labricoleuse: (ass head mask)

Mary McClung's new book, Foam Patterning and Construction Techniques, is a must-have for costume production artists with an interest in mascot making, theme park walkarounds, and other large-scale creature costumes.

McClung starts out with a section on types of foam, as well as tools, adhesives, and other media for use with foam in production. This section alone will be a godsend if you have some knowledge of working with foam but only know common vocabulary terms like "couch foam" as opposed to descriptors used by vendors like "urethane foam." She includes a thorough section on safety, both in terms of work practices and protective equipment to use when using the adhesives and paints which work on foam. I always love to see a new reference book in our field with current safety information--for too long our industry has gotten by without adequate education in this area, and many of the old "classic" reference texts are from a bygone age in which one might, say, shoot pictures of someone demonstrating a technique with a cigarette burning in an ashtray near an open container of solvent or similar.

She goes on to discuss concepts of design with respect to these kind of character costumes (or other foam-based elements of realizing shapes/structures), and techniques for patterning and construction with foam as a medium. She covers a wide range of techniques and media for "skinning" the forms, too--not only some great stuff on fur and fleece, but also latex/cheesecloth and other surfacing ideas. McClung even talks about elements of finishing like the painting of fur to create a more sophisticated look, which are hard to find documented at all.

The last section of the book documents the process from start to finish on six different foam-based projects, from cute cartoon character heads to sleek superhero armor. It's great to see an artist's procedure from start to finish on such drastically different designs, using the same basic range of techniques.

Full disclosure: this review is written in response to a digital review copy provided to me by the publisher, Focal Press, so that i might decide whether to adopt the book as a text for my graduate level maskmaking class. While i remain undecided as to whether i will adopt the book as a required text, i will definitely consider it a recommended book and I intend to obtain a physical copy for my studio's library of reference books. Unfortunately though, the e-reader i had to use to access the text didn't give me any concept of the size or quality of the photos in a print version of the book or how the text would be laid out, so i suppose i'll ahve to wait til i get my hands on a physical copy to form an opinion on those aspects of the book. The info contained within makes it well worth the purchase regardless, even if the whole thing were printed in Comic Sans.

I received the review copy toward the end of spring semester (when i was in the midst of teaching Masks & Armor, the course for which i would potentially use it) and one of my students elected to try one of the processes described in that final section of examples. The book was helpful, clear, and full of good suggestions for how to modify techniques or further explore media. In fact, i'd say the book would be a great reference not just for those of us working the business of costume production but also for those whose hobbies encompass cosplay and other types of character costuming for fun.

Two large foam thumbs up!
labricoleuse: (mee)

The First Book of Fashion (ed. Ulinka Rublack and Maria Hayward) encompasses two books, in fact: essentially 15th and 16th century "dress diaries" of a father and son, Matthaus and Veit Konrad Schwarz of Augsburg. The two men hired a series of artists to draw miniature full-color portraits of their clothes, a project which encompassed forty years of the father's life and six years of the son's adolescence. The men were serious clothes-horses and major fashion mavens, with the books serving as amazing windows into the daily clothing choices made by men of their class at the time.

This full-color edition depicts the two volumes in their entireties, along with translations of the Schwarz's accompanying diary text, which is often both illuminating and endearing, describing the materials of the clothing and personal details. Some examples:

  • from Arras lined with Siberian squirrel fur...

  • The riding gown had 40 pleats.

  • This is when i began to be fat and round.

  • At this time i greatly enjoyed hunting.

In a lengthy section at the back of the book, a scholarly analysis of each plate is appended, in which every element of dress and adornment is discussed, as well as any socially-significant elements shown in the background. Two lengthy scholarly articles by the editors serve as Introductions I & II, which provide a historical background for these men's lives, the town/country in which they lived, the general state of clothing production/techniques/styles at the time, and the larger historical picture of the era.

At only $45 for this 410-page hardback  volume, this is an excellent and reasonably priced resource for costumers seeking primary research for this time period and location. It's also a fun glimpse into these guys' lives, and their witty, self-conscious comments feel as familiar as any fashion blog or social media feed.

Some examples:

In 1512. In my mind, i was a bad-ass, and very keen on horse riding, when my father sent me to Munich for his business. 15 years old.

On 28th November 1519, my father died and I mourned him...
labricoleuse: (design)

Winterhalter's 1865 portrait of Empress Elizabeth of Austria
in a gown by Charles Worth and diamond star ornaments dressed into her hair

While book reviews are a fairly common feature in La Bricoleuse, i should preface this one with a bit of a caveat, because it’s highly irregular that the subject of such a review would be a novel. The book features have typically addressed nonfiction of a costume-related bent, such as Shoes: An Illustrate History by Rebecca Shawcross or The Spoonflower Handbook.

However, it is for entirely topical reasons that I draw your attention to Alexander Chee’s new release, Queen of the Night.

I was perhaps predisposed to pick up this novel—it is set in a place and time (Paris during the Second Empire/Third Republic) which are among my pet research topics and follows the tumultuous career of an operatic soprano. As I’ve worked as a costumer for companies like the LA Opera, i’m intrigued by opera history and familiar with its canon, and i do love the soaring drama of those storylines. And, well do i know that historically, the lives of opera singers often might well be the plot lines of operas themselves—the tragic death of La Malibran, for example, or the dramatic onstage shattering of Cornélie Falcon’s voice.

But whether you have any familiarity with opera or not, if you enjoy the focus of this blog, you ought to grab a copy of this book and check it out, and here’s why: costume and couture of the period is a significant thematic element. From the Parisian ateliers of Worth and Félix [1] to the subterranean storehouse of Empress Eugénie’s fur collection, there’s so much to love for the costume academic or enthusiast.

For example, when was the last time you read a contemporary historical novel in which an author acknowledged the fact that women dressed wiglets and switches into their hair when creating elaborate hairstyles? Given the general flimsiness of women’s silk slippers for society parties, you’ll appreciate Chee’s tip of the hat to special pairs of cancan boots—wooden heeled, leather uppers—transgressively structured footwear made for stamping and kicking all night. And when you hit the section in which a courtesan advises her protegée on the conversion of various types of jewelry into ready money, if you’re of my nitpicky mindset, you’ll love to see that type of information codified on the page.

In fact, clothing is often a sticking point for me in terms of the enjoyment of historical fiction—even moreso than the snark the ladies of Frock Flicks dish on with respect to film/TV—because in fiction, you have no limitations on budget and shooting schedule, nor must you contend with petulant A-list talent who insist on choosing their own jankity clothes, history be damned. There is quite literally NO REASON why an author of a novel should get the details of fashion so deeply wrong, but (speaking as someone who once put down a book in disgust when the protagonist pulled a corset off over her head like a tee-shirt) it happens. Often.

So i felt like metaphorically high-fiving Chee from the moment his narrator began to describe a custom dressform in the Worth atelier as essential to the sartorial panache of an arriviste. I loved the way at one point Chee detailed the embroidery techniques designed to hide structural seamlines on the bodice of a gown, and i wished i had a colleague reading along with me to share my thumbs-ups when he mentioned in passing the stitching of weights into the hems of voluminous skirts to influence their motion in performance. In fact, with that in mind, this would be a fantastic discussion book for a group of costumers, and an excellent audiobook to listen to while, say, tatting, pad-stitching, or tambour-beading.

And yet, i don't wish to imply that the story is merely an excuse for pornagraphically-intricate fashion descriptions--these sorts of details are seamlessly incorporated into the writing, the same as any other bit of scene-setting. It all exists in there to serve the plot, which brings me to...well, the plot in all its glorious sprawl.

I’ve read some criticism of the implausibility of the characters’ lives in a few traditional book-review marketplaces. I would argue that they are perhaps implausible to those with no familiarity with the memoirs of mid-19th-century demimondaines, courtesans, and opera singers; but scholars of those women’s lives, however, will discern the inspiration of real people and events throughout Queen of the Night. I don’t just mean the obvious ones—Napoleon III and his appetite for mistresses or Pauline Viardot-García and her “two husbands”—but the cameos of or tributes to lesser-known filles de joie like Cora Pearl, La Païva, and Mogador, too.

