The Official Comeback of the Fashion Illustrator


With a vision to create art that is descriptive, rich and textured, Sara Japanwalla walks her up as one of UAE’s renowned fashion illustrators. In a candid conversation with Diksha Vohra, Sara talks about her passion for art and what the world of illustrations mean to her.

In one hand she held the painting palette and in the other, a brush. Her eyes stationed right above the canvas moved sideways, analysing the surroundings and capturing the sight. Then she began using one colour after another to paint the live scenario. In no time, she had recreated the reality she saw in front of her on canvas. That’s Sara Japanwalla, an illustrator who’s creativity knows no bounds. Having studied in Scotland and Dubai, Sara has worked with several well-established fashion brands across the globe to create spectacular illustrations.


In a conversation with Diksha Vohra, Sara opens up about her childhood, favourite illustrations and her exciting future plans.

Were you passionate about art and illustrations since childhood?

As a child, I’ve always loved art and colours. I never liked colouring books because I wanted to create the image myself. When I was eight years old, I would drive my parents up the wall because I wanted to paint perfectly and I would cry if a portrait didn’t look like a photograph. So art was very much a part of my life.


Where did you study art and what inspired you to create illustrations?

I went to art college in Edinburgh where I studied sculpture, textiles and mostly fine art. which were quite useful.  I have great memories of visiting art galleries and museums around UK. Observing all the different styles, categories and installations inspired me in many ways. In fact, some illustrations helped me broaden and develop my perspective as an artist as I came across things I never knew existed.

During my study, a lot of my work revolved around drawing from real life models and sketching outside. Then I studied fashion designing at Telford College in Edinburgh which was where I developed an interest in fashion.


Fashion illustration has witnessed a revival in recent times. Do you think its gaining the popularity it deserves?

For starters, fashion illustration is not a recent art. During the 1500s and the 1600s, there was a strong desire to know about the cultures of other nations. At the same time, fashion became a topic of discussion in periodicals, and this was where fashion illustration was actually born. By the end of 1600s, in-fact, collecting fashion illustrations had become a trend.

The 1800s witnessed the emergence of a number of fashion magazines. Slowly, the trend of capturing women wearing the dresses came into picture which gave way to fashion photography. This was when illustrations faced a decline only to be reinvented by Paul Poiret who commissioned artists to depict his designs through illustrations, after which fashion illustrations started becoming a part of the popular culture.

Now we’re witnessing a renaissance  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 exciting movement and it's amazing to see how creativity is evolving by each second.



Coming to your work, which was your first project and for whom?

My first project was a children's book for a woman who lived in America. It was called Princess Charleston and the Isle of Palms and was a storybook regionally inspired by the Isle of Palms. I had created some children's illustrations before for my portfolio but this was the first time I had actually worked on compositions and each page had to be discussed and drafted several times before finalising it. It was a great experience and we went on to creating two more books in the same series.


Which has been the most challenging experience so far in your career?

So far everything has been smooth but lately by biggest challenge has been drawing live on my iPad Pro for events. That’s because so many other factors come in to play when one depends on technology such as syncing gadgets with each other and

making sure that everything works swiftly and efficiently in the limited time we have. It’s quite a new and an interesting avenue for me so I enjoy learning as I go along.


In Dubai, the market of art aficionados is quite small and new. Where do you see yourself in this market? Are people appreciating your creativity in the UAE as much as they do abroad?

I think Dubai is a great place for art because people are thirsty for this kind of creativity. The country 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 today, quite a few people have joined the line which is really good.


What kind of projects are you working on these days and what do you enjoy drawing most?

These days I am mostly doing live illustration for events. People tend to favour customised illustrations on postcards and sometimes I paint on merchandise like purses, wallets and shoes. In terms of what I like, I really enjoy painting fashion illustration murals. It's challenging but I love it and I find it really freeing and impulsive. I would love to create more this year, especially for boutiques and restaurant launches. I want my illustration to become part of the decor of interesting spaces.


One feature that’s very typical of your illustrations or an emotion that all your illustrations exhibit or portray?

Initially, I used to create more abstract, stylised 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 the faces to look very feminine and doll like with a pointy chin, elongated limbs, long necks and arched eyebrows.


If you’d not have been an illustrator, what would you have been?

I really like writing and I so I think I would have liked to write in art and fashion magazines.



Any new areas that you see the world entering in or starting new trends?

I really like to create 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.