Deborah Bowness
New Ribbon
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Fur. The mere mention of the word makes many cringe. In western urban culture, it's a contentious topic that divides us into two groups: those who deem fur fashion READ MORE...
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Earlier this week, I was in the comments section of a blog I frequent, and someone had posted a photo of a shirtless, young guy with red hair sticking his tongue out cheekily READ MORE...
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The Sculptured House, also known as the Sleeper House since 1973 when it featured in Woody Allen's sci-fi comedy, Sleeper, is so cool it's painful. An elliptical curiosity in concrete and glass perched on Colorado's READ MORE...
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The BAFTA qualifying Aesthetica Short Film Festival (ASFF) has teamed up with London College of Fashion to establish a new fashion film strand at this year’s event, showcasing READ MORE...
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Knitwear designers studying in Italy are invited to enter the Knitting for Juliet competition launched by Fashion Ground Academy of Italian Design READ MORE...
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It was not possible to walk past Nicholas Rose's luminous, contoured lamp shades at 100% Design the other week, I felt like a moth drawn to a flame. READ MORE...
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The film series, #UnlockArt, produced by Tate and supported by Le Meridien, concluded with the release of the last of eight films, What's So Funny?, decided by an online poll READ MORE...
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March 05, 2013

Bil Donovan: Seminar, Masterclass at L'Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival

BilDonovan_TandCADAs part of the L'Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival programme, revered fashion illustrator Bil Donovan will be presenting a business seminar and teaching a two-day masterclass. In his presentation Bil will talk about the role of fashion illustration in the contemporary marketplace and provide advice on fostering successful collaborations between artists and brands. His presentation will include a live demonstration of his work.

 “The role of fashion illustration in the contemporary marketplace continues to evolve beyond the scope of a single figure gracing a page in a magazine and is visible in markets as diverse as Branding, Package and Website Design, Animation, Merchandise, as well as in a thriving market called Lifestyle.”

The fashion illustration masterclass is an extraordinary opportunity to learn from one of the world's leading fashion illustrators, drawing from a live model. Lecturer in Fashion Illustration at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology and Artist-In-Residence for Christian Dior Beauty, Bil creates artworks for clients worldwide.  He is the author of Advanced Fashion Drawing/ Lifestyle Illustration, and the illustrator of books including Edith Head’s The Dress Doctor, Prescriptions For Style From A to Z and Birds of a Feather Shop Together, Aesop's Fables for the Fashionable Set

The masterclass takes place March 22 and 23 and tickets are available to order through the L'Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival website

To see more of Bil's work you can visit his website (you'll be glad you did!)




October 31, 2012

Bil Donovan Illustrates for Saks Fifth Avenue

Earlier this year, Bil Donovan was commissioned by Saks Fifth Avenue in New York to create fashion illustrations to accompany their Saksfirst rewards program promotions. I think it's such a thrill to see fashion illustration being used more prominently in commercial communications. (Twinings will be featuring Bil's work on their new range of limited edition Earl Grey teas.)

I'm going to put the question out here and on The Swelle Life's Facebook page:

Would you rather see photography with models or fashion illustration in fashion publicity? I think you can guess my answer! Creative photography using models never gets old (Nick Knight), but there is a standard look to most fashion and beauty retail photography that is less than inspiring. For example - if your favourite department store sent you a postcard for their latest promotion, would you be more tempted to keep it if it were a model standing by a window looking winsome, or this:


Here's the conversation happening on Facebook so far:

Sarah says: "I love both, as there is incredible talent in both areas...although I am more likely to keep examples of fashion illustrations."

Cyn says: "These are so beautiful! I think more campaigns needs to be illustrations again, so much more creative!!!!!"

Carol says: "Both art forms share equal talent and inspiration, I tend to prefer the fashion illustrations and would be more prone to want to keep an ad illustration rather than a photo. I would like to see a campaign with both styles used together creatively."


Let's hope others follow suit so that beautiful illustration such as Bil's can be a part of our daily lives!

Images courtesy of Bil Donovan - thanks Bil!