Should you feel the need to read a more traditional review before taking on a novel just for the clothing descriptions, take a pass through Ilana Masad's review on Electric Literature. It provides a good overview of the epic, circuitous story. You don’t need to be a fan of opera to follow along (Chee often synopsizes the storylines of the operas which feature in the soprano’s career) but if you are, you will recognize that the novel itself follows operatic tropes of melodrama and tragedy.

Like many operas, it’s long—over 500 pages—and it does shift around in time and place, so if you prefer your novels to have linear plots in which A leads to B which is followed by C, you’ll struggle. Me, i love a complex puzzle box of a book, and Alexander Chee’s Queen of the Night is one i’ll return to again, much like a favorite libretto or score.

[1] If you're a fan of Worth but Maison Félix doesn't ring a bell, check out this great feature on the FIDM blog with loads of droolworthy images!
labricoleuse: (mee)
So, first up, a caveat: the author of this book is a colleague and a personal friend. However, I don't do shill reviews for friends' books. If i don't think someone's book is worth touting to my readers, i just don't mention it. However, Margaret Peot's Stencil Craft is well worth a mention.


This book is a great new resource for stencil techniques and processes, particularly for textile artists and costumers. Margaret is not only a painter, illustrator, and artist, but she is also a costume painter for the Broadway production house Parsons-Meares, Ltd. Her work is onstage in productions such as Aladdin, Lion King, Wicked, and more. Some of the stencil techniques and samples she depicts in this book, she uses in the creation of those costume fabrics! So, a good resource, particularly if you have never had the opportunity to take one of her workshops at a costume conference.

The book is large format, full color, 127 pages, and mixes information about techniques and media with specific suggested project ideas shown from start to finish. The language is clear and concise, and chapters address four different areas of stencil use: fashion (clothing/accessories), home decor (linens/furniture), paper goods, and artwork.

The reason [ profile] labricoleuse readers will definitely want to take a look at this book is the range of types of material covered. She shows examples of stencil effects on silk chiffon, china silk, 4-ply silk charmeuse, cotton jersey, canvas, and so much more. There are some great images of paint sample tests, and throughout the book are little boxed highlights which address safe work practices. She even covers stencil effects on dark fabrics with discharge paste!

So, the upshot: highly recommended, a good addition to your library of surface design books for painters/dyers or anyone with an interest in exploring sophisticated-looking stencil techniques on textiles, paper, wood, and more.
labricoleuse: (shoes!)
One of the advantages of blogging about such a narrow focus as costume from a professional and academic perspective? The very, very rare occasion when something happens like this: Bloomsbury sent me a review copy of the new book Shoes: An Illustrated History, by Rebecca Shawcross.

And it's exciting, yes, to get such a fantastic free book in the mail, but i'll tell you this: i'd have bought it anyway. If all you want is a soundbite of a review, there it is. The book's great, buy it. If you like shoes, if you love shoes, if you dig costume history, if you enjoy footwear in terms of fashion, buy it. And i'm not just saying that because i got a free copy, i'm saying it because it's a great book, but i'm getting to why, and that takes more time (and words) than a soundbite.

Above: new Fluevogs!
Below: new shoe book!

First up, let me say that i'm well versed in what's out there in the way of books about shoes. Historical surveys, coffee-table photo books, little gift books with tons of pictures but barely any info. I either own them, owned but deaccessioned them, or check them out of the library each time i teach my shoe unit in Decorative Arts seminar. My usual beef with most shoe survey books produced in the late 20th century is that they pretty much have all the same shoes in them--you can expect to see the same exact images licensed from the same popular sources. So, if you're a shoe-book connoisseur, you could practically play bingo with a card of shoe pix from the Met and the Bata.

And sometimes, sure, that's because the shoes are iconic. It'd be strange to have a history of shoes with no images of the famous Ferragamo styles, or the Vivier comma heels, or a pair of wooden pattens or a Chinese lotus shoe. And this book, Shoes, does have those included. But, it has SO much more--so many other pairs of footwear that you just don't see in the majority of other books of this sort out there. Presumably this is partly because most of those books are drawing primarily on North American collections for the majority of their images, while this book's author, Rebecca Shawcross, is attached to the Northampton Museum's footwear collection from which she can draw for even more images outside the most commonly circulated images/pairs.

This book is beautifully put together and enormously readable/browsable--a great balance of full color images, historical illustrations & engravings, and meaningful yet not dense text. It could be a reference book in your workroom's library (as it will be for me), but it could just as easily be a coffee table book in your home. You could read it cover to cover and learn about shoes from 3500 BCE to the present, or you could dip in and out of it by era or subject. Shawcross gives equal weight to the progression of the history of footwear itself (construction, materials, innovations, styles) as she does to recurring iconic styles and innovations/innovators. She even approaches some footwear topics from a sociological perspective, like the phenomenon of concealed shoes within the walls of architecture from prior centuries.

I find the chapter sections on footwear trends and designers of the 1990s and 2000s to be of particular note, because most other books of this ilk were published IN those years, so they stop with 1980s footwear trends. This book actually addresses topics like the influence of the Spice Girls on the return of the platform, and the influence of sports celebrity branding on the athletic shoe industry (i.e., Air Jordans). The main beef i have with the book, really, is that the author makes no mention of some of the most innovative and influential brands and designers from that period--no John Fluevog, no Luichiny, no Irregular Choice. But, that's a small quibble in the scheme of things.

Ultimately, this is an exciting new book on a subject I adore, and i highly recommend it.
labricoleuse: (design)

I recently received my copy of 18th Century Hair & Wig Styling: History & Step-by-Step Techniques by Kendra Van Cleave, and i seriously can't say enough good things about this fantastic new resource volume. It's a full-color, 298-page, 8"x10" book, very professionally produced and packed full of fantastic information about a range of 18th century hairstyles, including those intimidatingly-large "Marie Antoinette" styles.

Ms. Van Cleave is a costumer, yes, but she is also a fashion historian and academic librarian, and the depth of her research and knowledge really shines through in the first section of the book, on the history of the styles in question. It's clear that she's not only done exhaustive research on hair of the period, but also tracked down and reproduced a wealth of visual research from portraits and other paintings, fashion plates, and illustrations of 18th century primary sources.

The second section of the book is called Techniques, and focuses on the practical terms, tools, products, and so forth needed to create these styles. If you have little or no experience styling hair and/or wigs, this section will get you up to speed on not just the basics, but also topics like making your own wefts, adding hair into wigs, creating structures/foundations/rats, and so forth. It also includes info on powdering hair and wigs, and a lot of great photographs documenting the styling methods discussed.

The third section, Finished Styles, is the most exciting step-by-step how-to overview of exactly how to do 22 different ladies' styles and three men's. If you've done much historical research on hairstyles of the 18th century, you'll recognize some of the most iconic ones (giant ship atop giant hair, anyone?). These are shown in a tutorial layout--instructions and photographs illustrating each step of the way, from an initial photo showing the model's actual unstyled hair and/or the unstyled wig beforehand, through to the finished look.

There's an extensive bibliography, a list of sources for wigs as well as style/product names for those used in the projects depicted, and even a tutorial on making a wig bag for men's styles that need one.

The book was clearly a labor of love--produced with help from a Kickstarter campaign, self-published, and as best i can tell, only available directly from the author at the book's website. At the $50 price point, i'm sure there'll be some grumbling at not being able to take advantage of bookstore gift certificates to purchase it, but I can assure you, it's well worth the money. I'm just thrilled that it came out in time for me to use it in my upcoming millinery and wig seminar!
labricoleuse: (dye vat)
Have you ever thought to yourself, "man, i wish i knew more about the science of dyeing, but science textbooks are all so dense and complicated, i just don't have the basic knowledge to get much out of them..."?

