Justin Teodoro is a Canadian-born, New York based artist, illustrator and designer whose work was brought to my attention by Emily Sandberg . After graduating from Parsons School of Design, Justin began his career working for Tuleh, Cynthia Steffe and Kenneth Cole. His work has been featured on Women’s Wear Daily and Pantone. Unassuming, passionate and driven, I think we can expect big things from him in the future.
What were your aspirations when you were growing up in Canada?
I was always pretty much that art kid growing up – taking art classes and always drawing and painting. I really didn’t know specifically what I wanted to do as a career but I knew it had to be something in art and design. Fashion was always something that was in the back of my head. I remember being 10 and discovering my mom’s fashion magazines for the first time (she had all these subscriptions to Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar) and I began to just devour them every month, studying them feverishly back to back. It was fun for me to draw all those amazing and inspiring editorials and the glamorous models. I really do believe I learned how to draw and illustrate from copying those fashion magazines.
I dreamed of doing something in fashion and to be in that world but for whatever reason I never thought that was a possibility for me. I thought you had to sew and do all that stuff to be considered a designer. I knew I just wanted to draw it all. After I completed my undergraduate degree in Toronto, I did a bunch of odd jobs. My only real career before fashion was the five years I spent as a Starbucks barista. When I read about the fashion program at Parsons in New York City I thought this could be my shot and I went for it.
How did your time at Parsons help shape you and hone your craft?
For me it was all about living in New York City and pursuing this dream and just being ready and hungry to work hard to make it happen. I was beyond thrilled just to be there. I did a two-year Associates Program in Fashion Design at Parsons and that was a great introduction for me. I was learning all the basics like draping and sewing and pattern making for the first time. I understood early on that I needed some outside experience to see what being in fashion was really all about. Realistically, there is only so much you can learn inside a classroom for a career like this. I landed my first internship with Tuleh, a luxury design house in the Lower East Side. As an intern there, I was doing everything from production errands in the garment district to sewing labels and making drop offs as Bergdorf Goodman. I really saw the teamwork that it takes to make it all happen; it’s never about a singular effort but a group who makes a vision possible. That was a real education and stepping stone. Eventually I was hired as a design assistant at Tuleh and everything just happened from there. It is a lot of hard work working in fashion but I made it my point that when I love what I do it shouldn’t seem like work at the end of it all. I’ve always believed that this type of work should start from somewhere fun and happy because if it’s not, then what’s the point?
What impact has social media had on your career?
Social media has been amazing. From the obvious advantages of having my work seen by a whole new audience, I’ve had some really amazing responses and support from everyone. From the likes and comments to special projects and commissions, social media has been a huge net worker for my career. I see it like an online gallery.
Where do you draw inspiration from and how does it influence your work?
I’m inspired by a lot of things. I’m a huge researcher and I love to go on Tumblr and blogs and pull images and visuals (I think I have too many folders on my computer just of research images). I love to look at old magazines and art books and watch movies and videos for inspiration. My tastes are varied and range from so many different things that I do find that it makes my work and its style eclectic. I’ll jump from fashion illustration to more graphic line drawings to sometimes comic style doodles. A lot of the drawings I do everyday are just things I respond to in the moment from a great fashion image to what my friend is wearing to something cool I see on the street.
What was it about illustration that you were drawn to?
It really is just wanting to see what I like in front of me on paper. When I was little I drew cartoon characters so they were on the page in front of me. When I see a cool stylish girl on the street today I want to draw her because I want to create that same image in my own style. I guess it’s my own form of documentation.
When I was working as designer, I would always start off with the illustration of the girl in the clothes. To me the mood and the attitude was always important. Illustration became the stronger part of my design process I guess. t was fun for me to create that world where, yes it was about the clothes, but it was more about the vision and the personality of that character. I started really getting back into my own illustration work in the last few years and had my blog to post all these drawings I was making. Then I slowly started to take on more illustration type projects that I soon realized that this is my own unique design voice. So my own pendulum swung back toward illustration and art but with my fashion background.
What are you short-term and long-term goals?
I relaunched my website where I show my work online and sell a capsule collection of products from T-shirts to illustrated prints and iPhone cases and tote bags. I’m working on a few more projects focusing more on my fashion illustration work and I want to get back into the more personal art project ideas I’ve had stewing in my head for a while.
In the long-term I’m building my brand and body of work at a more established stage where the categories of my work are expanded. I would love to do custom illustrated textiles and have the freedom to create all my ideas. I’d love to eventually have a retail/gallery type space where I can show my original artwork alongside merchandise like my printed T-shirts and house all my ideas and mediums under one roof.
How have you evolved as an artist and person?
I always think we are evolving as people so it’s hard for me to say but I do know that I’ve made a point with my work to try to create things that are important to me and that I like. I think also knowing that we are always evolving takes away that pressure of having to have all the answers upfront. It is more fun to explore.
Often times an individual’s cultural frame of reference can be vast but their tastes are of the moment. How would you describe your tastes?
My tastes are pretty eclectic and range from such high to low things that it’s all a pretty vast collage of ideas. I try not to shy away from that because that is essentially who I am. I’m always interested in what I see around me and I want to capture it all through my work.
How do you maintain your artistic integrity while producing art that is commercially viable?
I think it’s important for me to always make something I like first. If I don’t like it, why would I want to do it? I think having that as a starting point makes whatever I end up creating have an integrity from the beginning.