Faking It: Probably the most important set of skills for a costumer are those various means of faking things, from the simple means of letting gold paint and hot glue pass for embroidery, to the complex means of”faking” creativity. The latter, is probably the most important skill in a costumer’s art and life since she [Sorry I’m being sexist, yes, guys make great costumer’s too, I’ve just had a problem with generically using “he” as a personal pronoun since 7th grade English.] has to create on demand, and can’t wait for her mood or muse to strike.
Saving Creativity for a Rainy Day: Faking creativity is, in a way, a misnomer. One can’t “fake” a great creative idea, or it simply isn’t a great creative idea. However, one can, both induce creativity more or less on demand and save up creative thoughts from a previous day to use at a later date when they are needed. Creative ideas, both one’s own and those provided by outside influences, can be stored like nuts for winter in the following ways:
Notebooks: Take the blank book somebody gave you last Christmas with the arty cover and the intimidating BLANK pages and stick it in your purse. Next time you see something really neat, or think of an interesting idea try to do a drawing of it or write it down. If you never seem to get ideas, just pull it out and doodle anything when you are stuck places doing nothing: waiting at the airport, in restaurants, and all those short annoying waits that otherwise make life tedious and frustrating.If 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 spare ideas that you don’t need yet. Don’t expect to put in finished ideas, just put stuff in as it occurs to you, and these bits and pieces will be 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 people who always do better sketches on paper napkins in restaurants, than they can do completed renderings. In fact, after you do this for a while, you may want to give in and do your renderings in restaurants as well. I do.
Scrapbooks: This is for all those ideas you see in magazines and the paper that you want to stick on your bulletin board but don’t have the room. Buy a cheap “magnetic” page album, cut out the pictures, and stick them in. Then when you need a creative idea to steal (sorry, “adapt”) you just flip through your albums and look for something appropriate. It need not be a picture of a costume, just pictures that give you ideas: anything from nature photographs to modern art.
Idea Boxes: Same idea only three dimensional. Bill Stewart Jones 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. People brought in interesting leaves, nuts and garbage: rusted objects, colored scrap papers and so forth. In an optimum situation you will turn your whole home and work place into giant idea boxes filled with objects and pictures that creatively inspire you. I myself have done this with my apartment, and a student who saw it was so inspired by it she designed a stage 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 found inspiring, she tied them all to strings on a lamp, and now has a metal chandelier/musical instrument in her studio. The lamp, in turn, inspired a performance piece. Having interesting colors and shapes surround you as you work and think, can help to give you ideas faster than you can use them.
Cover the Walls: To this end I advise all costume shops to plaster every inch of their wall space with pictures, objects, fabrics and paint of 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.
Odd to say I learned this trick not from a costumer, but from visiting the study of writer Anne Rice, author of Interview With the Vampire. She coats the entire wall opposite her 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 this in a shop is tremendously inspiring. When one is tired and running out of ideas, looking at blank walls is depressing and counter productive. When ideas are falling off all the walls around you, on the other hand, it is nearly impossible to give up. In addition, feel free to decorate the furniture, the lamps, the floor and ceiling to the extent that fire code permits.
Xeroxes: Many times, you can’t cut out the picture of a good idea since it’s in a book. If you can’t afford to buy the book, you can afford to Xerox the important parts for reference. In some places color Xerox is even cheap enough to use. While in places that don’t have Xerox machines, (like Russian libraries) 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.
Build Your Own Library: On the other hand, if you can afford the book, buy it. Costume books are inspiring, enlightening, and fun. Besides which, their resale value usually keeps apace of inflation *(No longer true), so if you ever quit costuming,you can often resell them at a profit. Owning your own library is a tremendous asset in time saved hunting at public libraries at the last minute. However, public libraries and University libraries are great, too. More about library hunting can be found in the section on Library Research.
Part of my hoard of costume books at UAF
“I fear you have sold your own lands to see other men’s; then, to have seen much and to have nothing, is to have rich 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 new eyes.” –Marcel Proust
This exercise is a simple thing to do in a new, unfamiliar place, but a difficult one to do in one’s own backyard. As the above quotations indicate, this is one reason we travel. However, it is possible to do this on one’s home 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 of furniture, or simply by concentrating on looking at the world, hard.
You need to make an effort to stop. Just stop. And look at the world around you. Whether it is to look in a garbage can, or at a sunset, or at the room you are sitting in, and mine it for visual information about color, texture, shape, and that indefinable thing beauty. This is not only a help to you as an artist, but as a person. If you can do this one thing, you will forever be able to see some beauty in any place you are stuck, and therefore forever be able to see your cup as half full rather than half empty. It is the single most artistically and emotionally valuable talent you can develop.
I personally think I “discovered” how to do it while traveling to England when I was 21. Some people are born knowing it. For me it took a hellish day thousands of miles from home, to “get” it. I was in the 4th week of a five week trip in dreadful weather, all alone. I went to York on a one day trip from London, and missed my train back, just as it was turning dark and I was getting a migraine. I had almost 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 thing in public.
So instead I looked up at the dirty glass of the Victorian train station roof, the faded Northern evening light, the sheets of rain, and concentrated on how beautifully the silver gray of the rain harmonized with the lead gray of the sky and the pale gray of the dirty glass. I concentrated on how the wavelets of rain running down the glass, matched the fish scale shape of the panes in their cast iron frames. And I sniffed the air until I could smell the scent of wood burning in nearby fireplaces, and strained my ears to hear the church bells doing the complicated mathematical dances the English call change-ringing. And suddenly I was in the most beautiful, interesting place I’d visited all day, and the time passed quickly, and pleasurably. And I can still, fifteen years later, tell you how it looked and felt.
You need to open your eyes to all the beauty that surrounds you on a daily basis, and feed on it like a hungry beast. You need to pursue it like a hunter and devour it with your eyes to memorize every detail. These details can be used later, like your notes and Xeroxes, to jog your creativity when needed. They can also feed your soul as you take them in, every day. They are the basic food of artistic inspiration, and you cannot create anything original without them.
Did you dream last night about wandering down a dark hall of cement to a hidden palace of costume? Find your home in the weird dark costume basement of a theatre near you, volunteer in a college or community theatre costume studio to learn more fun costume stuff faster, and meet like minded crazies!