An exclusive interview with the super talented self-taught fashion illustrator Zoljargal. She has been recognised by a host of fashion designers and has done very well for herself.
We get a sneak peak into the life of Zoljargal while getting some candid advice on the business of fashion illustration.
Who is Zoljargal?
I am a self-taught fashion illustrator and designer from Mongolia. I have been working and living in Utah for the past few years.
How did you start fashion illustration?
I started drawing women when I was 11. I always wanted to create a woman with Mona Lisa smile, exquisite posture, in an elegant couture dress and big accessories. I guess because when I was a kid, I saw this really gorgeous woman’s portrait in a magazine, her hair was covered with head accessories and she was wearing a long dress. From that moment I always pictured her in my head and she became my muse.
When did you start illustration?
I actively started pursuing fashion illustration 3 years ago. At that time, I was in school studying Marketing and I still am. I wasn’t drawing at that time; I was between school and part time jobs. I was quite unhappy with how my passion was becoming just a dream. Then I spoke to my dad and he said: “You’ve stopped living your life, you’ve stopped being passionate about what you love. Only dead fishes go with the flow.” That phrase hit me so hard. I started thinking about my life and decided to change myself. I promised myself I will draw every day and I will improve my skill every time I create a new art.
Are there any challenges you have faced in the business of fashion illustration?
There have been a few. I love challenging work as well as customers, it makes me learn and most importantly it helps me to improve my skills. My motto is: “No matter how hard the problem is: suck it up, look for a solution and make it work.”
Are there any milestones you are happy to share with us?
Not a big fan of bragging about myself *laughs*. Recently, my YouTube blog got selected as one of the Top 100 Fashion Illustration Blogs on the web.
What challenges do you think fashion illustrators face in the industry?
The problem with business of fashion illustration is there’s always an illustrator outside of U.S. who is willing to work for less. By less, I mean way less than minimum wage. No matter how good you are, there are some designers who want cheap labor.
Of course there is also the issue of art thieves. There have been a few incidents where people were selling my artwork without my permission outside of US. It happens not just to me but to other artists as well. It sucks. We artists, work so hard on every piece of art, and they get to sell and monetize our work without working hard.
Is there a clash between illustrators and photographers?
I haven’t clashed with any photographers, Thank God *laughs*. It depends on the work, I guess. If you are an illustrator and working with a photographer on a project, I would expect some artistic difference. When the artist makes reference to the fashion photo or project without giving any credit to the photographer, there’s going to be an ugly clash between the illustrator and photographer. If you know the photographer, always should give a proper credit.
Are there advantages illustrators have over photography?
I guess illustrators get to show more artistic sides over photography. There are tons of mediums we get to play with such as oil, watercolor, print, charcoal, salt and sugar, etc.
Do you think illustration and photography when brought together will be mind-blowing?
I love seeing photography mixed with illustration. It is so inspiring, artistic and mind blowing, something we artists always crave to see.
How does it feel when your work is recognized especially by celebrities?
I wouldn’t say I am recognized by celebrities. I am more recognized by designers. To be honest, it feels amazing to be recognized by my idol designers and getting followed back on Instagram. Their designs inspire me so much and knowing that my art inspires them is something that I am very proud of.
What techniques do you use in drawing?
I mix different art mediums with digital painting. I learned adobe illustrator and photoshop by myself 4 years ago. It was quite hard at first but with practice and hard work anything becomes possible. After learning how to work on adobe, I started mixing hand drawn sketch with digital painting and haven’t stopped since then.
What inspires you?
Haute Couture fashion shows and theatrical/movie costume designs. As well as Salvador Dali, Picasso, Klimt’s paintings.
Your drawings are quite artistic and creative. Are there times where you felt creatively blank?
It depends on my mood. I think we artists, are quite sensitive and emotional. We tend to create something beautiful whenever we are emotional. For me, I get super creative when I’m extremely sad or happy. And of course there are those days I get so sick of making art and feeling blank – it’s hard. Fortunately, that happens only once or twice a month.
Do fashion illustrators get paid to attend fashion shows and events?
Unfortunately very few of us get to be invited to fashion shows.
What’s a typical day in the life of Zoljargal?
My schedule is crazy. I go to school from Mon – Thursday. I work from Thursday night till Sunday. Saturday, Sundays start around 7 am with hot coffee and nice toast. I usually start working around 9 am and have a break around 2 pm and go back to work until 7pm. So yeah, long hours of sitting and drinking coffee. Around 9 pm I start working until 12 am. I love working late nights, I get very inspired(lol). I don’t know why… everyone is different I guess. I love keeping myself busy when I’m working. There were a few nights I didn’t sleep at all, just working. I wouldn’t say it’s healthy to stay late but it is what I do and I love it.
Are there illustrators you’ve collaborated with?
