Saturday, August 24, 2019

Mommy & Me Mulan Cosplay

When I was a very little girl, I loved Disney princesses. When I (jokingly) complain about rereading Spooky Pookie to my kids for the bazillionth time, my dad likes to remind me that when I was two or three years old, Cinderella was my favorite and I requested that he read the storybook basically every night for the longest time. The Little Mermaid was the first movie I saw in theaters, and I still remember singing "Part of Your World" in the shower for an embarrassingly long time afterwards. When Beauty and the Beast came out when I was eight, I instantly identified and fell in love with bookworm Belle. Feisty, spirited Jasmine the year after was everything I wished I could be, and who doesn't want a pet tiger? I proudly wore my Belle and Jasmine sweatshirts in fourth grade but was teased for it, and after that I eschewed all Disney princesses. They were too dependent on men, I told myself, and fairytale romances weren't real and besides, other than Jasmine, they were all so...white.

It wasn't until high school, when Mulan came out, that Disney wooed me back. My mom had told me stories of Fa Mulan the warrior heroine, but I never expected to see a Chinese story told on the big screen. Even though her story was set in ancient China, Mulan disappointing her father and wiping half her matchmaker make-up off while singing "Reflection" was *me* as a Chinese-American girl failing math, dropping out of AP Physics and piano, and taking Creative Writing and art classes instead. Every time I hear the Lea Salonga version of that song (never the Christina Aguilera one!), I'm instantly transported back to wrestling with what it means to be Chinese and American, wondering if I can honor my parents while still carving my own path. All that to say, Mulan has always meant a lot to me. #representationmatters, y'all.



Once I discovered cosplaying, I knew there were certain costumes I definitely wanted to make: Belle, Jasmine, and Maleficent, but the dream was always Mulan's outfit from when she saves the emperor from Shan Yu. I'm grateful for Disney putting a heroine who looks like me in their princess line-up, but I've always been scornful of their choice to highlight her matchmaker outfit, which is the most patently unemblematic of the character! Also, I look terrible in pink and light green (her ending outfit, which is also featured heavily), so blues and maroons near my face it is! I decided to try to make this outfit in time for my fourth Silicon Valley Comic Con, since I've always wanted to do a Disney princess cosplay at a con and I'm not comfortable wearing my Slave Jasmine at such a venue. Conveniently, I had all the necessary colors of fabric in my stash: light and dark blue sweatshirt knit remnants from my raglan sleeve sweatshirts, maroon poly-cotton leftover from Ballister Blackheart's cape, pink rayon challis stockpiled as underlining for sheers and laces, and of course I have a whole bunch of thrifted white sheets. Now obviously none of these are historically accurate for ancient China, but then Mulan's outfits in the movie are kind of all over the place too...I'd rather be economical and green instead of running out to buy more new fabric. Bonus: knit fabric on top means that this costume is super comfortable and not restrictive at all, which was very important as I ended up taking my two year old daughter with me to SVCC by myself, and wrestling toddlers requires all the mobility I can get!

This is the only full-length photo I have of the outfit, taken after I got home, and I'm sweaty and tired and didn't realize the sash got flipped to the side :(


In deciding to depart from historical and/or screen-accuracy, I felt freed to go with very costume-y construction and design choices. The base bodice was just my knit t-shirt sloper with slashed and spread sleeves to make them appropriately blouse-y and rectangular cuffs at the end. To make it look more "princess-y," and flattering, I opted to make a full-length 3/4-circle skirt out of an old sheet, which has a bonus of being very washable! Very important for a white skirt at a dirty convention center.  The waistband of the skirt is a wide piece of elastic and that closes with flat hooks and bars, and I didn't even bother with a zipper or any kind of placket on the skirt since it'll be hidden under the top. Instead of going for a tabard over the top, I decided to make things easier for myself and just a make a wrap top, rather than futzing with how far to the side it should extend and how to make things stay in place. The bottom portion of the wrap top ended up being more of a peplum than a skirt since I was running out of fabric. This ended up working out since the shorter length better accommodates the fullness of the wrap skirt.

