The illustrative ingenuity of Christina Zimpel

The illustrative ingenuity of Christina Zimpel

Unlike most artists, the Australian-born, New York-based illustrator Christina Zimpel does not work out of a studio. She prefers to paint at her kitchen table, in the 1870’s red brick townhouse in Clinton Hill that she shares with her husband, the photographer Patric Shaw. ‘It has beautiful light, with whitewashed walls and simple wood details – it’s a lovely environment to work in,’ says the artist, who cites domesticity, nature and the artist Louise Bourgeois as inspirations. ‘I just make a tea and walk around in the garden when I need a break.’

A graphic design graduate and former art director at Australian and US Vogue, Zimpel has been painting full time for two years. What started as a hobby with a series of self portraits done through a mirror in pencil quickly led to her quitting her day job to pursue her art – and it’s paid off, with a number of high profile commissions that have included the CFDA Awards and, most recently, the Michael Kors Spring/Summer 2019 show.

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Portrait of Gabriela Hearst for the CFDA Awards 2018 (ink, pencil and collage)

‘Michael saw my work for the CFDA and wanted to meet me,’ says Zimpel, of the show project that saw her create 30 drawings that represented freedom and escapism over the course of the summer. ‘The brief was Take Me Away, so I painted dreamscapes inspired by Mediterranean views, Capri, the south of France and Greece…’.

Zimpel created the large-scale set pieces in the same way as her traditional technicolour artworks – painted on one piece of paper at her table (she hates wasting paper and will work continuously on one artwork until she likes it, rather than crumpling it up and starting from scratch). ‘The artworks were photographed and we created large digital files which were then transformed onto everything from postcards to massive wall installations and tote bags.’

While her projects are now wide ranging – encompassing everything from advertising campaigns and fabric design to brand packaging – some things in Zimpel’s career have remained a constant: she paints wearing jeans and a man’s shirt every day, and much of her work still focuses on portraits, that are drawn first in pencil. ‘I like layers to give the piece structure,’ she says. ‘I overlay pencil with ink, before using acrylic paint to give opacity and richness of colour.’

Most recently, Zimpel has been working on a forthcoming project for Maison Kitsuné, for which she painted an illustration that will be splashed across everything from shirts to sweaters. ‘It’s a vivid little acid-coloured fox inspired by Matisse,’ she says, of the collection which launches in November. ‘Maison Kitsune were very early champions of mine.’ §

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