The Costumer's Manifesto: Faking Creativity
IT: Probably the most important set ofskills for a costumer are those various means of faking things, from the simple means ofletting gold paint and hot glue pass for embroidery, to the complex means of"faking" creativity. The latter, is probably the most important skill in acostumer's art and life since she [Sorry I'm being sexist, yes, guys make great costumer'stoo, I've just had a problem with generically using "he" as a personal pronounsince 7th grade English.] has to create on demand, and can't wait for her mood or muse tostrike.
CREATIVITY FOR A RAINY DAY: Fakingcreativity is, in a way, a misnomer. One can't "fake" a great creative idea, orit simply isn't a great creative idea. However, one can, both induce creativity more orless on demand and save up creative thoughts from a previous day to use at a later datewhen they are needed. Creative ideas, both one's own and those provided by outsideinfluences, can be stored like nuts for winter in the following ways:
S: Take the blank book somebody gave youlast Christmas with the arty cover and the intimidating BLANK pages and stick it in yourpurse. Next time you see something really neat, or think of an interesting idea try to doa drawing of it or write it down. If you never seem to get ideas, just pull it out anddoodle anything when you are stuck places doing nothing: waiting at the airport, inrestaurants, and all those short annoying waits that otherwise make life tedious andfrustrating.I
f you can't do this try writing your shopping list, or drawing the salt and pepper shakers. Eventually if you keep the damn thing with you, you will begin to put in your
FAKINGSAVING NOTEBOOKspare ideas that you don't need yet. Don't expect to putin finished ideas, just put stuff in as it occurs to you, and these bits and pieces willbe handy later. It doesn't matter squat if these sketches look good, they are just thereto store ideas before you forget them. This is also a great way to work for those peoplewho always do better sketches on paper napkins in restaurants, than they can do completedrenderings. In fact, after you do this for a while, you may want to give in and do yourrenderings in restaurants as well. I do.
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KS: This is for all those ideas you seein magazines and the paper that you want to stick on your bulletin board but don't havethe room. Buy a cheap "magnetic" page album, cut out the pictures, and stickthem in. Then when you need a creative idea to steal (sorry, "adapt") you justflip through your albums and look for something appropriate. It need not be a picture ofa costume, just pictures that give you ideas: anything from nature photographs to modernart.
BOXES: Same idea only three dimensional. BillJones of San Francisco State used to require his design class to bring in an"object-of-the-week" that they found, to give the other students ideas. Peoplebrought in interesting leaves, nuts and garbage: rusted objects, colored scrap papers andso forth. In an optimum situation you will turn your whole home and work place into giantidea boxes filled with objects and pictures that creatively inspire you. I myself havedone this with my apartment, and a student who saw it was so inspired by it she designed astage set for Dusa, Fish, Stas, and Vi based on it. Milla, a Russian designer friend of mine, collected so many fun metal objects that she foundinspiring, she tied them all to strings on a lamp, and now has a metal chandelier/ musicalinstrument in her studio. The lamp, in turn, inspired a performance piece. Havinginteresting colors and shapes surround you as you work and think, can help to give youideas faster than you can use them.
THE WALLS: To this end I advise all costumeshops to plaster every inch of their wall space with pictures, objects, fabrics and paintof an inspiring nature. Do not limit yourself to bulletin boards. If you have cement walls(who doesn't?) hot glue the stuff to the cement.
Oddto say I learned this trick not from a costumer, but from visiting the study of writerAnne Rice, author of Interview With the Vampire. She coats the entire wall oppositeher word processor with pictures she feels are appropriate to her next novel.(No I don't know her, I just knew a former house sitter). Doing thisin a shop is tremendously inspiring. When one is tired and running out of ideas, lookingat blank walls is depressing and counter productive. When ideas are falling off all thewalls around you, on the other hand, it is nearly impossible to give up. In addition, feelfree to decorate the furniture, the lamps, the floor and ceiling to the extent that firecode permits. For more about this see the
- A morgue is simply a clipping file ofarticles and pictures on subjects you may later have use for. Newspaper publishers keepthem on noteworthy figures, and makeup designers keep them on different facial features.You, quite obviously, need to keep them on costumes and matters relating to costume. Itypically keep articles on how-to do costume things from magazines like Sunset,that tell you "How to Marbleize Fabrics" and the like. I also keep pamphlets andarticles on the history of costume in these files as well.
