For Laura Gulshani painting is as fundamental as breathing. “On the days I don’t paint, I feel like I’m missing a part of myself,” says the Toronto-based fashion illustrator. “I’m just that in love and attached.” In fact, every spare moment she has—i.e. when she’s not at her day job as a copywriter or sleeping—is spent at her drafting table, brush in hand, putting paint to paper.
The results of her creative outpouring are littered all over her bedroom. A giant pile of paint-splattered pages bulges out from behind her desk—a detail of the lush green waterfall earrings at Delpozo’s spring ’17 presentation; the primary-hued petal bathing caps that adorned models at Miu Miu; the aqua, red and mint seascapes depicted on Marco de Vincenzo’s spring ’17 coats. “There are all these ideas bursting inside me, especially during fashion week, and I have to get them out,” says the 24-year-old.
It’s hard to believe there was a time when Gulshani was afraid of paint. Like most illustrators, she started out using dry media like pencils, marker and charcoal. At 10 years old, her interest in cartoons (she and her brother were big manga fans) and clothes (her mother’s chic ladylike looks inspired an early love of fashion) sparked an artistic streak that first saw her drawing sassy anime characters, then reimagining editorials she saw in Vogue, and eventually exploring illustration further by enrolling in the fashion communication program at Ryerson University.
It wasn’t until her final year that she was forced to confront her fear of paint when her professor noticed that she wasn’t completely letting herself go. “I was afraid of making a mistake, of wasting paint, of damaging the floor,” says Gulshani. “Once you put down a brushstroke, that’s it. You get one shot and there’s no fixing it. As soon as you add more layers you ruin that beautiful texture.” Her professor told her to “go home, drink a bottle of wine and explode onto the canvas.”
It was a turning point. Gulshani spent the next three months painting non-stop. “I threw myself onto the floor, spread out an area and painted anything and everything—shoes, dresses, runway ideas, anything I loved,” she says. “Sometimes I would just take a piece of paper and throw paint at it just to get something out of me. I’ve been using paint fearlessly ever since.”
For Gulshani, it’s her use of paint that brings her illustration to life. “I love how vibrant and saturated it can be. There’s something about it that’s delicious to me,” she laughs. And of course, there’s also the magic of mixing paint. “You can change the colour. You can play with texture—that’s why I love brushstrokes. They add a kind of dimension and that’s the beauty I’m looking for.”
Paint also helps Gulshani add an element of fantasy to her work. “Wet media tends to work on its own. It moves around, it does what it wants,” she says. “That’s what I love about impressionism and post-impressionism. Nothing is perfect or too precise. It’s just a mess of blobs and colour. It’s suggestive.”
Gulshani’s mix of fine art and fashion influences, combined with her bold imagination and use of vibrant colour, have helped set her illustration apart early in her career. Since her painting epiphany in 2015, Gulshani has signed with two agencies (one in Toronto and another in London) and has gone on to do illustrations for publications including Canadian Living and The Kit, as well as for fashion brands, doing living sketching for Juicy Couture during fashion week, drawing perfumes for Missoni and illustrating at a Chanel pop-up event this month. Which means more painting, more inspiration, more exploding onto the canvas. “It’s amazing how you can put down a brush stroke and suddenly there’s a face or a dress or movement.” It’s like creating something out of nothing.”