I did, for years, until i took some distance-education classes in textile science, dyeing and finishing from the NCSU College of Textiles. It remains the best thing i've ever done for my career, in terms of gaining truly practical, applicable knowledge to help me do my job better, knowledge i use literally every single day. I realize though that many theatrical dyers don't have the option to do the same--my tuition was waived as one of my benefits, and my superiors at work were hugely supportive of my study. Money, time, and colleague support are sometimes not as easy to come by. And besides, it can be intimidating to someone with an artistic self-image to enroll in a polymer chemistry class. Sometimes we can be our own biggest hurdles.

Most of us who dye for costuming purposes come from art-dyeing backgrounds, where the chemistry is glossed over. I mean, sure, back when i was getting my degree in costuming, i took a graduate level class in dyeing for theatre, but it was offered through the department of dramatic art, not chemistry or textiles, and it was taught by a professor of costume design. Even our graduate level courses often deal more with processes like batik and screenprinting than with the basic science of why dyes do what they do on a molecular level.

And yet, each class of dyes does something very different to the fibers it affects, and IME the majority of theatrical dyework does not involve the fun, artsy projects like shibori or batik or silk painting. Sure, those come along once in a while, but at least 80% of the work i do in my dyeshop is completely straightforward. Dye this to match that. Can we dye this that color? Why won't this take dye? Can we strip the color out of this? All the beautiful shibori scarves in the world won't answer these questions, but a basic grasp of the science will.

But how? You don't have time or money or the inclination to take textile science classes. You just want to read a book about it. Well, i've just read the book you need.

Linda Knutson's Synthetic Dyes for Natural Fibers was first published in 1982, but it's far, far from outdated or irrelevant to the 21st-century dyer. She doesn't dumb down the science, but she does explain it in accessible terms with simple, easily parsed diagrams and illustrations. She explains the chemical differences between classes of dyes, structurally why each one works (or doesn't work) on particular fibers.

Knutson also covers a wide range of related topics, from color theory and how it applies to color-mixing of dyestuffs, to fiber structure and how it relates to shrinkage/felting/weave strength. She discusses ways in which one might choose to incorporate equipment from a science lab into a dye studio (such as graduated cylinders and pipettes). The book has an excellent index and glossary as well. The age of the book makes the list of suppliers in the back largely obsolete, but finding suppliers of dyes and auxilliaries in the age of the Google search is not a daunting prospect.
labricoleuse: (dye vat)
Recall my post a few weeks back about the out-of-print status of my old dye-class standby text, Deborah Dryden's Fabric Painting and Dyeing for the Theatre, and my sub.

Today, i'm reviewing the second of four contenders: Elin Noble's Dyes & Paints: A Hands-On Guide to Coloring Fabric. This book was recommended to me by a colleague in academic and professional theatre, who also teaches a dye course and uses it as one of several textbooks for that class.

Noble is a textile artist who for years managed the dye laboratory at PRO Chemical & Dye, Inc., and as such this book uses PRO Chemical's product names exclusively, and it focuses almost entirely on fiber-reactive dyes. I'll admit, that's part of why i've never really looked into it before now--PRO Chemical is fantastic about product transparency and education, and their website contains dozens of PDFs of instructions on how to use their products for a range of different techniques and processes. TBH, I thought, Why buy a book full of information that's free on the internet? And, there's no lack of information about how to use fiber-reactives in any number of other reference texts, so I just hadn't prioritized checking it out.

However, I'm so glad i finally did because this book is great! It's got excellent information about safe work practices including how to recognize an allergic reaction in a fellow dyer, and how to separate your dye facility from food service areas and how to modify your processes for safely working with children and youths (which, since many theatres do youth conservatory programs or summer camps as part of their outreach, can be helpful to consider). She discusses a few really useful topics for dyers in terms of the entertainment industries, such as how to set up a dye space outdoors or with limited access to water--if you find yourself dyeing something on a film set location, these could be strictures within which you find yourself working.

I like the large format of the book (8.5x11) and the full color printing with many excellent examples of techniques, from basic shibori to marbling. The margins feature "Helpful Hints" every so often, tidbits of random useful info such as cleaning your dedicated-dyeing washing machine or straining undissolved dyestuff through a nylon stocking. She features makeshift mixing boxes in many of her "equipment setup" photos, which is nice to see.

The appendices in it are great as well--a glossary, many useful conversion charts, a list of auxiliaries and their uses, a worldwide list of suppliers divided by country/region, and a comprehensive index (that's another beef i have with many art-dye books: no index). I particularly appreciate the bibliography, suggested further reading list, and list of magazines and journals that cover dyeing and surface design.

I wish Noble had also written chapters on working with the other classes of dye which PRO Chemical carries--they sell disperse dyes, acid dyes, and vat dyes, and as manager of their dye lab, Noble must have worked with them. I'd be totally sold on this book had she addressed working with those as well.

I also realized something which marks a major structural difference between textile art books on dyeing and the science texts i own from my dye chem classes: a spiral binding. I have maybe two spiral-bound texts aimed at the artist, while all the books i own from the science realm are spiral bound, the better to sit open conveniently while conducting processes in a lab or studio. I've tried to take my art-realm texts to the campus bookstore to have their bindings cut off and drilled and spiral-bound, but inevitably the interior design aesthetic of art-book print layouts are such that their margins are too narrow and the bookstore can't do it without losing some of the text/images.

So, in terms of a new primary text for my class, this also isn't it, but it's definitely another great secondary text we'll look at and a new addition to my library!
labricoleuse: (dye vat)
Two orders of business today: giving away that copy of the Resurrection Engines anthology, and the first in a series of reviews of books on the subject of dyeing: Dyeing and Screenprinting on Textiles, by Joanna Kinnersly-Taylor.

I used the Random Number Generator to select the winner (assigning all the comments here a number by the order of receipt, then appending all the comments on Facebook in the same fashion), and it chose

Lee Strickler

Congrats, Lee! Hope you enjoy the book! I'll contact you privately for mailing instructions.

Now, recall my post a few weeks back about the out-of-print status of my old dye-class standby text, Deborah Dryden's Fabric Painting and Dyeing for the Theatre.

In the weeks that followed, two heartening things happened. First, a staff member at Heinemann Drama responded to my email, saying they were looking into the possibility of releasing the Dryden text as an e-book. Then a short time later, I received an email from Dryden herself--someone had forwarded her my post. She expressed dismay at the high prices used copies of her text  were listing at on services like, and said Heinemann had returned to her all rights to her work. She mentioned the possibility of releasing it herself with a POD/ebook company, and potentially in an updated new edition.

Which, all this is wonderful news for the long-term, and perhaps the book will once again be available the next time i teach my dye class (which will be Spring 2015), but I'm moving forward as if that won't be the case. What text or texts might I use to replace the Dryden book?

See, yes, the Dryden text is twenty years old and sure, it could stand to be updated. However, the main reason that I have stuck with it as my text is that it is fairly comprehensive and frames dyeing and surface design within a theatrical context so very well.

In terms of dye recipes and products/auxilliaries/etc., we talk in my class about doing your own legwork, how any book's "recipes" are only starting places unless they are formulations you yourself record with the intent to replicate later (such as in long-running shows where you know you will need to dye new fabric for new cast members over the course of the run, or even in short runs if for any reason a process needs repeating). We talk about classes of dyestuffs and where the starter recipes can be found for various types--for example, companies like PRO Chemical and Aljo Dye make all their dye recipes available on the web. We talk about the math of scaling your recipes in ratios, and the chemistry of why different types of dye need different types of auxiliaries. None of this figured into why I used the Dryden text.

