She’s one of the finest fashion illustrators right now: Sella Molenaar (27) definitely knows how to draw. When she moved to Amsterdam three years ago, her rent was towering high: ten times more than she was used to. As Sella didn’t want to work in a bar, she decided to sell illustrations on weekend markets and festivals instead.
That became quite a success. Sella: “I drew visitors on the spot and they could pay me whatever they felt like. I was still doing my Masters back then and had the best summer of my life.”
How did that develop?
Sella: “I met a lot of people that I still work with or who became friends over the years. Because I put my work out there and was doing something nobody did back then, soon companies started paying attention and offering me illustration jobs! It was actually H&M who was my first serious client and advised me to get a KVK number (– The Chamber of Commerce, that is). This story always makes me smile because it shows the fun and ‘go with the flow’ attitude that is still very important for me now. I had the privilege to turn my hobby into my profession but never want to lose the joy or fun in drawing. Now it gives me all the freedom I need, but if Illustration ever will become a struggle or if it will start to feel like ‘work’, that will be the end for me. Drawing is too important for me personally to do with reluctance.”
Did you always dream of becoming a fashion illustrator?
Sella: “No never! Haha. I always dreamt of being a fashion designer. But after starting my studies at the Antwerp Academy I soon found out is was one big disillusion and it just wasn’t for me. I didn’t love designing and making clothes, I just loved drawing them. After that is just became a hobby and something I did on the side till things started moving. I always say I became an illustrator by accident.”
How do people recognize an illustration is a real Sella Molenaar?
Sella: “My loose and sketchy lines are my signature. I like to work spontaneously and let the materials do their magic. That’s why I love to work with inks and watercolors; I just let them flow and see what comes out. I see beauty in imperfections and think the little accidents, white spaces or raw lines are actually the things that make the illustration come alive. I’d like to tell lots with less so only draw the essence. That’s the reason why I usually only draw one eye. Someone once asked me at an event to draw the other one as well. I answered that if I did that, I had to erase my signature from the paper. Haha!”
The best part of working in this part of the fashion industry?
Sella: “Fashion has always inspired me but the fashion world can also be quite hard and shallow. I love being the observer; being part of it but from a sideline only taking what’s inspires me and leaving the rest of the circus for what it is. ”
A piece you’re very proud of?
Sella: “One of my illustration teachers once told me that it’s way harder to draw something in a few lines than it is to academically copy your subject. The last one is a skill or trick, the first one is an art. I couldn’t agree more. Before illustration became my work I drew very academic, very precise. This shifted when I emerged myself in Japanese Sumi-E painting and started the see and experience this principle. The first Sumi-E paintings I made and later the first minimal works on paper are therefore very dear to me. I have both works framed in my home, next to an old academic drawing. This reminds me of what’s important to me in illustrations and also symbolizes my biggest artistic struggle between these two extremes.”
The hardest part of the job?
Sella: “Business-wise; working alone. I love what I do, but there’s only one person who can make my illustrations and that’s me. My business is so personal that nobody else can make my decisions or do my work for or with me. But sometimes I just miss colleagues or people to talk to about creative processes, goals or strategies etc. Nobody can really decide for you so there are times you’re just there by yourself in doubt with all these questions about what to do and how to do it. Luckily I know a lot of other illustrators or people working in the creative industry who help me with this, but sometimes I just miss a partner in crime.”
Do you have a role model, illustrators you look up to?
Sella: “I do follow a lot of illustrators, I love to see how everybody works and is developing his/her style. It’s nice to see that illustration is gaining ground and how everybody has their own signature. I love the illustrations of Richard Haines a lot! He has this loose sketchy style and also draws a lot in public and at international fashion shows. Also, the mysterious work of Gill Button is a huge inspiration! What she did on the Dries van Noten invitations and in his shop windows in Antwerp is insane! That would be my dream job!”
Who would you love to draw someday?
Sella: “For me, it’s not about who I draw. I’m not interested in drawing portraits of celebrities or something, that actually sounds pretty boring to me. It’s always about an attitude, a form, a silhouette that inspires me. Could be someone on the streets, could be a model, could be anyone at that particular moment, wearing a certain outfit, looking a particular way. I always draw people but am not interested if my drawing is alike, if that happens it’s more of a coincident. I do have some muses, women who are powerful and elegant and make the most amazing pictures and silhouettes. Anna Cleveland is one of them for instance.”
Best career advice?
Sella: “Just DO it! You can have all the education and ambition in the world, but if you don’t actually start doing it you’ll come nowhere. I didn’t study to become an illustrator, I just did it. I strongly believe that you can do anything if you put your mind to it and learn by trial and error. And don’t forget to have a little fun doing it! Don’t take life too seriously, if this doesn’t work, something else will.”