the city. I would feel so inspired waking up with a rooftop view of Manhattan and painting the cityscapes. I would love to start drawing/painting on large scale canvases and creating a few series. I plan on having art shows in various cities featuring my latest collections. Traveling more, continuing to grow as an artist and using my art to raise money for animal shelters are all on my to do list.