May 31, 2012

Beautiful Book: 'Birds of a Feather Shop Together'


The books I loved most as a little girl had two elements in common: lovely and colourful pictures,  and enchanting stories. The stuff of wonderful daydreams that made childhood magical. As the years have passed, I've found that through their vivid imagery and words, these affections have remained firmly embedded in the mind and in the heart.

So what a treat is to continue the tradition, thanks to Birds of a Feather Shop Together, a gorgeous and witty book of 'Aesop's Fables for the Fashionable Set', adapted by author Sandra Bark who serves up life lessons with delicious fashion savvy.  Bil Donovan masterfully brings the fables to life with his vibrant watercolour and ink illustrations, taking the anthology from bookshelf to proud display.

It's such a joy to read; a fashion and beauty indulgence that feels a bit of a guilty pleasure until you reach the end of the tale and see that fashion and morals can indeed coexist! The original stories are found at the back of the book, though once you've read Bark's there's no going back.

This book has become one of my daughter's favourites, and when I have to put it down because it's bedtime, she invariably reaches over and opens it back up to have a longer look at Bil's illustration for that story. I love that this book is one she'll remember for the rest of her life.

Birds of a Feather Shop Together is a hardcover book  (the cover has a gorgeous texture with brilliant colour saturation), published by Harper Collins, and includes 17  illustrated stories plus their originals. It is available to buy for £12.95.  

Huge thanks to Bil Donovan for introducing me to this beautiful book. It is much loved.

About the author and illustrator:

Sandra Bark is a New York Times bestselling author who collaborates on books with notable figures. The founder and curator of the street art blog the Scenic Sidewalk, Sandra lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

Bil Donovan is a fashion illustrator whose work has appeared in various publications and advertising campaigns worldwide. A brand ambassador for Christian Dior Beauty, he teaches fashion illustration at the Fashion Institute of Technology and is the author of Advanced Fashion Drawing: Lifestyle Illustration and illustrator of The Dress Doctor. He lives in New York City.

To read about Bil on The Swelle Life, including our interview, browse the Bil Donovan category here.

Here's a look at some the book's stunning story illustrations, by Bil Donovan:


'Birds of a Feather' - the level of detail is just incredible!


'A Birkin in the Hand'

'Carpe Dior'



'Amanda and the Grape Gaultier'


'Best Dressed'

Images provided courtesy of Bil Donovan

April 06, 2012

Sketch Night in New York with Bil Donovan

If you can't read the details, you can see the Society of Illustrators website for full details and to purchase a ticket. It goes without saying this is an incredible opportunity to sit with Bil and benefit from his guidance - and it costs hardly anything! For more on Bil Donovan see his website, and give yourself some time to get lost in it.  

Bil is a great friend of Swelle and arranged for me to receive the new book of fashion fairytales he illustrated called Birds of a Feather Shop Together by Sandra Bark, published by Harper Collins. Watch for the review next week, with gorgeous artwork by Bil Donovan of course!

October 06, 2011

Bil Donovan Adorns the New Dior Suite, St. Regis NY


Where do I start...these images are pure joy! I'm humbly grateful to Bil Donovan for sending these to me (plus another tremendous treat further down). This is the new Dior Suite at The St. Regis New York. It's a stunningly decorated suite made spectacular by the presence of a nine by five foot watercolour painting by Bil Donovan who is Dior Beauty's resident artist. The photos alone left me breathless, so I can only imagine how the room feels with such a powerful thing of beauty looking on.

So many important and exquisite details were considered in the decorating of these rooms by Caroline Rippeteau and Bree Dahl that I couldn't bear to simply summarise, so here is the article from the The St. Regis magazine which tells of all the glorious finery:


In his painting for the Dior Suite, Bil Donovan has portrayed figures wearing two original Christian Dior dresses, one from Marc Bohan (1960-1989) and the other a creation of Gianfranco Ferré (1989-1997).


St.Regis Dior Mural for room

And Bil gave me a very special gift to share, a fifth painting from the Dior collections that wasn't included in the Suite's original:



I interviewed Bil Donovan earlier this year and featured some of his incredibly beautiful paintings, you can read it here


May 12, 2011

Fashion Illustrator Series: Interview with Bil Donovan

DiorPlay-150Bil Donovan for Christian Dior Beauty

Whether fashion is art is a perpetual topic of debate. Conversely, we'd be hardpressed to find objection to the idea that those who document fashion, in an inspired way, are indeed artists.  Fashion illustrators possess that magical combination of technical skill and provocative flair that is essential in bringing their subject to life.

