Deniz Ercelebi is a Turkish industrial designer and fashion illustrator based in Richmond, Virginia. Having worked as a designer in the technology industry for over 20 years, she has decided not to postpone her dreams any longer. We caught up with Deniz to find out more about her journey and FIDA (Fashion Illustration Awards) success, how things are going since her career -accordingly- her life changed, and hear more about the fashion illustration field.
NYL: Dear Deniz, you have an inspiring story. Can you talk us through your career journey to date?
Deniz: I studied Industrial Design at Middle East Technical University. After my internship, I started working part-time as a graphic and web designer at a design agency, which turned into a full-time job after graduation. I moved to New York in 2004. I am a problem solver and a lifelong learner. After doing graphic and web design for a while, I leveraged my industrial design knowledge and web design experience to start designing digital products. My most recent experience has been in the tech start-up world as a product designer. I love User Experience Design as it provides me with ongoing problem-solving opportunities and allows me to exercise my creativity.
NYL: When did you realize you wanted to become an illustrator?
Deniz: I’ve always loved drawing. My mother tells me how I started drawing fashion figures as early as I could hold a pencil. However, I come from a family of engineers. After high school, I ended up studying Geological Engineering. Yet, I realized it wasn’t for me at the end of my first year. I transferred to the Industrial Design Department as it was a more creative field but still technical for me to feel comfortable. I did not feel brave enough to jump straight into art and illustration at the time. Then life got busy and drawing just stayed on the side as a neglected hobby for me.
I’ve always felt that art and illustration were what I wanted to do. I also struggled with a significant artist’s block all my life. I knew I wanted to do art and illustration, but I didn’t know where to start. After I had my second baby at age 44, a switch was turned on for me recently. I decided; this is it. Life is passing. If I want to do something, there is no better time than today. So I decided to get over my art block systematically. My husband gifted me a craft table that he built. I created a small studio space in our basement and started drawing. I decided to draw a little every day. It doesn’t really matter what it is or how it turns out. The point was to do it and dust off my skills.
NYL: I assume you grew up loving fashion and pop culture, and that’s why you chose that route into fashion illustration. What was your motivation?
Deniz: As I mentioned, since I was a little girl, I have loved drawing women and fashion. There’s something magical and inspiring about expressing emotions and mood through illustrating fabrics, colors, materials, and especially the accessories. For a while, I thought I wanted to be a fashion designer. When I moved to NY, I applied and got accepted to FIT. However, I quickly discovered that sewing was not for me. I simply did not have the desire or patience to make garments. I enjoyed illustrating them.
NYL: Can you tell us about your mixed media practices briefly? Which mediums do you prefer, and what kind of materials do you use?
Deniz: I am an art supply junkie. I love trying new materials and mixing different mediums. But my all-time favorites are watercolors, ink, color pencils, dry pastels, and of course, digital. I usually start with pencil sketches on watercolor paper or Bristol. It allows me to loosely draft the form, play with proportions and decide on the composition. Then I apply water-based mediums such as watercolors, ink, or acrylics. Happy accidents that happen with ink always excite me. Sometimes I finish the drawing in Procreate, an app I’ve been using for the last few years for digital art. It is easy to use and an overall fantastic app for digital art. I enjoy being able to experiment with colors and composition in Procreate quickly.
NYL: Recently, two of your artworks have been included in the “Fida x With Love Halston” exhibition in NYC. Could you tell us more?
Deniz: “Fida x With Love Halston” exhibition took place on April 24, 2022, at The National Arts Club in NYC to celebrate what would have been the American fashion designer Halston’s 90th birthday. Original Halston memorabilia along with artworks from Fida (Fashion Illustration Awards) artists were auctioned during the event. Two of my artworks inspired by Halston were displayed, and one was included in the live auction. The proceeds from the soiree went towards the With Love Halston mission which awards scholarships to the next generation of fashion designers. I was very proud to be included in this event along with other talented artists.
NYL: What do you love about NYC so much that you call yourself “a New Yorker at heart”?
Deniz: The first time I went to NYC was as a tourist with my family when I was 15 years old. I was mesmerized by the energy of the city. I immediately knew that I wanted to live there at some point in my life. Later, when I moved to NYC in my late 20s, I felt immediately at home. There’s something about this city that captures you, unlike any place in the world. The diversity, creativity, energy, the people… I don’t live in NYC anymore, but I try to visit as often as I can to recharge.
NYL: We know that music has a great place in your life. Can you explain the music’s impact on your art?
Deniz: The music that I listen to while I draw affects my mood and the mood of the artwork significantly. Sometimes when I listen to a song or a tune, I visualize it in my head. It’s almost like my illustrations have their own soundtracks.
NYL: In many creative fields, we see inspiration and likeness intermingled. Fashion must be an area where this situation is frequently experienced, especially on the fast-fashion side. Can we talk about that?
Deniz: For decades illustration had been displaced by photography which satisfied the needs of brands’ communications. But recently, there’s been a shift, and fashion illustration is on the rise again, which is a welcome change. There are so many great artists out there. With the help of social media, artists and illustrators are able to reach more people and display their work to broader audiences. Live sketching during fashion shows is getting popular again, giving illustrators the opportunity to capture the moment from their unique artistic point of view. When I illustrate a look from a collection, I try to add my own creative point of view to the artwork to reflect the essence of the collection. I have a vast collection of reference images on Pinterest that I refer to regularly. I continuously collect images of models, hair, makeup, accessories, botanicals, animals, architecture, and other visual elements.
NYL: This year, the Met Gala plays off of 2021’s “In America” theme with a new focus: “An Anthology on Fashion.” There will be rooms that are connected through the cinematic lens. Nine film directors will put their own imprimatur on each and create mise-en-scenes. So, we wonder which director’s style you feel close to? Why? And what kind of costume would you like to design?
Deniz: I can’t wait to see how each director’s artistic style will reflect this year’s theme Gilded Glamour in cinematic vignettes. New York’s Gilded Age was an exciting period in terms of fashion. Scorsese’s concept that will be set in a 20th-century living room designed by Frank Lloyd Wright definitely sounds cool and exciting. But I’d love to illustrate a costume in Bravo’s vignette, an 1850 Rococo Revival parlor with a corset, lace, feathers, satin, and all the drama of the period.
NYL: What advice would you give to others hoping to follow a similar path?
Deniz: I struggled with art block all my life. I’m still learning about discipline, to practice practice practice. But my one piece of advice would be if you want to illustrate, just grab the pencil and draw. Follow your dharma as an artist. Our dharma is like flowing water. Eventually, it will find its way. The more you practice and produce, you’ll find your style, and more opportunities will open up.