It’s hard to create a sense of movement and energy in illustrations, and when you’re a fashion illustrator this is essential. But Natalia Sanabria has no problem with this; in fact, her pieces excel at drawing the observer in and continuously pulling the eye round and around the image. The Costa Rican-born and based illustrator graduated in Graphic Design and Painting from the University of Costa Rica, and has developed her own style that masterfully combines a mixed media palette of graphite, ink, and punches of vibrant watercolour. Her work includes editorial, street style, runway, and object illustration.
When did you realize you wanted to be an illustrator?
I've always enjoyed drawing. I used to get my inspiration from magazines; I started making collages with photos and draw onto them, so that was my first approach to fashion illustration. I fell in love with every drawing I did and just wanted to learn more and polish my technique.
Why fashion illustration?
It became natural to me because of my love for magazines. I was drawn to colourful patterns, interesting faces, so I started sketching and mixing materials and it was instant attraction.
Aside from fashion itself, do you get inspiration from other sources?
I love to travel, visiting museums, seeing how people express themselves through clothing. Also, I collect origami papers and any cute, fun material I can find, it helps me construct my illustrations.
What motivates you?
I am a compulsive sketcher. Each time I finish some new work, it motivates me to start a new one or experiment with other materials, use new colours. I never stop learning and my best work is still ahead.
Your work is full of different media (graphite, watercolour, ink); how did you refine this signature style?
I guess it has changed a lot since I started because I’m always trying different mediums. It also depends on the illustration, sometimes I prefer to use collage, others require more details and water-colour, but what remains is my love for colour, the brighter the better.
Why do you choose to work with these mediums?
I’m very detail oriented, that’s why I use graphite pencils. Also, I include paper or glitter collage in my illustrations because it gives them some texture and volume. And obviously, my medium of choice is water-colour.
You studied Graphic Design and Painting; in your experience, how different is illustration from a more traditional painting approach?
From my experience it’s less rigid I guess, you don’t have to always find some weird explanation for your work, it’s just what I love to do, it comes from a very personal place and I can have as much fun as I want to.
What do you enjoy most about life and work in Costa Rica?
It has lots of nature diversity. I enjoy going to the mountain a lot, I like flowers, insects, birds, fog, the colours of the dusk and dawn in the clouds. It’s a small but very rich country.
How would you describe the fashion/art scene there?
There are many art manifestations with a distinct identity, very good artists in all areas. I’m very lucky to have known some of them in art school and learn a lot from their work. As for the fashion scene, it’s slowly growing into a strong market with great potential.
Would you ever consider moving to another part of the world to set up a studio?
Yes, I want to move to London someday hopefully, the city has such good vibe.
Many have said that illustration is a dying art form; what is your view on the subject?
I think that's wrong, I’ve seen an illustration revival on editorial, product and graphic design in general. It’s refreshing for example to open a magazine and see a drawing here and there, your eye thanks you.
What do you think it is about illustration that appeals to people?
As I said before, it’s like a playful fun way to express yourself and people notice that. You don’t have to be an art expert to appreciate illustration, it speaks to you in a beautiful way.
What do you feel has been your biggest achievement so far?
Working by myself, it’s still hard to believe that I actually do what I’m most passionate about for a living. I’m very lucky and I don’t take for granted the opportunities I am given.
Do you have a one favourite illustration amongst your work?
My very last illustrations of Meadham Kirchhoff Spring/Summer 2015 collection. I used collage, water-colour splashes, colour graphite pencils and I just went crazy with them.
Do you have a favourite artist (illustrator or otherwise)?
I have many! I like the precise lines of David Downton, the boldness of Esra Roise, the feeling of Cedric Rivrain. As for painters I love Gustav Klimt, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, they influenced me by their particular styles and the powerful but feminine women they portrayed.
Do you have any advice for aspiring illustrators?
Keep drawing and don’t be afraid of mistakes, you’ll find your style along the way. Also, it’s very important to have an online portfolio, the Internet is full of opportunities.
What would you be doing if you weren’t an illustrator?
I love to dance, I would have liked to be a professional dancer.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Still doing what I love and traveling all over the world.