I used the Dryden text because she includes information about things to consider when setting up or overhauling a theatrical costume shop's dye facility, because she talks about distressing and aging of garments, because she places surface design within the context of a functioning costume shop and as a part of the process of realizing a costume designer's vision. Even at twenty years old, the level of safety information in Dryden's book is vastly superior to most other dye books out there. The fact that she addresses the use of basic and disperse dye classes is great, and she includes information about stuff like mixing your own French Enamel Varnish (FEV), stuff my students need, i feel, all collected in one place.

But, until/unless it's rereleased, I need to decide what will replace it as my text(s) next time around, so i'm auditioning books. I solicited opinions from other professional and theatrical dyers and professors of similar classes as mine on the USITT costumers email group, and I pulled some potential titles from the recommendations of my colleagues. I also took a gander at Dr. Paula Burch's book reviews--Burch is a scientist with a particular interest in dyestuffs and maintains one of the most useful clearinghouse reference sites on the web for dye information.

Today, i'm reviewing the first of four contenders: Joanna Kinnersly-Taylor's Dyeing and Screenprinting on Textiles. This book was recommended to me by a scientist friend in the dyeing field, whom i know from my time spent taking dyeing and finishing classes over at the NCSU College of Textiles.

Kinnersly-Taylor is a textile artist based in Glasgow, Scotland, which unfortunately makes her book potentially confusing as a primary class text, since all the measures are metric and most of the brands of dyes and auxiliaries are UK specific. There are conversion charts, sure, but when students are learning an unfamiliar and complex subject and some may have no experience beyond Rit in a washing machine, i don't want to ask them to work from a book where I have to keep reframing things for them ("It says Metapex but that means Synthrapol for the US.")

However, this book is fantastic and I plan to get it for my personal library regardless. It's got excellent information about safe work practices and some great images of and info about industrial dye equipment one might consider if setting up a high-volume standalone dye studio catering to the entertainment industry such as A Dyeing Art: steamers, heat presses, winch dyers/beck dyers, and more. She also coveres all the classes of dyes the Dryden text does. This is an issue i have with many art-oriented dye books; they often only address fiber reactives and/or acid dyes in any depth.

In addition to screenprinting, Kinnersly-Taylor covers many more surface design techniques like resists, transfer printing, and digital printing, and offers good explanations of topics like flocking, foiling, and discharge printing. She's got a helpful section on the different types of print repeats and how to manipulate your art to achieve them. She lays out the processes and the science in an accessible but not dumbed-down way, and doesn't pad the text with "Make Your Own Shibori Scarf!"-style projects as some otherwise useful arts-n-crafts dye books do.

The appendices in it are great as well--glossary, a list of auxiliaries and their uses, a worldwide list of suppliers divided by country/region, and a decent index though not comprehensive (that's another beef i have with many art-dye books: no index).

The section that i find most dear to my heart, though is the step-by-step instructions for making what Kinnersly-Taylor calls a Dustbin Steamer--essentially, how to make your own pipe steamer from a trash can and a coffee samovar! Bricolage at its finest. Given that a new pipe steamer runs around $1100, I love that she's written up a means for making one from stuff you can get at a thrift store--even the most budget-strapped dyer could make one of these. (Of course, Dharma Trading has instructions online for making one from galvanized stove pipe as well, so this alone is not why folks should check out the book.)

So, in terms of a new primary text for my class, this isn't it, but a secondary text we'll look at and a new addition to my library, most definitely!

And lastly, i must congratulate and brag on a trio of my grad students who attended the Southeastern Theatre Conference this past weekend.

Second year Kelly Renko and first year Colleen Dobson were both finalists for the prestigious Marian A. Smith Scholarship for the pursuit of graduate study in the field of costuming--they only choose three finalists out of all their applicants so that in and of itself is a great achievement. And at the banquet it was announce that Colleen was awarded the scholarship!

In addition, second year Leah Pelz won first prize in the Costume Craft Competition for her exhibition of five examples of her millinery work, all of which you've seen in the back posts of this blog.

Congratulations to all three for these wonderful distinctions! I couldn't be more proud.
labricoleuse: (CAD)
I went ahead and splurged on the myPANTONE app, which seemed almost too good to be true: the entire Pantone color library accessible on my iPad, anywhere, any time? Think of what a fantastic resource that would be as a dyer!

But myPANTONE at $9.99 is fairly expensive for an least it seems that way until you start looking at the pricetags on the analog versions of Pantone colorguides, and you realize that a single basic Formula Guide printed on cardstock is going to run you upwards of $125, nevermind the combined cost of all the different libraries included in the app. Suddenly that ten-dollar price starts looking like a mega-deal. So i bought it.

I can't tell you how many shows i've worked on at theatres that didn't have a Pantone book for picking dye colors out of, where a designer had to find a scrap of fabric from a remnant pile ("Like this but more punchy!" Uh, what?), or an assistant had to run to the nearest hardware store for paint chips. Imagine though if a designer could whip out her iPhone and pick a Pantone swatch right then, and later a dyer could pull out his iPad and refer to it while processing the job? You see where i'm going in terms of this being a potentially excellent tool for the theatre, where maybe a shop manager just can't justify a $150 expenditure for the Pantone formula guide, but a $10 app could be the answer to everyone's frustrations about dye-swatching.

Not an iPhone user? The Android version is $2 cheaper at $7.99.

There are also a couple of related Pantone apps that look fairly useless for the purposes of a dyer/costumer--myPANTONE Wedding ($5, only 200 colors and geared toward product sales of wedding attire/accessories) and myPANTONE X-Ref ($2, converts Pantone color numbers across system libraries, but isn't searchable/browsable across the spectrum for any of them).

So, from the perspective of a costumer, what can i tell you about myPANTONE? Overall, i find it pretty exciting.

You can fan through a deck of color swatches easily and swiftly, then maximize visibility on a specific 5-value color card or individual color chip (each of which is labeled with the Pantone number).

You can search on a swatch number and call up that chip easily. If an out-of-town designer with the app were to email me and say "Hey, dye those t-shirts Pantone 339C," i could search on the number and immediately see the swatch for the color s/he wanted the shirts dyed.

You can even take a picture of something and pick out a swatch from the image. To test this, i took a photograph of one of the costumes on the rack at work, a set of blue medical scrubs, then touched the sleeve of the shirt in the photo, and the app popped up a Pantone swatch matched to that scrub color!

There is, however, a pretty big caveat, and that is that the colors that show up on your mobile device screen DO NOT exactly match the colors of the printed Pantone colorbooks. I haven't tested it across platforms so i don't know if the colors on my iPad exactly match the ones on the Android version of the app, or the iPhone version. I have to wait i guess until someone else i know buys it to see.

The colors *are* close enough that you could probably run with a dye request from the app in most cases, since a textile's weave structure has just as much influence over how a color appears to the eye as a difference in handheld displays. Think about how different the same exact color of dress looks if the dress is acetate velvet, or silk satin, or cotton broadcloth. So while this caveat is an issue, i don't think it is nearly the same significant problem for dyers and costume designers in theatre as it is for, say, graphic designers.

In short, i'm glad i bought the app, and I'm hoping it becomes something that's fairly standard in theatrical production, in terms of a resource that designers and dyers can have easily and inexpensively for color communication.

Do you have myPANTONE? What do you think of it?
labricoleuse: (Default)
I'm abroad in the UK for the next month for research, scholarship, and fun, and I'm taking the opportunity to check out lots of museums and galleries while I'm at it. Anything relevant I'll share here, and more general travel journaling is happening in my travel blog.

Last week I visited some friends in Manchester, where I also got to see some of We Face Forward, a citywide exhibition of West African art, culture, and and artifacts spanning the collections and spaces of museums, galleries, libraries, and music venues across the city. I didn't have nearly the time to see it all, but did get to the textile art shown at the Whitworth Art Gallery.

I found the most compelling work to be in the first hall, in which were hung historical and contemporary fabrics and garments of West African origin. Though they were displayed in no discernable sequence, the pieces themselves were fascinating in their artisanship from a design perspective. 

