Fashion Illustrator: Interview with Mitja Bokun
Mitja Bokun is a prolific artist, known for his portraits, commercial, cosmetics and fashion illustrations, and paintings of celebrities and personalities well-known in the fashion world and beyond. He has been commissioned to illustrate editorially for magazines, television shows and the world’s best known brands.
His work also includes collaborations with fashion designers, where he illustrates everything from sketches for garments to illustrations which compliment photography for look-books. In 2013 he was chosen to illustrate the looks backstage at Vivianne Westwood’s Red Label show at London Fashion Week, in 2014 he illustrated visual image for Shiseido’s Ultimune Launch at China market, and in 2015 he illustrated several visual images for fashion designers and other world known brands.
He was also invited to give lectures on fashion illustration at School of Visual Art in NY and Instituto Marangoni in Milan, and he was chosen to design the t-shirt for Diane’s Pernet’s ASVOF Tokyo.
Mitja is also the co-owner and co-editor of Reserved Magazine, where he collaborates with artists like Helena Christensen, Brooke Shields, Nile Rodgers, Mick Rock, Milton Glaser, Giles Deacon, Richard Dupont, Jim Downey, Peter Max and many others.
Always seen illustrating at shows all over the world and always passionate about his work, Mitja turns out upwards of 500 illustrations per year. A native of Slovenia, Mitja has been drawing since childhood. He studied Computer science and Logistics management before becoming a commercial illustrator. A self taught artist, he began illustrating professionally in 2009. He loves what he does and can’t think of a better way to spend his days.
Today we have an opportunity to talk to Mitja and ask him about his route to fashion illustration, his passion for work and current projects.
«The most enjoyable thing in my work is the process. I love when I see my drawing become alive out of sketch lines»
What is your background? Do you have a formal training or are you a self-taught artist?
I am a self-taught artist, I’ve never had any art lessons and I am actually drawing since I was a very small kid, probably 4 years old, I was sitting in an orange chair and drawing, drawing, drawing…
What attracted you to fashion illustration? How did you come to it?
Fashion has always been an interesting area to me. I always look at fashion through artistic point of view. I am no expert in materials, designs… but I love when I see a beautiful dress. That’s why I also admire fashion illustrators. One day I said to myself: how cool would it be if I go and draw at the Fashion Week. So, I did it and I was seen…but still just in Slovenia. But that was my start.
What do you enjoy most in your work?
The most enjoyable thing in my work is the process. I love when I see my drawing become alive out of sketch lines. When I finish, all the joy vanishes and that’s it. I hardly look at my old drawings.
«I think, you just need to do what you love, other things will follow»
What is the most challenging part of your work?
Hmm, maybe the very first presentation to a client. Even if I know the client very well, I still don’t know how they will react.
What has been the highlight of your career or the biggest success for you as an artist so far?
I think, my biggest success was making the visual image for Shiseido Ultimune China and this year the visual image for the 25th anniversary of the company Akrapovič. The second project was especially challenging to me, as I had to combine high tech automotive industry with my artistic view.
Could you tell us more about the process of creating your artworks? What are your main instruments and what media do you use?
When people look at me when I am working, usually they are like: «that’s it??». It’s simple. I use normal pencils, some ink and paper, after I scan it and do just tiny Photoshop corrections, and that’s it. The process itself is not really something magical.
«We don’t care so much about trends and what others are writing about. We do what we like and we have people around who like the same»
What inspires you most of all when you create your artworks?
I am not sure. There is a difference between illustrators and fine artists. My work is always client oriented and I barely paint something that is really inspirational to me. Mostly these are always project oriented topics. Though I am able to find love and inspiration to do this, no matter if it is a fashion model or car parts.
We know that you are the Owner and Creative Director of the Reserved Magazine. Could you tell us more about the Magazine and how you came to establishing it?
It started a couple of years ago, when I met my best friend Whitney and she asked me if I would help her to create a magazine. Nobody knew a lot about magazines, but we are both very creative people.
The First Issue of Reserved was launched in Paris. The whole idea of the magazine is that we publish art, fashion, music and other stuff that we love and we think is interesting and we don’t care so much about trends and what others are writing about. We do what we like and we have people around who like the same.
Could you tell more about your experience in New York, your impressions?
I have been to New York many times in the last couple of years, mostly for work and the magazine. My impressions are mixed. I saw NY in different ways — as a tourist I did not like it, from the business point of view — I loved it. There are parts of NY that I love and there are some really ugly ones, spring is beautiful, summer is terrible. In some parts you can sit in a quiet place and enjoy, some parts are just too much.
But I decided: I would never live in NYC, outside definitely, but never in the city.
«On the one hand, you need to be a social climber, on the other hand, you need your own life and privacy to be able to work»
Can an artist nowadays exist without an agent? Is it hard to get exposure?
Sure. An agent could help artists a lot if they see them profitable, but at the end, the artist is always alone. Only artists know how to market and sell their own art. I don’t know about exposure — I think you just need to do what you love, other things will follow.
Is it hard to balance creativity and commercial success for artists nowadays?
Not for me, for me it is hard to be a fine artist (maybe I will be before I die). I think it’s the same from ever — Warhol was a fashion illustrator, Da Vinci worked mostly on commissioned projects for clients…
What is the most memorable response that you have received to your artworks so far?
I am still waiting for it (smiling). No, I don’t pay so much attention to responses — I do my work, if my clients are happy, then I am happy too. Sometimes clients are happy with my work even if I’m not. That’s the job, it pays my bills.
«I had been struggling for 35 years with my work and illustration before I realized: this is what I was born for»
What are you currently working at?
I am working on a big project for the company Akrapovič for their 25th anniversary. I think, that’s one of my best projects I have ever done – a great company, excellent people to work with, great vision and I will do something different than usually. They are the best in what they do (car and motorcycle exhaust systems) and they decided to combine art and high tech.
What is the secret of your success?
Follow your dreams.
Many artists often tend to a reclusive lifestyle. Are you a sociable person, and how does meeting and communicating with other people inspire you?
I don’t know. It’s the area I have a lot of problems with. I am not a sociable person to go on every kind of event. So, I guess, these two things come in conflict with artists. On the one hand, you need to be a social climber and, on the other hand, you need your own life and privacy to be able to work. I don’t think that social life will make you successful. From my experience, at the end you see that successful people are not really exposed in social life.
Do you enjoy travelling? How does travelling inspire you? What are your favourite destinations?
I love traveling and I love visiting museums. I like to meet new people and places and learn about history. My favorite destination is not even far from my country: Italy.
«Always do what you love. Never regret, as life is too short»
Our readers enjoy traveling and discovering new destinations, and Slovenia is one of the most amazing European countries with beautiful landscape and a lot to see. What places would you advise our readers to visit in Slovenia?
Yes, Slovenia is a real gem in Europe. I would say: Ljubljana, Postojna cave, Bled, beautiful castles and the Alps. We are a small country, but still we have amazing things, such as the oldest wheel ever found, the oldest musical instrument…
How do you balance life and leisure? Is there a second passion or a hobby in your life besides art and illustration?
I had been struggling for 35 years with my work and illustration before I realized: this is what I was born for. There is nothing else, art is my life – in addition to my family and my favourite pets…
What is your idea of happiness?
Always do what you love. Never regret, as life is too short. It can happen that tomorrow will never come…
Thank you for this inspiring and sincere interview! We wish you a lot of success and many new creative projects!
Our readers can see more artworks by Mitja Bokun here: www.bokun.si