Fashion forward: Q&A with illustrator Julie McGrath

Julie McGrath has been an illustrator ever since she could hold a pencil, but she said she only started to consider herself a true illustrator in the last few years.

"That is when I found my groove and style," she said.

Style being the key word.

One of the ways McGrath sets herself apart from other illustrators is her love of fashion. Follow her on Instagram @drawpaintdesign and you'll find drawings of all the latest pieces from high fashion designers such as Versace, Dior, Yves Saint Laurent or Chanel — to name a few.

In between her art, motherhood and teaching (she teaches art history and history of design), the Savannah College of Art and Design alumna took time to chat with GOTR Jennie McKeon.

Q: Tell me about your process. What inspires you to pick up your paper and pens?

A: That is something that has certainly changed over time. Before it was always something I saw — a dress, a look or something that made me feel really and truly inspired. When life gets busy, you sort of miss those moments and then your craft can suffer a bit. Now I make it a point to draw something every day. It has becoming oddly meditative in a way, so I make it a priority in my day.

Alexander McQueen illustration by Julie McGrath

Q: You're a lover of high fashion. When did that start? Who are some of your favorite designers?

A: In high school and college is when I really got into the fashion world. Vogue became much more about the artistic concepts and less about the models and the consumer side of things. I started to understand it as more of a form of art. Alexander McQueen had a pretty major influence in that understanding.

Q: Fashion is sometimes accused of not being an inclusive space — judging by decades of magazine covers, which predominantly featured thin, white women. What do you think about the criticisms? I think the culture is changing after some major pushback.

A: That was absolutely the case for a while. That is part of the humor of my work. I tend to exaggerate the thin, long, lanky qualities.

The culture is changing. We did see models like Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks help to change that perception. I think in today’s world we have much more diversity in race and body type. There are models now like Ashley Graham and Candice Huffine that have changed the game. Those two specifically blow me away with every show they do. Above all, they have this incredible sense of confidence that is much more contagious than any other models I have seen, not to mention they are absolutely stunning.

Q: On the flip side, how does fashion contribute to feminist culture? We're seeing feminist slogans on T-shirts in big box stores. Not to mention, it's also a multi-billion dollar industry dominated by female consumers.

A: Fashion is changing the feminist landscape by giving graphics to the voice we are starting to hear more loudly. Feminism had this stereotype of having a specific look, and I think we are seeing that is not the case. You can be glamorous, fashionable and make a statement. You can stand up for your rights all day with the slogan across your shirt. You do not have to be at a protest or a march to make your beliefs clear. Now, you can wear your voice all day for everyone to see. I think this added an edge to the fashion industry. In a female-dominant industry it is the perfect platform to make a statement, create a louder voice and to make it abundantly clear what we stand for.

Dior illustration by Julie McGrath

Q: As a fashion illustrator, who is your favorite designer to draw? How do you put your own spin on the drawings?

A: Honestly, that depends on the season. There are some designers that, no matter what, will grab me like Dior, Giambattista Valli, Gucci, YSL … I could go on for days. I will say, I am loving what Maria Grazia Chiuri is doing with Dior. I loved what Galliano and Raf did with it, too, but she is giving it such a twist with the silhouette. Feminine and masculine flair. It is pretty incredible. Gucci is always fun to draw.

I make it my own by constantly reminding myself that this is my work. In college, when I took some more fine art focused classes, the point was to draw what you see. I had a hard time shaking that idea, and it haunted me in a lot of my illustration classes and then earlier in my career. Then, at one point it hit me, this drawing is mine; I can do what I want. So, when I deter from the original designs and give a twist on the human form I remind myself it is my work for me. I can do whatever I want.

Q: What has been your favorite illustration to-date? What does it mean to you?

A: I cannot narrow it down. There are too many I love. Several of my Dior illustrations I love simply because of the attitude and the clothes. Of course the “We Should All Be Feminists” illustration is a big favorite for what it means and also for the reaction I see over and over again from clients. I have others I love because of how people have responded to them. Some of my illustrations have made people feel empowered while dealing with stuff in their life, given them a good laugh or reminded them of a friend or family member.

The first real, true fashion illustration I ever did will always have my heart. It was of three models in Giambattista Valli gowns. I refused to sell the original for years and until I found the right owner. I am still in contact with the owner and he still sends me pictures to help my separation anxiety.

Q: You also create art outside of fashion illustration. Can you describe some of that work?

A: Some graphic design work typically with a black and white focus. Illustration work that is very "Alice in Wonderland" meets Dr. Seuss. Also, some abstract painting that is solely based on emotion. Typically Wonderlandian-Seuss though.

Q: So many of us have a side hustle of sorts. How do you divide your time between your commissions and the art you create for yourself?

A: It's pretty damn hard I have to say. I am bad with time management. I always have been. It is work and dedication. If you want something, you are the only person who can make that happen. I want to be a fashion illustrator. No one is going to do that for me so I have to make it work. By making it work, I have to prioritize commissions. I can draw for myself for the rest of my life, but it won’t get me anywhere. Commissions are priority always. If you want to make it happen, you have to prioritize what is important.

Q: What is your advice to graphic designers still in school or recently graduated? How can they break in to the business without being a starving artist?

A: Even if it feels like you are going nowhere, just keep working. If you stop, it will all stop. If you are constantly working and trying, something has to happen, right? Right!

Also, be realistic. You are not “above” any job if you are just starting out. You might love design and want to be a major designer, but you might have to do the boring work first, and that’s life. You are not entitled to that incredible dream position just because you got your degree. The person who had it before you had to work to get there and you will, too.

W Magazine illustration by Julie McGrath

Q: In recent years you've started showing your work in galleries. What does that feel like to see your work hanging on a gallery wall, or when someone purchases a print?

A: It still feels awkward, and I still feel like, “Really?” I am my biggest critic. I will always be. I love doing what I do. I love some of my pieces, but I will still always have a criticism.

Q: Showing your work means you're also putting your work out there to be judged. What advice do you have about handling criticism?

A: It’s part of life. I had a professor once who made our illustration class mostly about the critique and feedback. She taught us, it’s learning; it’s not personal. It’s part of life. If you look at it that way, it hurts less. Also, no one will criticize my work more than me, so that makes it easier.

Q: What is the most gratifying part of the creative process?

A: All of it. Start to finish and everything in between. It is freeing, fun and takes me out of the constant go go go of everyday.

Follow Julie on Instragram @drawpaintdesign. To see more of her work, visit