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Design and Illustration: an interview with “Bella”

Design and Illustration: an interview with “Bella”

Saikhantsetseg Tserendorj, or “Bella,” is a Mongolian fashion designer and illustrator currently based in New York City. While obtaining an associate’s degree in Fashion Design and a bachelor’s in Technical Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology, Bella began honing her creative abilities, putting onto paper the inimitable sartorial musings that sprang into her mind. Her illustrations oftentimes have a whimsical flare about them, drawing influence from the vibrant color palette of a Tabasco hot sauce bottle or a fluorescent orange highlighter. We asked Bella to answer a few questions that would give us greater insight into what it’s like to break into the fashion industry and whether she had any helpful tips for those wishing to follow a similar path. Check out her responses below:

You are originally from Mongolia and now living in New York. Do you feel that living in New York has influence/change the way you do your illustrations? – Yes, living in New York has tremendously influenced the way I do my illustrations. It’s one of the prettiest and stylish city in the entire world. Also, one of the important fashion capital and home of many famous brands and designers. Almost everyday, I could see many stylish people with unique styles on the street of New York and I didn’t see so many when I was at home. Also, the weather here in New York is very cooperative. Even it’s winter girls can still wear cut out jeans and stylish light coat with high heels with no socks. In Mongolia, winter is so cold that you have to layer up and get wrapped up from head to toe. I used to illustrate a lot of abstract designs when I just started illustrating at home. I think I wasn’t really exposed to designer brands or haute couture like I do now. Now I’m more into design and illustrate mix of wearable / haute couture with a twist. But once in a while I go ahead and illustrate something crazy and abstract just to get my imagination going. Lately I’m designing a lot of one of a kind and cute dresses.  


What’s it like being a fashion illustrator in Mongolia and what’s it like being a fashion illustrator in New York? (Can you compare the two?) 
– I’ve never worked as a fashion illustrator at home. I came to the USA a year after I graduated high school to study fashion.  When I was a sophomore at FIT, I got an internship at a Bridal Wear Company called JLM Couture in New York. That was my very first real life experience in the industry. I loved everything about it. I loved how the designer is so focused and passionate about getting the right shade of fabric, to checking every single seam, to fitting the dress with the model all morning. It’s a very fast paced, fun and competitive industry which keeps you on your toes and gives you so much adrenaline. 


You graduated from Fashion Institute of Technology with Associates in Fashion design and Bachelor’s in Technical design. Was it beneficial and would you recommend the same course/path for aspiring creatives?
– Yes, it was definitely beneficial. I learned a lot about the technical side of fashion design such as digitizing a pattern, making of a tech pack, deconstructing a pattern, fitting, commenting and many more. Also, technical design major is relatively new major and there is high demand in the industry. But I’d recommend aspiring creatives that they have to know what they truly want and need. If you’re someone who wants to sketch, draw and paint more into fashion art and design then it’s better to continue Fashion design major. Because it’s more creative and you’ll design more. But if you enjoy making patterns, sewing and making flats on illustrator then technical design program is better for you. 

What was your very first fashion illustration that you did? What is your most recent? What would you have done differently now if you go back and re-do your very first fashion illustration? – When I was in middle school I was enrolled to fashion design club for a short period of time. The students were instructed to design garments based on the theme given by the instructor. The themes were fire, ice, water and wind. I remember distinctively my ice themed design. My ice designs were consisted of a couple standing next to each other. A guy is wearing shirt and pants and I rendered it blue gradation and white toward the sleeve, and made the fabric kind of like soft feathers. The girl was wearing shirt and skirt in the same color and texture too. If I were to go back and redo it, I’d probably design asymmetrical short draped dress with chain accents. 

My most recent fashion illustration is a brown earth shade draped dress with asymmetrical cut out on the left waist, with a bow closure on the right shoulder with red accent stripe on the front.


You’ve done traditional fashion illustrations as well as illustrations that are less structured and more free hand, which you call ‘Scribbles’. Can you explain to us how they are created differently, in terms of the creative process? (i.e. Time frame, material use…etc) 
– When I was just started illustrating I wanted to find my own style. I was trying different styles and different art supplies and tools for months. Then I found two styles I love. Even though I told myself if you go after two things my focus will be divided and I won’t be good at either of them. So I tried to make myself choose one but I couldn’t decide. I feel like both of the styles help me to grow and create better. I always use photo reference for my traditional fashion illustrations. I like to illustrate ready to wear looks with fun poses like sitting down or turning back. It’s fun and in a way it reminds me of my childhood. I complete everything from head to toe, even the eyelashes.

As for my scribbles, it’s completely free hand and done very quick. Also I like using pen and markers directly on the paper with tons of white space. It’s a bit messy but I feel like my scribbles have so much characters in them. They are classy, interesting and one of a kind. Also, for some reason they capture my emotions very well. If I have something bothering me the lines usually come out thick, messier and color is heavier and darker otherwise they look light, floaty and delicate.  


What is your favourite fashion illustration that you’ve done so far? And why? 
– My favourite illustration is a dress I illustrated last year. It’s cute couture dress with off shoulder with medium length. It’s navy color with grey and yellow fabric accents. I think the design and the color story came out very nicely and If I were to make one of my dresses that’d be definitely one to go. Whenever I look at that illustration, I feel motivated to do more. 

Do you have a favourite fashion illustrator that you look up to? If so, who and why? If not, who do you aspired to become and why? – Yes I have. My favorite fashion illustrator is Jessica Durrant. I found her on Instagram. She is definitely my guru. She is this beautiful person inside and out full of encouragement and motivation. I love how transparent she is with her audience and always encourage artist and illustrators to do what they love, make more art and dreams do come true. And of course her illustrations are just breathtaking. And I hope I can get to meet her one day and give her a hug and let her know that she is my favorite! 


Many fashion illustrator create their drawings based on works of other designers. As a fashion designer yourself, does your fashion illustrations come from your head or are they a mix of other fashion designers and yours? 
– I try not to look at other designers works when I design. It’s natural thing that once you love someone’s design you start doing similar things without even knowing, not because you want to copy it but because you love it. Majority of my designs come from my head. Sometimes the ideas come from a shape, color or even a word. So catching those flash of ideas and making note is really important to me. 

What challenges do you face as a creative individual? And is it easier or more difficult to create an illustration for a client or your own personal projects?  – The challenges that’s I face is that sometimes I wonder if I’m good enough, if I’m qualified enough and what If I run out of ideas and can’t create anymore. Sometimes this kind of thoughts diminish my confidence a little bit but I think it’s normal to have this kind of thoughts. There has to be little bit of worry and fear to push me to create more and better. It’s definitely easier to create an illustration for your own personal projects. Because you exactly know what you want and all you have to do is to sit down and create it. 


Individual work can be the subject of criticism, have you ever felt criticized and how did you deal with it?
 – When I was in high school I showed my illustration to my teacher and she criticized my work that the model’s legs are way too long, not straight and they look crooked in a laughing manner. That made me little sad but I didn’t fix my illustration. I kept it as is. And still to this date I love drawing long legs and I know that’s what I want and how I want it. All that matters is what you want and you have to do it. Also it’s a losing game to try to please everybody so if someone criticizes my work I’ll respect their opinion and move on with mine.


What would be your ultimate goal as a fashion illustrator? 
– I want to publish my fashion illustration book and launch my very own fashion design class/workshop. 

To get further updates on Bella’s latest work and how she’s contributing to the industry, follow her on Instagram – @inkfizz.

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words Kate Macchi

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