Alecia Blake, Park Ridge fashion illustrator, diversifies as technology impacts art world

Featured in (201) Magazine, The Best of Bergen. April 2004

BY KATHLEEN CARROLL

Studio - Drawn in FashionIt’s a padded landing for Blake and her husband, William, working artists who have long straddled New Jersey’s two worlds: the upscale cosmopolitan neighbor to New York City and the relaxed, family-friendly Garden State.

“We’re new to Bergen County, just five years,” Blake says, almost apologetically. Though born in Savannah, Georgia, she’s lived all over North Jersey. The state was a logical choice for an ambitious fashion illustrator with a young son at home. and remains an attractive option for a couple with grown children. A second-floor office with generous windows is crammed full of Blake’s sketches and paintings. In the basement, her husband runs WRB Associates, an interior design firm.

Today, Blake’s home is decorated with Asian artifacts, a baby grand piano, and her dramatic illustrations of angular fashion models, looking lean and glamorous. The women wear fabulous scarves and picture hats, set off by elegant cigarette holders.

“I’ve always loved fashion art — he line of a figure. I love to draw, period. I always knew I could,” she says. As a child, Blake would recreate favorite books and stories on paper, drawing her own versions of familiar characters. She was encouraged by her mother, an accomplished artist whose graphic floral paintings hang in the Blakes’ home.

As a child, Blake would re-create favorite books and stories on paper, drawing her own versions of familiar characters.

Growing up in Clifton, Blake took the bus to the Art Students League in Manhattan every Saturday. At age 12, she was attending long sketch classes with grown-ups two and three times her age.

“I was drawing nudes in the eighth grade!” she says. “At Clifton High School, I was known as `the artist.’ Everyone just took it for granted that that’s what I would do.

After graduating from Clifton in 1969, Blake earned a degree at Parsons School of Design in Greenwich Village. She immediately went to work in small-scale designers’ ateliers in New York, sketching casual fashion shows. Throughout the 1970s, her drawings formed a designer’s catalog, the main marketing tool for dress shop buyers nationwide.

The work was steady and exciting, but technology would soon force Blake to shift gears.

“Computers and photography were my death knell.” says Blake, now 52. “You could kind of feel it coming.”

While raising her son, Daniel, Blake estimated she had a dozen different jobs. She drew full-color magazine advertisements for Manhattan designers, traced cardboard cutouts where designers could pin their clothes, and pasted together newspaper ads for Jacobs Department Store in downtown Paterson. A favorite job: creating a large-format book of chic designs, distributed by an upscale fabric importer.

In the early 1980’s, she was an illustrator undercover. A handbag designer employed her lightning-quick hand to help produce realistic facsimiles of name-brand purses.

“I would go to Lord & Taylor, Bergdorf Goodman, and sketch the bags,” Blake recalls, laughing. The company, Richard Pine Handbags, would imitate the high-end designs for less.

But the fashion business changed in the 1980’s — designers began to seek out photographers, rather than sketch artists, in their studios. Clothing catalogs began to use photos instead of illustrations as well. It was time for Blake to diversify.

Around the same time, the family moved to Fairfield and sent Daniel to The Montclair Kimberley Academy. Blake became a freelancer and her illustrations became the bases of unexpected projects.

A sweet lullaby-like cartoon drawing became the cover art of a compact disc for children distributed by Sony Music Inc. She designed a full set of decorative buttons in the tradition of the Noah’s ark story, whimsical pairs of panda bears, lions and giraffes — and even Noah and his wife.Alecia Blake with Artwork

Today, Blake focuses on child-friendly finished art, and does painting and pastel.

Alecia and William Blake moved to Park Ridge in 1999, when Daniel left to attend Tufts University in Boston. When choosing their town house, they decided it was time for someone else to shovel the snow and keep the lawn. The gated community, Bear’s Nest, has lush landscaping and an intimate European feel. Famous neighbors have found a homey solace there including Richard Nixon.

Blake feels that her New Jersey home has let her maintain big-city contacts and a competitive career.

“There’s something to be said for being next door to New York,” she said.