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

Monday, February 6th, 2012 | Uncategorized

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.

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

February 6, 2012

I feel your pain. On a rare occasion do my rendering turn out the way I like them. I’m having better success with digital rendering, but it is still a work in progress. You are brave to put your work and your technique out there!

February 7, 2012

I always find this book was incredibly helpful when trying to get my ideas out so I thought I would share it. The title is a bit lengthy but it is worth looking it up:

Character Costume Figure Drawing: Step-by-Step Drawing Methods for Theatre Costume Designers
by Tan Huaixiang.

February 12, 2012

I wouldn’t get too discouraged. One thing that my mentor tells me is that if your realized creation is better than your rendering, then your ability to create magic as a designer seems all the more astounding.

February 14, 2012

Hi. I understand just what you mean. Currently, I am trying to hone my drawing skills to apply to graduate school for costume design and I feel that i can not find the right media that works for me. I have several books on how to draw and rendering techniques for the theater and still, I struggle. It is good to know that I am not alone. But at least you are doing what you love to do, design. Thanks for the blog!

February 23, 2012

I also feel your pain. I never mastered watercolor and my professor finally thru up her hands and told me to go ahead with acrylics. I prefered the heavy impasto of them, and I mean heavy literally. It makes for a hefty portfolio to carry around. Quite some time ago I turned to magic marker. For direction in technique I refer alot to the Bob Mackie book by Frank Caro. I know! But his rendering are nicely done and you can tell he whips them out. Which is what I need to do. Recently I invested in Drawing Fashion with Colored Markers by Nancy Riegelman. More academic and specific.

Don’t despair,you aren’t alone. If you page thru Costume Design, Techniques of Modern Masters by Pektal you will see some of the greats in the business aren’t incredible renders. I think their reputation and communication skills help make up for what they are lacking in technique.

March 7, 2012

I read a book on Chiaroscuro and it’s technique helped me a lot with rendering.

Leave a comment