Not the greatest picture, but it gives you an idea of the general shapes of the different pieces. The maroon waist wrap was just a 34"x6" rectangle. 
For the sash, I didn't want a big lump know where it was tied together, so I interfaced a 3" tube that was long enough to go around my waist, then attached another 50"x3" tube (un-interfeaced, to keep the flowiness) perpendicularly at the end. The whole thing was secured with hooks and bars, then the top layer of the sash could just flip down to cover up the closures. You can get a better feel for how it was put on in my first photo where my sash got accidentally flipped to the side. 


Now that I have a daughter, I've had to go back and think a lot about what I want to expose her to in terms of princess media. I read this rather concerning article from NPR about how girls around the world have been raised on such a diet of Disney princesses that they default to drawing the early white princesses. I was fortunate to grow up in a predominantly ethnically Chinese area of San Francisco, so I didn't actually feel "othered" much growing up, and somehow I managed to really notice until much later how few princesses of color there are in the Disney pantheon, but I think I'm an anomaly in the general Asian-American experience. I don't want to leave SHB#2's experience to chance, to so for now I'm opting to not show her any princess media at all. That said, I couldn't resist making her a matching outfit since I still had fabric left and toddler clothes are such a good way to use up remnants. Instead of making her two separate pieces for the top, I opted to just make her a wrap top but use the light blue knit to make long sleeves in order to give a layered look without the bulk. Her gathered rectangular skirt is just an old undershirt from Mr. Cation that's had the top half cut off, and I even used the elastic from a pair of his old boxers: how's that for the ultimate green costume?


The first thing she did upon getting to the con was bite into a cherry tomato and spray seeds and juice all over herself. And here I thought I was being such a good mama in packing healthy snacks...at least her top was dark enough that the stain weren't obvious. 

If you think finding appropriate shoes for cosplay is hard for adults, it's even more ridiculous for toddlers. They have OPINIONS about how sparkly their shoes need to be and their feet grow so fast! Hence the pink glitter jellies.

Summary
Fabric: lots of poly-cotton, in both knit (light blue and navy blue) and sheet (maroon trim and waist wrap, white circle skirt) form, some dusty rose rayon challis for the sash.
Notions: 3" white elastic for the skirt waistband, lots of hooks and bars for the skirt and sash closures. I used some pale pink piping from my stash between the maroon trip and the navy blue body; light blue would've been more screen accurate but I couldn't be bothered to make new piping when I already had yards of this other stuff. The wrap top and the waist wrap piece are both held in place with hidden safety pins. The part of the sash that goes around my waist is interfaced, and the neckline of the undershirt and the armholes of the wrap top are finished with bias tape.
Props: For the crest of the emperor, I got mine 3D-printed with this free file, and then I sanded and painted it with acrylic paints and sealed it with a matte polyurethane varnish. For SHB#2's crest, I woodburned a little wooden gift tag that I had in the stash and then painted and sealed it in the same way. The color is slightly different on hers because of the light beige of the wood versus the dark gray of the 3D-print plastic. For the hair clip, I made mine out of Crayola Model Magic (petals), cardboard (leaves), and gold head pins, all hot-glued to a plastic hair comb and judicious colored with markers. SHB#2's hair clip was a standard child's white flower hair clip that I added rhinestones and a green fabric leaf to, and again colored with markers. 

The 3D print was generously done for free for me by one of the members of the SheProp! FB community. If you're a female-identifying or nonbinary person who wants a safe, welcoming space to ask prop-making questions, this is an amazing, knowledgeable group that is such a far cry from the toxic masculinity of the RPF. 

And here are SHB#2's accessories! The sword is made from a paint stir stick and chopsticks and tape, but we ended up not bringing it with us because of the con's prop weapons policy. 

