Meet the Dubai-Based Fashion Illustrator Behind our July Cover

Lindsay Judge   |   09 - 07 - 2018




Sara Japanwalla is a Dubai based artist and fashion illustrator. She was born and educated in Scotland attending the prestigious Leith School of Art where she did a foundation course in textiles, fine arts, sculptures and installations. She also has a degree in Fashion Design and Technology, and started her career as a textile designer.


Sara specialises in fashion illustration but also works on other artistic projects such as children’s books and storyboard illustration, book covers, editorial, traditional painting commissions, children’s wall murals, comic strips as well as live painting for fashion events and parties.


She regularly displays her artworks in exhibitions, online galleries and art cafes in Dubai and has been a finalist for the Young Designer Award at the Swarovski Bridal Show in 2007. Sara has also been shortlisted and won many awards in the region. Her illustrations have been published in a children’s book, “Princess Charleston and the Isle of Palms” by American based author Kelly Sheehy DeGroot, as well as a book named “More Barsetshire Diary” by British author Lord David Prosser.


Sara envisioned the travel theme of this month’s A&E in our elegant cover illustration. Here, she talks us through the design and the world of illustration in the region.


What can you tell us about the concept you have created for this month’s cover of A&E?

The cover is very luxe and fashion editorial inspired. The outfits are very bold, youthful and current from the latest runway shows and it’s interesting using these elements and putting them into a scene artistically in a way that tells a story.


A&E July 2018 Cover.


Can you tell us how you came to be an illustrator?

I went to art college in Edinburgh where I studied a variety of subjects within the art umbrella and that was really useful. I have great memories of visiting art galleries and museums around the UK in college and this was really inspirational- just observing all the different styles categories and installations. Some of the installations were really controversial and shocking so they were great eye openers for me and it was a great way to broaden the mind.

I worked in a bridal boutique as a textile designer until 2012. My job was quite frustrating, predictable and very routine so I craved creativity. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do but I always loved fashion illustration so I created my website and posted my work online.

I realized I wanted to draw live for a living and I always wondered if I would be good at it, so I tried doing it for free for charity and was hooked on the buzz and energy of the event. Surprisingly I wasn’t stressed and everyone around me faded away. After that, I’ve been getting live drawing gigs very often.


Why did you choose the UAE to pursue your love of illustration?

I think the UAE is a great place for art because people are thirsty for this kind of creativity. It may not have a long history of art museums or galleries but there is never a shortage of glamorous fashion events in Dubai and that energetic vibe is the perfect place to use your art like a performance – entertaining people and helping to create a memorable experience. When I started in 2012, there were very few artists drawing live at events like this but now there’s a small group and that is nice to see.

I love the energy and diversity of this bustling, vibrant city. Fashion in particular is something I enjoy observing in Dubai. I love how women here carry themselves with a sense of boldness. They know what suits them and how to interpret trends to make it work for them. No-one pulls off colour and prints like the women in Dubai. I like to capture that eclectic vibrancy in my illustrations.


What has been the highlight of your career?

I have had a few highlights.  I was selected as one of 100 creatives from around the world by Maserati to contribute to a limited edition coffee table book. I felt honoured to be an artist representing Dubai on a global campaign. I also have a collection of illustrated little brown shopping bags currently in Bloomingdales Dubai and Kuwait which is really exciting to see even now when I walk past the store. The little brown bag is so iconic so it is amazing to have my own illustrations printed on these. It was so much fun designing the artwork for this range and we have also included stationary in the line such as notebooks.



What’s your favourite thing to illustrate?

I love couture of course! Feminine, over-the-top ball gowns and opulent outfits.  Lately, I’ve been really enjoying creating illustrations using fabric, feathers and embellishments and this is something I would like to push more later on.  I did this for Essie and loved the result – it felt messier and more haphazard but it was so much fun and people loved their 3D framed illustrations.

Initially, I used to create more abstract, stylized illustrations and my trademark was an elongated eyelash on one eye but now I like to experiment and my style probably changes every couple of months.  Lately, I like the faces to look very feminine and doll like with a pointy chin, elongated limbs, long necks and arched eyebrows.


What do you think about the relationship between fashion and illustration?

Fashion illustration was really popular during the 1920s-60s until photography, and then illustration wasn’t needed as much but now there’s a renaissance going on because people love combining traditional art with modern techniques. In today’s digital world, traditional art is refreshing and appeasing to the eye. I love being part of this movement and it’s really exciting to see the creativity some artists have on Instagram and social media.


Why do you think illustrations are a good way to represent catwalk designs?

I love illustration because it adds so much drama, personality and flair to catwalk designs. Someone once told me a successful illustration should tell a story in order to be engaging so I search for little glimpses of stories and then I go home and recreate it artistically.


Who is your inspiration?

I love both contemporary fashion illustrators such as Megan and Kerrie Hess but also love the work of French impressionists.  Edgar Degas is very inspiring to me, especially his ballet dancer paintings.

In life, there are many sources of inspiration – It may be backstage at Paris Fashion Week, a colorful spice market or a stylish lady pensively selecting a bouquet of flowers. Pintrest, instagram and travel are all inspiring.


On average, how long does an illustration take?

It really depends on how much detail there is in the illustration.  For my live illustrations, I have to be very fast so it takes around 3-7 minutes for each sketch, but for editorial projects which have more elements, It can take about 6-8 hours with the background and including all the textures.


Do you draw freehand or is it more technical?

Initially I was strictly freehand, but I have fallen in love with the iPad pro – I think the reason I love it so much is because it mimics freehand so well with the Apple pencil and procreate so I like to think my drawings dabble in a bit of both now.



How do you think social media has helped/hindered your industry?

I try to use social media as just one source of inspiration but try not to rely too much on it as an indicator in terms of followers and popularity. Instagram is more like an artistic visual diary for me. It’s important to stop comparing yourself to other artists on social media because once you fall into that trap, it can become disheartening. Instead, it’s best to get out there and visit galleries, attend workshops and create your own story.


If you weren’t an illustrator what would you do?

I really like writing and I so I think I would have liked to work in an art or fashion magazine writing articles. Another option would have been to work as a curator for an art gallery.



What can we expect to see from you over the next year?

I really enjoy painting fashion illustration murals. It’s challenging but I love it and I find it really freeing and impulsive. It’s a rush and I would love to create more of these next year – especially for boutiques and restaurant launches. I want my illustration to become part of the decor of interesting spaces. I also want to create an e-shop and sell prints internationally and that is something I am working on currently.


Tell us three things about yourself no one knows.

My favourite movie is Sister Act.  I absolutely love musicals and am gutted my husband doesn’t share my sentiment about this.  I am obsessed with looking at food photography on Instagram – so satisfying.


See Our July 2018 Issue Here
On Our Radar: Dubai-Based Label Sara Gi