Jim Howard is an icon of fashion illustration. For four decades his dynamic style brought to life adverts for the world’s most renowned fashion brands.
Born in 1930, Texas native, Howard did not start drawing until he was about eight years old. His first formal art training was at a junior college, later earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the University of Texas.
Howard’s first job was at a department store in Austin, Texas called Goodfriends. He would dress windows and was occasionally allowed to illustrate promotional material.
However, his time at Goodfriends was cut short by a two-year stint in the army which saw him stationed in Europe. Using his leave time he visited France and Italy to soak up their cultures.
In the 1950s, upon his return to Texas, Howard took his portfolio to Neiman Marcus flagship store in Dallas. Neiman Marcus immediately recognised Howard’s talent and thrust him into the world of fashion and a busy art department. He worked in-house at the company’s headquarters in Texas as an illustrator and assistant artistic director.
Howard moved to New York City to work as the artistic director of department store chain, Franklin Simon & Co. in the 1960s. He eventually moved into freelancing, making a name for himself and working with some of the best fashion retailers, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Bonwit Teller, B. Altman and Marshall Field’s.
Many of Howard’s works were created using charcoal pencils to shade his subjects with dramatic lighting. Rather than sketching the body first, he would draw models starting at their head and work down to their feet. One quality of Howard’s technique was that he did not just focus on the garment, he used the landscape, poses, and expressions to create stories. His use of lifestyle settings grounded the characters in scenes of office environments, airline travel and elegant parties.
Howard’s success paralleled the rise of fashion illustration in the 20th century. He was prolific, creating eight figures in a day. And worked consistently until the late 1980s when photography had become the de facto medium.
Now living in the Denver, Colorado, Howard will turn 88 years old this summer. He is still drawing, working on a series of books and has created multiple books published by Paper Studio Press. His popular COUTURE series is notable. The COUTURE paper doll books showcase famous fashions, decade by decade.
Currently, the Denver Art Museum is exhibiting Howard’s editorial work. Drawn to Glamour: Fashion Illustrations by Jim Howard spans his four-decade fashion illustration career with more than 100 works on paper. The show, and its related events, will run until 5 August 2018.
During a visit to Colorado State University he gave the students some advice.
“Call. Don’t wait for them to call you. You just can’t wait around to be discovered.”