When it comes to art, many people will say they wish they could draw or paint. But when it comes to the work of illustrator Jacqueline Bissett, I’d imagine fellow artists would express their own wish to have the fluidity, style, and power Bissett is able to put into her pieces. Trained at England’s Epsom School of Art and Design, located just outside of London, she has honed her craft to perfection, working with line weight and happy splashes of watercolour, and specializing in drawing live at events. It’s easy to see that the industry feels the same way about her work, as she can count powerhouses such as Givenchy, Selfridges, Kurt Geiger, Moet & Chandon, Rimmel, Samsung, and many others, as clients. Currently, Bissett sits on the Board of Directors at the Association of Illustrators.
When did you realize you wanted to be an illustrator?
I always drew pictures of girls in dresses from a very early age, probably about 5 or 6. My father was a draughtsman and always had loads of paper; I used to love the Ladybird books of fairy stories like “Cinderella” and “The Princess and the Frog”, copying their dresses, and then changing the designs. I’m from a small town in the Midlands and I’d never even heard of a fashion designer, let alone an illustrator!
Why fashion illustration?
A chance meeting with a lecturer on a train led me to study fashion, and then I was directed by great tutors who insisted I went on to specialize in fashion illustration! On top of that, I just adore the ever-changing face of fashion, and I love to sketch the catwalks, with new hairstyles, shoes, and everything that goes with it - it’s never boring!
Expanding on fashion itself, do you get inspiration from other sources?
I love club life, and its colourful characters are always an inspiration. I met my husband in a club in the late 80’s and although we have a family now, we still love to go and party on a less regular basis (although Ibiza each year is our escape - it’s so glamorous and great fun!)
Your work is full of balance between fantastic line weight and punches of colour, but how did you refine this signature style?
Life drawing has played a large part, and I’ve always loved ‘playing around’ with art materials. I like the contrast of flat colour and brush strokes where you can see where the brush has been. The loose line (hopefully) shows confidence from many years of illustrating! I’ve also worked with some great art directors and editors over the years who have given me great direction. It’s been a slow, natural progression over 25 years.
Being that you studied at Epsom, which is only 30 minutes away from London, was the city an influence on your work and passion?
Oh yes, that’s when I started clubbing in the days of Taboo, Leigh Bowery, Boy George, Philip Sallon, and all of that ‘post-New Romantics’ time. We used to get the night bus back to North Cheam where we lived in a grotty flat - it used to take nearly two hours! I loved the shops too and longed to have enough money to buy the amazing young designers’ collections. Carnaby St. and Newburgh St. were my favourite places.
What is it about working in England that you enjoy most?
Now, I LOVE the countryside where I live with my husband and two young children. We are opposite the South Downs, surrounded by fields of cows, sheep, and horses; I’ve gotten back into horse riding, which I adore! We lived in the South of France for a year before moving here, which was fantastic. I’m a bit of a Francophile - love the language and lifestyle - but when we moved back to England, I realized how much I’d missed all of the lush greenery.
Why is drawing at live events, like catwalk shows, such a passion for you?
It allows me to draw from [live] models which I don’t manage to do in my commercial work. It’s instant, not always precise, but so spontaneous. You can tell a ‘live drawing’ from the line quality. I try to transfer this into my ‘studio’ work. I would like to draw more at catwalk shows but it’s so hard to get tickets! I had four days drawing for Kurt Geiger at Selfridges recently, a fabulous job drawing the shoes [customers bought] and showgirl-type illustrations on customers’ shoe boxes.
Looking back at your list of clients, how does it feel to see so many esteemed names/brands?
It feels great, but I’m striving for more each year!
Why do you choose to work with watercolour? Is it because of its long history in fashion illustration?
I like to swing between painting and collage as a contrast. It kind of keeps me on my toes, and each style tends to work with different clients - they either prefer one or the other. I am inspired by the traditional fashion illustration feel from the 40’s/50’s, especially René Gruau.
Letrafilm has become a forgotten medium; what is it that you love about working with it?
The sharp line that you get when using a scalpel and the flat colour, which has a random texture, where you get tiny air trapped giving an imperfect feel. I bought the entire stock from London Graphic Centre which was discontinued from Pantone.
What do you feel has been your biggest achievement so far?
That’s difficult...I’m proud of the Selfridges job, but I feel my best is yet to come…
Do you have a favourite artist (illustrator or otherwise)?
René Gruau, as I mentioned previously, but also my tutors, Lynne Robinson, Colin Barnes, Shari Peacock, and Howard Tangye, who all inspired me and taught me so much.
Many have said that illustration is a dying art form; what is your view on the subject?
I don’t see it myself. I always have plenty of work coming in new forms, all the time, so as well as books, magazines, etc...commissions come from web sites, Facebook pages, and live-streamed events such as one last year with Ted Baker. Although we cannot hope to compete for huge ad campaigns on the scale of fashion photography, it’s so refreshing when fashion houses take the risk and use a fashion illustrator - it looks SO eye-catching and it makes a bigger statement to stand out from the norm.
Do you have any advice for aspiring illustrators?
Do not bother unless you are absolutely hard-working and determined to do well. It’s a very competitive field; you have to be thick-skinned to take the knocks and criticism that inevitably one gets with hundreds of jobs (possibly more than a thousand jobs now!). It’s a wonderful career to have though, if you really want it badly enough. I love drawing as much now as I ever did. Don’t give up; being self employed can be up and down at times, but you never know which client is around the corner!
What are your goals for the next five years?
To continue working as I am, with varied commissions from London, the U.S, Germany, and France. I hope to start getting work from India soon (my agency now has an office in Bombay!). Also, I’ve narrowly missed out on two fabulous jobs recently in New York, so I’m hoping it’ll be ‘third time lucky’. It’s been a long time since I visited Manhattan!