Lily Qian Shares Her Artistic Process And What She's Assembling Daily



“I understand and appreciate how clothes are made and the history of fashion and illustration.” Our collaborator and illustrator Lily Qian explained in our interview. “I get really excited whenever I meet an independent designer, I want to know what they are making and how I can help.”

Lily’s eye for design, love of fashion and natural penchant for connecting with those around her, are just a few of the many things we love about working with her. As a fashion designer turned illustrator, Lily’s unique understanding of the industry’s relationship (and in some ways coexistence) with the art world is something worth exploring, and today on The Assemblist we want to celebrate it. From illustrating at our New York market weeks to collaborating with us on events at Lord & Taylor we wanted to share more about Lily’s story, experiences and love of art in an interview featuring her work from our most recent market week collaboration together at The Brand Assembly Square. Discover more from our afternoon with Lily below and revisit our past partnerships together by clicking here.

Please introduce yourself!

My name is Lily Qian. I am an illustrator based in Brooklyn, New York. I first illustrated at Brand Assembly's NYFW presentation in February 2015 for The Style Line's “NYFW Virtual Sketchbook” series. A month after the show, I was honored to paint fashion illustrations at Lord & Taylor, launching Brand Assembly's new Spring collection. Together with The Style Line, I've had opportunities to illustrate creative editorials for The Assemblist, which is Brand Assembly’s official blog. It has been a pleasure for me to be working with this group of intelligent and forward thinking creatives. I've learn a lot about creative content building and my own work process from each assignment.

Talk to us about your relationship to art - how has it affected who you are and how much has your approach/artistic aesthetic changed?

I was born in to an artist designer family. My father was once an up and coming painter and Dean of the oil painting department at Beijing University. My mother was a former ballet dancer and an award winning costume fashion and product designer in China. My parents encouraged me to study art when I was a child. My father once told me he wanted me to pursue painting because it's something I will always have no matter what happens in life. I was always more interested in pursuing the commercial art and design career path over fine arts. When I was younger I thought there was no way I could never surpass my parents' skills. But now I feel positive about building a creative career path that's right for me.

How much would you say your experience as a former fashion designers translates into your work as an illustrator?

I'm grateful for the learning experiences I've had working as a fashion designer. My first job out of school was designing for VS Pink. I learned so much about creative concept building, branding, production and I got to travel to Europe, Asia, LA, Coachella, and football games! I worked for several other fashion brands for years before switching to the art side. I still admire all the hard working and intelligent women working in fashion knowing what they have to do to survive and thrive in the industry and in New York City. I understand the day-to-day of a designer's work life, and I love brainstorming creative ideas on how art can be used to elevate brand image. I understand and appreciate how clothes are made and the history of fashion and illustration. I get really excited whenever I meet an independent designer, I want to know what they are making and how I can help.


Following up on the previous question, what are three things you’ve learned in your journey as an industry professional that you think every emerging illustrator should consider when building their business?

Your work comes first.

Forget marketing or trying to gain lots of followers on social media. The real professionals know who is good. There are a lot of really talented artist out there. Know your competition, and be comfortable with your own pace and values. It's better to build longevity over time. 

Draw everyday.

Experiment with different materials, surfaces, processes and ideas. It's very important to make time for personal work for growth. Be true to yourself, include subjects that are important to you, not what's popular online. Draw from life, not magazines. 

You're always going to be a student.

Take classes in any topic you're interested in to help you gain more knowledge. Go out and see exhibitions, lectures and demonstrations. Read all sorts of art books and different topics to expand your vision. Find someone you trust to critique your work. Learn from everyone and every job. Always try to improve your work, work-life balance, and relationships. If you really want something, you'll make it happen.

Even in a design-focused industry like fashion, why do you think people respond so well to illustrations?

Illustration is a natural and important part of the design industry. We see and live with illustrations everyday on surfaces from apparel, home goods, products, interiors, etc. Designers and artists have studied art foundation, art history, and have an appreciation for good designs. Illustrations can be warm and uplifting, it can bring a product/story to life. The abstract and unexpected elements of an artwork is beautiful, mysterious, and allows room for interpretation. A well executed artwork will stand out in the sea of e-commerce photography. It brings back a nostalgic feeling to our childhood, or of an golden era we love and admire. It makes people happy.

Would you say your approach to your professional work translates into how you approach fashion/style?

Usually the result of a fashion illustration will be better if I am also in love with the look. My personal fashion style is very New York, Brooklyn, east coast... I like effortless chic, borrowed from the boys, 60's mod beatnik and 90's clean minimalistic. You won't see me in high heels unless I'm at a wedding. I prefer to illustrate women with the same style. When I was a teenager and in college I would paint woman in gowns. I still think gowns are beautiful, but what does that have to do with my real city girl life and the real women I admire?

Here at Brand Assembly we like focus on fostering contemporary fashion designers, but what role do you think the “contemporary movement” is playing in art?

Contemporary means we're present in the modern day, so we're all contemporary artists/designers. The contemporary fashion market is influential to young modern artists and designers because it offers unique aspirational everyday wear that is at an accessible price point and higher quality than fast fashion. For the past decade influenced by pop culture, we have seen a trend in illustration of “drawing bad” as a style – artists imitating the lack of drawing skills as being honest and contemporary. We often see popular trendy drawing styles on fashion media and products. Followed by the cycle of artists recreating what they see in the media. Fashion and art are always influenced by one another. 

What do you assemble daily? 

On a daily basis, I am assembling my own voice and point of view. I look up to my friends with successful careers and relationships. We have all grown up and changed a lot hopefully for the better. I'm always curious to see what they are reading, what their goals are, and their point of view on topics I'm not so familiar with. From time to time I do reflect on my personal taste in art fashion and design. It's interesting to see what I liked has changed over the years and realize what I truly respond to.