Egregiously, though, the attached text barely addressed how the pieces had been made and by whom or placed them in any West African cultural context. Instead, the blurbs focused largely on who had donated them to the museum. Instead of telling viewers about the culture from which the piece came, how and why it was made and used and worn, we learned about a bunch of imperial/colonial white dudes and their families. The blurb would perhaps then say something about the work being indigo dyed with wax resist, with no explanation of what indigo dyeing entailed or what a wax resist process is--my friend who attended the exhibit with me and who is not familiar with textile artistry techniques found the descriptions useless, and we both found them culturally offensive.

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (history)
Recall that we hosted a series of master classes last week by Broadway fabric painter and author Margaret Peot, in tandem with the release of her newest book, The Successful Artist's Career Guide: Finding Your Way in the Business of Art. I've recently finished reading it--this post is not only to share my review but also to give away a signed copy!

I'm going to follow in the footsteps of the esteemed author and blogger Joshilyn Jackson, who is a dab hand at these book giveaway deals, and basically rip off how she does hers. Leave a comment on this entry, one comment per reader, between now and Friday March 9th at noon EST, at which time I'll use a random number generator to pick a winner who will receive a copy of the book! I'll notify the winner that afternoon and contact you for your mailing address to ship you the book.

But first, my review!

Understand that i am coming to this book as a reader from the perspective of someone who decided twenty years ago to pursue a career as an artist, so I recognize that the first two chapters are not aimed at me. Rather, they are aimed at the woman i was at 18 or 20, wondering whether I really wanted to major in theatre instead of something like advertising or accounting or electrical engineering. I think, had I access to a book like this at the time, I would have felt more confident about my choices, less terrified that i'd end up a starving junkie or something, and it would have taken me a lot less time to get where I got. The first two chapters are devoted to a sort of pep talk, confidence-building inspiration, anecdotal advice, things to help assuage the fears of one's family and friends who might be less than thrilled about the prospect of one's artistic career.

For me, the place where this book really takes off and becomes universally important and useful to even mid-career artists like myself is the third chapter, in which the author breaks down exactly how to put a price on your artwork and bid on various kinds of contract jobs--what sorts of variables to consider, how to weigh different contingency factors, and explains contractual terms like a kill fee (what you get paid if they decide they no longer want the piece but you've already begun making it). I'm actually planning to use it as a textbook in one of my graduate classes for a project we do on developing bids, that is how thrilled i was to see this information collected and presented.


Subsequent chapters deal with other practical matters--doing your taxes, securing health insurance, setting up retirement plans, promotion of your work, time management, even how to decide what sort of studio space you might need or want. I wish i could go back in time and hand this book to my 20-year-old self, because I guess i might still have made some of the same mistakes and underbid myself or gone years without insurance, but i wouldn't have had ignorance to blame.

Peppered throughout the book are interviews with working artists in all kinds of disciplines--graphic art, printmaking, decorative ironwork, art therapy, illustration, etc. These are nice little interludes and a fascinating glimpse into the lives of various successful-but-unfamous artists that serve to underscore how one does not need to be the next Pablo Picasso or Prince or Meryl Streep or William Styron in order to make a successful, fulfilling artistic life for oneself. These interviews are--like the first two chapters--perhaps more eye-opening and useful to the early-career artist (particularly a young student who needs to convince her/his parents that majoring in lithography is not an expensive ticket to the garret and starvation), but are nonetheless an interesting read no matter where you are in your own career.

Lest you think my review is nothing more than a cheerleading shill for the book, I do have one primary criticism: I think the publisher did the book a disservice in overdesigning its interior, and in choosing the size of the book. At first glance, i was really drawn to the unique size (8" square), the full-color interior, and the quality of the paper and cover. The more i read through the book though, the more some of the graphic design choices jarred me: images and text randomly oriented at skewed angles, or printed on faux-finish "textured" backgrounds which occasionally obfuscate a word here and there.

The most frustrating element of this is the way in which the numerous worksheets and exercises are treated graphically, printed at odd angles on what is meant to look like a torn-off sheet of spiral-bound paper superimposed on a background. Given that i can honestly imagine this book serving as an invaluable text in art classes, schools, and universities, this layout for the worksheets and the choice to make the book a size difficult to nicely photocopy for educational use shows poor forethought on behalf of the publisher. In places it's as if the book design was meant for a new-age self-help text, not the book which Peot wrote.

Luckily, this criticism in no way diminishes the value of the book itself for the sheer usefulness of information contained within. Graphical grousing aside, i still plan to recommend it to all my colleagues, and starting in the fall use it as a textbook in my series of four graduate courses. Perhaps the book will be so wildly successful that there will eventually be a second edition in which the worksheets are presented more functionally and less flakily. Take my advice, buy this book!

Don't forget to drop a comment on this entry for a chance at my giveaway of a signed copy! You can also Like the book on Facebook to learn about other giveaways and workshops attached to it, and if you do the Goodreads thing you can add it to a shelf over there.
labricoleuse: (top hats!)
While traveling in the UK last month, I had the opportunity to visit the Hat Museum of Stockport, England, which i wrote up in a blog post, here. In their gift shop, i purchased two books of possible interest to the [ profile] labricoleuse readership: Penny McKnight's Stockport Hatting and Denton and the Archaeology of the Felt Hatting Industry By Michael Newell et al.

McKnight's book is reminiscent of a course pack: spiral-bound with a vinyl cover, possibly published in batches from a copy shop. The Newell text is a trade paperback, though it's only about 20 pages longer than McKnight's. Both feature a number of useful and interesting illustrations--everything from period advertisements for hatters to photos of hat factory facilities; those in the McKnight book are not the best quality (think photocopies) and entirely black and white, while those in the Newell book are better reproductions and some are in full color. The Newell text is unfortunately full of quite a few typographical errors and could have used another pass-through by a good copy editor before going to press to eliminate these.

The books can be addressed on one level as a pair, since they both cover quite a bit of the same ground: the heyday of the British hatting industry in the area around Stockport, a small town on the periphery of Manchester. McKnight's book predates the Newell text by seven years (published in 2000 and 2007 respectively), and in places, the Newell text comes close to plagiarizing McKnight's, with whole sections reproduced nearly verbatim. They are both quite useful for gaining a grasp of the development of the felt hat blocking process as developed in the Stockport/Denton area in the 19th century, and for establishing a knowledge of how the terms differ between the US and UK hatblocking communities (for example, what American hatters call sizing a hat, UK hatters call proofing it).

In terms of a book I'll get mileage out of in my millinery class as a supplementary text, McKnight's Stockport Hatting and its chapter on production methodology is going to be the most useful. I may assign it as reading in future classes when we do our blocking projects, because it's a great overview of the process from a mass production perspective.

The Newell book is interesting in terms of millinery history scholarship (which is a research interest of mine), but not something I'll use in classes. I might recommend it to fellow milliners with a similar interest in the history of the industry, or students with a particular focus in millinery. I particularly appreciated the verbatim quotations of the personal recollections of the industry from aging Denton hatters, which reminded me of Debbie Henderson's book Hat Talk: Conversations with Hat Makers About Their Hats--the Fedora, Homburg, Straw, and Cap (previously reviewed in this post). Another fascinating/horrifying feature was an account of a proofing-house explosion which killed many workers, complete with a photograph of the destruction it caused to the factory in which it occurred.

Other Publication Notes

On the book review tip, if you can get your hands on the most recent issue (Summer 2011) of Theatre Design & Technology, you can read my reviews of two new books by Frances Grimble, released through Lavolta Press, Bustle Fashions 1885-1887 and Directoire Revival Fashions 1888-1889. Or, you could wait until the digital version of the issue shows up on the website, which seems to be running two seasons behind the quarterly publication schedule (Winter is up now, though Spring and Summer have since come out in paper editions).

And, in case you have ever bemoaned the dearth of fiction featuring fabric store clerks as protagonists, I have a short story, "Shake Sugaree," in the current edition of the literary journal Mason's Road that fits that bill. Check it out!

