How This Artist Sketched Her Way from a Log Cabin to the Front Row at Fashion Week
You know when you walk by someone and see them sketching something furiously, and think to yourself, I wish I could do that. Well, fashion illustrator Danielle Meder is here to tell you two simple words: You can. For this week’s installment of Creative Crushin’, we’re going behind the scenes with this artist, from humble back-to-the-land beginnings all the way to the catwalk.
Before we dive into more about Danielle’s creative journey, we’ve gotta share deets on her brand new Brit + Co class. In Digital Fashion Illustration: Sketching Street Style to Runway, Meder will teach you to draw fashion on the fly, arming you with the techniques you need to draw quick spontaneous sketches whenever inspiration strikes with your handy iPad.
Meder is all about fluid movements and helping her students find their own spin on this type of illustration. It’s not about achieving a perfectly accurate drawing — it’s about capturing movement, emotion, and your own sense of style.
I personally love the gestural style of her work — you can almost imagine the outfits and women captured walking right off the page (or iPad screen, as the case may be!). Scroll on to read all about how this artist found her niche, from growing up with goats and chickens to getting laid off to publishing her first book and gaining an impressive following for her unique take on fashion illustration.
Brit + Co: First, the basics. Tell us about your beginnings.
Danielle Meder: I grew up in a log home in rural Eastern Ontario. My parents were inspired by the back-to-the-land movement to build their own house, and we had a big vegetable garden and kept goats and chickens. My mom is a classical pianist and music teacher, and my brother and I were homeschooled for a significant part of our childhoods. It was an incredibly idyllic way to grow up, and of course, I spent all my time reading books about big cities like Paris and New York and dreaming of living a very different type of life. I always dreamed of being a writer but didn’t find myself academically inclined, so I went to fashion design school for an applied education. I learned how to cut and sew and worked with fashion designers. I loved learning a new practical skill and did very well in school, winning awards and honors. After graduation, however, I kind of failed to launch! I wasn’t able to really find my feet as an employee and quickly came to the conclusion that self-employment was my preferred way of being. My parents were always super supportive of my decision to be an artist which was very fortunate. The first seven years of freelance illustration were very lean years, but I always had this deep belief that everything would turn out okay — and it did! I ended up working with fashion industry clients all over the world, writing and illustrating a column for a national newspaper and even getting a book deal.
B+C: What types of day jobs did you have before you were able to go all in on art and writing?
DM: I worked as a production assistant for a couple of independent fashion designers, and sold clothes to hip older ladies in a bohemian Yorkville boutique. I was always determined to work in the fashion industry and I very deliberately never did any unpaid work, so I wouldn’t characterize any of the work I did as separate from my creative work.
B+C: What made you realize you could take the leap and turn your side hustle into your main hustle?
DM: I got laid off from my boutique job at the end of the summer, and at the same time, a designer hired me to illustrate her entire collection for $3,000. I took it as a sign from the universe and went out and got business cards printed with “fashion illustrator” on them, and I never looked back!
B+C: What advice do you have for emerging artists and writers who are considering bidding adieu to their nine-to-five and going all in on freelance?
DM: Do it sooner rather than later! I think it was a blessing I started full time freelancing at 24 instead of 34, because I had no quality of life to lose — I was already living hand-to-mouth as a fashion student, so it didn’t feel like a great sacrifice to be starting out from zero, which I was. Then by the time I was 34, I had 10 years of experience and felt genuinely confident in my practice! The comforts of a full-time job are a major trade-off because it demands so much of your time and energy. As long as your basic needs are covered, money isn’t really a great reason to do anything. Or at least, that’s how I’ve always felt. How you spend your time IS your life, not the stuff you have. Living as lean as possible is something I learned from my dad and that definitely helped me weather the struggles of the early years working as an artist. I never really felt deprived as long as I was doing what I loved to do. I always invested everything right back into my work, my studio, my travel. Now I am more comfortable and have some nice clothes, which is great. Although I still make a lot less than my friends with corporate jobs, I wouldn’t change a thing.
B+C: What does a typical day look like for you?
DM: I get up pretty early in my room in The Darling Mansion which has an East facing window, so the sun comes through the lace curtains and wakes me up. In the winter time when there are no leaves on the trees, I can see the CN Tower from my pillow, which is amazing! I have a pretty extensive morning routine which takes a few hours to complete when I do the whole thing — which isn’t every day, let’s be real. On a perfect day I do a 30-minute run, shower, stretch for 20 minutes, write in my journal, and then I meditate for around half an hour. Then I get dressed. I have a little walk-in closet area with all of my clothes merchandised and displayed. I love wearing stylish clothes and make sure to serve a look every single day. Then I go to the basement of the mansion where I have a studio which I share with the fashion designer Evan Biddell. We work on his design projects together, and of course, I do my own freelance illustration work too. I have a small private office down there which I call The Drawing Room, where I do portrait sittings and Tarot readings for clients.
Every day is different, so I rarely do all of those things in one day! I love variety. If I did drawing all the time it would stop being fun. So I love that I get to draw, cut, sew, write, and read cards, always switching it up. Plus of course all of the usual administration and correspondence stuff that everyone has to do. I usually work from around 11am-7pm. Then I go and get dinner. I’m attempting to cook more but in reality, I habitually eat in restaurants by myself. In the evening I love to listen to music and read. Currently, I’m studying neurobiology in my free time. Still homeschooling!
