Here we Interview Naomi Austin working as a lecturer at Cleveland College of Art and Design, she also continues to work on fashion illustration projects as a freelancer. In the interview we talked to Naomi about her freelance work, her illustrative style, former and current CCAD students, her future ambitions & more.
“I would describe my work as beautiful, realistic images with an element of magic to them! I’m a bit of a perfectionist.” – Naomi Austin
Who is Naomi Austin?
I’m originally from Newcastle upon Tyne (although lacking in the Geordie accent!) and I decided I wanted to study fashion from a young age. I remember designing wedding dresses for my school friends when I was 12; I just never imagined doing anything else but fashion!
After studying at Newcastle College, the University of Creative Arts in Epsom and graduating from Northumbria University with a BA (hons) in Fashion Marketing in 1996, I went on to work as a successful men’s and boy’s sportswear designer for high profile companies including Reebok, Hi-Tec, Matalan, Umbro & Marks and Spencer.
Since 2004 I have worked as a lecturer on the Extended Diploma in Fashion and Clothing at Cleveland College of Art and Design. I teach design, illustration, marketing, promotion and drawing as well as the Adobe Creative Suite. I have continued to do freelance work and commissions for a variety of different clients away from the ‘day job’ and have had my work published in a number of books on fashion illustration including ‘Big Book of Fashion Illustration’ by Martin Dawber, ‘Fashion Artist’ and ‘Fashion Entrepreneur’ by Sandra Burke. I have recently started to do illustrations for current online fashion blogs such as ‘Style and Then Some’ and ‘Fashion Capital’
After living all over the UK and abroad I’m now based in Gateshead, back in the North East where I love. There’s nowhere quite like home!
How would you describe your illustrative style?
I would describe my work as beautiful, realistic images with an element of magic to them! I’m a bit of a perfectionist and love drawing faces but if I’m not happy with the eyes I have to start again!
I love using the Adobe packages, especially Illustrator as I think you can transform a relatively boring image into something quite special. However, you can’t beat traditional hand drawing and I’m at my happiest doing this! I even have a favourite pencil – the Staedtler Mars Lumograph 8B – as it just gives the most gorgeous tone! (I wonder if Staedtler will give me some freebies for that free plug!?) If a pencil is put into my hand I just can’t help but draw! I have been known to deface a few restaurant menus!
Is traditional hand drawing a dying art for the detriment of the creative industries do you think?
When I was at college I was obsessed with the work of the late George Stavrinos. I always thought his drawings were beautiful & I aspired to be like him. I think traditional hand drawing definitely began to die a death in the late 90’s as computer programmes became so much more advanced. However, I think a lot of illustrators/designers can hide behind the facade of a computer and it doesn’t always show the true skill of being able to draw.
Jason Brooks is one of my favourite illustrators who can use CAD, however, if you look at his hand drawings and sketchbook, he clearly has a skill other than being a genius on Illustrator/Photoshop. I’ve seen some illustrations which have just been copied directly from something else. Not everyone who can use Illustrator or Photoshop can draw. Recently though, we’re starting to see traditional methods come back to the fore and illustrators such as Lovisa Burfitt and Amelie Hegardt create the most beautiful images using traditional methods. The true genius of traditional fashion illustration in my eyes though is David Downton. He is proof that someone who has been in the industry for years can stay current. His drawings for Marks and Spencers were amazing. I just don’t know how he can paint like that! Technology will always help us illustrators to experiment with new methods but I think there will always be a market for traditional artwork!
You’ve worked for some big companies (Reebok, Umbro, Asics, Hi-Tec & M&S. to name a few) what were some of your favourite projects working there?
I loved working for every one of those companies as they all had their unique identity, however, I think Umbro was my favourite place to work as the team I was on were fantastic with a great sense of humour.
My favourite projects were probably for JJB Sports and SportsSoccer as I had quite a free reign on the graphics I produced and most stuff I designed was for youth ranges so I could be a little bit more creative! We were based in Cheadle in Cheshire and I can’t say it was easy being the only Newcastle United fan in a studio full of Manchester United fans but the heated discussions were amusing at times!
What specific projects were the most rewarding for you in industry & which have been the most successful for you?
As a designer I think I found the work I did for Umbro the most rewarding. It was always my plan from being at University, to become a sportswear designer so to see my designs in store for the first time was an incredible feeling but to be honest, my first love will always be fashion illustration so I’ve been extremely proud to have my work featured in a number of worldwide publications. It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been in this industry, I still get that little flutter of excitement when I see any of my work published or recognised. It’s just an added bonus for something I love doing!