- Many times, you can't cut out the pictureof a good idea since it's in a book. If you can't afford to buy the book you can afford toXerox the important parts for reference. In some places color Xerox is even cheap enoughto use. While in places that don't have Xerox machines, (like
MORGUEXEROXESRussianlibraries) use your notebook to copy everything. This will give you drawing practice,as well as allow you to save ideas that you see for later.
YOUR OWN LIBRARY: On the other hand, if youcan afford the book, buy it. Costume books are inspiring, enlightening, and fun. Besideswhich, their resale value usually keeps apace of inflation, so if you ever quit costuming,you can often resell them at a profit. Owning your own library is a tremendous asset intime saved hunting at public libraries at the last minute. However, public libraries andUniversity libraries are great, too. More about library hunting can be found in thesection on
EYES: "I fear you have soldyour own lands to see other men's; then, to have seen much and to have nothing, is to haverich eyes and poor hands...and to travel for it too!"--W.Shakespeare, As You Like It, IV. 1.
"We travel not to see new places, but to see with neweyes." --Marcel Proust
This exercise is a simple thing to do in a new, unfamiliar place, but adifficult one to do in one's own backyard. As the above quotations indicate, this is onereason we
RICHtravel. However, it is possible to do this on one'shome turf, either by sitting at a new perspective (remember in The Dead Poet's Society,when the teacher had students stand on his desk?), like the floor, or on top of a piece offurniture, or simply by concentrating on looking at the world, hard.
You need to make an effort to stop. Just stop. And look at the worldaround you. Whether it is to look in a garbage can, or at a sunset, or at the room you aresitting in, and mine it for visual information about color, texture, shape, and thatindefinable thing beauty. This is not only a help to you as an artist, but as a person. Ifyou can do this one thing, you will forever be able to see some beauty in any place youare stuck, and therefore forever be able to see your cup as half full rather than halfempty. It is the single most artistically and emotionally valuable talent you can develop.
I personally think I "discovered" how to do it while travelingto England when I was 21. Some people are born knowing it. For me it took a hellish daythousands of miles from home, to "get" it. I was in the 4th week of a five weektrip in dreadful weather, all alone. I went to York on a one day trip from London, andmissed my train back, just as it was turning dark and I was getting a migraine. I hadalmost two hours to wait for the next train, I had heavy books in a package, a thin coat,and nowhere to sit. I was horribly homesick and cold. Then lightning burst the clouds overhead into rain. I should have cried. But this was England, you don't do that sort of thingin public.
So instead I looked up at the dirty glass of the Victorian train stationroof, the faded Northern evening light, the sheets of rain, and concentrated on howbeautifully the silver gray of the rain harmonized with the lead gray of the sky and thepale gray of the dirty glass. I concentrated on how the wavelets of rain running down theglass, matched the fish scale shape of the panes in their cast iron frames. And I sniffedthe air until I could smell the scent of wood burning in nearby fireplaces, and strainedmy ears to hear the church bells doing the complicated mathematical dances the Englishcall change-ringing. And suddenly I was in the most beautiful, interesting place I'dvisited all day, and the time passed quickly, and pleasurably. And I can still, fifteenyears later, tell you how it looked and felt.
You need to open your eyes to all the beauty that surrounds you on adaily basis, and feed on it like a hungry beast. You need to pursue it like a hunter anddevour it with your eyes to memorize every detail. These details can be used later, likeyour notes and Xeroxes, to jog your creativity when needed. They can also feed your soulas you take them in, every day. They are the basic food of artistic inspiration, and youcannot create anything original without them.
Did you dream last night about wandering down a
black hall of graffiti to a hiddenpalace of
Costume Construction Costume Construction