Hours: I didn't really keep track, but this was an easy costume to make, fitting wise, so both pieces took maybe a few weeks of naptimes. Knits are forgiving and the skirts are so voluminous that it's easy to just sew without having to stop for a lot of fittings. The most tedious part was all the circle skirt hemming. The knits I didn't bother to hem at all.
How accurate is it? I think it's very recognizably Mulan's outfit, even if the light blue could've been more teal and less periwinkle, plus the design differences described above.
Total cost: Literally everything was from my stash, so essentially free (in the present day)! In the past, the knits were inherited from a friend's destash and the the sheets couldn't have been more than a few dollars each, so even counting past costs, the whole thing was definitely less than $10. Pretty sure that's the most Chinese thing about this, is how cheap it was...j/k.

She's blurry because she was bouncing up and down in excitement. 

We had a good time at SVCC together, after the initial awfulness of standing in lines for over an hour. It was so fun to have people see me and be like, "Oh cool, Mulan!" and then see SHB#2 in the stroller and start squealing "AND THERE'S A BABY MULAN TOO!!!" Once she got used to the con atmosphere, SHB#2 was totally eating up all the attention and by the end of the day was proclaiming herself to be cute. She didn't want to leave, but as soon as we got into the car and onto the freeway, she totally conked out after the excitement of the morning (and early afternoon, since we didn't leave until 2:30 pm, well after her usual naptime). I still want to get some more pictures of the both of us in our costumes; one of the downsides to going without another adult was that I didn't get any full-length shots of just the two of us. I am grateful, however, for the generosity of Gloria and Mike of In the Long Run Designs for squeezing in a few photos of us in their shooting schedule!

I decided that the slightly frazzled, hair-flyaways-galore look is appropriate for having theoretically just climbed onto a roof and battled Shan Yu. 

I adore my (both literally and figuratively) cheeky little girl.

I'm so happy to have these photos to commemorate our little date, even if she doesn't look quite as thrilled! 


Friday, August 9, 2019

I Left With A Quilt, I Came Back With A Quilt (Or Four)

So ummm, last time I blogged, I was very pregnant and had just finished a quilt for SHB#2...two years later I have birthed the SHB#2, made a whole bunch of random things (plushies! a tiny hut on chicken legs! art! more than 250 nativity figurines!) and a few costumes. Due to said SHB#2, who is less inclined to play by herself than SHB#1, I've opted to do save my me-time for making things instead of blogging, relying on Instagram to quickly document most of my finished projects. I do miss the more detailed, longer form of blog entries though, and always meant to get back into it. Now that the new school year is starting and I have cosplays to finish before SVCC next weekend, this is the perfect time to procrastinate with a blog entry, y/y?

Since my sewing area is accessible to the kids, and I don't really need more clothes (more on that later), I haven't done much sewing until recently, when SHB#2 got old enough to (kind of) understand that she needs to leave Mommy's things alone. And even then, I was so brain-dead most of the time, I couldn't handle complicated things like fitting or figuring out new patterns, so I've defaulted to making quilts, which are not easy per se, but at least once I have the pieces laid out, it's more or less mindless sewing of straight(ish) lines.

I made this from florals that I inherited from the school drama teacher's mother-in-law's stash. All straight lines, and can you tell that I really didn't think too hard about the placement of my blocks?

I mean, look at how haphazard all the piecing on the backing is!


After the stashbusting quilt, I made a few quilts for important babies in my life:

Very simple, vaguely sportsball field-esque look. 

A dear friend's baby had a difficult start in life, spending time in the NICU and then working hard to recover for the first year of his life, but now he is a healthy, thriving boy who outweighs my own little girl, despite being almost a year younger! Maybe one day he will play sportsball for one of his parents' alma maters, you know, because the quilt I made him is so inspiring...j/k.

The back was fleece (no batting inside, since San Diego weather doesn't require a lot of warmth).
 I'm glad the school colors don't clash. 


Another dear friend had her third daughter, and I wanted that little girl to have something special of her own that wasn't a hand-me-down from her older sisters, so I made a Harry Potter and Star Wars mashup quilt so that she would have both of her parents' fandoms to wrap her in love. And then because those are also two of my big fandoms, I made an almost identical one for SHB#2. Like her big brother, Chewbacca is her first favorite SW character (SHB#1 has since moved on to Darth Vader, mostly because his lightsaber is red), so she enjoys pointing him out.