What remaining career ambitions do you still hold?
I’m certainly not the sort of person to rest on my laurels and I still have big dreams! I’d love to be able to go onto teaching at a top University and to be able to help prepare students for the fashion industry!
I’m hoping to undertake an MA in Fashion Illustration in the next year or so as I’m a bit of a geek and love studying – I just soak up information like a sponge. I’m constantly wanting to know more! I’d also really like to do my own book on fashion illustration but specifically focusing on CAD technical drawings as I still think there’s a gap in the market for a book like this! My students can never find decent technically drawn templates!
Currently you also lecture in Fashion at CCAD, what made you give back in teaching?
It was never a planned decision to go into teaching! I was actually made redundant and although the plan was to go back to Manchester to get another job in design, a couple of my designer friends noticed a job advert in Drapers Record for a lecturer at CCAD. They knew I was keen to stay in the North East but they also thought I would be the perfect teacher because I’m so enthusiastic about what I do.
My first day of teaching a class of 40 16-18yr olds was terrifying. But 9 years later I can’t imagine doing anything else! To see the students develop and grow, not just in their creative ability but as individuals, is something you just can’t beat! I get very emotional every June when they graduate! I’m very protective of them! It’s like having 65 children!!
What have been your biggest successes whilst working at Cleveland College of Art and Design?
I think the biggest achievement I’ve experienced in the 9 years I’ve been working at CCAD is the success we’ve had in national competitions! In 2008 three of our students won the Gold Award in the WorldSkills UK fashion competition in which they had to design and make an ethically sourced dress. The winners included Claire Barrow who has gone on to become extremely successful after graduating from Westminster Uni last year.
We have also done amazingly well in the Clothes Show Designer of the Year awards recently with Charlotte Wood winning the award in 2011 after beating 50,000 other entrants. Sarah Gaw was shortlisted in 2012. I don’t think a lot of people realise that these students have not even started their degrees and most of them have yet to turn 18! The standards that we expect on the course are high but it obviously works as they’re beating second and third year degree students!
Which students/graduates should we be watching out for?
I think the most obvious ‘one to watch’ is Claire Barrow. She graduated from CCAD in 2008 before embarking on a degree in Fashion at Westminster University. She began to design and make her own hand painted jackets which caught the eye of Rihanna. She now has her own label and was featured at London Fashion Week in September 2013. Ashley Robinson is another one to watch. He’s set up his own label with a friend after graduating with a BA Hons in Fashion Technology: Menswear from London College of Fashion in June 2013.
To be honest, I’m proud of all my graduates & love to hear how they’re doing long after they leave us!
Who are your favourite people to follow on twitter?
I’m one of those fairweather twitter users and can go weeks without logging on but when I do it’s like a twitter flurry! I love following a guy called @MooseAllain as his tweets are very funny; I love a bit of sarcastic humour! I also love @CherylKerl and @HRH_TheQueen for the same reason! I defy anyone not to laugh at what they tweet!
On the other side I’m a bit obsessed with anything educational and follow all the updates on FE and HE developments! Like I said, I’m a bit of a geek!
Away from working how do you like to spend your time?
I’m a bit of a social butterfly and love getting together with my friends and family! I still adore my nights out, putting on the glitter and heels and pretending I’m Beyonce on the dance floor! I love travelling as well although I still have to see a lot more of the World! Recently I’ve been to Berlin & I’m off to Andorra skiing at New Year! I think it’s really important to keep active!
But more than anything, I love spending time on the Isle of Arran in Scotland! My parents and my Aunt and Uncle both have houses there and it’s my favourite place to go and just chill! You can forget about everything once you’re on Arran. It’s the most beautiful Island in the World and it’s right on our doorstep!!
How did you enjoy Berlin, Is it the creative hub people say?
I’d always wanted to go to Berlin and went with a colleague from work. We stayed in an apartment in the Mitte district and I fell in love with the atmosphere of the place. It’s a lot bigger than I expected and I have to admit I preferred the quiet backstreets to the main centre which was very touristy but I was taken aback by the individuality and quirkiness of the locals. From the bars to tiny independent shops down back alleys, there was so much diversity. I loved the flea market in Mauerpark & could quite have easily spent hours there. In fact I think I did!
I loved the graffiti on the walls of houses, random sketches here and there which reminded me of Paris, although I think the Berlin graffiti is more colourful! You can understand why a lot of creative people choose to make it their home. Although it’s a huge city is also felt very intimate and people were very friendly. I found it a lot more welcoming than London!