Unrelated, but I realize it's been a while since i've mentioned it: you can also follow [ profile] labricoleuse on Facebook or on Twitter for notifications on when the blog has been updated. Pass it on!
labricoleuse: (milliner)
Wow, i only posted four times in January, and not at all this month so far. (Things have been really, really busy.)

I haven't been too busy to read, though, and i wanted to mention a book i came across serendipitously, which may be of interest to La Bricoleuse readers: Kristen M. Burke's Going Hollywood, which is basically a handbook on how to move to LA and make it in the film and television industry. Burke has designed costumes for over forty motion pictures, and really knows her stuff.

First, let me say that i found the book by way of, Kristin's blog about costume design for film. I slowly surfed my way back through the archive of it, through the myriad excellent posts on specific films she's worked on, interviews with other costume designers, behind-the-scenes info on exhibits and galas and LA-based fashion boutiques, all great stuff! Check it out!

I moved to LA to freelance for a year in 2004, the year this book came out, so unfortunately i could not have benefited from the advice therein without a time machine. However, man, do i wish i had had this book when i did so. There's so much great advice and info about working in the film and television industries, the logistics of LA and the movie biz, contacts for resources, and much of it stuff that you can't find in more "textbooky" cinematic costuming resources, such as Richard Lamotte's Costume Design 101, or Kristin's other book, Costuming for Film, co-authored with Holly Cole. (Both of which are also excellent books--Lamotte's saved my butt when i designed the costumes for Long Distance, a feature film starring Monica Keena.)

In addition to the above Amazon link, you can also get the book direct from its publisher, iUniverse, in print or download format.
labricoleuse: (Default)
Sorry for the radio silence--i've got a lot of irons in the fire right now, but am not sanctioned to write about any of them...yet! I promise i'll have some cool process posts soon. But academia, that's always fair game to write about. Millinery class is underway and i have a few short notes of interest on that subject.

First up, Parisian milliners Estelle Ramousse and Fabienne Gambrelle have a new book out, called Studio Secrets: Millinery. This is admittedly not the best book at first glance. It's a project book, with step-by-step instructions on how to make different styles of hats, and the hats themselves are not particularly jawdropping.

However! I'm glad i bought it for our library, if only because Ramousse does a blocked cloche project with toile gomme, a millinery material that you can't find in the US (to my knowledge...i'd love to be proven wrong by someone with a link to a stateside source). Toile gomme is like a cross between buckram and burlap--it's loosely woven from jute yarns, impregnated with a starchy adhesive. I loved seeing how she works with it, and her methodology on that project is quality stuff. The book's only $20, so that's money well spent, IMO.

I've collected a few interesting links on the hat topic as well. Enjoy!

We're doing buckram projects in my class right now--the students are working away on fascinators and pillboxes while learning to use the material--so hopefully there will be some great project photos to share soon!
labricoleuse: (milliner)
I know i owe one more post on SPESA, on the suppliers who were there, but first i'd like to mention two books of interest to the milliners, hatters, and scholars of historical fashion.

The first is Hatless Jack: The President, the Fedora, and the History of an American Style, by Neil Steinberg. I originally read this book as part of the research I did on the supply chain of the Stetson fedora for a textile industry business class i took at NC State's College of Textiles.

As the title implies, it's a history of the fedora and a cultural analysis of the decline of hat-wearing in the 20th century--which is far more complex than simply "Jack Kennedy didn't wear one at his inauguration and bam, the next day all men throughout the Western world threw their fedoras in the trash." It's also broader in scope than that, addressing the development, rise, and fall of the top hat style and the homburg, as well as straw styles like the boater and the Panama. The book is full of fascinating pieces of history, like the Straw Hat Riots in NYC in the 1920s, where gangs of roving crazies would snatch men's straw hats off their heads and smash them in the streets, purportedly in outrage at their flaunting straw headwear past September 15th, the recognized "felt hat day," after which men were supposed to switch back to felt fedoras and homburgs. All in all an informative, interesting, and accessible read.

Via the bibliography for the above book, i also picked up Fred Miller Robinson's The Man in the Bowler Hat: His History and Iconography, which is exactly what you'd suppose: a book about the invention and adaptation of the bowler hat style throughout history. This one is a much more dense, despite being over 100 pages shorter and full of photos and artwork, and is clearly aimed at a much more academic readership. Robinson has ferreted out every possible reference to the bowler in cultural consciousness from the films of Chaplin to the paintings of Magritte to the drama of Beckett. Sometimes i'm in the mood for all that hyper-analytical signs-and-semiotics writing (see also: almost went the route of the dramaturg), so I enjoyed it, but it's no popcorn beach book.

I'm hoping to have time to write up the last SPESA entry tomorrow, but if not, it's because i'm off to NYC for a week with one of my students on Wednesday morning. I may be totally off the grid for the duration, but even if so, i'll have that writeup plus a whole mess of fashion and costume exhibit reviews upon my return, plus hopefully the continuation of some projects like the commedia mask collection and the hat block casting...
labricoleuse: (Default)
If you also follow A Sketch a Day, you know that i've gotten on a rendering kick lately, both digital and analog. Last summer, when i took the CAD class at NCSU, i wrote up a book review on Sandra Burke's text on fashion rendering by computer, Fashion Rendering: Design Techniques and CAD; this post addresses a second text on the topic, From Pencil to Pen Tool by Armstrong, Armstrong, and Ivas.

Burke's text was a good one in that it gave a broad base introduction to drawing with vector-based software like Illustrator and CorelDRAW, for only $30 (cheap for a textbook). This text is more expensive--$50 used or $88 new--but also covers raster-based imagework in Photoshop and comes with a tutorial CD-ROM. A good portion of the first few chapters addresses general fashion design topics like an overview of design rendering styles and artists throughout couture history, how to draw a fashion croquis (don't get me started on how disturbing the 9-head and 12-head figures are in practical terms for stage design...that's a-whole-nother post in and of itself), visual reference sketches for garment design elements (like how a gathered ruffle is drawn differently than a circle-cut ruffle). Good stuff, but not any new information.

But! The useful part of this book is the middle few chapters on specifically dealing with Photoshop and Illustrator in a clothing-related context. The overview on various applicable Photoshop tools and how they might specifically apply to relevant issues like creating a collage [1] or a textile print design is a good one to check out. The ones on Illustrator, i felt like they were neither superior nor inferior to the Burke text--having dealt with it a lot last summer, those chapters were a good review. The CD-ROM contains some practice files as .psd and .ai documents for manipulation and experimentation (both guided exercises in the text and whatever else you might want to do with them)--croquis, garment flats, fabric patterns--and some movie files showing exactly how to do some of the techniques described. If you are someone who learns computer skills better watching someone do something on a screen, then trying it yourself, those movies will be real eye-openers.

I think if you are someone who has grown up messing around with Photoshop, this book is going to be fairly Mickey Mouse to you, but i know tons of designers who lacked exposure to any kind of image-manipulation software until they got well into their careers, with no idea how to begin learning. General courses don't address costume-specific issues, while specific courses are slanted toward, say, graphic art and poster layout or something. To those folks, this would be a great book to check out as an introduction to those programs, focusing in an area that is easily adaptable to costume design conceptually speaking (i.e., fashion).

Of course, the book suffers the challenge that all published texts on software suffer: instant obsolescence. It came out in 2006 and talks about Photoshop CS...well, now in 2010 we're looking at the release of CS5. Then again, in theatre especially, many of us are working with software a few versions shy of the most cutting-edge release--i've got CS2 on my work computer and CS3 on my laptop--so it's probably still a useful text for someone seeking introductory guidelines.

I borrowed the book through interlibrary loan, so if you have access to a good library, you can check it out that way before investing. The copy i got had the CD-ROM taped into the back, so i felt like i really got a good grasp on what the book was teaching. I probably won't pay brand-new cost for it, but if i find it used for a decent price, i'll pick it up as a reference text.