B+C: What inspires you? Why do you love to make things?
DM: This is always such a tough question to answer! I have no idea why, out of all of the millions of occupations I could have been interested in, that I happen to be interested in fashion and art. It’s a divine gift that I’ve been given, that in turn, I must give back to the world. Ultimately I have to say that I’m inspired by beauty, and what exactly is that? It’s inexplicable. It takes a lifetime of dedication to learn as much as you can about whatever you’re interested in. Maybe at the end of it, I’ll understand why. Or maybe not.
B+C: How did you hone on in your visual style and aesthetic?
DM: After an intense series of adverse events in my mid-20s, I lost my amazing studio in downtown Toronto. This crisis forced me to come up with a new direction for my life and I took the opportunity to get rid of all my stuff and move to London, UK for two years. This turned out to be the best thing that could have ever happened to me! London is an extremely expensive and highly competitive city. I was surrounded by people who had received the best art education on the planet. No one in Toronto ever talked about taste or aesthetics, and so my early work has a very unstudied, amateur quality. In London, everyone talks about taste and aesthetics, all the time! There’s free access to all of these museums so you’re always meeting friends in front of incredible works of art. It’s not unusual to attend lectures in pubs. Two years in London had an incredible accelerating effect on my style. It became mature and confident, because it had to.
B+C: What artists and designers do you turn to most often for inspiration?
DM: I’m a dedicated fan of Andy Warhol. He began his career as a fashion illustrator and became the most influential artist of his generation. He represents everything that is possible! My favorite writer is Truman Capote. He never defends himself in his writing, which is, as he puts it, as clear as a country creek. His character, Holly Golightly, is the inspiration for my visual identity as a fashion illustrator and my personal identity as a solo female adventurer. Leonardo Da Vinci is the greatest artist in the Western world, ever. I experienced a revelation in front of the Mona Lisa and her smile never ceases to reassure me that I am exactly as I’m meant to be.
DM: Art heals. Becoming an artist is about getting in touch with your own emotions and identity, understanding your relationship to the past and the future, and ultimately beholding this incredible world in all of its wonder. To create art at any level, no matter how modest, is to have an essential human experience. If I can facilitate that for anyone, in any way, it is my greatest privilege!
Favorite Quote: “She isn’t a phony because she’s a real phony. She believes all this crap she believes.” - Truman Capote
Trivia About You: I once modeled for the cover of a Harlequin Romance!
Go-To Karaoke Song: “Moon River” of course. Also “Love” by Lana Del Rey.
Favorite Art Tool: 2B pencil
Late Night Snack: Cheese, specifically old white cheddar
Currently Reading: Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst by Robert M. Sapolsky
B+C: On your website, you describe yourself as a fashion artist, writer, and Tarot reader. Since we’ve already covered the art + writing portion of your career, tell us more about the Tarot reading. What got you into it? Does Tarot play a role in your creative process?
DM: I had bought the deck when I was a teenager, but never took it very seriously because I was raised as a devout atheist. It wasn’t until I had my revelation at the Louvre that I was able to use the deck for divination; apparently, divination requires a belief in the divine, who knew! From there, I had to take a year off for spiritual inquiry and go through an intense Awakening process and subsequent Healing so I would be able to correctly perform my role as High Priestess for others. Doing energy work is not a trick, so it’s absolutely crucial to be as conscious as one is able to be. It’s one of my greatest joys to help people see themselves more clearly, to be able to guide them towards apprehending divine truth and if necessary, give them more constructive narratives for their lives. To be honest, I’m not totally sure how it works, but it really works.
Tarot has also informed my most important art… these are large scale projects which are still in process. When the time is right I look forward to sharing this work with the world.
B+C: When you’re feeling creative burnout, how do you reset and recharge?
DM: Nothing! So much nothing. Sleep a lot. Give myself a break. Cry if I have to. Call my mom.
B+C: Being a freelancer can sometimes feel a little bit isolating. What does your support system look like?
DM: For years I was on my own, didn’t even have my own apartment. Just went from place to place. It toughens you up which is good, until it’s not so good. After a while, not being tied to anything feels less like freedom and more like exile. I was always lucky to have support from my family from a distance, but it’s not the same thing as belonging to a place, having a home. Now I’m very fortunate to find myself part of a creative chosen family at The Darling Mansion in Toronto. Being part of a collective identity requires me to be more flexible and patient, and this has been a wonderful learning process for me.
B+C: How do you manage your time? Do you come up with set hours for yourself or just go with the flow?
DM: I just go with the flow! I’ve never had hours exactly, although left to my own devices I definitely have patterns. Deadlines are the only non-negotiable limits in my life.
B+C: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
DM: Keep your back straight.
B+C: What would you tell your younger self when you were just starting out?
DM: Nothing, she clearly knew what she was doing even though she didn’t know it at the time.
I can't wait to take this class! Creepin' on amazing outfits on the subway is about to get a lot more interesting ;) You can learn more about Danielle at DanielleMeder.com. And, of course, be sure to take her class and grab a copy of her book!
Techniques, Inspiration, and Ideas
Sketching Street Style to Runway
Desperately seeking inspo? Check out all the swoon-worthy creatives we've featured in Creative Crushin' — and stay tuned for next week's crush!
Author: Anjelika Temple (Photography courtesy of Danielle Meder & Brittany Griffin for Brit + Co)
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