Long silence, new project!

Friday, April 27th, 2012 | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted.  It’s in part because of a fun project that I’ve been working on.  It is only slightly related to theatre, so I wasn’t sure I should post it here, but what-the-heck!  Why not?

I agreed to illustrate a fun little book called “Hannah Horks a Hairball”.  And it’s going to be funded through Kickstarter (here’s the link if you would like to check it out).

I used a technique you may remember me talking about back in the rendering series that uses oil pastels, turpentine, and colored pencils.  I also used sharpie for some blocky outlines.  I have to say, this was one of the most fun projects I’ve done in awhile.  It was so freeing to not be focused on figures, to be big with my marks, and bold with my colors.

I didn’t take any process shots, so I’ll just describe it, if you want to try it out, it’s pretty easy.

First compose your frame.  I did quick, mini sketches (3″ x 4″ max) and roughly decided proportions, objects to include, etc.

One of the images for the book.

Then (because I don’t draw a lot of cats I cheated) I found images online that were the basic positioning of the cat body and used that to sketch full-size.

Then I attacked the page with color, laying in broad swatches, sometimes mixing two colors, laying similar colors next to each other so they would bleed together eventually.  It was kind of like. Going back to childhood and playing with finger paints!

Then I broke out my large and extra large paint brushes to move and blend through turpentine.  This part did not go so well.  It left me with a number of fuzzy edges, but I was able to fix that in the next step.  I actually repeated these two steps a couple times in a vain attempt to maintain some control over color placement.

After the entire page had color, I went back in with sharpie and colored pencil adding some detail and redefining lines that had been lost.  My old drawing professors probably are shaking their heads at this point.  They always told me that my desire to outline things was less interesting and less dynamic than letting two opposing colors create a virtual line.  But this isn’t a costume rendering, nor is it fine art.  So I feel I can do as I wish!

The book is about our cat’s cleanliness fetish, and Hairball issues.  It’s amusing and told in verse.

Please check out the campaign if it interests you at all.  Or pass the link on to others who you think might be interested.  Or ignore it all together.

Here ends my shameless self-promotion.

Costume Renderings: Mistakes, Mishaps, Failures, and Flubs – Part 3

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012 | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Chalk Pastel on Fabric Rendering

NOTE: Normally an image of my unfortunate rendering skills would be shown here. However, we’re in the process of moving and I’ve managed to hide this particular rendering from myself. If I find it at some future date, I’ll update this post with it. Sorry.

This was actually from my undergrad final art project. I was allowed to pick a project and I chose to design a single show two different ways and in two different styles. So, trying to be super creative and artistic (this was for the art department; not the theatre department) I decided to do one in chalk pastels on the fabrics that I would have used, had it been a realized project.

This got some great feedback when I presented it at my portfolio review for grad school, and I sometimes think about resurrecting the idea. A couple of minor issues are my lack of a face, the trouble of drawing on fabric rather than paper, and my general lack of proportion (which I’m happy to say has improved since this rendering!)

I would want to trim down the fabric, as it would be easier to pull the image off the page (visually). But it isn’t as far off as some others.

Here’s an image on what pastels can look like when done well:

Oil Pastels done well


Other things I have learned over the years:

Don’t underestimate the importance of a horizon line. For too many years my characters floated though space, listing this way or that.

Do learn to draw hands, feet, and faces. The faces part is widely debated, and I know excellent designers who don’t draw in the faces, saying that it frees the actor/actress to picture themselves in the role. I tried that excuse for awhile, and then realized that I didn’t like drawing faces because I couldn’t, and when I did get faces right the actor/ress was more likely to say, “that’s how I see them too”. And there is something fun about aging one face, and making another look like they are a teen. Still not perfect at it, but I fall on the “it’s better to have them” side of the debate.

Do find a size of drawing that you are comfortable with and stick to it. I was pushed in school to increase the size of my renderings, and for good cause. I tend to draw small and tight. However, In trying to draw larger, many of my renderings end up as lanky stick figures. With giant heads.

Do know that it really isn’t about the drawing. It’s about what ends up onstage opening night. Rendering is a communications tool, but there are many ways of communicating. All of them good and appropriate. If you find something that works. Stick with it and perfect your technique. But always try something new if you want to mix it up.

Above all, RELAX! It’s just a rendering. It’s not like your renderings will bring about world peace.

