Illustrating a Designer Life

Inside the visual closet of fashion sketch artist and social media maven Holly Nichols.

By Noelle Barbosa • Photography by Rosemary Tufankjian

Fashion illustrator Holly Nichols is known for her ability to reinterpret the couture runways of New York, Paris and Milan as whimsical works of art. Her original fashion sketches are laden with emotion and style and her Braintree art studio, H. Nichols Illustration, has an inner sanctum of all that’s ludic and lovey in the flourishing world of fashion illustration.

Inside her studio, whitewashed walls are illuminated by framed photography and canvas sketches. A slate colored area rug is arranged with twin leopard print chairs and a white table adorned with a gold sequin runner. A brass bar cart invites guests to soak up the scene with a chilled cocktail and the warm air is perfumed by spearmint and green tea. Her adjoining workshop is besieged by a bank of elongated windows where sunlight dances on a desktop and Nichols breathes new life into ordinary forms.

“Light was important when I was looking for studio space,” says Nichols.

A Quincy native who graduated from North Quincy High School in 2009, Nichols has been drawing her entire life. As a young girl, her parents enrolled her in private art lessons at Frantic Framers in Quincy. At just 25 years old, this rising social media superstar has amassed an impressive cortège of more than 200,000 followers on Instagram.

After earning a BFA in studio art from Endicott College in 2013, Nichols worked in a third grade classroom while accumulating a robust collection of original fashion sketches. One day, she decided to create an Instagram account for her work and within one month she gained nearly 1,000 followers. “It grew quickly,” says Nichols. “People who love art and fashion are drawn to fashion illustrators.”

Not long after showcasing her work online, fans began asking Nichols if they could purchase prints. Requests for commissioned projects also began arriving. Nichols left her job at the elementary school in May of 2014 and rented studio space in Abington that summer, intent on forging fashion illustration into a lucrative career. Eventually, Nichols relocated her studio to Braintree and next month will mark her one year anniversary at her River Street studio.

For this contemporary artist, fashion illustration is a visual realm of opulent fabrics, luxurious textures and dynamic colors. Although Nichols cannot make clothing by hand, with her breezy brushstrokes she holds the ability to seamlessly assemble daytime outfits and evening looks– especially high-end garments that often carry hefty price tags. “I love couture gowns and sketching gives me the ability to put together outfits I can’t afford,” says Nichols who is inspired by the designer houses of Elie Saab and Zuhair Murad.

This “It-girl” illustrator has also collaborated with a number of influential brands. She sketched a couture gown for Elie Saab that was featured on the designer’s website last August. In February 2015, haircare line TRESemmé commissioned her to sketch hair and make-up backstage at New York Fashion Week. Earlier this year, she partnered with British luxury retailer Ted Baker on a social media campaign. In addition, Nichols has aligned with Disney and Apple.

Nichols is inspired by the world around her and often channels her current mood into her drawings. She has drawers overflowing with original art, but not all pieces become prints. “I don’t usually create a sketch intentionally to be turned into a print,” admits Nichols. “Typically, when I find inspiration, I sketch it out. It ends up in my shop as a print if I am satisfied or if a customer requests to purchase it as a print. My followers play a huge part in curating my selection of products.”

One of Nichols’ favorite and best-selling prints is “The Fine Art of Staying In” which depicts a girl with her head buried in a book and a steaming beverage sitting atop a pile of books by her side.

“When I made this print [The Fine Art of Staying In], I was home one night and just so comfortable,” confesses Nichols. “Whenever I draw, I think about a mood or a feeling, so in the winter, you’ll see girls bundled up in turtlenecks and with their hair tucked into their shirts. It’s a cozy feeling.”

Nichols credits leading fashion illustrator David Downton with influencing her work. “His brushstrokes are really expressive and his garments are created by these abstract brushstrokes,” says Nichols, who likes to draw with Copic markers – using the brush tip to mimic the motion used in watercolor painting.

In addition to shopping for prints in her online Etsy shop, enthusiasts can select from an assortment of cards and mugs that feature her signature illustrations. For the tech savvy, an assortment of darling iPhone and iPod Touch cases are available at Casetify.com.

For spring, this budding entrepreneur is designing items admirers can carry such as tote bags and pouches perfect for make-up or art supplies. “I’m thinking of ways people can enjoy my work not just on a wall because eventually they’ll run out of space,” laughs Nichols.

Giving her sketches unique names is another important part of Nichols’ business. She recently drew “Millennium” – a statuesque figure with ombré locks and a futuristic blue gown that depicts Boston’s new 60-story skyscraper, Millennium Tower. “The paneling mimics the actual tower and the girl represents the columns,” describes Nichols who listed the drawing in her online Etsy shop as a one-of-a-kind.

Those fancying high fashion for their “girl cave” or walk-in closet will adore “Couture Crew” – a 30 x 40-inch canvas of nine models wearing designer gowns from various fall 2015 collections including Schiaparelli, Versace and the illustrator’s personal favorites Elie Saab and Zuhair Murad.

Nichols, who continues to build her corporate client portfolio, dreams of sketching behind the scenes at Paris Fashion Week. “I’d love to see the world and create this art in different places,” says Nichols.

To see more examples of Holly Nichols’ art, CLICK HERE.

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