Choosing the perfect era of fashion is like picking a favorite child. At least that’s Julie Tucker’s playful comparison as she reflects on what styles draw her eye. She settles on the classic femininity of the 1940s and 50s, defined by the iconic wardrobes of Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn.
Julie also enjoys modern fashion, from sleek folds to floral embellishments to vivid color. Anything goes right now, especially when it comes to the different shapes and styles of wedding dresses.
Through Julie’s illustration business, Bridal Illustration by Julie, she gets to recreate every kind of gown she could dream of. She illustrates wedding dresses with a blend of acrylic paint, pens and markers, creating keepsakes from memorable garments. “I can’t just hang up my mother’s or grandmother’s wedding dress out in public, but I can hang an illustration,” Julie says.
This specific focus has developed over the last few years, but the spirit and heart behind the drawings has always been a part of Julie’s life. “I’d always wanted to do something with illustration,” she says. “I feel like I’m always observing people. Drawing expressions is just how I communicate.”
Julie began creating as a child, both through her natural interest in drawing people and lessons from her mom, retired Briarwood art teacher Jo Anne Young. As a student at Samford University, she minored in theater costume design, and drawing people transitioned into imagining the fabrics, colors and decades people display with clothing.
Her bridal designs seem to be a product of her work with sketching costumes, Julie says. “I’ve always liked the idea of costumes and history and becoming someone else. Your wedding is your one day to be theatrical, and the dress is the costume you’ve always wanted to wear.”
The bridal focus began with a simple gift to a friend. In 2013, she illustrated an old roommate’s wedding dress, and Julie received a teary, joy-stricken phone call back once she received the print. Even on the small scale that she draws and paints, the illustrations somehow capture all of the magic and memories of the original dress.
From there, Julie began building up her Instagram account and Etsy store to illustrate more gowns for brides who wanted a sweet, handmade keepsake. “It’s one of people’s happiest days. I love being a part of that joy,” she says. Her designs have extended over time to include more of those once-in-a-lifetime pieces, like christening gowns, Easter dresses and prom dresses.
Though she uses the same materials and skills (all done on her kitchen counter) for each illustration, Julie creates a completely new dress with a new story every time. “It’s like starting over every time I get an order. And then the dress just comes to life,” she says.
Her use of texture transforms for each dress and its unique material. Patterned, tulle or gemmed gowns emerge from the paper, and Julie adjusts her medium to recreate the essence of the fabric. Rosy adornments puff out just right and satin lays delicately with her precision.
Julie can also adjust her style and format to exactly what her order outlines. “The best part is learning each person’s story,” she says. Whether it’s a handed-down dress or a glittery custom gown, every piece has a collection of tales behind it.
Julie has found that her art generates an appreciation for the work that goes into handmade pieces. “In the South, so many people have an appreciation for vintage clothing and lace and dressing your children old-fashioned,” she says. She loves seeing the heirloom pieces her friends and customers bring to her, especially during a time when most of her friends are getting married and having kids.
With such detail in each piece of clothing, along with the memories they embody, Julie finds value in preserving special garments. She’s even found old photos of relatives to recover and revive. “I love being able to reclaim things in ways that are possible,” she says.
Julie usually illustrates her designs on a small scale to fit in an eight-by-ten-inch mat, and she either shows the dress on a hanger or on a minimalist figure. But, with every unique dress and story, Julie doesn’t have one set standard because she’s always following a custom order. Some orders request adding the groom, the mother of the bride, or smaller details of the day like the veil or shoes. Julie’s even added the Very Hungry Caterpillar beside a dress for a bride who got married at the Eric Carle Museum in Massachusetts.