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‘The Cartorialist’ Creates Coveted Art Inspired By Fashion Influencers

Photo: Monroe Alvarez

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Her 164,000 Instagram followers may know her as The Cartorialist, an artist whose fashion-inspired paintings and illustrations have wound up in campaigns for Prada and on Sarah Jessica Parker's feed, but many might be surprised to know that Carly Kuhn wouldn't exactly list herself among fashion's elite. "I've met people were like, 'before I met you I assumed The Cartorialist was this fashion girl who wore designer clothes all the time and did her hair'," she jokes.

Perhaps part of the reason is that Kuhn never exactly intended to end up in that world. Though always an avid drawer/doodler, Carly worked in television (most recently as an associate producer, then manager of development for Chelsea Lately) prior to starting her popular Tumblr and Instagram accounts. The concept for doing so sparked after an improved portrait session where she playfully illustrated her cohorts on an evening out. Since that humble beginning she's gone on to not only contribute to Elle (creating renderings of Fashion Week happenings) but collab with fashionable local spots Neuehouse and Reservoir LA, among other impressive projects.

But although the NYC born-and-bred girl has earned a rep for illustrating some of the biggest figures in fashion (Anna Wintour and Grace Coddington are among those who have been Cartorialized), don't limit her abilities to that realm alone. In early July her brand new site will launch, which not only features an e-commerce option to buy prints and products (as of now you can purchase her work here), but shows the artist's interests outside fashion.

We got the chance to visit her inspirational studio recently where the self-proclaimed "jeans and t-shirt girl" shared how LA switched up her style, her biggest pinch-me moments, and the new direction her art (and career) is heading.

A photo posted by Carly Kuhn (@thecartorialist) on

You're shifting the focus of your site quite a bit. What sparked that change?

For a while my feed didn't have anything with me on it; it was just a drawing on a white screen and it was all fashion-y stuff. Over the past year and a half it's shifted. I want to have my personality come through and learn what my taste is versus what other people want to see. I might lose followers but I'll gain people that align with my taste and I think that's a good takeaway.

How is the new site going to be different?

Recently I discovered I'm very addicted to Pinterest and I feel like I've given myself an education design, and found that I'm very interested in interior design. What excites me is having my pieces in other peoples's homes and restaurants. That's where the shift has gone. The site will be more of a design site where there's an e-commerce aspect and I'm going to profile cool creatives — whether they're furniture designers or jewelry designers or people making candles. I'll profile two people am month and for each we're going to photograph them in their home with a piece of my art on their wall that will be available for purchase — so you'll get to see it in a space — and then there will be "The Cartorialist Questionnaire" which is kind of my nod to the Proust Questionnaire. Then there will also just be creative content.

How has your drawing/painting style evolved since you began The Cartorialist?

I'm finding myself drawn to more minimal styles. Sometimes I just like a black line drawing and I love white space. But I feel like there shouldn't be this bubble of "fashion illustration" even though I think that's really cool. I feel like I don't just draw in a fashion space, like I'll draw something a little more abstract like a line drawing or flowers or I'll reference pop culture, like John Lennon and Yoko Ono in a bed.

A video posted by Carly Kuhn (@thecartorialist) on

Tell us about some of your greatest accomplishments in the fashion world since you began The Cartorialist.

I've done a couple of takeovers with Elle.com for Fashion Week where instead of them posting pictures from the runway or backstage or front row or street style, all those images I reinterpreted as drawings, and that was really fun because they just trusted my style. Then last year I was one of six illustrators Prada selected for their Raw Avenue sunglasses campaign. I've done events with Dior and Diesel and TopShop and Lucky. And the first thing, back in the day, I got to something for Alexis Bittar, which was really cool. That was like my first one way, way, way back.

Where do you get inspired?

When I'm looking for inspiration, whether it's on Pinterest or Instagram or in a magazine, I definitely gravitate toward interesting silhouettes. One of my favorite fashion photographers is Tim Walker. His work is very whimsical and surreal and everything he shoots I want to reinterpret. I've noticed there's a constant cycle of fashion and art influencing each other and I follow a lot of fashion photographers because they're interpreting an art form through their media, and then I get inspired by their interpretations. Eventually with my new site I'd like to create my own photoshoots and illustrate them.

How would you describe your current personal style?

The things that I now gravitate towards are very organic and natural, kind of that earthy thing, but I still can maybe have my black leather jacket and black jeans and black Rag and Bone boots. My nod to New York will just always be there.

Any favorite local shopping spots?

I love Reformation always. I also just interviewed Christy from Christy Dawn and I want to go to her shop ASAP. I just went into Love Adorned and got a bunch of jewelry. Also The Piece Collective and Stone Cold Fox. I like walkable areas like Abbot Kinney in Venice where you can just discover little shops with a mishmash of things. That's the New Yorker in me.

A photo posted by Carly Kuhn (@thecartorialist) on

Besides the new site, where do you see your future as The Cartorialist headed?

I do want the site to grow into a place where I'm selling my prints but also selling products that I'll hopefully create, whether it's wallpaper or coasters — which I've done before — or matchboxes. But I may even want to work with cool merchants as well, having it be a one-stop-shop for gifts; maybe I sell my friend's candles or ice buckets. Like a curated online boutique, but creating stuff with my art because I have a need to design things.

And how will fashion fit into that?

I'll still probably have an editorial section of my own. Style will always find its way in. A lot of what my site is going to be is showing what's inspiring my art so fashion — as another form of art — will forever serve as inspiration for what I'm doing.