Bil Donovan is one of today's most accomplished and revered fashion illustrators, and a true artist - deemed so by Christian Dior Beauty who named him their first Artist-in-Residence in 2009. Based in New York, he is also an educator, currently as Assistant Adjunct Professor at the city's prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology where he was once a student; and a fine artist working under the name William Donovan, a pursuit that allows him to engage aspects of his creativity in an expression unique to that of his fashion-focussed  illustrations.

BilDonovan In 2010 Bil published his first book, Advanced Fashion Drawing/Lifestyle Illustration through Laurence King UK. It's a beautiful textbook that "promotes the idea of observation, thinking and selectivity through a series of exercises and demonstrations that explore the concepts of line, shape and composition." For illustrators looking to broaden their perspective, this hugely inspiring and challenging book is a must-have. Bil's introduction alone is of immense value; his story will surprise you.

I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Bil, my favourite fashion illustrator, about his work. I look at his pictures when I want to feel happy or elated; it's something in the combination of his precise, elegant brush strokes and how he chooses and uses colour. I'm drawn to his bright hues, though some of my favourites are mostly monochromatic - Bil is a master at summoning an exhilarating energy with his use of light and transparency and translating the space and proportion of a live event into two dimensions without compromising a shred of its vitality, even taking the beauty to a higher level. I would like to live in Bil's world.


DG: First, congratulations and big thanks for your book, a truly original and invigorating approach to fashion illustration instruction. It's hard to believe you were once told you were not a natural and that you should 'rethink your artistic pursuit.'  That professor would prove to be instrumental in shaping your path early on, when you took her advice to 'draw draw draw'.

I think you may be about to change the lives of others yourself by revealing this bit of information in your book - t’s a universal given in our minds that true creative talent is something we're born with, that comes easily. You've proven through your achievements that with insightful guidance and nurturing, anyone with the commitment to be a good illustrator can indeed be one.

Do you feel that without the specific education you received from several extraordinary individuals that you would have eventually found your way to where you are now, or was it absolutely crucial to your success?

Ink-Green BD: I believe that regardless of the degree of talent one person may possess, that individual needs to nurture, perfect and explore that ability through practice as well as understanding the fundamentals related to that field.

It is important to get a different perspective and evaluation of your work through the eyes of another and of course this would occur in a class. I know that studying with a variety of instructors sharpened my thinking and pointed me in the direction of pursuing my personal vision.

Would I have developed my eye, or draftsmanship without that experience?

Absolutely, probably through practice, but each teacher brings a distinct viewpoint and perspective to a class and those factors influenced my perception of drawing and nurtured my style.

I love the theatrics of a circle of easels occupied by artists surrounding a model perched on a model stand. Imagine this arena energized by the presence of an instructor who circles around the room pushing, encouraging, inspiring and challenging you to see, think and create work in a different light…the energy is palpable and courses through your body pulsing through your veins into your hand holding the pencil onto the paper…There is nothing like that. I’m still addicted and still take classes.

DG: The fact that you’re still taking classes will either be reassuring to young illustrators or totally intimidating! Then again, learning is a life-long process.  

Do you prefer the easel circle to the live event? Does the spontaneity of the live event force you to adapt your style?

BD: Each is unique. The studio setting is a more controlled environment and the energy is generated through the model, the instructor and of course the other artists present. If I create work alone at my studio then the energy is collaboration between the model and me.

Live events have a kinetic energy generated by the state of flux. You have no control of the surroundings and events occurring and it is great to allow that spontaneity to filter into the work. You have to be in the moment and constantly edit and adapt your process, rather than style to meet the challenge. There is no room for preciousness.
In September Ralph Rucci invited me to document his Spring 2011 collection and it was exhilarating to witness his brilliance and world; to capture that experience as models floated by in these gorgeous creations, for the press, editors, buyers and privileged guests…it was an Ahhhh moment and everyone took a pause at the beauty of his collection, they actually gasped, but I had no time or I would have missed it.
I had to let go and just trust that the essence of that moment would rise to the surface.

