Illustration • Inspiration Drawing Fashion

Illustrator Kasia Smoczynska draws the runway.

Kasia Smoczynska finds her inspiration on the catwalk.

At the launch of Givenchy’s 2019 Spring Collection in Paris, it was a technicolor gown that took her breath away. Created by British fashion designer Clare Waight Keller, the dress is a kaleidoscope of moving ribbons topped with an Elizabethan ruffle. To Smoczynska, it looked like “thousands of colorful fringes moving in every direction.”

“I had to draw it,” she says.

A few days later, Smoczynska was back in Leeds, England, where she lives and works. She dropped her iPad Pro onto an easel she had once purchased to make gouache paintings. (“I did maybe two paintings, and now I use it only for my iPad,” she admits.) Then, firing up Adobe Fresco, Smoczynska started to draw the gown with sweeping digital brushstrokes of yellows, blues, and reds. “I knew it would be fun to illustrate all those fringes,” she recalls.

The finished piece is typical of Smoczynska’s work: expressive, spontaneous, and charged with energy. “In my eyes it’s a look for a modern queen,” she says, explaining why her model sits atop a throne instead of marching down the catwalk.

As a freelance fashion illustrator, Smoczynska works for the Polish fashion brand Pozerki, and her editorial work has appeared in Glamour. She has also created wall decorations for the Mercedes Benz Fashion Weekend in Warsaw. Her Givenchy piece was one of many self-initiated projects inspired by the runway. That creative freedom allowed Smoczynska to sell prints.

“It looks great framed,” she says.

An Eye for Fashion

The catwalks of Paris are a far cry from Drezdenko (pop. 10,000), the Polish town where Smoczynska grew up. As a child she was rarely seen without a pencil or crayon in her hand. “We had drawing classes for kids every weekend,” she recalls. As a teenager, Smoczynska developed an eye for fashion. Poring over fashion magazines, she began to notice the work of Prada, Alexander McQueen, and Marc Jacobs. She began to dream of a career as a fashion illustrator. “I credit my parents for never rolling their eyes at my art mission,” she adds.

While studying for a master’s degree in graphic design at Poland’s University of Fine Arts in Poznań, Smoczynska took a fashion illustration workshop at the city’s Art & Fashion Festival. The instructor, Polish painter Tomek Sadurski, encouraged her to follow her fashion dreams, and Smoczynska won first prize: A summer of fashion illustration classes at London’s Central Saint Martins art college.

Her personal style developed. She devoured the work of Tony Viramontes, Kenneth Paul Block, and Rene Gruau. At 21, Smoczynska opened her own studio, Kosh, while juggling full-time jobs and freelance commissions. Then, in 2019, she moved to England to live with her partner, who is from Yorkshire. “Leeds is great!” she says. “It has everything we need from the big city and it’s surrounded by the beautiful countryside.” But homes in England are smaller than in Poland, she says. “Carpets everywhere!” she complains—a challenge for an illustrator who loves to make a mess.

Old-School Techniques

“I love non-digital tools,” Smoczynska says. “I like mixing ink with watercolors, markers, crayons, everything. Art shops are like candy shops for me, I never leave empty-handed. When I feel like having fun, or I’m warming up to draw, I grab ink, paper, and scissors and make some mess.” But Smoczynska is also comfortable in front of a screen: “Fresco is my main drawing program at the moment. Even when I need to use a computer, I start with Fresco and just export the files to tweak them on a big screen later.”

Smoczynska was a loyal user of Adobe Photoshop Sketch until she discovered Fresco, she says. “I never looked back.” Soon she found herself reaching for her iPad over her computer. Her trusty ten-year-old Wacom tablet lay unused. “I like how similar Fresco is to Photoshop. The truth is I hate getting used to new workspaces. And I can have all my favorite brushes there.”

With Fresco, Smoczynska creates bold collages and sketches that capture the energy and movement of the runway. “I don’t like having my work ‘overdone,’” she explains. “I’d rather erase than add elements. I like using bold, flat shapes and going from there, whether I’m working on digital or paper.”


You can download Kasia’s favorite brushes for free.

“I use Gouache Supreme, HB Pencil Pro, and Brayer Boss Paint Over 2, they are all from Megapack by Kyle Webster," she says. “I also recommend Watercolor wash soft in the Fresco. app I usually use two main, big brushes, and the pencil ones for the details.”

The Urge to Draw

Smoczynska still buries herself in fashion magazines and books. “I browse pictures from fashion shows, photoshoots, and archival magazines,” she says. Due to the recent coronavirus pandemic, Vogue Italia opened their archives for free for three months, she says. “It was my dream come true. Vogue Italia is my favorite Vogue edition. I really enjoyed browsing the old issues, especially from the ’60s, and finding inspirations to illustrate.”

Whether it’s a 60-year-old magazine clipping or next season’s fashions gliding down a runway, Smoczynska is constantly waiting for something to ‘speak’ to her. “It’s hard to describe, but the idea just comes as an urge to draw. Sometimes I see the shape I would start with, or the colors I can use. Then I start with a sketch and build. I love working on layers; I can always try something, and hide it. This is the main advantage of digital drawing for me. I have almost everything on separate layers,” she says.

“When I work with a model it’s more spontaneous and I usually use analog techniques,” Smoczynska says. Sometimes she experiments by drawing with her other hand, downloading different brushes, or other techniques designed to relax her mind.

“I like to just draw how I feel, without overthinking.”

Smoczynska is planning to illustrate a children’s book with her partner. A mural beckons. She regularly draws a comic featuring a sausage dog named Janusz. But fashion remains her focus. Her ambition is to create art for Vogue, and Gucci. Smoczynska’s self-initiated projects are like a shop window display, designed to attract the attention of the giants of European fashion.

There is a Polish idiom, she says: “They won’t find you under the stone.”

See more of Kasia’s work at Instagram, Behance, and her portfolio.

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