Costume Renderings: Mistakes, Mishaps, Failures and Flubs – Part 2

Monday, March 5th, 2012 | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

This is part two of my series on mistakes in costume rendering. I think there will be three to this series … pending my ability to find the examples I’m looking for in my mass of renderings.

Collaged Rendering + Colored Pencil Rendering (because I combined them myself)

Collage and Colored Pencil Rendering

This was for a play that was set in modern times. Sometimes I want to try something new because I’m feeling lazy and I think it will be faster than my tried and true method of sketch/paint/over-sketch. This was one of those mistakes.

My thinking was along these lines: “This is a modern show. I’m just going to buy everything for the show anyway. I can probably find most of the pieces in catalogues. I’ve always wondered if I could collage a costume and then draw in the face and hands….”

What I learned: catalogues shoot their products in all kinds of poses, angles, and sizes. If you just cut and paste, you lose all ability to regulate proportion. Some people might be okay with this. I am not. Proportion is one of the things I struggle with constantly, so I notice every time it is off. It is so distracting to me, that I as the designer have a hard time focusing on what I am trying to communicate with the design. And if it’s hard for me as the designer, I can’t imagine a director being able to look past it and see what I’m really trying to say.

In the end I sketched the designs and put all of my little cut out pieces on the side of the rendering. That way if my sketching was really difficult to decipher, I could point to the jacket (for example) and say, “it will look like this.”

Which brings up an important point.

Many directors have a hard time visualizing designs. I might go so far as to say that that is the whole point of renderings; to give the director a sense of what they will likely see onstage at first dress (or costume parade if you are unlucky enough to have to go through that).

So renderings that decidedly DO NOT clarify, aren’t really worth doing, are they? At least that is what always runs through my head while I’m sketching, painting, and scanning my renderings. This is probably why I have such angst and agita in my life.

 Regarding the use of colored pencils in renderings…

While I thought this would be faster than sketching, painting, etc… it turns out that laying in color by colored pencil, is exceedingly long and laborious. And every time I am tempted to try this again, I remember two things:

  1.  It is imperative that you pay attention to the direction of your pencil strokes as you color.
  2.  Kind words from a former professor, “Use each tool as it was meant to be used. Use a pencil to draw. Use paint to paint.”

On the upside, I find that with a high-quality, soft colored pencil, I can color and blend and over-color forever!

Here’s an image I found of colored pencil work done well (and again, it’s closer to what I see in my head, but am unable to reproduce). The artist is Debbi Friedman, and she does beautiful work.

Debbi Friedman's beautiful colored pencil work.


I find it really hard to believe that Ms. Friedman’s work is colored pencil and not a photograph. It’s remarkable and beautiful at the same time.

Part 3 is coming. Just as soon as I find the renderings I want to use.

Please enter into the discussion in the comments below. We all learn by sharing with one another.

Costume Renderings: Mistakes, Mishaps, Failures and Flubs – Part 1

Monday, February 6th, 2012 | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Recently, I was accused of being an “art snob.” I will agree that I like certain styles more than others, but I think my real fault is that I am an art perfectionist.

This is one of the reasons that I don’t often include my renderings in my design portfolio. Despite years of working on my drawing and painting skills, I still can’t seem to get on paper what I see in my head in any literal form.

It’s always a sad, faded, over-photocopied version. At least in my mind.

This lack of skill on my part often leaves me frustrated, angry, and anxious. I see something so much clearer and more detailed than I can ever seem to get down on paper. I over-analyze everything. And more often than not, when sitting down with a director, I have to watch that I don’t constantly apologize for my lack of drawing skills. (we are trying to discuss CHARACTER, not my drawing skills…)

I’ve also shied away from discussing rendering techniques on this blog because there are people out there who do it beautifully and seemingly effortlessly. They should obviously be the ones to give you advice on what to do and how to “fix” poor renderings.

Then I realized that I do have something to add to the discussion.

I can show you what doesn’t work!

I have amassed a great collection of less-than-stellar renderings over the years.

Why do I keep them? Because looking back, it appears that I have in fact made progress, and progress makes me happy. Also, some techniques have potential, if I were to keep practicing.

For your entertainment (if nothing else!) here is part one of a series on rendering techniques, complete with examples from the very back of my closet.

