Illustrator Dallas Shaw Talks Drawing, Design and Doughnuts

The Wilmington-based artist says the city is one of her main sources of inspiration.

Dallas Shaw is spending her morning painting doughnuts. To be clear, she is painting pictures of doughnuts, not painting on doughnuts, “although that wouldn’t be the weirdest thing I’ve been asked to do,” she says with a laugh.

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Weird is in Shaw’s wheelhouse. Tackling offbeat assignments is how she built her art-fashion-branding empire. From the studio in her Wilmington home, Shaw creates original illustrations for clients such as Kate Spade, Chanel, Christian Louboutin, Nine West and others. Shaw created artwork for a Victoria’s Secret fashion show press book, curated Glossybox with Oscar de la Renta and collaborated on the global DKNY Fragrances Core Girl campaign.

Branding and social media campaigns are also in Shaw’s expertise. Her social pages are filled with discreet product placements for everything from Essie nail polish to Mini Babybel cheese. As if that weren’t enough, Shaw illustrated “How to Look Expensive: A Beauty Editor’s Secrets to Getting Gorgeous Without Breaking the Bank,” the book by Glamour magazine’s Andrea Pomerantz Lustig. Now Shaw has her own book deal with William Morrow. The as-yet untitled “full-color style journal” is scheduled for publication by William Morrow in spring 2017.

Meanwhile, Shaw remains hard at work on projects for her clients. Hence, the doughnuts. They are part of a campaign for the cosmetics and skincare company Clinique. Shaw was asked to create original artwork to be posted on Clinique’s website for customers to share across social media channels. The goal is to get people to interact with Clinique’s website and disseminate its brand. 

“They want things that people think are pretty, like doughnuts, flamingos and fake eyelashes—but not makeup itself,” Shaw says.

In her hands, ordinary-looking pastries became chic still lifes filled with color and dimension. Shaw’s ability to think outside the box is what attracts big-name clients, though her Wilmington address is more than a few subway stops from Manhattan. How did Shaw break into that notoriously competitive world to become the It Girl for fashion illustration?

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It started with “Aladdin.” By the early 1990s, Disney was in the throes of an animation renaissance. It wasn’t the movie’s music or the stories that attracted her. It was the artwork. By age 4, Shaw was demonstrating prodigy-like talent. 

“In school, my drawings were very different from those of the other kids,” she says. “My mom has one of a carousel, and you can see that I drew the horses from the side, back and front. The teacher told my mom that it’s unique for a kid that age to register those different angles and try to reproduce them.”

PHOTO BY JOE DEL TUFO 

Dallas Shaw calls her home a “showroom-meets-creative haven.”

Shaw illustrated “How to Look Expensive” for Glamour magazine
beauty editor Andrea Pomerantz Lustig.

Creativity runs in Shaw’s family. Her grandparents are tailors. An uncle is an artist. Artsy stuff skipped her parents—Shaw’s father works for a library, and her mom is a school registrar—but they fostered creativity in their daughter, sending her to every kind of art class they could find. At home in Scranton, Pennsylvania, pickings were slim. “Painting, drawing, then sculpture—we had to search for those classes. I don’t know how my parents found them, but I’m glad they did.”

By the time “Aladdin” was released in 1992, Shaw’s art goggles were firmly in place. Seeing the movie convinced her that she wanted to become an animator for Disney. She watched the movie’s credits to find the name of the supervising animator, Mark Henn, then wrote him a letter to ask for a job. She was in sixth grade. “I told him that it would be great for Disney because I was talented and young,” Shaw says. 

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Henn wrote a Disney-esque letter in reply, urging Shaw to follow her dream. “He said, ‘If you get back in touch with me, after graduation, I’ll give you career guidance about animation,’” Shaw says. 

She did that. Henn advised Shaw to break into the company by applying for the Disney College Program. That landed her not in Anaheim’s animation department but in Orlando’s Walt Disney World. Over two summers in college, Shaw worked various jobs at Disney World. The experience wasn’t her dream job, but it paid off. After she graduated from Marywood University, she landed work as a Disney animator—sort of. “It sounds impressive, but to be honest, I was drawing characters for guests who came on the animation tour,” Shaw says. “The other issue was that Disney was switching animation to digital, and I wanted to draw. And I wanted to do illustration for fashion, beauty and lifestyle brands.”

Instead of getting a job at a New York company, Shaw decided to start her own business in Wilmington, where she moved with her husband, Harold Shaw, now an administrator in Red Clay Consolidated School District. 

Being in Wilmington didn’t stop Shaw any more than being in Scranton had. “I looked up every brand’s creative direction team and found whomever handled marketing, then sent them one of my press kits, which I’d spent a ton of money putting together. I did it over and over again and said, ‘I’ll work for free if that will get me into your company.’ The first people to say, ‘We get what you are trying to do,’ were from DKNY.”

Drawing the DKNY PR girl’s Twitter avatar was her big break. It was challenging and risky, Shaw says. The company didn’t want a Disney princess. The avatar had to be fashion-forward, sophisticated and urbane—everything DKNY represents. Shaw pulled it off, winning accolades for her work. “That turned me into a personality in the industry, and that snowballed into other things,” Shaw says. 

That snowball continues with the upcoming book. She is unabashedly excited. Though she loves working for Kate Spade and Donna Karan, the book will be 100 percent Dallas Shaw. While she’s full-tilt into preparing the book, Shaw has no intention of forgoing client work, which means that she’ll be performing quite the juggling act for the next year. But Shaw says that being ensconced in the studio of her Wilmington home gives her creative serenity.

“I do all of my drawing here. Our home is a showroom-meets-creative haven. This house and this city—and most of all my husband—are the sources of my inspiration. I’m lucky and blessed, and it’s all working perfectly. I can’t wait to see what happens next.”

With that, Shaw goes back to her doughnuts. 

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