This was a challenge to design (even though it's all just rectangles) because so many SW fabrics are so dark, and HP fabrics are so bright, so to put them together in one quilt and have it look somewhat cohesive was tricky. I'm inordinately pleased with what I came up with!

This is the back of the one I kept. The one I gifted had a border of Hogwarts house crests instead of the spaceship blueprints shown here. All of these licensed character fabrics are from Joann's. 


And lastly, one of my college friends struggled with infertility for many, many years, so when she found out she was expecting, I knew I had to make something for her baby. She and her husband are huge LOTR nerds (they previously attended my LOTR birthday party and her husband won the trivia contest), so I wanted to incorporate that somehow into a quilt that also illustrated their story. While googling LOTR-themed quilts, I came across this amazing art quilt, but I knew I wouldn't be able to replicate something like that, nor would it really be baby-friendly. More googling of landscape quilts yielded this one, which seemed much more doable with its pieced strips (yay straight lines!). I decided to try to combine these two ideas to make my own take on an "Into the West" quilt; the more I thought about it the more I was set on it as the perfect representation of their journey. They had walked through the wasteland of Mordor in their quest for a biological child, and now after all that exhaustion, they were finally getting to sail into the west, into the rest and peace and hope of the Undying Lands. Not that having a newborn baby is at all as restful as I imagine Valinor to be, but you get the idea.



I had purchased a sizable lot of quilting cottons in various colors a year ago from somebody else's destash (some of the pieces were used to make up the rainbow blocks in the HP/SW quilts), and I tried to use those as much as possible in this quilt. I figure elves and hobbits would be all about being green and not purchasing new fabrics, right? The only new fabrics I had to buy were some browns for the cliffs and the backing fabric. Anyway, I started by laying out my fabrics in a semblance of the final image, then I got to all the tedious cutting and sewing of sky and water strips.

I initially wanted to have hobbit boles at the bottom, hence all the green bits. After doing some measuring, though, I realized it would end up being too long of a quilt for its width. 


Figuring out the cliffs and greenery was more fun and challenging. I wasn't sure how to attach them, so after more googling I treated them as appliques, folding the edges under and hand-stitching them down. The little boat was done the same way, but I interfaced the pieces since they were so tiny and fiddly to work with.





I chose a neutral gray, vine-y backing fabric; I wanted a fabric with some kind of busy pattern to disguise my inevitable quilting errors, and vines seemed appropriate for the elvish theme of the front. For the binding I went with a plain solid navy blue since I figured the edges would get dirty fastest and I didn't want to take away from the design. The quilting was all sort of haphazardly done; I didn't mark any of my lines beforehand and just sort of sewed with a vague plan in mind. I think it turned out pretty well, all things considered. One day I'll take a quilting class and figure out how to do things the real way instead of just winging everything...



This quilt took a month's worth of nighttimes and naptimes, but since AP exams were over it was mostly a relaxing way to wind down after a hard school year. We were even able to make it down to San Diego as an entire family to deliver it in person at their baby shower; it was gratifying getting to watch them unwrap it. This is why I'll probably only ever make quilts for people I love a lot -- I don't think most people would be willing to pay for the hours and hours it takes to make one, but this is the best way I know how to show how much I care. I may not be a baby person, but I'll be a sewing-for-your-baby person as long as it's my idea and not an outrageous request that belongs on @canyousewthisforme!

These last two pictures taken by the mom-to-be's sister. 



Thursday, July 27, 2017

Projects for SHB#2

I made a whole host of things for SHB#1, most of which are still perfectly useable for SHB#2, so I didn't make a whole lot during this pregnancy. Also chasing a toddler kind of precludes having the time to sew and paint very much! But one thing I definitely wanted to do was to make SHB#2 a quilt; I wanted each child to have their own tangible piece of evidence that I was thinking about, dreaming about, and hoping lovely things for their lives. Since SHB#1's quilt was ocean animal themed, I decided that SHB#2's should be land animal themed, with a bit of a feline bent, because obviously cats are great. This decision was also helped by a dear friend bringing back a pink cat quilting cotton from Japan. Although I'm not a huge fan of pink, I decided to go ahead with a pink/red color scheme for this quilt, if only to set it apart from SHB#1's teal blue quilt. I managed to find fabrics with a lot of yellows and oranges as well, though, so it's not overwhelmingly pink in a froofy pastel princess way.



