The Red Dress - Beyond retro

For inspiration, husband-and-wife team The Red Dress – Ollie Bland and Olivia Chancellor – plunder the past: “We find inspiration in annuals, pin-ups, trashy pulp-fiction covers and illustrated film posters,” explains Olivia. 

The artists who created these vintage images laboured in oils and acrylics, and Ollie and Olivia share a background in traditional painting – they met studying art at Central St Martins. However, they find digital painting has major advantages – especially for client work. “Being able to choose if paint is wet or dry is as great an asset as is rubbing out or undoing – especially for client changes,” says Olivia. “Working on separate layers is a bonus too – as you can add extra elements, take them out or change its colour in an instant.”


Working digitally allows them to overlay paper textures and distressed elements for a truly vintage feel. The results are vibrant, wittily kitsch oil paintings that have won them a portfolio of editorial and commercial commissions from a variety of clients. 

Digital painting does pose challenges: “You have to try hard to make it look like real paint. It can be tricky to find the right brush effects and you don’t get the ‘happy accidents’ with paint texture that you get with the real deal,” explains Olivia. They make heavy use of the Bristle brushes in Photoshop CS5 – and Painter X’s oil brushes and Blenders. For schlocky retro lettering, they turn to Illustrator. Olivia says that experimentation is the key, and the way they use their tools is “constantly evolving.” 

At the moment, a favourite technique uses Preserve Transparency on individual elements of images. “First block in the shape with a solid colour, then turn on Preserve Transparency in the layer. This allows you to quickly and easily fill in colours and tones without worrying about going over the edge,” explains Olivia. thereddress.co.uk

Step by step: how The Red Dress compose a painting

1. Ollie and Olivia Chancellor were commissioned to create a poster for the Standon Calling festival. “Firstly we researched images of the era and took model photos. From this we produced the first drawing,” says Olivia.


2. Next they blocked in colour, tone and background, working on a layer underneath the original line drawing. 


3. On a layer above the line drawing, they refined details. “We experimented with the crop. At this point, the client requested a more modern look for the girl,” explains Olivia.

4. They took the crop off the bottom and added steam, then blended and refined the image, and returned to the previous girl. “Finally we overlaid a scan of some paper on a layer set to Multiply,” concludes Olivia.