Pencil sketch/Watercolor/Colored pencil rendering

Caliban from The Tempest

This is what I usually end up doing. Sketching with pencil, laying in color with watercolor washes, adding shadow and highlights with more watercolor washes, and then defining details (lipstick, fingernails, jewelry, fabric patterns, etc).

I’ve tried a few riffs on this theme. I’ve tried adding glitter to the watercolor for “shimmery” fabrics. (usually this doesn’t work, in that it either looks like it has been applied over top, or it doesn’t show up at all.)

I’ve also tried using fresh watercolor paint straight from the tube so that it behaves more like acrylic (a very expensive way to paint btw. If you want paint to behave like acrylics, just buy acrylics and dilute with a touch of water.)

I even tried using gold and silver nail polish to paint jewelry. Again, it just sits on top of the painting, standing out like a sore thumb of bad painting judgment.

This style goes the fastest for me because I’ve been doing it for so long now. However, no matter how pleased I am with the final result, when I scan them into the computer, or photocopy at the local Staples, they always seem too soft, delicate, watered down, dream-playish. Which is fine, of course, if I’m working on a dream play.

If you’re interested in what I see in my head, but can’t quite produce, here is a link to artist Ann Miller. Her work comes as close as anything I’ve found to what I see when I’m drawing.

Oil pastel/Paint thinner Rendering

Harvey Feldman in Breaking up is Hard to Do

This was for a musical. I wanted to get a more saturated color because, well, it’s a musical. A bright and colorful musical. A 1960′s summer-time “dirty dancing” type musical. The characters were flat. The songs were (mostly) bright. The set had a mylar curtain if I remember correctly.

What I learned: the oil pastels were really just a way to get pigment onto the page.

It did give me a much more saturated color in the end, but my sketches were so small, that I needed a tiny brush to move the pigment into all of the corners. It was easy to get color where I didn’t want it. And the faces ended up being blobs of flesh-colored mess. I couldn’t do shading. And I ended up with so much color on the page, that I couldn’t even go back in with pencil and try to re-define my lines. Any subtlty just made it look more messy.

For this style, I found this site containing what I see in my head when I’m using oil pastels. A visual example for this style (which is from this site) is this:

Oil pastels done beautifully








So there’s part one. Part two coming next week … in the mean time, add your thoughts to the comments.

Jessica interviews Jessica

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012 | Uncategorized | No Comments

Jessica of the Besides The Actor blog recently interviewed me.

Just in case you’re interested, here’s the link.


Greening Theatre With Foundation Garments

Thursday, January 19th, 2012 | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

When I think of waste in theater, I think immediately of all the paperwork we produce.

However, I recently came across this link for, of all things, pantyhose recycling . . .

The people who make No Nonsense pantyhose have started recycling old hose into park benches. (Click on the image to go to their site.)

From pantyhose to park bench

From pantyhose to park bench

Who knew?

And I realized there is an entire group of things that are required for a show, that are tossed at the end of a run.

Of course some people prefer to use dance tights for actresses for the very reason that you go through so many during the course of a run.  I think they often look like tights, rather than hose, but maybe that’s just me.

So now that we have a way to recycle women’s pantyhose, how about men’s socks and undershirts?  I’m thinking there are only so many sock puppets you can make….

The allure of costume design … and a reality check

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012 | Uncategorized | 10 Comments

“Is being a costume designer, especially in theatre, as exciting and theatrical as I think it is??”

This question was posed to me through email a while ago.

I really want to encourage anyone with the dream of becoming a designer to do it.  There is no better feeling than getting paid to do something you love.  Not only can you proudly exclaim that you love to get up everyday and go to work.  But you also get to use phrases like, ” do what you love and the money will follow”.

Now for a small dose of reality

There are days when I DON’T like what I do.

There are actually days when I have to force myself to go to another meeting with a director I don’t enjoy working with.

There are times I want to roll my eyes at an actor in a fitting because they are just making suggestions that cannot be executed (or falls squarely into the category of “stupid).

There are nights when all I want to do is watch TV, but I can’t because I have renderings that are due the next day.

There are days when I don’t eat lunch because I’m too busy shopping for that one elusive costume piece to complete the look – which makes me crabby to everyone around me because of low blood-sugar.

I take on shows that I’m uninspired by because I need the work.  I take on shows that don’t pay well because I need the work.  I work with theaters that I know won’t lead to any notoriety because I need the work.

