I first met Don Oehl, THE New York fashion Illustrator, back in 2008. He was (and still is) very shy and demure. Not one to flash or talk about himself, unless asked. I got to know him much better when I moved to New York in 2010. I became increasingly obsessed with his illustrations and even purchased a few, one of which is still displayed at the agency where I used to work! Just like New York city, fashion capital of the world, Don Oehl’s art is a combination of sassiness, fantasy and beauty. Don Oehl takes fashion icons and themes and beautifully translates them into bold and graphic illustrations. His keen aesthetics and eye got him to work with the biggest and sought after names in the industry. (Vogue, Chanel, Seventeen, W magazines to name a few)
This past August, he sketched one illustration a day in honor of the Rio Olympics. What a genius idea to combine the most idolized and watched event in the world with the dream-filled fashion industry?
WHO IS DON OEHL?
Did you study fashion illustration? Did you always know that this is what you wanted to do?
I did not always know what I wanted to do. Initially I studied to become a modern dancer in Chicago. I very quickly realized that I would not be able to sustain myself as a dancer for a living.
I knew I needed to be creative so I then enrolled in elective drawing and graphic design classes and compiled a portfolio together and applied to the Fashion Illustration program at FIT in New York City in 1995, and I have lived in New York City ever since.
How long have you been doing this?
In 2017, it will be 20 years. I have read it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery in a field. I believe in practice and point of reference.
When did you start to be interested in fashion?
I have five sisters so I played dress up as a kid and I was the boy on the neighbourhood block who liked to play with dolls. I guess I really became interested in fashion in the 80’s in High School when fashion, music and popular culture all came together with the advent of MTV. I went out to dance clubs every weekend and immersed myself in the musical culture of that time. All of it was an opportunity to get “dressed”.
Could you tell us a little bit about your creative process? How long does it take to complete a drawing?
I keep my eyes open all the time, looking for nostalgic, unusual and aesthetic inspiration. I then get an idea of a concept in my head and from there I draw and translate on the computer. If the idea is there it takes me not long at all to produce a drawing, if I am challenged by the concept it takes me longer.
How has the process changed in the past few years with the advent of digital? Is it better? Easier?
I have always worked digitally. It’s faster and easier to send and make available for today’s digital market.
Who do you dream of meeting and making an illustration of?
Tilda Swinton, Madonna and Grace Jones or all three together!
Do you have any ICONS?
What or who motivates, inspires and influences you?
Artist friends of mine like Maripol, Robert W. Richards and Jody Morlock. It’s mind-blowing how dedicated they are to their art and they’re constantly creative. I am also inspired by anyone who has a strong personal style. They are easy to spot on the streets of New York City.
If you weren’t able to do what you do now, what would you do?
I would be either a therapist, an interior designer or a florist. Choices are simpler to make when you don’t have to make one.
What’s a typical week like for you?
I work at Conde Nast for half the week and I do illustration work the other half. No week is ordinary. Life seems to creep in through the remaining cracks and there is never enough time to do it ALL.
Can you share one of your most difficult times in this business and what kept you going?
I had a very difficult year in 2009 when there were no jobs at all because of the recession/market crash. I also lost my father during that time which was a very low point. What kept me going was my father’s work ethic and creative spirit leading me to do my best.
Tell me about this Olympics project
The project is not actually FOR the Olympics. It’s my version of the Olympics celebrated through my lens, it will be 100% original content without commodity. That being said, I am going to hold off saying anything because it’s a visual journey to be experienced. (see for yourself)
Your favourite spots in NY (restaurants, bars, shopping, beauty)
Generally, I like to visit museums and watch films and go to art shows in New York. NYC is unparalleled to any other city in the US for that. I like the Metropolitan Museum costume exhibits and the MOMA. I live and work in SoHo, so shopping is everywhere there. My favorite restaurant is DBGB at the Bowery. I also love Bread on the Lower East Side. There are so many places here that you cannot go wrong. And my favorite beauty spot is the Aveda store on West Broadway, in SoHo – awesome products, and you can get a haircut there too!
I am working on a hard cover art book of my work as well as making new images and prints.
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