This is what happened when we sent an acclaimed fashion illustrator to Fan Expo

See Fan Expo costumes come to life before your eyes through these illustrated GIFs by fashion designer Jocelyn Teng.

The best street style in Toronto is actually cosplay. See it come to life through illustrated GIFs

Bring it, fashionistas. Every year, visitors to Fan Expo Canada turn downtown Toronto into an out-of-this-world spectacle of street style. CBC Arts went to the con with a local fashion illustrator, Jocelyn Teng, to get her take on the scene. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

It's the first day of Fan Expo Canada. The country's largest comics/sci-fi/you-name-it convention has descended on downtown Toronto once again, and caped crusaders and giant robots are mingling with plainclothes fanboys and girls — like Jocelyn Teng.

By day, Teng's a fashion designer for Roots. By night — or whenever she has the time, really —  she's an illustrator, one whose luxury-brand clients include Louis Vuitton and Lancome. During Toronto Fashion Week, her favourite place is the tents, where she sketches the runway looks as fast as she can, and her impressions have run in The Kit and Flare, though she's been doing it for kicks since her school days at Ryerson.

Jocelyn Teng: fashion illustrator, designer, Star Wars fan. (

This is Teng's first time live sketching at a fan convention, though. CBC Arts pitched the idea, and Teng jumped at the chance — maybe unsurprising given all the drawings of droids on her Instagram. 

"I think if you ask a designer where they get their inspiration, it comes from anywhere," she says. "If people are wearing something, it's fashion." And looking out at the dozens of Harley Quinns and Batmen roaming the floor, Teng laughs: "I wish the Toronto fashion scene had this kind of support."

At any given Toronto Fashion Week — which was recently cancelled due to a lack of funding — you'd find a handful of "fashionistas," the guests who dress to be seen and, fingers crossed, Instagrammed.

I wish the Toronto fashion scene had this kind of support.- Jocelyn Teng, fashion illustrator

​Teng wishes those style scenesters could bring it like the Fan Expo crowd — in sheer numbers if nothing else. Compared to them, the cosplay contingent is an army — Imperial and otherwise — and they provide a street-style spectacle for media outlets year after year. (To wit, please see CBC News.)

At the moment, it's Teng who's loving the anime eye candy.

She's just dashed off a sketch of a cosplayer with a wig the colour of goldfish crackers when another fan causes her to rubberneck. The girl in question is blasting a Stormtrooper with toy bullets — but that's not what grabs Teng's attention.

"Oh, her pink hair!" Teng exclaims. In two minutes, her likeness is sketched on Teng's iPad before she's on to the next one.

Live-sketching fashion is a special sort of challenge, Teng explains, and it's one she loves more than any other illustration gig.

"For me, because you have 10 seconds per outfit, it's really about the feeling and the colour. It's not about the detail," she says.

"The model's moving, the clothes are moving, the colour's moving. So I think that's the hardest thing to catch." Drawing from the Fan Expo floor is no different than watching the runway, Teng says. 

It's not really about the clothes. [...] You're trying to capture that — that energy.- Jocelyn Teng, fashion illustrator

"Oh, he's so creepy it's awesome," she says, spotting an unusually dapper Joker cosplayer in a lineup, a sort of Clown Prince William of Crime.

"Because I know who this character is, I definitely want to draw him a little longer, a little creepier," she says, selecting just the right purple for the supervillain's dress shirt.

"It's not really about the clothes," she explains of fashion illustration. "It's about that feeling when the model walks out," that moment when you gasp with surprise, or amazement, and you have no words to describe your reaction. "You're trying to capture that — that energy."

That's why, according to her, the art form is having a moment. Sketching fashion shows might be an old-fashioned form of reporting — a throwback to the days before photo pits — but it's a skill that can make you Instagram famous. If we're just throwing around the Canadian examples, Toronto's Meagan Morrison, Jamie Lee Reardin and Donald Robertson are all social-media stars — though all three are now based in the States. In Teng's case, she says she landed her highest-profile clients through social media.

"Anyone can take a picture of the same outfit 50,000 times," she says. "I think that's why fashion illustrators are so important right now. It's like putting a mark on something someone else is doing and making it their own."

When you consider more than 100,000 people will be wandering around Fan Expo this weekend — along with their phones — the same principle applies.

And after 40 minutes on the floor, Teng says she's sold on live-sketching cosplayers again.

"I don't look at this and think, 'Oh, this isn't fashion.' It's just a different kind of fashion. It's still a feeling I'm trying to capture, right?"

And that feeling is charged with excitement, just like the one she gets seeing every new collection. "You can tell they're so passionate," she says of the fans. "There's a joy behind this."

See more of Jocelyn Teng's work at her website,

Fan Expo Canada. To Sept. 4, Metro Toronto Convention Centre.


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