Back when I made SHB#1's quilt, I kind of just chose every single ocean animal quilting cotton I could find, and that's about all the thought that went into it. Maybe because SHB#2 is a girl, and I've been thinking a lot about the world she's coming into, and what my own experiences were like growing up as a quirky, nerdy girl who didn't come into her own until a quarter of a decade into life, but my fabric choices and sewing experience with this quilt were much more thought out and meditative.



I realize that a lot of this is going to sound overdramatic (and a lot like the made-up symbolism for my art class essays), but this is really what I was thinking about while sewing. I thought about back in the Laura Ingalls Wilder pioneer days when women would make quilts by hand with meaningful fabrics, and I tried to think of the whole process as sewing my love for this baby girl into a blanket that she could wrap herself up in. The pink cat fabric that started it all was from a long-time friend who helped me feel welcome and at ease when I felt particularly awkward in a new social situation, and despite living in different cities now, she remains someone I can look to to offer wise questions and compassionate understanding when I struggle with marriage, motherhood, and life. I want SHB#2 to have those kinds of uplifting friends in her life. The other small rectangles have different animals on them; I feel strongly that how we treat animals, who don't have a voice and represent the stewardship role that humans have, is indicative of our hearts. I want SHB#2 to have that kind of care and sense of responsibility for all the vulnerable and oppressed. The lion fabric in the middle features male lions with crowns, but I want SHB#2 to know that just because she is a female living in a male-dominated world, does not mean she can't rise up and still accomplish what she wants. The ombre-ish dot progression goes in both directions at the top and the bottom of the quilt; I hope that as she matures that she still maintains a childlike (but not childish) sense of wonder and openness and imagination. I hope that she has the courage to go in the opposite direction of those around her when necessary, and that she can see people and issues on a spectrum instead of as black and white, that things aren't always either-or, which is something that I struggle with personally. And lastly, the dotted backing fabric and striped binding fabric are echoes of her brother's quilt; I pray that instead of being jealous or rivals, they will enjoy a close relationship and love and support each other.

I thought it was fitting that as the little sister, she have little dots to his big polka dots. 

"I just trying it, Mom." Of course he would like her quilt more than his own.  


And then because I was on a quilt-making kick, and because the Warriors had just won the champeenship (Homestar Runner, anyone?) again and I still had leftover Warriors fabric, I figured that I might as well make a little blanket to match SHB#1's SF Giants one. That way, both kids will have a fleece blankie to commemorate the Bay Area sports team that won some big thing the year they were born!

I made it with remnants, hence the irregular logo distribution. At least all the squares made for easy quilting!


Bonus Warriors-related craft: I know this post's title says that this is supposed to be about projects for SHB#2, but here's a clock I made for Mr. Cation.



When Mr. Cation and I first started dating, I remember being really concerned about how much he liked sports (which is funny because now that I've met more husbands of friends, I realize he's not even that hardcore...he doesn't get depressed when his favorite sports team loses, nor does he spend a lot of time/money to watch/attend games). Sports and I have a terrible relationship, mostly stemming from the elementary school trauma of always being picked last for teams. But anyway, I was so worried about it that I actually talked to my wise older mentor teacher (who was also an awesome life mentor) about whether our relationship could even work. She advised me that he was a good guy who was worth holding on to despite our different interests, and pointed out that there would be different opportunities for me to show my support of his "fandom" with my crafts. She was so right of course, on both points, and while I'm still incapable of dribbling a basketball, I have enjoyed making these sport-themed projects for our children and for him. I'm so glad that our marriage has given me the chance to somewhat redeem my awful childhood PE experiences; I'm especially glad that with him as a dad, SHB#1 and #2 will have a better grounding in sports than I will, and hopefully won't have to suffer as I did!

