Teen Queens by Pippa McManus
The other weekend I met up with Perth fashion illustrator Pippa McManus at the Swan Brewery to speak about her new exhibition 'Teen Queens'. Sipping Prosecco, her husband's jazz band playing in the background, and the view across the Swan River; it was the ideal setting to find out more about her work.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and your background? How did your inclination with drawing begin?
I have been fashion illustrating professionally for over 10 years now. I knew since I was about 14 years old that I wanted to do something in fashion. My mum worked in lingerie for thirty years and I was dragged to fashion parades since I was little, I've always loved it. Later on, I studied fine arts for two years and then I transferred into Fashion and Textile Design at TAFE. It was there that I focused on fashion illustration specifically.
What defines your artistic style? What are your “trademarks”?
[I draw] slimmer, warped figures, which has been traditional of fashion illustration since the 1940’s, when they were still drawing the Vogue covers. I tend to draw a black and white girl, not defining the skin colour or ethnicity. Everything else is colour, I bring the garments to life through colour.
I have copped a bit of flack for skinny girls and the fact that they are not specifically black or Asian. I do draw off these girls [models from different backgrounds] but I mix them together, eyes from someone and a nose from someone else, that they end up being non-definable. New York Fashion Week, with Aurelio Costarella in 2008, was the first time I experienced international models, they were out of this world. Their body shapes are so weird, I’m fascinated by them.
Aside from drawing, what other creative things are you interested in?
I love craft, as daggy as that is. I love making friendship bands and sewing little bags. My favourite store in the whole wide world is the Reject Store. [My husband] Chris jokes that for Christmas he’ll buy me $100 voucher from the $2 Shop, and I think that would be amazing! I love hand stitching and embroidery and doing that at night while relaxing is pure happiness.
What time of day is your best work created? Are you a morning person or a night owl?
I work best around lunchtime. I [check my] emails in the morning. Then around 10:30am I’ll bring the rabbits into the studio to keep me company and start working. I’ll have a quick break for lunch, which is usually in front of Dr Phil, or something terrible like that so I can switch off, and then go back in [to my studio] and hit it again until 5pm. Sometimes it’s straight painting, with maybe a few stops to update Instagram or social media things.
Can you tell me about your process? How do you create such beautiful work?
It all begins with finding a theme. I pick out the images I love from editorials, art, ancient jewellery and pin them onto a secret board on Pinterest. I sketch off seven to ten different sketches. I combine elements from everywhere, whether it’s a backstage girl shot, clothing, colour, or a single feature from a girl. There are usually three times the amount of sketches to finished pieces, which is just like fashion design.
Once I’ve worked out the composition and it’s how I like it, I use Abode Illustrator to figure out which size [canvas] is best for which sketch. Then I draw it onto the full sized canvas in charcoal.
Next I paint with acrylic and charcoal. At the last minute I go in using pastels and paint pens. [Once that’s done] I sign it and take it out the back to spray paint and seal it. I use speckled white and gold and a bit of red appears in this [exhibition] as well. I use the spray paint to make it textured and give it depth, otherwise the painting is too flat. The spray paint has a touch of gloss which adds dimension. Only the owner will appreciate these layers. If you’re the one to buy it and it lives in your home, these details are something special just for you.
Tell us about your new project 'Teen Queens' you have just completed.
‘Teen Queens’ is about a worldly queen. She's young and spiritual. I tried to steer clear of religious things like crosses and things like that but I find religion so fascinating. [As I painted] she turned from this spiritual, iconography girl into an occult figure. Sacred hearts and tarot began to seep into the paintings, I'm obsessed with tarot at the moment. My work usually centres on what I’m interested in and obsessed with. Luckily Gilmore Girls hasn’t crept in, maybe someday I’ll have an exhibition on that!
'Teen Queens' took me four months to finish. It is my first collection where I have had no outside influence. It was freeing to be able to do what I want but I always have to think about my customers. I know they love my girls with flowers in their hair, pretty sells well. The edgier pieces are harder to sell. However they do eventually go to a home that really suits them.
So what’s on your radar after this exhibition?
This is when I go into craft territory. After I’m done with an exhibition, I just want to chill. I will do a bit of sketching and life drawing classes to keep my skills up. I’m going to have a few weeks break and then I’m going to start [working on] prints. I’m realising the demand for prints. Everyone wanted them off the commissioned pieces I was doing. But I don’t believe that a piece that someone has ordered with specific requests should live in anyone else’s home but their own. It should be unique to the owner. I’m going to create six pieces that I will make into prints and of course I’ll sell off the originals as well.
As for future exhibitions, I always get ideas for my next exhibition before I’m finished with the current one.... so stay tuned.
She’s no princess, she’s a queen. Thrown onto the throne earlier than expected, she’s worldly, devoted and spiritual. But she has a darker side that encourages her to run with wolves, gaze at the stars and practice the occult. Both medieval and modern, she is a contradiction as all iconic women are. The Teen Queen reigns with a kind regality over her subjects who are spellbound by her beauty. - Teen Queens by Pippa McManus
After this interview took place, I was lucky enough to snap up a painting from this exhibition, 'Roses and Rosary'. She is now hanging in my living room and she looks beautiful.
Photographed by Jarrad Seng
Styled by Clare Ryan