Chado-FashionWK09-10 At Chado Ralph Rucci, New York Fashion Week, September 2010

DG: You conveyed the structure, textures and lightness of the Chado Ralph Rucci collection beautifully. We love to look at fashion drawings and paintings; they go even further in creating that ideal world, the fantasy, and capturing the essence of a collection than the fashion show itself. They can be so enchanting.

So why isn’t illustration a more regular part of documenting fashion today, alongside the photograph? Fashion week is typically fed to us through a singular view – there’s the catwalk and the wall of photographers at the end of it snapping the models in identical poses without facial expression. We could use a more fanciful narrative!

BD: Amen! I wish I had the answer to that question. And those who are in a position to choose the editorial content and create the narrative could best answer it. The fashion world is a business, and the editorial and advertorial markets revolving around that world must promote an image that meets the demands of a particular audience in order to thrive. However, I believe that this audience is underestimated in their ability to appreciate an illustrated narrative over a photo-realistic one. It is also the responsibility of the illustrator to reinvent the genre of fashion illustration with energy and concept to seduce the eye and capture the attention of a new audience.

Pair-Suits DG: During a discussion earlier this year between Imran Amed from The Business of Fashion and Nick Knight for BoB’s series Fashion Pioneers, Nick declared, “I think photography is dead” upon reflection of the notion that as a medium it can’t evolve. He also downplayed the importance of the printed medium and claimed that ‘fashion will be shaped by the internet’, an idea which was supported by the massive public response to McQueen’s live streamed Plato’s Atlantis in 2009.

As an artist who also documents fashion and the curator of the January's exhibition Fashion Illustration: Visual Poetry, do you see a unified movement amongst fashion illustrators toward the use of specific technologies to create both the art and the means of access? How does the concept of evolution apply to the classic art form of fashion illustration, and it is imperative that the genre evolve in order to be influential in shaping fashion?

BD: All art has to evolve, high, low, commercial or fine and Fashion Illustration is no exception. Technology nurtures that evolution by providing a creative arena for exploring possibilities beyond our imagination.

We are witnessing Video, Animation, Drawing Painting, Photography, Performance and Music accompanies one another and move beyond the printed page. That’s entertainment!!!

However, I am a firm believer that your digital skills are only as effective as your traditional skills. Those with a foundation in drawing painting, composition and theory will have a competitive edge over those who to rely on the digital technology to make their work.

Anyone can scan a photo-distort-posterize and process it through a filter. But what makes it unique? Does technique dictate the work or do we dictate the technique to communicate and enhance our vision? Intuition is idiosyncratic and has as yet to be incorporated into digital technology.

Social networking has changed the landscape of how work is seen, perceived and promoted, unimaginable a decade ago.



DG: There seems to be an element of critics who dismiss beauty at its most simple and pure as fluff, as if meaningful expression can only be found in the edgy, hard, damaged, or ugly. How would you respond to that? 

BD: Work that is from the soul whether it is dark or light should never be dismissed.

My personal work is dark and my fashion work is light. It took me a long time to calibrate the two and realize that one does not invalidate or surpass the other.

Thank you, Bil. It was an honour.

Fullscreen capture 15032011 103033

RRspg-3sm For Chado Ralph Rucci, New York Fashion Week, September 2010


  VanityFair_Italia2011 For Vanity Fair Italia, 2011


For more about Bil Donovan visit his website, and if you're in New York you have a unique opportunity to see him work live:


All illustrations © Bil Donovan

May 20, 2009

Dior Gets an In-House Artist



Wendy Tabac, author of the book Chic in Paris and her blog of the same name, recently had Bil Donovan, Dior Beauty's first Artist-in-Residence, interviewed for the site by French fashion journalist Charlotte Wiedemann. Donovan talks about his love for Paris and what drives his work in fashion, presented with a smattering of his gorgeous illustrations. Can you tell which is my favourite?

You can read the interview here


PORTER Magazine issue 5 now available at NET-A-PORTER.COM

Cupcake Monday!

Interiors & Exteriors

Floral Friday

London Fashion Week

Fashion Illustrator Series

Artist Series

Paris & Cities

Painted Houses Project

Colour Colour 



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