This is pretty much what all sports sounds like to me. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

My Other Miscellaneous Geeky Fangirl Doings

Besides working on fashion illustrations and sewing plushies, I've also been crafting my fandoms and doing some cosplay-lite. I wanted to chronicle these, however briefly, before SHB#2 arrives, since this blog is supposed to be a record of my haphazard (and some are definitely more haphazard than others) projects.

I was late to jump onto the Hamilton bandwagon, but I console myself that once I jumped on, I jumped on hard. The soundtrack has been on repeat in my car for oh, more than half a year now, and SHB knows and enjoys a good half of the songs (his top requests: anything sung by Aaron Burr or King George; not his favorites: cabinet battles, anything having to do with Maria Reynolds). Although I'd seen it recommended by basically every blogger I enjoy and many real-life friends I love, I didn't get into it until my best friend's girlfriend got her into it. As a thank you to the two of them for finally getting me into my favorite musical ever (sorry Les Mis, you've been relegated to second favorite, although you'll always have the distinction of being my first love), I drew/painted these two pieces:

I took all of Alexander Hamilton's and Aaron Burr's best lines and turned them into a ham (A Dot Ham!) and a burr (A Dot Burr!).

Time is such a theme in Hamilton, so it seemed appropriate to make a clock. "Why do you write like you're running out of time?" 

Bonus LOTR-themed clock that I pyrographed for Elaine:

I love the new craft kits that Target is putting out! 


It's really thanks to my fashion illustration classes that I even did the first two pieces; I had all my nice pens and paints at hand already and felt empowered to use them. I also drew this little illustration based on my best friend's cat for her husband, who is a Toothless the dragon fan.

Cactus the cat looks a lot like Toothless the Night Fury, don't you think? Color pencil and pastel illustration.


It's been hard to find the time and energy to make proper costumes this year, thanks to pregnancy and a busy schedule, but I'm proud of myself for still managing a couple of less-involved outfits. Elaine and I went to see the next installment in the HP symphony series at the Silicon Valley Symphony, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I originally planned to make a Fawkes costume, but time and a baby bump got the better of me and I went for a much more low-key and goofy costume: the actual Chamber of Secrets! I'd seen all those Buzzfeed-ish "articles" about ridiculous uses of a baby bump in cosplay (Krang! the Death Star! an alien/parasite bursting out!), so it seemed to follow that my incubation chamber should hold a basilisk. I painted some painter's tape to make a quick "sticker" because I didn't want to paint directly onto a perfectly good black tee, then painted the door to the Chamber of Secrets onto a piece of craft foam and fastened it over my belly.

I put a bunch of painter's tape onto a piece of waxed paper and used acrylic to paint the basilisk, then cut out the shape. 

I considered stressing about the not-quite-symmetrical door design, then decided it wasn't worth it. Same goes for the scale pattern on the snakes. 

My crowning glory, though, was the tiny Moaning-Myrtle-in-her-toilet headband I made to direct people to the chamber:

Don't ask why I have a tiny pink plastic toilet readily available in my house. 

Elaine was a great sport and let me slap a printout of the blood-painted warning wall on her dress, so that we could go together like we did at the first symphony, where we were McGonagall and her silver cat Patronus.





I'm hoping to get my act together post-birth and make a Snape-boggart costume for the third movie/symphony...we'll see how that goes.

Shortly after the symphony was the second Silicon Valley Comic Con; I wanted to dress up as something, but with AP exams coming up I had no time to make the pregnant Princess Serenity or pregnant Zoe Washburne costumes I originally envisioned. When my sister Emily told me she was going as Imperator Furiosa, though, I knew I could pull off a quick pregnant Splendid Angharad costume. Can you even call it a costume if you're just wrapping white fabric around yourself and throwing cinnamon and coffee grounds at it to dirty it up? At any rate, it was a very comfortable costume to wear and certainly easier for toddler-chasing than my original ideas. Just FYI, if you bring a two year old to a convention and you're pregnant, it's very helpful to also have the best aunts along to help chase and wrangle.

