Q&A with Beauty Bag illustrator, Karen Koh

Karen Koh is the brains and beauty behind The Illustrienne – a playful, whimsical illustrator whose latest work can be found gracing the Fenwick AW17 Beauty Bags (that will be hitting shelves this week!) The former corporate fashion designer turned her hand to illustration after her babies were born, sketching eye-catching designs into the late hours of the night. We sat down with Karen to ask her all about how she got into illustration, her artistic (and Instagram) influences and what made this project have such a special place in her heart…

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Tell us about the beauty bag illustrations and where you drew inspiration from?

I was inspired by Peter Lindbergh’s photographs of the New York City Ballet dancers, and illustrated my versions in black ink. When Fenwick asked me to work on their bags, I imagined a playful rendition of ballerinas backstage, wearing vivid jewel-tone colours getting ready for their performances.

What excited you most about this project?

It’s always been a dream of mine to design a beauty bag. Ever since high school, I've purchased beauty products solely for the purpose of getting that “must-have” goodie bag. But what made it even more exciting was that Fenwick contacted me just days before my baby’s due date. My daughter arrived the day after I completed the project, joining her two older brothers and completing our family. These bags will forever have a special place in my heart, knowing my daughter and I stayed up in the wee hours of the night getting them done together.

How did you get into illustration /discover it was your passion?

At the age of seven, I wanted to become a fashion designer. I illustrated my own fashion magazines filled with characters wearing my original designs. I received my undergraduate degree in Fine Arts at UCLA then moved to New York City to pursue fashion design at FIT and completed my design degree at Polimoda in Florence, Italy. Eventually I returned to the States and began working at Ralph Lauren. I’ve since left the corporate world and now work from home to spend more time with my little ones. Most of my illustrations are done at night while everyone is fast asleep - you could almost say I’m back where I started!

Describe your illustrative style...

My style is whimsical and playful. I love incorporating 3D objects as well as quick brush strokes with gouache paint, but at the same time I enjoy working slowly to focus on details. The faces on my illustrations tend to have an animated look, with exaggerated feathery, winged lashes. I think this comes from my desire to one day create a comic or illustration book with my ladies and their dramatic side eyes.

What is your creative process and what inspires you?

I look everywhere for images that inspire and excite me. I decide on the type of paper, depending on the image, and that directs my process. If it’s on vellum or color construction paper, I use white paint to create the shapes. I then go in with pencil to quickly sketch before I add color. Most of the time, I use cardstock as this helps me to not get too attached to a concept and be more free-flowing with ideas. Instead of seeing it as a disadvantage, I like that cardstock crinkles up when the paint is dry, as it brings a bit of movement and life to the illustrations.

Who are your artistic influences?

Gustav Klimt, Erte, René Gruau and Tim Burton.

Which 3 Instagram accounts most excite and inspire you?

@patmcgrathreal: One of the world's most influential make-up artists! Pat’s work to me is conceptual art and I’m constantly inspired by anything she does past and present.

@evachen212: I love how Eva is so transparent about her life as a working mom. It’s also inspiring to see an Asian American woman leading in the fashion, tech and social media worlds.

@GLAM4GOOD: I often struggle with the idea that the fashion industry can be frivolous. However, Mary Alice Stephenson’s GLAM4GOOD organization is a clear reminder that fashion can be a force for good.

Find out more about our AW17 Beauty Bags, including the full line-up of beauty treats here. 

By Grace Gargini