And, if you've seen on the news the horrifying flooding that has submerged huge areas of Tennessee and want to do something to help, you can contribute to the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, who are directly involved in disaster relief in the area, or text 'REDCROSS' to 90999 to donate $10 to disaster relief. Topically, one Nashville resident and vintage sewing enthusiast is auctioning lots of vintage sewing patterns to raise money--her auctions feature womens, infants/children, and maternity patterns. So many friends and colleagues have lost their homes and businesses to this flooding, i can't even imagine how awful they're feeling (I grew up in Tennessee). So, spread the word about the charity and the pattern auctions, please!

Alright, i've done my posting for the day. (I'd set myself a goal of posting something new by midweek; go me.) Tomorrow, i've got some plans to do some half-scale dress form, shoe last, and hatblock casting with a couple of my students, so there's the documentation of that to look forward to in a future post!

[1] In the fashion industry, they call thematic collages that capture the visual inspiration and essence of a collection "mood boards," which is what the applicable chapter is on and the CD-ROM video. But, we make them in costume design as well (i always hear designers refer to them in other terms though, like "inspiration collage" or "array of influences") so the chapter is a good read.
labricoleuse: (ass head mask)
First post of the decade!

This spring, the graduate course i teach will be Masks and Armor. Because of the way some course-offering rescheduling has shaken down, I haven't taught the course since 2007. The last time i taught it, I recall that the students struggled with a couple of the topics we covered--scaling up from a maquette to a full size matrix [1], and molding and casting in plaster. We talked about it and looked at static images, but at the time i thought it's be great to do a demonstration of either of these things, but that it wasn't really practical--the class period is only so long, and it doesn't help much to get started on something as a demo that's going to actually take you 10-20 hours to realize. And, i have mainstage responsibilities to keep up with as well; it'd be one thing if i were making masks for the show i'll be working on (and thus have a built-in reason to do the sculpture outside of the course demo), but i'm not.

At the time, i thought, "Next time i scale up a mask from a maquette, or cast in plaster, i should make a video to show them the stages." In all my copious free time, of course. So needless to say, that didn't happen. And then, some time ago, i heard about some existing videos which, though not specifically tailored to the purposes of theatre, might be some good resources: John Brown's character sculpture training DVD series, and the Monster Movie Masks series by Omar Sfreddo and Anthony Giordano.

So, who are these guys?

John Brown has worked as a character sculptor for the toy and animatronics industries, and as a creature concept artist in Hollywood for such films as Mars Attacks!, Jumanji, and Monkeybone. He has released a series of DVDs through the Gnomon Workshop on various aspects of the character-creation scuplture process--everything from making armatures to maquettes to full-sized characters.

Omar Sfreddo has done creature effects for films such as Spiderman 2 and The Chronicles of Riddick, while Anthony Giordano has worked as a prop fabricator for Saturday Night Live. They've put together a three-disc series on sculpting, molding/casting, and finishing/painting monster movie masks of the 'giant rubber villain' variety.

The creature-creation demands of film are different than mask-making for theatre (for example, the high degree of close-up realism film commands is not applicable to theatre, while the allowance for speech acoustics and actor vision that theatrical masks require is not applicable to film), but there's enough of a basic crossover that i thought, it's worth checking them out.

The problem is, well, i'm successful at what i do, but i don't just light my fireplace with burning $100 bills because money means nothing to me anymore; educational DVDs are costly and i don't want to drop a few hundred dollars on DVDs sight-unseen, when they might be poor references or not useful with respect to my field.

That's where comes in! They're a mail-order DVD rental service, kind of on the same level as Netflix, except all their DVDs are instructional topics in a wide range of fields, everything from blacksmithing to working with fiberglass to firearms training to sewing techniques. From SmartFlix, i was able to rent the DVDs i was interested in for a fraction of the purchase price. It turned out to be a great bargain (3 DVDs for a week's rental came to $26, as opposed to a purchase cost of over $100), and completely convenient; like Netflix, they come with their own postage-paid return packaging so all you do is drop them back in the mail when you are done watching them.

So, on to my reviews of the DVDs themselves!

First up, the Sfreddo/Giordano DVD, Monster Movie Masks: Molding and Casting Latex Masks.

Okay, so clearly these men are good at what they do, given their resumes. And, my expectations of educational DVDs are much lower in terms of things like whether there's segue music, quick cuts between multiple camera angles, artistically designed credits and other text elements, and how many takes are possible. Plain fonts, stretches of silence, and occasional imperfect action segments ("Whoops, dropped my i was saying, apply the solvent here...") are to be expected.

This DVD though, it embarrassed me to watch it, the production quality was so slipshod and the presenters so unprepared and nervous. It's clear that both men are extremely uncomfortable in front of a camera, and they give the impression of having never taught any kind of workshop before. There were several spliced sections of text (such as tools/equip lists, supplies needed, etc) that were full of blatant spelling errors--at one point, even Omar Sfreddo's name is misspelled. Overall the actual editing is truly poor, as well, cutting the men off mid-sentence at illogical points in the presentation and struggling with volume issues. I'd crank up the volume to hear the sotto voce narration, only to have some dorktastic segue music blow me out of the chair. There's stuff on YouTube that people have made on their laptops that's better quality than this.

There were a couple of bits of good advice (for example, their "standard" of sculpting at 120% scale for "one size fits all" applications, or the use of a custom-made skin texture stamp created by taking a latex surface mold of an orange), but i felt they went too fast for the utter beginner and too slowly for someone with some experience in maskmaking already. I think these DVDs would have benefited from Sfreddo and Giordano hosting several real-time workshops with actual students, to iron out their own confidence issues and to preempt a lot of the problems with timing. Real students would make them stop and clarify, or they'd realize when they were spending too much time on something, and that would have ultimately improved the video itself. But, all that's moot, because the videos exist, and i am glad i didn't pay $60+ for them.

John Brown has an 8-part set of videos out, but many of them deal with full-body sculpture of characters, either for animatronics, CGI 3D surface mapping, or prosthetic production. I chose to check out just Volume 3: Sculpting the Detailed Head, which covers scaling up a creature head to full-head size from a 1/3 scale maquette.

Brown is a better teacher than Sfreddo and Giordano--he exhibits a bit more confidence in front of the camera (though his frosted Hollywood rocker hairdo made me, admittedly only because it reminded me of a guy i used to date), and seems to have at least conducted a few workshops in real-time situations before making his DVD sets. He suffers from improvisational diction issues (lots of "you know, uh") and his propensity for prefacing teaching moments with the word "obviously" worked my nerves a bit. If it's obvious, why would anyone spend $50+ on a DVD about it? And if it's not obvious to the viewer, way to potentially alienate them.

He does show practically how to use a pair of calipers to scale up a sculpture from a 1/2, 1/3, or 1/4 scale maquette, which is exactly what i was hoping to find in a video of this sort. Because in this video he's working life-size, i think it IS probably quite useful as a teaching tool in a maskmaking context, because it does very clearly illustrate how to go from small to large; granted, in theatre you will probably not be making a full-head orc mask (which is what he's sculpting in the video), but you might, and the exact subject itself is not what's important to focus on here for my purposes, it's the technique.

The editing is a bit crummy at times (though compared to the prior DVD it's fabulous)--some sections feature repetitive narration, and some sections could probably have been shown at double-speed. At one point Brown has a coughing fit, which is humorous but really, they ought to have rerecorded that section of the voiceover. And, there's a point where he spends some time working with epoxy putty with his bare hands that made the OSHA dork in me cringe--the MSDS for it clearly advises nitrile gloves.

He has some great points on the importance of visual reference materials and is clearly coming from a classically-trained art background when he lists off his examples, of which some include Michaelangelo's David, the portrait photography of Yousuf Karsh, the figure drawings and facial expression studies of George Bridgman. He also suggests other resources such as image searches on Corbis and bodybuilding magazines (for weird veiny muscular necks/heads). He talks a bit about exaggeration of features for extreme character looks (his example is the huge brow muscles in the orc face he's making), and ways to manipulate composition of the face to convey emotions (i.e., V-brows denoting anger, while pitched-brows convey worry or sadness).

