The fashion industry seems to go faster and faster as days go by, and some voices asking to slow down have arisen. Nevertheless, fashion illustrator Jarno Kettunen won’t hear them. Not because he thinks that everything is alright with this fast pace, but because his way of working is based on capturing the moment, the mood, the already-gone. He goes to the backstage of fashion shows and ad campaigns to draw impulsively the most jaw-dropping look, a unique model’s pose or gesture, the overall mood. Now, Belgian publishing house Stockmans has released A Sketchbook as a Diary, a limited edition notebook-calendar for 2018 with some of the best drawings of his successful career, carefully arranged to begin the year in the most fashionable way.
Hello Jarno, can you shortly tell us the story of yours?
Hello to you! I am an illustrator and artist mainly focusing on quickly capturing the essence of moments and personalities into expressive and artistic ‘live’ drawings and illustrations. I travel around the world with my materials, drawing models and the mood at the backstage of fashion shows and photo shoots, capturing the movement of ballet dancers, and portraying people at high profile events. I also do fashion drawing performances commissioned by companies, museums, and galleries as well as illustrations for all kinds of applications such as for editorials and advertising. I am from Finland, but I spent a great deal of my youth in Belgium. My current home base is in the United States.
How did you get into fashion illustration?
When studying art in Brussels I got very much into drawing live models from observation at the drawing atelier and started experimenting with various experimental and expressive drawing techniques. My professors recognized my talent and recommended me to present my drawings at fashion houses in Paris. I got a very positive response, at the house of Rochas (when Olivier Theyskens was the creative director) for instance, and thus felt encouraged enough to fully focus on fashion illustration. The more I learned about fashion and its incredible history the more I loved it. And I feel very privileged to still be on this same journey.
What stands the most from your work is how quickly you draw and sketch. How did you learn to be so fast, and what do you like the most about working at such a frenetic rhythm?
On the one hand, my pace is driven by pure necessity as I am attempting to capture brief real-life moments such as quick meetings with fashion models at the backstage of fashion shows. On the other hand, my work is more importantly about artistic expression and the interaction with my models. When I draw, I completely put myself into it, moving my entire body and often not even looking at the paper. This allows me to really focus on the model’s mood and attitude instead of just the reality of how they look. Working in this manner needs to be quick as spending too much time on a drawing often shifts the mood into the model sitting for a drawing instead of me capturing really authentic moments and feelings.
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The whole fashion industry is quite speeded up. Does, therefore, fashion illustration have no other choice but to follow this speed? And you have to capture it all in a split of a second, having no time for erasers or retouches. Don’t you feel too pressured? Isn’t it a bit of a race?
Maybe. Before photography took over, artists and illustrators were the ones capturing the latest fashions and portraying celebrities into elegant drawings and sketches, say René Gruau and Christian Bérard for instance. The spontaneous looking but perfected brush strokes were ideal for that time while my minimal and sometimes brutal style is maybe in part a reaction to the pace of fashion today.
I greatly enjoy this way of working and I am very fortunate to have these amazing opportunities to collaborate with top fashion houses and companies, experiencing everything first hand and picturing current fashions with my drawings. I don’t enjoy as much working from imagination or getting inspired by images – whether mine or someone else’s – as it is less authentic.
You’ve presented the publication A Sketchbook as a Diary at the Antwerp Book Fair. It is a calendar-notebook gathering some of the works you’ve done in the last ten years. Could you please give us some more details about it?
I was recently approached by the Belgian high-end art book and calendar publisher Stockmans to create a limited edition notebook-calendar 2018 with selected illustrations from my archive. The publisher carefully arranged the images together, creating a beautiful new narrative for my works. The calendar pads are handwritten by me with a unique layout for each month, encouraging creativity throughout the entire year. Printed on luxurious paper, this sketchbook is truly a must-have.
Even more so because of its limited status: only three hundred and sixty-five copies are for sale. Then, there are the even rarer signed copies with a choice from two limited edition prints of only 2 x 6 items, numbered from one to six. All these are available internationally at my webshop. A few copies of the notebook-calendar are also available at selected stores and boutiques, such as Copyright Bookshop in Antwerp, RISD Works in Providence, and Margreeth Olsthoorn in Rotterdam. 
Which are some of your favourite illustrations you’ve done so far? Any you recall because of personal/emotional reasons?
I did most of my favourite illustrations so far at the backstage of fashion shows. The energy and atmosphere are so incredible and, of course, the amazing clothes, people and talent. One project that still stands out though was when I was invited to capture the models at Kris Van Assche’s second show for Dior Homme at Les Invalides in Paris. It was truly a fairy-tale moment with me being one of the few people allowed at the backstage before the show. I was going to have plenty of time to capture a selection of the silhouettes, but as I was getting ready to draw, I was told that the show needed to start early as many notable members of the press had arrived sooner than expected. For a split second I felt a bit lost, but then decided to just start drawing, capturing everything I could see, watching the models change and line up – sometimes having to peek over people’s shoulders.