I collaborated with Utah based artist Sam Nelson few years ago. He works as both traditional and digital painter. We collaborated on one of my art and created a mix between dark fantasy/goth and fashion. It was very different for both of us and people loved it.
Do you have a standard fee you work with?
I wouldn’t go into any details here. But I do have a standard fee.
How did you gain the experience and knowledge you have in this field?
I have been fascinated with the fashion industry since I started drawing, that was in 2001. I loved it so much that whenever I get a break from school I would draw and draw. My parents start noticing and they were my biggest supporters ever since. At that time, I used to watch Fashion TV and they used to introduce designers and models and I would watch it 24/7 *laugh*. Back then in my country, fashion magazines were very few and were expensive too, so my parents couldn’t afford to buy many of it. So, I would go to the library or get 4 or 5 years old fashion magazines from my mom’s friends. I loved every single sheet of fashion magazines; everything was so fashionable and elegant. After coming to U.S in 2006, I started doing my own research on designers and models via the internet. I used to go to Barnes and Nobles and read tons of books about fashion history. I guess when things are limited; your passion makes you strive for more and motivates you. And when things are unlimited you get bored of it easily – it’s just from my observation and experience.
What’s your advice to upcoming illustrators on using social media to gain audience, exposure and potential clients?
I would say be different than other fashion illustrators; be adventurous and try to invent new drawing style or technique which is going to be your trademark. Try not to follow other artists same old background technique or artists like Edgar Artis’s technique – almost every new artist is imitating it; it is so boring and annoying to look at (no offense to Edgar Artis). Just be your own and be different. Designers and clients are always looking for an artist who has unique style, so be that one instead of copying others.
Do you see yourself as a mentor to other illustrators who are just starting?
I do give advice to new artists. I am a self-taught artist myself, so when I see an artist who is struggling to understand art mediums or papers, I always try to give helpful tips and tricks. I know how hard it can be not to have an art teacher or not to have anybody to guide you through difficult stages of art.
What’s your advice for illustrators just starting?
Believe in yourself. You must work hard and always improve your drawing skills. Never be lazy and copy other people’s idea or drawing style. Great artists once were amateurs, so never get intimidated by other people’s artwork. Hard work always pays off. Always be yourself, create your own unique drawing style and image. Lastly, ignore negative people’s comment.
What do you enjoy drawing the most?
I would say the process from rough sketch to painting.
What artists or people have inspired you?
When I was kid, I was obsessed with Salvador Dali and Gustav Klimt’s paintings; they were so surreal and romantic in some kind of way. Late 2000, fashion illustrators like Laura Laine, Connie Lim were my inspiration. Fashion photographers are my greatest influence as well, such as Zhang Jingna, Patrick Demarchelier, Annie Leibovitz, Steven Meisel and Tim Walker.
Music is an important part of painting too, in my opinion. I love instrumental, drum, melodic music. Artists like Ennio Morricone, Moby, Enigma, Rob Dougan are heavy influencers to my art.
Have you worked with any brands?
Most of my clients are all kinds of fashion brands and bloggers.
What’s it like working with brands?
I love my clients, they are innovative and I get to learn so much from them. They usually have super cool new ideas and I get to draw them on paper. Also, I enjoy the long chats between me and my clients, it is fun! All of them are quite passionate about what they do which is exciting.
How can illustrators get to work with brands on projects?
Nowadays, the effect of social media is powerful. I would say try to promote your art on social media as much as you can. Try to show different sides of your talent and don’t listen to any criticism. Be different, be original, be yourself and people will start noticing you.
What opportunities are there for illustrators in the fashion industry and beyond?
There are plenty of opportunities for artists in the fashion industry. Every day, new talented artists get featured on social media and that builds a competitive, big fashion illustration wave in the social world. Fashion designers and beauty brands are constantly looking for illustrators who are unique and talented. As long as you are dedicated and willing to work with artistic people there are always opportunities waiting for you.
Is working with agencies helpful for illustrators?
I’m guessing it is possible if you find the right agency and you know what you are doing. I work as my own so I can’t say anything else.
What do you do to relax?
I love walking and playing with my dog. He is a big German shepherd, who loves long walks and fetching balls. It clears my mind. I also love cooking and baking, it really relaxes me. I think doing something else besides art and fashion is healthy for my mind.
Who are your favourite fashion brands?
So many. For designers, I love John Galliano and Oscar De La Renta. I also adore Zuhair Murad, Elie Saab, Valentino Garavani, Tom Ford and Alexander McQueen. For brands, I love Rodarte, Dior, Gucci and YSL.
Do you have any mantra before starting a piece of art?
I noticed myself saying “Let’s do it” before any project. I usually listen to Ro Dougan’s ‘The Return orchestra’ or Axel Thesleff’s song called II.