Portfolio: Daisy De Villeneuve – fun with felt-tips

Daisy tells us about using felt-tips to draw fun, vibrant and whimsical illustrations.

Wrapping paper with Daisy's design for Heathrow Airport

If you buy Christmas gifts for your loved ones while travelling through Heathrow Airport this month, you can have them wrapped in paper featuring a mistletoe pattern designed by leading fashion illustrator Daisy De Villeneuve (or other seasonal designs by the likes of Clym Evernden or Fifi Lapin).

Daisy has turned the favoured medium of most eight-year-olds – felt-tip pens – into a professional illustration style. She's best known for her work with Topshop, Moët & Chandon and Vogue.

We used this new work as an excuse to catch up with Daisy. Chatting over Skype, she told me about the project, why she loves working with felt tips, and growing up under the influence of family friend Sir Peter Blake.

Neil Bennett: What was this brief for this Heathrow project?

Daisy De Villeneuve: "They wanted something festive, fun, and with a fashion element to it as well. My other sketches that they didn't use were Christmas trees and presents, so I hadn't solely done the mistletoe idea. That was just the one that they liked the most."

Daisy's illustrations on a suitcase for Globetrotter

NB: How would you describe your style?

DDV: "Everybody asks me that question. I use felt tip pens, and that can seem quite childlike, but at the same time I feel like it's not childlike. It's more like it's whimsical, it's fun, it's vibrant, colourful."

NB: How do felt-tips let you produce a fun and whimsical style of illustration better than other drawing tools?

DDV: "I like how you can see how the marks overlap and you can see the lines. You can see the surface of it, it's very raw. I like that."

The cover of Daisy's I Should Have Said book

NB: When did you first start using felt tips?

DDV: "I started when I was about three. Then when I was a teenager I would send letters to my friends and I would address the envelope in all different colour, every letter had a different colour, and I loved doing that.

"I went to art school [and] because it was a fine art degree, we focused on painting. So I was doing [felt tip art] outside the classroom and. They wanted us to keep a sketch book. I would have been using felt tips in that, and then writing letters home [using them].

"I didn't know what I was going to do for my senior show, and it wasn't until I was showing teachers and students my [felt-tip] work that they said, "Why don't you do that for your show?" That's when I focused more on the felt tip thing for my graduation show – which ended up becoming the I Should Have Said book [shown here].

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A spread from Daisy's I Should Have Said book

"'Wouldn't it be fun,' I joked to myself, 'to make a career with felt tip pens'. Like that's really going to happen.

"Actually it worked. Ever since then I thought I was on to something. No one else was using felt tip pens besides graffiti artists, and I'm not a graffiti artist – so I thought it was a fun medium to use, and it developed into my style."

An Oyster Card holder commissioned by TfL to celebrate 25 yeas of the British Fashion Council

NB: Did you experience any negative reaction from your tutors to working in felt-tips?

DDV: "At Parsons, the teachers were pretty liberal. I do wonder perhaps at a different art school they would have said, 'This is a fine art degree, you've got to paint' – but they were really cool about it."

Limited edition packaging for Moët & Chandon's Flower Rose pink champagne

NB: What felt tips do you use?

DDV: "When I first started I was using felt tip pens from Woolworth's that were probably about 99p or something.

"Later I was in New York [Daisy studied fine art at Parsons], and I discovered this brand called Prismacolor. They have a whole range of different colours – maybe about two hundred. They have two nibs, a thin nib and a fat nib and when it goes on the paper it looks very watercoloury, so people sometimes think that I've been using watercolours, but it's a felt tip pen. I love how that looks."

NB: It's not often – when we're doing these kind of interviews – that people talk about getting craft supplies from Woolworth's.

DDV: "I know, right."

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This Elizabeth I T-shirt was commissioned by the V&A

NB: So which artist has had the biggest influence on your work?

DDV: "My parents are really good friends with the pop artist Peter Blake, and so I've known him growing up. In fact, I'm named after one of his daughters – so I've always known about his work, and been at his studio, and seen him in action drawing, gone to his exhibitions.

So I think that I was hugely influenced, not just on my work but on the things that I like. If you were to come to my home you would see that I have a big collection of knickknacks and trinkets, and I'm sure that is influenced by Peter Blake one hundred percent."

By Daisy for Topshop

NB: Peter Blake is someone who is part of both the fine art and commercial art worlds, as are you. Is that his influence too?

DDV: "I probably wouldn't have thought about that back when I was starting in relation to him, but I can definitely see it now. Also, from a financial point of view, [when] working with brands I know that I'll have some sort of income coming through – whereas I feel like sometimes if you have an exhibition, you don't know if it's going to sell or not."

By Daisy for Topshop

NB: Who's influencing you most these days?

DDV: "David Hockey. I like his pencil drawings and the way he puts people in their environment and the portraits. I loved the series that he did of those guards in the uniforms."

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NB: What's been your favourite project to date?

DDV: "I really liked working with Zac Posen, a designer in New York, who's a friend of mine. We've been friends for a long time and we'd always talked about collaborating together. I did prints for his Spring Summer 2011 diffusion line called Z Spoke [shown here], and it was nice to see my work on clothing.

"In the past I've had [created illustrations for clothing] for Top Shop I had my work on T-shirts and knickers and tote bags, but I never had done a entire collection with a fashion designer before. That was something I really liked, and I would actually like to do something like that again."

Daisy drawing her misletoe for her Heathrow project (which isn't her least favourite project)

NB: And your least favourite?

DDV: "Ages ago, I worked for this beauty line and they wanted me to do a candle. They knew my work was very colourful, so they commissioned me for my colourful style. They'd shown me prototypes of it [and] said that the international brand person really liked it.

"I was waiting for payment, and I was in touch with my agent at the time saying, 'What's happening with the candle?'. Finally I got an email saying, 'Actually, we wanted something minimal, so we're not going to use your work'.

"Then I thought, 'Why did they hire me? They know that I do colourful stuff and that's what they said they wanted'. It was complete miscommunication. When I phoned them to say 'we could have had a conversation about this', they never took my phone call. I never heard from them again."

Daisy's cushions for Fine Cell Work

NB What are you working on right now?

DDV: "At the moment, I'm working for a charity called Fine Cell Work, where prisoners learn how to do tapestry in prison and then with the money for that they can send that back to their family. It's supposed to rehabilitate them so they won't re-offend when they get out.

"I've been working with them for a while. I'm actually on their committee and I designed some cushions for them a few years ago. They're available on their website."

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