Monday, June 22, 2009

Costumes, Part 1

An artist like Edwin Austin Abbey (below: "Who is Sylvia") was legendary among his peers for lavishing a fortune on the right costume for reference. (More Abbey samples here)

Good costumes can be expensive to buy or rent. And they can be difficult to make. But having a real costume makes a huge difference in your finished work. You can tell right away if an artist just made up a costume or went to the trouble to get a real one.

Abbey’s illustrations commanded princely sums a hundred years ago. What are we mortals to do nowadays on a shoestring budget? Today and tomorrow I'll offer 12 tips to save you money, time, and trouble.



1. You can find costumes at thrift stores or junk shops. Almost every garage sale has a Halloween costume or an unusual hat that you may want to use later.

2. Many smaller communites have a local theater company with costume collections. They are sometimes willing to loan their costumes to illustrators.

3. Renaissance festivals have vendors with an assortment of hats, cloaks, corsets, gowns, breeches, and doublets. Example: Moresca Clothing and Costume. That’s where the blue and red jacket came from, and I’ve used it in many Dinotopia pictures.

4. People who work in living history museums wear very authentic costumes. I've found they're glad to model for a sketchbook study. They may also be willing to pose for photo reference, but be sure to get their written permission first. Examples: Plimouth Plantation, Old Sturbridge Village, Colonial Williamsburg.

5. Big cities like New York, London, or Los Angeles have rental agencies serving theatrical or movie productions. Sometimes they will sell off their older, worn-out costumes. That’s where the doublet with the slashed sleeves above came from. Examples: Palace Costumes, Adele's Costumes.

6. Large museums, like the Metropolitan Museum or the Victoria and Albert in London have costume collections which can usually be sketched or photographed. Examples: Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Tomorrow: Six more costume tips.

8 comments:

Marc Hudgins said...

The other option (which you acknowledge as difficult), is to learn to make them yourself. Hands-on experience with the material and construction of costuming (garb to us fanatics)is a huge aide in then depicting it in an illustration. I do a lot of historical character design for a game company, and my costuming experience has really paid off in spades both in terms of getting my research right and in really understanding the way clothes are constructed and hang. Nothing like making and wearing the stuff to get a feel for it beyond simple observation.

As a note, Middle Earth Illustrator John Howe is also a historical reenactor, and that experience with wearing the clothes and armor, and handling the weaponry has certainly had a positive influence on his work.

Of course, I realize it's another expensive hobby, and you really need to be enthusiastic about it for it's own sake, but I'd encourage anyone to take a crack at making anything once!

Hathaway said...

that's so cool! My family's business is selling costuming at the Maryland Ren Fest (along with a few others in the US) and I always thought the Moresca stuff had a certain resonance with some of the Dinotopia costumes :) I was a huge fan as a kid, I used to hang out on the blue organ pipe stage and read your books on the week days-very nearly within sight of the Moresca shop :)

James Gurney said...

Hathaway, I have great admiration for Lena Dun's (Moresca) sense of color and pattern drafting. Her costumes are expensive but they're worth it. That's really cool that you grew up at Renaissance Faires.

Marc, making costumes is a little beyond me, but my wife has done a bit of it. Most science fiction cons have masquerades, with incredible costume creations that will inspire artists.

Stacy said...

Regarding tip #6, the Allentown Art Museum in Allentown, PA currently has an exhibit called "Fashion in Film: Period Costumes for the Screen". It runs through August 9th.

sfox said...

Edwin Austin Abbey has been one of my all-time favorite artists for many years. I've seen the house in Broadway, The Cotswalds, England, where he lived and where Sargent painted "Carnation, Lily, Lily Rose. Got up the courage to knock on the door, but no one was home. Drat.

His home and studio in Chelsea appears to be gone, along with the parish church where he was buried. They may have been destroyed in WWII. Sargent's home and studio is still there.

There are accounts by people like Henry James, who was there the summer that Sargent painted CL,CR, about the huge historic garment collection that Abbey had and how, in the evening, everyone would dress up in clothing dating back to the 18th century just for fun. I've wondered sometimes whatever happened to all those wonderful clothes. They would be almost priceless now.

James Gurney said...

Sfox, thanks for those amazing insights about Abbey. That's so cool to learn about of his homes remain. I was just reading in the E.V. Lucas biography about his get-togethers with Sargent and Tadema. I'd have loved to be a fly on the wall then.

Stacy, thanks for mentioning the Allentown exhibition. That would be worth a long trip to see.

jenniferolivia said...

Popular Halloween costumes keeps changing from year to year, a lot influenced by all the rage movies and TV shows, music superstars, and well-loved cartoons. Costumes have been part of human life and any tradition worldwide.

Daily New Deals said...

I love Halloween from childhood love wears different costumes..from Sears Coupon Codes at great discount every year they will come with different type of deals and great sale...loving it.....