If I didn’t have a spouse who supported me, I would be living in an efficiency apartment, eating ramen noodles, tea, and beans on toast.

So, no, it isn’t as exciting as most people think.

Even the biggest designers are not going to red-carpet events every other weekend.  But one should have dreams….


I wouldn’t do anything else.

One thing that having a baby has taught me, is that you hold onto the good times (the smiles, the laughs, the chasing through the hallways) and put the bad (exploding diapers, sneak spit up events, inconsolable crying spells) in the back of your mind.

Being a designer requires a lot of self discipline.  There is pride in that.

There are also the joys of creating art that is enjoyed by others: audience members, actors, directors, etc.

There are wonderfully fun and fantastic people working in film, television, and theater, and you get to know them.

I am challenged, inspired and rewarded in this career.

This is why no other job has worked for me. And likely never could

Sources of Inspiration

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011 | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

I find that it’s important to look at other designers’ work.

We all know how inspiring paintings, sculpture, music, and nature can be. Well, I include contemporary costume and fashion designers as well.

Just look at some examples I’ve pulled from my long list of bookmarks under the heading “inspiration” in my bookmarks tab. They may or may not have practical applications for theatrical costumes, but they inspire me to be more creative, less pragmatic.


Paper dresses!

A period dress made of paper!

And not just any old paper dresses… Historically accurate in color and design using found paper and other household items. An exceptional artist, and he does workshops! If you are in the Philadelphia area, there is still time to get into one of the workshops. If you aren’t in Philly, keep an eye out in case he visits a city near you.

Viona ielegems 

I love the way she sets up her photos as much as the costumes.

Note: Per her site’s request, I can’t post any of her work here (tried to ask permission, but she never responded). Just click on the link above to see the work. Also, if you are an artist who chooses to have a web presence, consider the ways the web is used and either be responsive to requests, or else don’t lock down your rights. I want to give you exposure!

Gwen van den Eijnde 

Beautiful wearable art

This artist combines fabric and other materials in an ultimate display of wearable art. I am stunned by the creativity, and the technique required to create these three-dimensional images. They really are moving sculptures.

Fi Bowman 

She is a fiber artist with a wonderful sense of story. However, I really find her sketch books inspiring. A constant reminder that I should be drawing more, and that it doesn’t need to be art, just sketching and journaling.

Sketchbooks are great practice for any art form.




Lauren Raine 

A mixed media artist, and theatre designer. I love the way she uses texture in her pieces. She has a series of masks of goddesses from around the world that you should check out. And a series of hand pieces from 2009.

Mask-making is an art form all its own.







I ran across this site when I was researching Hamlet several years ago, and continue to return to it. The tab on jewelry was actually practical to my design. The tabs for the steam punk computers are just for drooling over!

Steampunk art ... that actually functions!













In the end, it’s all about drawing inspiration from everyone and everything. Even images and events that are best perceived as negative can inspire you.

Keep your eyes open.

Drink it all in.

And go make something of it.

Designer . . . Actor . . . Director

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011 | Uncategorized | 5 Comments

At some point, I find myself wondering how we can make the design experience more effective, more… je ne sais pas.

I’m tired of having actors bitch in the dressing room or to the director during notes, and expressing things about the costume that they won’t tell me.

They tell the director that they don’t feel right in the costume, because it doesn’t feel like the character.  Or they complain to wardrobe that none of their costumes fit (when in truth they just don’t fit like modern clothes).  Or I get a message from stage management that there have been “discussions in the dressing rooms about the wigs…”(a nice ambiguous note that is entirely useless to me in terms of fixing any actual problems).

Sometimes it feels like they are trying to design their character for me.  This is extremely frustrating.

But I have heard from a number of actors now that they feel that they can’t say anything in the fitting room.  Either because this is what they were taught in school (shut up and wear what you are told), or they have said things in the past to designers, and the designer burst into tears, or got angry, or otherwise behaved poorly.

So I have been trying to figure out how this could be improved.

How can we as designers engage actors in an appropriate dialogue about character, when we have already created a design with the director? How do we encourage them to share and collaborate, without overriding the design choices we have already made?  How can we create WITH actors (who don’t fully finalize a character until well into the rehearsal process … and for many, until they put on that costume we’ve designed for them.)?

