A Q&A with Fashion Illustrator Joanna Layla

From working with brands to her brand-new course.


  • Learning

Find out more about Joanna Layla's work as a professional fashion illustrator. Check our What's on page, subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Twitter and Instagram @illustrationHQ to find out when Joanna is next teaching at House of Illustration.

Tell us about your work as an illustrator.

I work as a fashion illustrator, with brands, magazines and at fashion weeks. I work to briefs set by art directors and fashion editors to create fashion imagery for advertising, print or exhibition.

It’s such an exciting discipline and no two weeks are the same. I mostly work in the studio creating fashion illustration by hand, but I also get to work on site with brands or at shows.

What got you started illustrating fashion?

My fashion illustrations started gaining visibility, brands started commissioning me and fashion illustration grew into a full-time job.

I have always been passionate about the visual language of identity and how we express ourselves through clothing. Attempting to capture that on the page is what I love to do and I think that passion is what got me noticed.

Tell us about how you illustrate fashion.

Working as a fashion illustrator, I am normally working with an art director, fashion editor or brand to realise a series of fashion images. We will work with a mood board, visual references or collection to inspire a series of illustrations.

An art director will approach me for my style of illustration and the commission will be a visual dialogue between a brand’s vision and my style. I really enjoy this dialogue and working with a creative team.

To start illustrating, I find inspiration everywhere – a look, posture, or gesture on the street or in a magazine. It can be something small that sparks an idea for a composition to best showcase a garment or accessory.

I work fast initially with big brushes to get the main shapes down on paper and let the ideas flow. I then refine and edit my ideas to arrive at the final illustration.

If I am working live at a fashion show, it’s looser shapes and abstractions that form the final illustration.

What are some of the most satisfying projects you have worked on?

I absolutely loved creating a series of fashion images for ELV Denim, a London-based sustainable denim brand, documenting their sustainable journey. Fashion exists in a context – environmental, human, cultural – and it’s really satisfying to work on illustrations that capture fashion in this broader perspective. I loved working with the founder Anna Foster – an amazing stylist and visionary – to visualise sustainability in the brand’s fashion aesthetic and it’s been lovely to see my work featured in their new atelier and new season mood-boards.

I have just created an 8-page fashion editorial spread for Overdue Magazine. It’s exciting working with an art director to craft a fashion story for print, featuring current collection pieces. I illustrated pieces by Giorgio Armani, Celine, The Row and Tod’s in a fashion story inspired by an iconic film. A dream job! There’s something so inspiring about seeing and holding your work in print.

In addition to work for brands and print, there is a magical aspect to illustrating fashion live. I have worked live many times including with Fida to document Alberta Ferretti’s AW21 collection. But perhaps the most exciting experience was to document the Fashion Scout programme at London Fashion Week. I love working fast with ink and big brushes – the results are looser and more abstract, but there is a joy in documenting a moment, a unique response to a collection in real time.

These three commissions reflect the diversity of fashion illustration: working with a brand, getting work in print, and working live from the runway.

How does your practice affect your teaching?

I teach from the perspective of a working fashion illustrator. I only teach a few courses as my work as a fashion illustrator is full-time, so it feels special when I teach. Running just a handful of classes in between working on fashion briefs means I can bring case-studies, advice and real-time perspectives from the industry to bear on my teaching. It also means I can bring some of the amazing people I have worked with in to provide extra insights. I hope this provides an exciting, experiential and inspiring learning experience!

Why did you create this new Illustrating Fashion course?

After teaching a few one-day masterclasses for House of Illustration, I’m really excited to be collaborating with them on their first four-week fashion illustration course. It’s a real pleasure and a privilege to share the discipline of fashion illustration at the UK’s home for illustration.

What makes this course different from other fashion illustration courses?

Many courses look at the skills needed for fashion illustration as a tool for fashion design whereas this course will be exploring fashion illustration as an expressive discipline in its own right.

My teaching is totally bound up with my practice as a working fashion illustrator, so students can expect real-life briefs, industry perspectives and professional demonstrations and exercises.

I’m also over the moon to be bringing some of my favourite fashion illustrators and art directors onto the course to share their wisdom and insider insights.

What can students expect from the online course?

Students will learn how to start building a fashion illustration portfolio, develop new skills and get tips from professionals working in key areas of fashion illustration. It’s going to be engaging, inspiring and fun!

What materials and methods do you like to use?

I like to work in media that is fast and responsive so I can quickly capture an expression, attitude, garment or look. Think ink, watercolour, pencil, and pastel.

This course will look at those materials and more, including charcoal, collage, and mark-making tools, as well as methods to beautifully render a fashion image such as shape, form, texture, silhouette, gesture and colour blocking.

Other fashion illustrators who specialise in particular image-making tools will share their own tips and expertise.

I can’t wait for students to start developing their own signature style through media and method as the course progresses.

Why should I book a place on Illustrating Fashion?

Through this course, you will learn exciting new approaches to image-making and get an insight into working in fashion and the worlds of print, advertising and runway.

I genuinely can’t wait to meet the students, to develop their work and facilitate their entry into the world of fashion illustration. It’s such an exciting discipline, where everyone brings something new to the table, and it’s truly a discipline that welcomes new voices. I hope yours will be one of them.

Check our What's on page, subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Twitter and Instagram @illustrationHQ to find out when Joanna is next teaching at House of Illustration.