The resulting quick drawings ended up being really energetic and somehow managed to perfectly capture the models and the backstage mood. Some other favourites I actually did just this year. I got approached by one of the most iconic companies – I can’t reveal the name just yet – to illustrate behind the scenes at a global advertising campaign shoot that closed an entire block in New York. It was truly amazing to work alongside top fashion photographers, a wonderful group of models and an incredible production team, capturing various moments and scenes of the shoot.
“Being part of the action allows much more interaction and authenticity.”
What do you look at / search for when you draw?
My process is very intuitive and in most cases, I arrive at jobs only with a general idea of what to expect. In preparation, I first take in the location and people and identify interesting things to draw. At fashion shows, I look at the models and the looks they are wearing, searching for the most striking outfits to draw. I then ask to have the models pose with my selected looks as well as any looks requested by the maison. When drawing, I focus on interaction. I talk to the people I draw, getting to know them a bit and look for unique expressions and manners. I look intensely, tracing what I see, and only occasionally peek at my paper.
This method results in an abstracted and expressive result and is also a way to engage with the subject. In this quick flow moment, it’s just the model and me – everything else around us disappears. Besides having people pose for me, I also draw in a ‘fly on the wall’ manner, moving around the location and quietly observing the scene, looking for interesting outfits, movements, and gestures to capture.
Is it about finding the essence and prioritizing it over the rest? Having that little time to draw, I imagine you can’t pay much attention to details. But aren’t they the key to differentiate an illustration from another?
Yes, exactly, instead of drawing the entire reality of the model I look intensely at specific details that strike out to me, such as the mood of the outfit, the model’s personal vibe, the pose, and slight gestures that are unique. I am fascinated about capturing the essence with minimal means; this results in drawings that are captivating and focused.
Both fashion illustration and fashion photography capture the same subjects. Is there something that the means of illustration allows you to express, that cannot be captured by photography?
Illustration, more than photography, is about personal interpretation. It allows expressing and exaggerating specific aspects such as details, attitude, and mood – evoking feelings rather than documenting or providing specific visual information. To me, illustration should always be more than the reality of what our eyes can see – the artist’s hand leads the viewer’s eye in the image, speaking to the imagination.
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What materials do you use?
I have a collection of many different materials and papers in my ‘arsenal’, both traditional and unconventional, but I always do my best to select a specific palette that fits best for the job at hand. That being said, I prefer combining wet and dry media, such as gouache paint and crayons. This enables me to quickly do large shapes and fills as well finer details, resulting in a dynamic layered look.
How long did it take you to define your personal style in drawing?
I got most of the training from my art school, but it is really an ongoing process. Every time I draw, I discover something new: another expression or a new material. My style evolves as I am asked to draw different things, say a large display piece, descriptive editorial and advertising illustrations, or drawings done by using make-up.
You mainly draw live, when your object/subject is right in front of you. Does it mean that you don’t have a studio or a place to work in your home?
I do have a studio for ‘atelier work’ and commissions that require working from photos for instance, but my true passion is in personal meetings, working from reality, and bringing my world and travelling studio wherever I go. Being part of the action allows much more interaction and authenticity.
“My drawings can only be successful when there is something inspiring to draw, something that catches my eye.”
Also, taking the previous question into account, I assume that ‘inspiration’ doesn’t play that much of a big role in your work, since you don’t need to think over a drawing for a long time, do previous sketches, etc. Am I right?
Inspiration is still very important for me, but it is quite direct and intuitive. My drawings can only be successful when there is something inspiring to draw, something that catches my eye. This is also why I love drawing fashion. It is a fantastic world of extremely beautiful people, clothes, and personal expression as well as of ultimate decadence and luxury. This fascinates me as an artist and provides an endless source of inspiration. That being said, I look into other things as well for inspiration, such as art exhibitions, literature, curious antique objects, and nature in order to get new ideas.
You’ve worked with Essentiel Antwerp, RISD Museum, Levi Strauss, 7 For All Mankind, and V&A Museum, among others. Is there a collaboration that you specifically enjoyed over the others? Why?
Fortunately, each collaboration has been quite enjoyable, all in their own unique way. Some of my most amazing projects also need to stay confidential, as some companies prefer not having their name mentioned outside of their own communications. If I need to pick one collaboration from the above list, it must be the fashion drawing performance I did for V&A Museum, as I had a chance to collaborate with Manish Arora, whose work I greatly admire.
What are your plans for the future?
I try not to plan too much really, but rather let my work evolve naturally into new directions, ideas, and collaborations. That being said, one of my goals is to do more extensive collaborations and projects, such as an illustrated book in collaboration with a fashion house or model.
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