Thumbnail Sketches

You will encounter many terms used for initial costume ideas.   Some designers use small, quickly done, loose drawings to show all the changes a character may make or all the characters in a scene.  These are often called thumbnails because of their small size and hasty execution.  They are meant to indicate relative silhouette, period, character choices.

Some designers use them to quickly try several design options for a character, or as a method to try design ideas in a garment.  Its not always possible to design an effective garment with one try.  Thumbnails are fast, and release the designer from repeating small details when speed and creativity are the focus.    Sometimes designers must draw these in meetings to show a director what they can’t say with words.    If the thumbnails are successful, some designers enlarge these drawings to quickly create final sketches.

I highly recommend this method of communication when working with directors who may be inexperienced in looking at costume sketches.

Click to download sketch ideas for one character indicated in thumbnail size.  Holly used these sketches to work through design details.  I ultimately drew this character at least 12 times before hitting on the right combination.  Using thumbnails, that many drawings only required only an hour or so.  Click for the final thumbnail of the design I liked.  I showed all these options to the director.

Click to download Three Penney Opera color thumbnail sketches, courtesy of Megan Gurdine.  Please note the color pigment squares below the costumes to clearly communicate the color scheme.

Click to download Abstract Expression thumbnail sketches.  Megan hastily colored rough pencil drawings to communicate this show to the director.

Click to download thumbnails arranged by scene for meetings.  This method is very effective for describing the actual stage picture.


Rough Sketches

In this phase of the process, you will create pencil sketches of the final designs.  You will later refine and color these pencil sketches to create final renderings, so draw them on the final support or paper you will use or plan a way to copy your pencil sketch to the final paper via scanning or zeroxing.

Pencil sketches or Roughs are intended in the industry to mean the sketches you will later amend or paint to create final sketches.  Most LORT contracts require Rough Sketches ahead of final sketches for budgeting purposes.  These are often the same size as the finished sketches, some are drawn on the final paper.  If the roughs are successful, it is an easy process to add color to create final sketches. Many designers use this method to save time.

In a Rough Sketch, draw each character’s pose and entire look: costume, hair and facial hair, footwear and accessories.   As you meet with your mentor, you will make changes to these drawings.  After you are both satisfied, make copies of your pencil sketches. You will use these as Working Drawings later in the process.

In many professional situations, the contract will stipulate a deadline for rough sketches, and you will send these to the costume shop for budget and labor estimates.  Since many design jobs are long distance, it is easier to scan or copy pencil sketches to send for approvals.  Size your sketches so they will easily fit in a scanner or copy machine.

Click to download an example of a  rough sketch or pencil sketch that could be submitted to a theater or a shop.

Click to view very finished pencil sketches or line drawings by British designer Martin Morley.  These sketches are not painted, but drawn completely to indicate detail, shadow and texture.

Directors and Rough Sketches

Not every director can read a drawing.  They can’t translate what a colorless sketch will look like as a finished garment, or what all the costumes will look like together in a scene. It is the designer’s responsibility to find a way to adequately communicate with the director.  It’s ok to accompany your sketches with research, photos of garments on dress forms or in stores- anything that works is correct.

Many directors can relate only to scene-by-scene illustrations- all the changes a single character makes does not communicate what a stage picture will look like.  However, progressive character sketches are handy for showing an aging process or a series of changes that are pertinent to the story telling.   You may create different kinds of sketches for different situations.

In the digital era, it is now possible to create digital scene-by-scene story boards with your rough sketches or final sketches.  Story boards are a more accurate representation of the actual stage picture at any moment in the play.   You may want to take this extra step for yourself to catch incongruities ahead of time.

Sample Final Rendering

This step is no longer required as part of the formal design process at UCI,  but your faculty mentor may ask you to prepare a sketch for an individual meeting.  It is very good practice to test your rendering ideas before you commit to doing many sketches by a specific deadline.  You may find the paper you chose absorbs the color too quickly, or paint beads on the surface and will not dry.  You may want several samples of artistic techniques to decide an overall approach.  If you think your director has difficulty “seeing” sketches, you may want to show her or him a sample.  How do they interpret your work- are they unable to see past the black background or white pencil effect?

Fabric Swatches

Attach fabric swatches for each costume to the sketch so your faculty mentor,  director and collaborators can see the larger picture.  Present the costume sketches by scene. This method is a test of your color scheme- does any fabric stand out too much or pull focus in a way you didn’t intend?  Do the color relationships make sense for the characters?  Are you using a monochromatic color scheme that requires close collaboration with the lighting designer, so all the colors don’t blend away?   Should some fabrics be dipped to slightly adjust their contrast or saturation?  Does the color scheme you chose work with the scenic design?  Are the actors the focus of any given scene, or do they blend away, and which do you intend? Do groups of characters make sense together?  What happens during the blocking—will all the actors in red trousers stand or sit together creating an unintended stage picture?

If you created a “swatch world” for this project, you may assign fabrics to individual characters at this point (even if you will be renting the garments) to serve as an illustration of color, pattern and texture.

Rosalind Formal.Mrs G rendering small




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