Spotlight On Illustration: Nuno Da Costa


Nuno Da Costa, Winsor & Newton, Illustration
The last month has seen world’s runways set ablaze with colour and movement as Fashion Week hit New York, London, Milan and Paris.
In celebration of this creative time of year, we spoke to noted fashion illustrator Nuno Da Costa. Da Costa, who has worked for some of the world’s biggest brands and magazines, including Vogue and Triumph, shared his processes and various sources of inspirations with our team, providing in depth insight into his stellar career.



What made you want be an illustrator? Can you describe the moment you realised that it would happen?

I've always loved illustrations on books and packaging. I was mesmerised by the illustrations of Steven Cartwright for Usbourne books when I was little. My cousin got a Barbie for Christmas once and I spent three days trying to recreate the illustration on the box.  

My first fashion memory was drawing a model in a red dress from the Valentino catwalk when it was aired on The Clothes Show. I loved that show; it was a window into another world where everything was glossy and 'perfect'. I hadn't even realised illustrating was a real job that you could earn a living from until I left uni (where I was studying languages) and started looking at other career options. I put together a portfolio and called up a few magazines and booked my first job.

What is your creative starting point when embarking on a piece of work?

The creative starting point for all my work is research. I always start by researching the brand that has commissioned me, their heritage, their ethos and which women embody that ethos.

When looking for inspiration what is your first port of call?

My first port of call for inspiration is always my library. I have a big collection of magazines from the 1950s onwards which I love to delve into. They are rammed with the works of my favourite photographers: Avedon, Meisel, Bailey – masters that never stop inspiring.

Can you tell us a bit about your process?

An ordinary day always starts with walking the dog, followed by breakfast and the news. I answer e-mails that have come in overnight and prep for my work day. I do a few sketches to loosen up and ease myself into the serious drawing. I normally approach my work as a photographer does a shoot: styling, hair and makeup. It's quite intense but I like the results I get.



What does London Fashion Week usually hold for you?

'Fashion Week' is really 'Fashion Month,' with New York, London, Milan and Paris [back to back].  There are lots of phone calls, sometimes travel and attending fittings and tests. There is also a lot of collating of information, visual references and other logistical things that set you up and facilitate work for the coming year.

Have you ever taken part in a ‘live draw’? Is that something that you would be interested in?

I've never taken part in a 'live draw;' my work is quite detailed and elaborate so I am not sure it suits that environment. My work is quite considered so it's all about playing to your strengths.

Do you follow the catwalk shows, and are the trend reports important to your work?

I do follow the shows. I get daily bulletins which I check on daily and they keep me up to date. It's much easier to tackle them each day [rather] than trying to go through the whole week’s worth of shows in one go. Trend reports are really useful, although I don't follow them slavishly. I like what I like, and I like clothes which are beautiful, well made and that will last longer than a season or trend.

Do you prefer to draw portraits of real models or characters from your imagination? Could you tell us why?

I can do both, but I almost always draw characters from my imagination. My women are recognisably 'Nuno women.' They have a feel and an attitude which is probably somehow a reflection of me, although I'm a guy. That is important to me; I like having a point of difference from other illustrators.




Do you have a favourite type of illustration? And what do you love most: editorial, catwalk, line drawing?

I love all of them really. Line drawing because it is my style distilled into its purest and simplified form.
Editorial illustration is really what got me hooked, though. I've been hooked ever since I worked with editorial hair stylist Neil Moodie and makeup artist Lisa Butler.  They inspired me and continue to inspire me with their work ethic, talent and creativity. They really taught me to go for it and to see my work beyond the confines of traditional illustration.

What are your essential materials as an artist?

My essential [materials include] Winsor & Newton Gouache and [various] water colours –my absolute favourites, [as well as an] Epson scanner and printer and a Mac.  
My work always starts with plotting and sketching out the pose. Then I scan my drawing and print it onto Winsor & Newton Bristol Board ready for painting. This means I don't have to redraw the sketch if I mess up in the painting process. It also allows me to lose the fear of messing up the original pencil drawing so I can get a bit more experimental with it. I then paint using Winsor & Newton Gouache and water colours, depending on the effect I want to create.
Once the painting is done, I scan and edit on a Mac. Working with clients all over the world means that they now expect you to send them a 'print ready' file that is good to go.   

What your creativity mean to you?

Creativity means different things to different people, and there are lots of different ways to be creative in our daily lives. To me it is a way of tapping in to another source. It is a magical experience, almost as if you are a conduit. The feeling of creating something new where it did not exist before is pretty special – bringing life to a blank sheet of paper.




Can you describe what the relationship between fashion and art means to you?

Fashion designers are artists to me. They tap into that same source that traditional artists do to create new and often polarising pieces. I was told once when working on a shoot that the objective was to get an emotional response from the viewer, whether it be a positive one or a negative one. It didn't matter as long as we got one. Fashion and art should make you feel something.

What has been your most special commission? Can you tell us why?

There have been so many. My first job for Vogue was special. I was floating on air for ages; it felt like getting the Golden Ticket to Willy Wonka’s factory – a game changer. But for me it is all about the people I work with. I've been fortunate enough to work with some amazingly talented, kind and generous souls who have shared themselves and their gifts with me: Neil Moodie and Lisa Butler, Caragh McKay (The Telegraph and Wallpaper), the inspirational Caryn Franklin MBE and All Walks Beyond the Catwalk, Tim Rennie (Epiphany 51, Vanity Fair, Vogue). They have all taught me about work, life and how to value and appreciate myself and what I create.
There is a really special fashion-related commission which I can't announce just yet!  

What is currently your biggest inspiration?

I recently took some boxes out of storage and found my old sketchbooks and clippings. It took me back to the beginning of my artistic journey and all the things that got me hooked on fashion. They still inspire me today. I shall be looking at those a little more closely over the coming months.

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