The orange convention wristband kind of ruins the whole look though. 

Right after we took this picture, SHB squirmed out of my arms and took off across the exhibit hall to point at a Batman display. I guess I was asking for it by dressing him in his caped Batman shirt. 



I was really excited for the Wonder Woman movie coming out, but sad that there was no way I was going to make either of my two preferred costumes from the film: the wool suit, which is actually quite historically accurate for a superhero movie, and the blue dress with the sword down her back, which is just awesome. I still want to make both, but they'll have to wait. In the meantime, I'm still pretty pleased that I managed to spray-paint my own maternity Wonder Woman top and make a quick craft foam tiara. Emily went as Doctor Poison, who, although a villain, still has a tiny piece of my heart as a female chemist.


Yes, I succumbed and bought the toy sword. 


So that's what I've been up to this spring! I still have to blog SHB#2's quilts and then I'll be all caught up. Minus those Antigone costumes, of course.

A Year of Fashion Illustration Classes

For the last school year, I've been taking fashion illustration classes at Canada College in Redwood City. This is the same community college where I took Pants Drafting & Construction, Bustier, Copying RTW, Intro to Theater Costuming, and Textiles. In fact, the professor for this class is the same as the textiles class, and she is basically everything I would've wanted to be in a different life: an illustrator, knowledgeable about the chemistry of textiles, and a teacher! And what a teacher -- I haven't taken a serious art class in more than fifteen years, when I took an introductory drawing class my senior year in high school because I dropped out of second semester AP Physics. That was all about shading and stippling techniques and I think I drew a pretty awesome pine cone, but that's about all I remember. And before that class, the last time I picked up my paintbrush to do a serious painting was in eighth grade. Even then, I was pretty lost because my teacher's instructions basically consisted of "get your paintbrush wet and then paint until it looks good."

The one painting from that era that I don't cringe at was copied from a calendar when I was in a horse phase. I don't have any real pictures of it, but I found it in the background of this picture from Thanksgiving four years ago. My parents still have it hanging in their dining room, bless them. 


With that background, it was like an epiphany when our prof actually gave concrete instructions on how to proportion figures, illustrate different fabric types, and use various media effectively. As I told her on my last day of class, I feel like a whole new world has been unlocked for me (you know, because I needed more types of hobbies that involve a cabinet of supplies). No more staring enviously at other artists' illustrations and wondering how they knew how to do that; now I can do it too! Er, kind of.

Last fall, after several weeks of drawing stick figures, blocked figures, various body parts, and types of fabric, our first assignment was to put all of it together to do a black and white drawing. I drew a 1920s-inspired figure wearing a beaded flapper-ish dress and holding a fox-fur stole. It's funny, I was so pleased with it when I drew it, but looking back at it now I see so many mistakes!

Her right shoulder is too high and her pose looks a little awkward. 


The next assignment was to do a figure in sepia and/or monochromatic pastels, i.e. not a lot of color, but shading and texture as a focus. I went for a 1930s look, with a drapey bias-cut satin dress and huge fur coat. In contrast to my first assignment, I still love everything about this piece.

In the category of draw what you know, most of my figures read as Asian. 

The third assignment was an illustration using colored pencils, so we were supposed to choose nubbly and textured fabrics to render. I illustrated what was meant to be a boucle wool coat with tweedy trousers. This was my least favorite piece from first semester, which at the time I attributed to the medium, but it's funny because I ended up using color pencil a lot during second semester. I think I just didn't know what I was doing yet. Also I went overboard on the background. Or maybe I just didn't like it because it wasn't a vintage look?

I realized that the white hair made her look a lot like Ororo Munroe, so in a late night, last minute decision I added in the background, then hated it. I've gotten too used to being able to Ctrl+Z everything!


Our final project was a watercolor illustration, and I went with an Erte-inspired Art Nouveau figure. Despite a mistake on the shading of the draped folds on her dress, I still love how this one turned out, mostly because of the cheetah. This was the illustration that made me fall in love with watercolor as a medium; I realized I could actually control the moisture in order to get the color to do what I wanted, instead of letting the moisture control me. It's amazing what a good teacher can help you achieve!



