Studio Visit: Frida Wannerberger
It’s true that Frida Wannerberger’s illustrations of fashionable women may have landed her on lists like The Huffington Post’s “Badass Lady Illustrators of Instagram” and Cosmopolitan Middle East’s “Fashion Instagram Accounts You HAVE To Follow this Fashion Month”—and that her unique and beautifully distorted drawing style has secured her gigs with Harper’s Bazaar Mexico, the Isabella Blow Foundation, and the popular clothing boutique DASH. But, even still, Wannerberger says that the most gratifying part of her job is getting an email from a stranger who knows her work. That, the London-based, Central Saint Martins-educated artist says, is “like Christmas every time.”
Like most creatives, Wannerberger is a professional plate spinner, holding down a part-time job, creating her own work, and teaching an illustration course at the London College of Fashion. Happily for us, she was able to add another plate to the mix this month and elaborate on the challenges and triumphs of her journey thus far. Asked how it all began, she answers simply, “I’ve always been drawing. It just never stopped.”
You’ve illustrated runway shows and worked with a prestigious fashion world line-up. Have your illustrations always been fashion-focused?
I went to university with the idea of studying fashion. I ended up studying graphic design and illustration instead, but most of my friends were in fashion courses—so I was always involved. The drawings were the part that I enjoyed the most. I think I enjoy exploring narratives around people—women, specifically—through what they are wearing.
To what degree is fashion a part of your personal life today? I like nice things, and I do think that everyone has a form of obligation to their surroundings to try to look their best. So in my personal life, what I wear and how I think about clothes is definitely present every day. I think it comes from an interest in how clothes can change how you feel about yourself completely.
Who are the women in your illustrations? Are they based on real people, or are they imagined characters? They are often a girl I would like to be. Or, I’ll hear something or experience something and that filters into one of my characters. A small detail that a friend or stranger does differently to how I would do it—that just sticks with me and I make one of my girls do it. I suppose it's a bit like stealing personality traits and habits from people around me. I usually listen to radio or podcasts or lectures when I draw, and that influences what the girls do, too.
Your work is incredibly unique and distinctive. How many different style iterations did you cycle through before you landed on this particular aesthetic?
The work has really evolved. The girls look more human and less cartoony now than they did a few years ago. I think getting work as an illustrator helps to push you in the choices you make when you work towards a brief. For me, getting a bit more serious requests helped defined my work even more.
Can you tell us about mediums you use to create your work? Do you have a favorite technique? At the moment, I use watercolors, acrylic, and colored pencils together. I also love drawing with just pencil—seeing the details take shape is so enjoyable. But that takes ages and I like to do it on a bigger scale. I hope to do more of that when I have the space.
What do you do when you get stuck creatively? How do you break out of a rut? I’ve never gotten stuck yet! I do get into the bad habit of trying to produce work when I am too tired, though, and that's a downward spiral. Then, I need to take a step back. Clear my desk. Put everything away. Empty the bin, go to central London, and walk around—I’m usually dying to draw something by the time I get back home.
Is there anyone in particular who inspires you? My mom inspires me because she always says the right things at the right time. She’s good at so much and always makes you find a feeling that relates to whatever emotion you are experiencing at the time, so you can pick yourself up and get back on track. Also, all of my friends that do so many different and impressive things—everything from running their own businesses to working their way through different companies and industries. It's just so inspiring to pick the best bits from everyone's experiences and build your own utopia.
How have you navigated being your own boss? And how did you get to a place where you felt comfortable asserting your worth? I think as an illustrator you have to realize that there are no other options, really. If you want to make it work, you have to do your best at embracing both roles [as boss and creative]. The hardest aspect is that you’re very dependent on other people—you can be good at something and people can like what you do, but if they don't have a job for you, then that's that. Adding more clients to my CV has helped me to literally have something on paper to back me up when I’ve felt unsure about where I stood as a professional.
What's most exciting about what you do—and what's been most challenging?
Getting an email in my inbox from a stranger who knows my work—and getting to know them and understanding what they want from me—is so exciting. I love it. I love not knowing who’s out there or where your work can take you.
The most challenging part is definitely living between work droughts and doing awful amounts of work and not getting paid. Not getting paid properly is really, really upsetting and it really, really negatively impacts your will to create.
The new year is just around the corner. What does the future look like from where you stand?
I have a few projects coming up that I’ll be evaluating [after completion] to see if they were the best course of action to take. I’m also in talks with a gallery in London. I generally try to say yes to enough things, but still leave a small window for work that gets thrown at me last-minute, Those projects are usually the best!