Belgian digital artist Sarah Mayer discusses the world of CGI fashion, virtual expression and our October magazine issue in a conversation with Editor-in-Chief Shilpa Ahuja.
Social media has made much of our lives virtual in the last two decades. Our relationships, personality, expression and style are all defined by who we are online. And now, for the most part, fashion doesn’t count until it’s on social media. For many, the best fashion choices are those that gather likes and followers.
Instagram has played a major role in how we experience and show our lives to others. The glossier the better. To that extent, the platform even has many filters to put on makeup, change backgrounds and even accessories.
The World of CGI Fashion
The creation of these AR (augmented reality) apps and filters has created a whole generation of CGI artists who explore how art can be worn virtually. CGI is a form of digital art that is created by using computer programs. Realistic but not too realistic – that’s what these artists work on.
Fashion for the digital realm – that’s what I wanted to feature on our October cover, and my search for the cover art led me to discover Sarah Mayer. A fashion graduate turned Digital Artist, Sarah is based in Antwerp, Belgium. She creates virtual fashion, especially accessories for the face, both for still art, short animations and filters that a user can experience on their smartphones.
A graduate of AMFI, her prior work experience includes couture, costume design and film sets. But now, she’s solely focused on AR designs.
Why is CGI Fashion Relevant?
Internet is a place for everyone, sadly that can’t be said for most fashion pieces. While a physical garment is made keeping in mind a specific model, virtual fashion can be fully customized to suit the personality and needs of the wearer. Plus once you’re done wearing it, it doesn’t need to go to a landfill.
Virtual art helps wearers express themselves in ways that traditional fashion can’t, simply due to its limitless nature. “Virtual art for me lets me truly express my creativity and style, which I could never really achieve while I was still doing physical fashion.”
Their fashion in the digital realm can be anything the wearers or artists imagine. So how can they find their “virtual look” based on their personality? “I think it is just like with physical fashion. You just know,” she adds. “Also, AR can be worn immediately. Digital fashion requiring less resources but can have the same impact,” she says. In fact, this is the best thing she likes about the world of virtual 3D art.
Moreover, virtual fashion and art is easy to access and share online. “Think about the Paris Fashion Week,” she says. “No one gets to see it apart from a few selected people. Virtual art and fashion can be experimented with by everyone (users and makers) easily.”
So how does an artist go about creating a new artwork? “I usually find my muse first, which is mostly a photograph of a person,” she replies. “From there I try to match my 3D pieces and the overall vibe to the image with the goal of creating a harmonious look.”
A large part of Sarah’s work is collaborating with other artists, like photographers, to take their existing work to the next level. “I just truly want to create beautiful things that inspire other people and trigger their imagination for their own work.”
Then she uses digital tools to make her imagination a reality. “I mainly use Blender, a bit of Procreate and various online tools.” The scope of digital art can vary a lot, depending on the project. It takes her anywhere between 1 day to 1 month to do an average artwork.
It surely takes a lot of inspiration to create something new every time. So what inspires her? “Other artists, musicians, performance art, nature,” she mentions. However, the most challenging part of her work are hardware/software restrictions. Keeping up to date with the software requires continuous learning.
In the age of social media/other platforms, virtual art has struck a chord with users. “Virtual art is definitely a result of being online all the time,” she agrees. “It was only logical that people who anyways (like me) spend much of their time on the computer (gaming, for example) would continue to do so creating art.”
When you hear the term virtual avatar/look, we usually think metaverse/video games. But that’s not its only use nowadays. CGI art has become relevant to the average internet user, too. “If we think about AR, you can become a different character just by using a filter,” Sarah mentions. “The AR industry has a huge impact on people’s appearance, so it is already part of the average internet user’s tools.”
Sarah’s clients are mostly 20-40 years old, and come from all over the world. They’re mostly other creatives like musicians, photographers, fashion designers or artists. “Most clients want me to add a digital mask on their photographs. Usually the client is working in the field of fashion,” she explains.
“I also get asked a lot to create AR effects. Those clients usually come from the entertainment industry (musicians/bands). For the digital masks, it is often a way to express their vision which can be harder with physical pieces.”
This type of art has become more popular in recent years, as more people are getting interested in what it takes to make it and as the technology advances. In this landscape, it is becoming important for digital fashion designers to stand out in the crowd through art.
Sarah has some advice for them, “I believe you should never give up and do not focus on one specific platform only. Many excellent artists have no visibility on IG but are still making a living with their work via different sources (talking to people, going to events, doing a physical exhibition). Confidence is key!”
Back to the Touch: Virtual to Physical Fashion
And while digital art pieces have many advantages over their physical counterparts, Sarah wants to go back to the roots too. What different types of art looks or pieces would she like to try next, I ask her. “My future goal is to also create physical masks, as it can be sometimes a lot to just sit on your screen.”
In fact, this is one of the latest trends in this industry segment. Many designers now make physical pieces that resemble digital looks very closely.
So which other artists should we follow on Instagram to get inspired? “Oh there are so many,” she chimes. “I am just going to mention Ines Alpha from the long list since she was the one who truly made me want to become better with my art but also as a person. She is hard working and successful but down to earth.”
As with any industry, the practice of creating digital art (as used by the average user) has evolved tremendously since Sarah’s early days in the industry. “Of course. It does all the time,” she agrees. “Right now of course it is the possibility to create are via AI (artificial intelligence).”
Story behind October Cover
For our love for all things digital, Sarah’s artwork graces ShilpaAhuja.com October cover. The selected editorial image was a collaboration with photographer Angelina Popova. “The photographer lives in the Netherlands and she is a lovely and talented woman,” she mentions. “I do not know much about her background but she continues to push her work forward. The idea was create a futuristic wardrobe of which my masks where a part of,” Sarah says.
I ask her the process behind creating this artwork. “I pretty much did everything inside Blender,” she explains. “There is always a bit of Photoshop in the end for fine tuning, but that’s it. Of course I source other important things online like HDRI maps from Poly Haven.”
It took her about three days to create this work. She mentions that the inspiration behind this look was the image itself. “As mentioned above, my 3D creations should fit harmoniously to the image I am working with.”
So what title would she give the editorial? “The title on my IG account is ‘Green Fire’. Of course it is because of her green hair, plus I felt like the model was fierce.” Well, so do we.
Shilpa Ahuja the editor-in-chief of ShilpaAhuja.com, which she founded with the goal of inspiring confidence in the modern working woman through fashion. Other than defining the direction of the magazine, she also writes about fashion & beauty trend forecasts, industry analysis, and opinions.
Shilpa’s work has been published in the University of Fashion blog and Jet Airways magazine. She is also an artist, illustrator and cartoonist. She is also the creator of Audrey O., a comic series that represents the lifestyle of millennial women. She enjoys creative writing and world travel. Her art has been exhibited at Harvard Graduate School of Design and the Aroma Hotel, Chandigarh and been published in Chandigarh Times.
Originally from Chandigarh, Shilpa also has a degree in architecture and has worked in interior project management. She is also the author of the book “Designing a Chinese Cultural Center in India”. Shilpa has a Masters in Design Studies degree from Harvard University.
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