I debated whether or not to take Advanced Fashion Illustration during second semester, because I knew I was going to be super busy with prepping my AP students for exams, plus the inevitable exhaustion of pregnancy and the continued demands of caring for a toddler. I'm so glad I did it, though, because I was able to build on my momentum from first semester, and who knows when I'll be able to take another class? It took two years for me to carve out time for myself to take these classes after having SHB, and he's a fairly easy kid, so I figured I should do what I can while I still can.

We started the semester by drawing more "extreme" poses (read: more attitude) and working on profile and back views. This was my attempt at a Poiret-inspired cocoon coat (something I definitely want to make one day, if/when I find the perfect velvet fabric) from the back, using pastels and color pencils:

Backgrounds: not my strong suit. That tree is just sad. 


Then we experimented with timed drawings, where we used brush pens to quickly capture a figure's style and movement. Unlike my previous pieces, these poses were based on fashion magazine photos since the limited time didn't allow for coming up with and perfecting my own figure poses.



We also spent a class period playing around with acrylic paints in the Stipelman technique, where, according to our prof, you just smoosh paint around until it looks good. I somehow ended up painting a pink wedding dress. I don't even like pink.




The first official assignment was to render four different types of fabric. I did a floral jacquard, an iridescent silk dupioni, a gold-flecked acrylic sweater knit, and a lovely ombre organza that had little colorful crinkles in it.

My silk dupioni rendering looks too dark because of how the light hit the fabric sample. Doing the jacquard was lots of fun though!

I seriously love this fabric; it's hard to appreciate the gold flecks until you see it in person and the light hits it right. I'm really pleased with how I captured the fuzzy boucle-ish texture though. This outfit is based on the actual costume I created for our high school's production of post-apocalyptic Antigone. One day I'll get around to blogging those costumes...

My inspiration for this figure/outfit was a combination of Zac Posen's 2016 Met gala gown for Claire Danes and the announcement of Noma Dumezweni's casting as Hermione in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I had this lovely iridescent organza with periwinkle in it and I imagined what Hermione's head-turning Yule Ball gown could've been. 


The next assignment was a fashion illustration portrait, where we were supposed to focus in on the face, which we hadn't really done before, while still illustrating at least part of an outfit up close. I chose to illustrate Anna May Wong, whom I've blogged about before, in her iconic Travis Banton sequined dragon dress.

I based the pose on this photo. I love how the sequined dragon turned out, but got carried away when doing the fabric at the bust area and it makes the dress look much less fitted than it actually should be. Also her face got too slim and doesn't look so much like Anna May Wong as it does my mom...


Then we spent several weeks working on an advertisement using a fashion figure; I really didn't want to spend that much time working on a random fashion line, nor did I have a business I really wanted to promote, so I ended up making a propaganda piece instead, for International Women's Day! I figured that I might as well advertise for something I actually care about, i.e. women's rights, and not a perfume or handbag.

I really wanted to capture the feel of teens-era women's suffrage posters, with the Art Nouveau-inspired font style and the vaguely military/heraldic imagery. I used an actual slogan from the women's suffrage movement on the banner.  


Our final project was to put together a presentation board with the technical flats, specs (measurements), photographs, and illustration of an actual garment, as if we were trying to sell/manufacture it for RTW. I chose my Roaring Twenties dress, as I figured that it would involve relatively few measurements, and since I came up with the pattern on my own, I could say it was really MY garment that I was showing off.



Even though taking these classes made for a hectic year (hello, late night drawing, rushing home from work to drive across the bridge in time for class, and extended screen time for SHB while Mommy finishes up last minute cutting and mounting on the days assignments are due!), it was so worth it to be able to make beautiful art again. I remember being in college and having an Elfwood account (anyone remember that site?) and marveling at their artists of the day and being so blown away by the art of Stephanie Law and Anke Eissmann especially, and wondering if I would ever be able to draw anything that beautiful. I've still got a long way to go, but art like that feels achievable instead of impossible now.