I do think it is, in part, education.  If actors are taught to just shut up and wear what the designer gives them,then of course they have no outlet if something just feels “off,” then where else can they express that but behind the back of the designer.  So they need to be taught appropriate ways to communicate during a fitting. (This includes realizing that they are not the designer, and that the designer has made choices for specific reasons. Questions work much better than demands or petulant, “That’s ugly” commentary.)

But it would help if designers knew how to approach actors, and how to take that criticism as well.  Yes we are told to grow a thick skin when it comes to our designs, but it seems that we do that in relation to the director only. We must remember that actors have opinions too.

I don’t have solutions here.  Only mutterings, musings, and questions.

How you can turn any school subject into a costume focused study

Thursday, December 1st, 2011 | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

I have received a number of emails lately from students in secondary school (high school for Americans) and university (undergrad) who want to study costume design, but can’t find, or afford a program that is costume oriented.

They want to know what they should focus on now in order to get into a better program, or their next school, or if they can even BE a designer if they don’t know x,y, or z.

So I thought I would make a beginning list from each subject to show just how easy it is to further your costuming skills, while learning the standard curriculum.

Consider these as research projects when you are assigned a paper.

I have  not included the obvious subjects of drawing, painting, literature, and home economics. You should have figured that out already.


  • How do you calculate simple shapes? (circle skirts?  Swags?)
  • How do you calculate yardage in a foreign country (one that uses meters instead of yards)?


  • What are the different muscles in the body, and how do they function?  Consider how fabric pulled tight against them will look (sketch it out).
  • How do fat cells work, and how does that affect movement?
  • How does the body age?  What happens to various body parts?


  • How do different dyes affect different materials.  What happens when you add a base, or an alkaline wash?
  • What are the chemical properties of wool? Cotton? Silk? Polyester?


  • What are the physics principles involved in making yarn? (or thread)
  • What are the physical properties of different fibers in fabric?  How do they behave differently to different stresses?
  • How do light waves affect your perception of color?


  • Why do good people do bad things?
  • What could cause a woman to kill her own children? (Electra, or any of the other Greek myths are loaded with questions for this subject!)
  • How do I positively approach actors who are inherently overly body-conscious in a way that encourages them, rather than makes them feel insecure?
  • How can I be the best possible contributor to the collaborative project that is theatre?


  • Traditional costumes, fashion history, French theater in the 1960s are all great topics.


  • Traditional costume, native south American costume, Spanish inquisition attire, Spanish dancing (history of dress) are ideas for topics.


  • Traditional costume, traditional handicrafts (lace making, embroidery, etc), WW2 uniforms just to mention a few.


  • Silk and the silk trade, traditional costumes, opera costumes


  • How do the intricate patterns present in Arab buildings and art translate (or not) into clothing?
  • How does Islam work in the context of dress? (Think outside of just berkas to the more secularized Arab cultures. Eg. Lebanon.)


  • How do you take something from 2D to 3D?
  • How do you sketch a 3 dimensional idea that is in your head?


  • How does music affect the mood of the audience?  Is a story told through music?  How could you visualize that?


  • Pick a time and place and learn about how people lived.  What they wore, what they did, what materials were available.


  • How does the fashion industry create jobs?
  • What are the economics that go into producing a pair of shoes?
  • What are the economics of a major broadway show vs one produced off-off-off Broadway?


  • What is the history of priestly vestments?
  • How do images of the Hindu gods impact religion?
  • Why do the Amish wear old-timey clothes?
  • What is the symbolism behind Hasidic dress?

Physical Education

  • What does a sculpted body look like?
  • What types of clothes are most comfortable for movement?
  • Can you study various dances?


  • How do those without money treat clothing?  How is it the same, or different from those with lots of money?
  • How does what you do, or where you come from affect the way you dress?


  • What have people used in the past to cover themselves?
  • How have we inherited or incorporated old (and at the time practical or necessary) conventions into our dress that today are unnecessary?

I did not take all of these subjects in college myself, but you get the idea!

Where I really pushed this idea into practice was with art history.  I wrote the final paper on the similarities between rococo painting and the exuberance of 18th century dress.  Yes, more typical than some others listed here, but I also wrote a paper for marine biology on the color patterns of a certain marine snail.

What are some creative term papers or projects you have come up with?  Please share!