Megan Hess is one of the world’s most well-known fashion illustrators, having illustrated portraits for the New York Times, Italian Vogue, Vanity Fair, Prada, Cartier, Dior and FENDI. Not only is Megan a talented artist, but she has also written and illustrated seven best-selling books, is a mum, an artist in residence to multiple international venues and has built a global business. She is a leader who inspires!
Megan was kind enough to share her experiences in starting a business and her reflections on being a leader.
How did you land your first client? Were they in fashion?
I studied Graphic Design because it felt like a ‘real’ job in the art world, but I really always wanted to be an illustrator. I just never knew that it was a possible career choice! After working as an Art Director in Ad agencies for several years, I packed everything up and moved to London. It was in London that I worked in a million different creative jobs and my final job there realised that I had a burning desire to be an artist.
At this time, I was the Art Director for Liberty Department Store. While I loved art-directing fashion, I loved illustrating it more. I started to do very small illustrations for Liberty and from this other art directors saw my work and little commissions began to follow. After about a year I found myself with non-stop work. I wasn’t earning a fortune, but I’d never been happier, and I knew I was going to do this forever.
As my clients got bigger and better, I was able to be a little more selective, and just work on briefs that I knew had a great creative opportunity. Then in 2006, I got a call in the middle of the night from Candace Bushnell’s publisher asking if I would illustrate her next novel ‘One Fifth Avenue’. This was when things took off at rapid speed for me. Her book became a New York Times bestseller, and I met with Candace, and she asked me to illustrate all her previous books including the cover of ‘Sex and The City’. Once ‘Sex and the City’ was released I was contacted by TIME magazine in New York to create portraits for them.
Following this, I began illustrating for Tiffany & Co, Chanel, Dior, Cartier, Vanity Fair, Italian Vogue, Bergdorf Goodman and Ladure. Ironically, at the same time as my work finally took off, I had my first baby!! It’s funny, I always tell people that I haven’t really slept since 2006!!
What was it like to go from working on your own to hiring staff and having to be the leader in your team?
At first, I was terrified of hiring staff because I had worked on my own for so long. But as soon as I had my first employee, I realised I should have hired someone years ago! My business dramatically grew, and I was suddenly able to get back to focusing on creating. It was the best business decision I ever made.
What do you look for in an employee about to join the Megan Hess team?
I always start with personality. I believe if someone has a great personality and is intelligent, they have the capability to do anything. My team is small, so it’s important that everyone gets along and respects one another.
It’s very important to me that everyone feels safe and loved. Even though it’s work, we all spend a lot of time together so everyone feeling good is so important. I’m so proud to say I work within a group of women that feel like family. I’m very lucky.
What achievement are you most proud of?
Getting paid to do what I love for a living and being a Mother. I see that as a huge luxury to be able to do both, and it’s something that I’m very grateful for every day. I’ve also been able to donate many pieces of my work for charities and causes all over the world, and in some small way, I feel proud that one of my drawings may have helped someone where.
As Creative Patron of Ovarian Cancer, I’ve also had the privilege of working with the most inspiring team of people trying to raise awareness and funds for the development of an early detection test for Ovarian Cancer.
As your career has grown, you’ve worked with some incredible brands. How did you first initiate these client relationships?
I am very grateful to all the amazing brands that I have worked with. For me, it’s been years of building those relationships. Each new project attracts a new client, and I have been fortunate to have been commissioned by such diverse and creative companies all over the world.
What areas of leadership are you most confident in and are there aspects of it that you struggle with?
I’m a big picture person. I don’t like to micromanage. I’ve always believed in the theory that it is best to work with people who are faster, smarter and much better at certain things than me. I know my strengths, and I love to let my team manage and take ownership of their roles. I’ve learnt that autonomy is very important for people to grow and for a company to grow.
How do you find owning your own business and being a mum? Does your home, office etc always look as good as on Instagram?
Ha! Well, sadly no although I wish it did. Actually, my studio always looks pretty good because we all make an effort to keep it ready for both chic clients who drop by and last-minute photoshoots. My home is sometimes completely tidy and lovely, and other weeks I have piles of washing, dishes and school projects everywhere!! It’s a normal household full of lovely chaos!
You have such a diverse business including prints, commissions, books, homewares/styling and more. Can you describe your creative process?
I hand draw all my line work with a custom Montblanc pen and ink, then I either leave it black and white or add colour with gouache, watercolour and digital means. Some of my illustrations are very fast. I usually post a quick sketch on my Instagram account each morning (@meganhess_official) and I only ever give myself 10 minutes for that – because I have so many deadlines to get through! Most of my work can take anywhere from an hour to several days. It just depends on the complexity of the illustration.
If it’s for a client, it starts with a brief, and I always give myself a good amount of initial time to dream and get inspired about what I’m going to draw. Sometimes I’ll do initial sketches or create a mood board of concepts and ideas. Then I’ll discuss with my clients where my direction is heading. Then it’s to the physical drawing phase, and I’m usually in absolute joy creating the final image.
See the magical work of Megan Hess.
About the author
Anastasia Benveniste loves anything digital or creative and is passionate about human rights. She gets enormous amounts of personal satisfaction through her work in digital communications, as it allows her to share people’s stories. She has a Masters in Design Communication, and her favourite academic experience was spending a semester studying at Yale University. Outside of work, she loves art history, painting and anything monogrammed! www.benvoa.com