For this issue’s installment of “Men in Skirts,” we decided to turn the attention on one of our own. For the last couple of years, Daniel Velasco, Venezuelan born fashion illustrator and visual artist, has been creating dreamy watercolors for our “Don’t skirt. the Issue” column. Providing thought-provoking images to accompany the figurative language that rises from that column’s page, however, is merely a glimpse into his prolific collection of work. Daniel’s impressive portfolio includes an array of commissioned designs for the likes of Johnnie Wujek and Sherri Hill, Shady Zeineldine and Kate McDonald, MR and VULKAN magazines, as well as a number of ongoing collaborations with local designers, museums and publications. Since receiving Charleston Fashion Week’s People’s Choice award in 2015, Daniel has made Mount Pleasant his home and continues to find inspiration among the cobbled streets of the Holy City.
I chatted with Daniel recently during his summer teaching residency in Philadelphia at the Moore College of Art and Design. It became immediately evident that the vibrant and splashy designs he paints are direct translations of his equally passionate personality.
skirt.: How did you get started in the art world, and what lead you to fashion illustration?
Daniel Velasco: I went to school [in Venezuela] for a BS in social communication with a minor in graphic design, so I’ve always been interested in and working in the illustration side of things. I started out doing illustrations for magazines and newspapers—politics, economics, humor …I also drew for IT management and science publications —so a lot of different sources. The first job I had was for an editorial company that produced textbooks. It’s funny how you see your life backwards and you can see how if it wasn’t for this thing that happened here, later on I couldn’t have been able to do what I’m doing now. That textbook job actually trained my eye, without me knowing or actually understanding how great that trained eye was going to be in the future for printed material.
Later, I started working as an art director for advertising. Then, two of my good friends from high school called me up one day with the idea to co-found our own advertising agency. Parallel to that I was also teaching classes for Universidad Monteavila [in Venezuela]. That’s something I’ve always been very passionate about is being in the classroom. I love teaching. It inspires me, it keeps me on my toes. I love the fact that you have to be studying constantly. And you get great feedback from the students—I get from them as much information and knowledge as they do from me. I loved being a student as well. I wish I could be a student my whole life! I have a passion for knowledge and information. The more you know, you know you don’t know anything.
I got a scholarship to SCAD and signed up for the MFA with a minor in dimensional illustration. Halfway through the program, my department chair suggested I take fashion drawing classes, so I took Advanced Sketching for Fashion the next quarter. I did this without knowing really anything about fashion. I just hadn’t been interested in it, not because I didn’t like it, I just didn’t know anything about it. My fashion professor was tough as nails, but what a wonderful professor! She took me under her wing and completely shifted my perspective. From that moment on I switched completely to fashion illustration. I had to redo my portfolio completely with entirely brand new work. I had to take all the years of my old work and leave it behind and start over with a whole new body of work. And luckily so, I guess because, well, here I am talking with you!
skirt.: What does your portfolio consist of lately? Who have you worked for that you find especially memorable?
DV: I’ve had the opportunity to work for Johnnie Wujek, Katy Perry’s personal stylist. I designed her Cheetos halloween costume—it’s so funny, that of all of the things I’ve done, that’s the one that people are always most excited to hear about! The pinnacle of my career has been the Cheetos costume! But you know, Cheetos have many different shapes, and that costume took like, I kid you not, 12 illustrations to get the perfect look. Johnnie [Wujek] was like, “No, no, no, make this bigger,” or, “more of this.” I actually bought a bag of Cheetos and laid them out on the table and drew them then added her inside them to visualize the costume!
I also did a costume for the opening of her Prismatic tour, the one where she’s wearing a lion face on the chest, and I did a dress that she wore at a Super Bowl afterparty. The dress looks like a football—brown sequins with football laces down the front.
We [Wujek and I] did dresses for Bella Thorne and Sherri Hill. [Sherri Hill] is huge in evening wear dresses and the biggest distributor of gowns in the US—Miss Universe, Miss America, prom dresses…I’ve also been published in New York City and internationally, as well as locally. I do many local collaborations.
skirt.: Speaking of local, what brought you to Charleston?
DV: What brought me here was Andrea Serrano. She is a fashion curator here in Charleston and I was a designer for Charleston Fashion Week . She was one of the judges. She learned that I could illustrate and was like, “Oh my gosh, I would love to collaborate with you!” So we started talking and she was so warm and amazing, so I was like, “Yeah, sure!” We started working together and she is one of the main reasons I moved to Charleston.
skirt.: Who or what inspires you?
DV: Oh gosh, so many things! Teaching inspires me. Watching fashion shows and seeing them in person is a wonderful source of inspiration. The human body is inspiring as well, and I also love botanicals. In fact, right now I’m working on a series that blends human and botanical figures. Women are a huge inspiration for me as well. And film, I love film—gore, thriller, classic Hollywood, international films—there’s a great source of inspiration in movies. Books, of course. I love short stories of sci-fi and horror. I love Stephen King and authors that write small stories that require so much technique and skill for craft that it has to be condensed in the smallest format, so it’s just packed with imagery.
skirt.: Do you have a process or routine you like to follow?
DV: One of the habits I have is a sketchbook. I don’t carry it around 24/7—I’d rather be present during a conversation, for example, but I do have moments where I will walk around with my sketchbook. Especially right now that I’m in a big city [Philadelphia]. It’s so full of art and figures and buildings. I like to take time to do that, just sit down and sketch what is around me or go to the museum and draw one of the sculptures.
A friend of mine said to me, “True inspiration is when you are lost in your work.” That happens to me if I am doing a painting, and it usually happens when I am drawing. You get lost completely in your work, and that means that you see the clock and it’s 5 p.m. and when you see it again it’s three in the morning. You don’t even know that time has passed. I do believe that it is when you are completely lost in the work so intensely that the time passing is not even an issue; you don’t even care about stepping away to eat a little or get a drink of water, you’re just there lost in your work.
Surrounding myself with books is important to me. I have a lot coffee table books with lots of images. I love having them displayed where I’m working, for example in my studio or my house in Mount Pleasant. I have them there so if I want to take a break or get an idea I can pick one up and go through it. I like that better than going on Pinterest or Google. I would rather have the physical interaction with the book, the feel of the pages on your hands and the smell of the ink.
skirt.: What are working on currently?
DV: For the summer I am teaching at Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia. I’m also currently working for Kate McDonald and Ibu Movement. In July I did a workshop at the Charleston Museum. I did a couple illustrations and a dress for them back in March for their “Reimagined Fashion” exhibition. I donated the dress to [the Museum] and it’s there right now as part of the “War on Fashion” exhibition, which I thought was wonderful. I was so deeply touched that they used my dress. It’s the first one when you enter the room. Everyone in Charleston has been so welcoming with arms wide open. I only have wonderful things to say about the city