One great aspect of Brown's presentation is the coverage of his own particular techniques and custom-modifications of sculpting tools--he shows how he's made several specific tools by modifying store-bought loop tools and wire rakes, created custom ergonomic grips with duct tape and foam, and even done things like cutting up a dog-brush to create a great stippler. He shows several sculpting techniques specific to face-renderings in clay, and is GREAT about keeping you apprised of "real-time" passage ("I'm about 4 hours into this sculpture now..."), which i find invaluable. He also has some good tips on lighting your sculpting space for maximum visibility--he recommends an overhead lamp, fluorescent so it doesn't put out heat and soften your clay or make you hot while you work, and with variable intensities, as lower light helps bring out the visibility of the details once you get down to any fine sculpting work that you might need to do.

The DVD includes a "Lecture Notes" section (basically synopses of the segments and links to URLs mentioned) and a "Bonus" section (some 360 pans of sculptures accompanied by laughably new-age music), which were ok, but i'd have preferred some PDFs of equipment/media lists and some trailers for the other DVDs in the series. Regardless, this is the DVD i plan to make available to my class as a resource when we discuss the leap from maquette to full-scale mask, as its shortcomings are overlookable and the material presented is excellent.

[1] By "scaling up from a maquette to a full size matrix" i mean, initially it is a good idea to sculpt a mask on a smaller scale--1/2 scale, 1/3 scale, or 1/4 scale--when you are working out the actual translation of a mask design with your costume designer. S/he may only have rendered it in 2D without any oblique or side view, or the design might not be as intricately defined as the mask will need to be. I can work up a 1/3 scale maquette in an hour or less, and can go through as many iterations as i need to in order to settle on a given design; this is FAR more efficient than working 10-15 hours on a full-size sculpture, only to find out that the designer would prefer the nose larger, the ears in a different location, the eyes further apart, and the forehead way more bulbous. Or something. But, once you settle on a maquette, you then need to scale that up to a full size mask.
labricoleuse: (milliner)
Milliner of the Month! That's me!

HATalk magazine is an e-zine published monthly by the fine folks at, also known for their excellent selection of e-books on millinery techniques. The magazine contains several how-to articles in each issue on various millinery tips and tricks, a prize giveaway, a "hat of the month" focus, and the "milliner of the month" focus, which in the September issue (released today), is me!

The article is a basic overview of the millinery course i teach for the Costume Production MFA program, addressing the particular challenges of making millinery for the stage and the types of techniques and topics we cover in the course. It's a good article, and i'm particularly pleased for several of my students, whose hats are featured in accompanying photographs, credited to their creators.

One of the professional goals i set for myself a couple years back in terms of academia was to help facilitate the acquisition of publication and press credits for my grad students, by encouraging them to submit articles and papers to industry journals, newsletters, and other trade publications, assisting them with creating and/or publicizing their own professional websites or blogs, and via collaborative publication efforts like co-authored articles or pieces like this where photography of their work can gain visibility. Six of them made it into this piece, so hooray!

The September issue of HATalk, in addition to the article on my millinery course, also features another theatrical millinery topic: a piece about the commission of a custom hat block for an opera, from renowned blockmaker Guy Morse-Brown! If you've been thinking about subscribing, maybe this is the month to check it out. You could piggyback the payment on top of a book order, which brings me to...'s August e-Book Sale! 50% off all titles!

Every August, run a huge sale, half off all their e-book titles and DVDs. It's a great time to stock up on books you've thought about buying from them, especially for non-UK customers whose currency doesn't hold up well against the pound on exchange rates.

Last year when the sale was on, i wrote up a few book reviews of four of their titles, including their book on stitched-strip hat construction (a topic it's very hard to find documentation about), and Barcelona milliner Cristina de Prada has covered even more of them in her blog, here, in a post about her splurge during the 2007 sale. So, check those posts out if you want some customer feedback on the e-book titles!

Image viewing issues for [ profile] labricoleuse posts?

Unrelated, over the past two months, three readers have contacted me saying they are unable to view images posted on this blog.

I have tested the image visibility on both PC and Mac computers, and using Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, and Safari web browsers, and have not had any difficulty with any of them. I can only guess then that perhaps readers having image viewing issues may be accessing the blog through service providers who have blocked content from, which is who i use as my primary image host.

The majority of readers have no issues with viewing the images, so if you are unable to view my photos, i would suggest calling tech support for your service provider and describing the problem to them. I never have high enough traffic to exceed my bandwidth for images, so beyond that, i don't know what else to suggest. Sorry! :(
labricoleuse: (macropuppets!)
I have a few more books to address with respect to this semester's topics, and these relate to the "reshaping the actor" and hypothetical engineering projects.

The first is Puppetry: A World History by Eileen Blumenthal. This is a large-format book with both tons of text and lots of full-color and B&W photographs. It is a general overview of many kinds of puppetry (from marionettes to shadow puppets to bunraku to multiple-operator macropuppets in various cultures), and discusses not only elements of structural engineering but cultural significance as well. I keep it in the class library as a reference for some of the hypothetical engineering projects, in case a student wants to do something like a five-person Chinese Dragon or a parade-style macropuppet, etc.

Another book i always make available is edited by Blumenthal, Julie Taymor: Playing with Fire. This year, i've got the updated 2006 version, which includes some of her recent film work, as well as the 2006 opera Grendel. (The previous edition was from 1996, and stopped at her staging of The Green Bird.) It's a coffeetable-book-style retrospective of her career, mostly photos of productions in full-color, but also featuring many of her design renderings, some behind-the-scenes pix, and a few diagrams of some of the less intuitive structures (like the one-person cheetahs from Lion King which are waist-mounted and utilize the puppeteer's legs as the animal's hind legs). I keep this one around for mask class as well.

Speaking of Lion King, Taymor's production diary/scrapbook, The Lion King: Pride Rock on Broadway is another excellent (though clearly production-specific) resource for creative puppetry structures. Whereas Playing with Fire has maybe 3-4 pages on the Lion King process, Pride Rock on Broadway is crammed with structural diagrams and maquette photos and matrix sculpture images, even to the point of including an actual structural blueprint for the hydraulic mechanism inside the hyperextending head-mounted "Scar" mask. It's a great resource, particularly given how many designers tend to find inspiration in Taymor's work, and want things made "like that one costume in Lion King."

Another new book i was super excited to come across is Journey of the Tall Horse: A Story of African Theatre by Mervyn Millar. This book is essentially about the genesis of the acclaimed Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa, and specifically their fantastic production Tall Horse, about the journey of a giraffe from the savannah of Africa to the menagerie of King Charles X of France in 1826. (If you follow this sort of thing, you'll maybe recognize Handspring from their most recent production, War Horse, which opened at Britain's National Theatre last year and is still running.) It's mostly a history, so it's largely text, but VERY image-heavy, nearly every page has a production photo, a design rendering, a behind-the-scenes snapshot, or a structural diagram of one of the multitudinous puppets. It's particularly cool to compare and contrast Handspring's two-operator giraffe puppet with Taymor's single-operator giraffe design depicted in the Pride Rock book!

Random thought: It's weird to consider chronology with respect to these courses, since i teach them on a biennial basis. I've taught this once before, and it'll come around again in Fall of 2011. Each time, i have six students--if i stay here for the remainder of my career, how many students will learn these subjects from me in the fullness of time? I guess if i keep on teaching and don't get hit by a bus or something before i'm elderly, i could teach as many as, what? 150 students in a given topic? Maybe as many as 200? And of course there's my commitment to "open source costuming" through conduits like this blog.

That's a lot of paying it forward. Cool!

December 2016

45678 910
18 19 20 21222324


RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Sep. 24th, 2017 05:06 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios