CHARACTER COSTUME FIGURE DRAWING
* About the book
** Subject header
In Application (Illustration)
*** An Alternative way to illustrating
* Character Costume Figure Drawing, 2nd Ed., is a beautiful 300+ book that maps out, from author, Tan Huaixiang, the principles, application and philosophy surrounding the designing clothing (costumes) for stage actors.
The philosophical aspects deals with getting into the emotional state where one may attempt to capture the spirit of the character for a particular production.
The principles, as she describes it, is based on set proportions, facial and body structure and gesture/poses.
And, third, is a series of illustrations and what she deems as the steps to create accurate bodily portrayal.
** In Theory. This is the single most important aspect of the book. The author, Tan Huaixiang, maps out in simple steps the correct way to approach the subject of costume design for the theater stage (and, might I add it is also applicable to film and commercial endeavors as well) from a philosophical standpoint.
There's brief and broad discussion on how to "see" gender differences, racial and ethnic differences. These, of course, are stereotypical images as most of us realize that most people are a hodgepodge of different ethnic makeup. So, sketching out the profile of a "typical" Asian man may be inaccurate for Asians, say, from the West Indies where there's a considerable amount of miscegenation and facial and bodily profile are considerably different, let alone language. The same might be said for African-Americans and the multitude of diversity and unique distinctions.
All this being considered this is where I believe she falls short in the area of illustrative techniques, where she attempts to put an image to her philosophical underpinnings.
In Application/ By Illustration. I have some expertise on how one should approach the subject of figure drawing and I hope to explain where I have areas of contention with Ms. Huaixiang in exactly how to execute the steps in capturing the spirit of the character. How does one creating a believable visual image that works in tandem with the set department as well as the actor? It is the question that you undertake when approaching character development from a costume designer's point of view.
To be brief, Ms. H's, approach is to diagram the human body based on a 3- section format (pg. 35-41)
1. The head
2. The chest/ upper torso
3. The groin/hip/ buttocks region
(* In her description, mid section/ stomach muscle area is left out. This is a curious omission as she uses ballet dances as examples of perfect form. Now, ballet dancers do have perfect form, but the core of their conditioning is by their stomach muscles. So therefore, everything above and beneath the stomach muscles is in direct relation to it.)
This is the structural foundation for her concepts. From there, Ms. H builds upon this abbreviate skeletal frame with arms and legs sections as peripheral extensions. (see part 1 in video displays)
*** Ms. H's graphic style has obviously worked very well for her and it has enabled her to do the work she loves to do, but I'd like to suggest an alternative way to capture the spirit of the character that might be more simple and accurate.
Although her philosophical basis I found to be sound, I'm not a fan of her execution if the purpose is to give instruction on technique. In far too many of the pieces, the male characters look and pose the same way as the female characters. The dress of the genders are, by consequence, draped over the body the same way. And, to make matters worse, many of the illustrations have characters that have bodily sections that are grossly disproportionate to the skeletal frame or in relation to it upper or lower extremity.
This matters because in designing clothes it is extremely important that form-follows-function. If one description is, for example, exaggerated (i.e, torso too long in relation to the legs or the legs are far too long) the character becomes cartoonish. Body sections have to be proportionally accurate so that everything else pertaining to the design will also sync. You cannot have illustrations of male characters that are shaped and posed like female subjects: the musculature of a male is far different than that of a female. This is why men and women walk differently and carry weight differently. (See part 2 in video)
I would suggest an alternative way of capturing the human form.
1. Do not rely upon set mental models of what a person looks like. Use models, use photographs. Study form and study the walk-cycle. It is essential.
2. Be careful not use illustrations that have gross exaggerations of form, even when highlighting something other than clothing.
3. An easier way to build a skeletal frame is to use a simple 2- section process for full-body costume design. A. The torso--the area from the shoulders to up to and including the stomach. B. The lower region--waist/hip/ buttocks area down to the ankle. This is the way we normally buy clothing: tops and bottoms, shirts and pants, blouses and dresses. (see part 3 in video.)
It is my opinion that, despite my misgivings with the author's the illustrative techniques this book should be owned by those who seek a career doing costume design for theater, film or commercial.