An artist like Edwin Austin Abbey (below: "Who is Sylvia") was legendary among his peers for lavishing a fortune on the right costume for reference. (More Abbey samples here)
Good costumes can be expensive to buy or rent. And they can be difficult to make. But having a real costume makes a huge difference in your finished work. You can tell right away if an artist just made up a costume or went to the trouble to get a real one.
Abbey’s illustrations commanded princely sums a hundred years ago. What are we mortals to do nowadays on a shoestring budget? Today and tomorrow I'll offer 12 tips to save you money, time, and trouble.
1. You can find costumes at thrift stores or junk shops. Almost every garage sale has a Halloween costume or an unusual hat that you may want to use later.
2. Many smaller communites have a local theater company with costume collections. They are sometimes willing to loan their costumes to illustrators.
3. Renaissance festivals have vendors with an assortment of hats, cloaks, corsets, gowns, breeches, and doublets. Example: Moresca Clothing and Costume. That’s where the blue and red jacket came from, and I’ve used it in many Dinotopia pictures.
4. People who work in living history museums wear very authentic costumes. I've found they're glad to model for a sketchbook study. They may also be willing to pose for photo reference, but be sure to get their written permission first. Examples: Plimouth Plantation, Old Sturbridge Village, Colonial Williamsburg.
5. Big cities like New York, London, or Los Angeles have rental agencies serving theatrical or movie productions. Sometimes they will sell off their older, worn-out costumes. That’s where the doublet with the slashed sleeves above came from. Examples: Palace Costumes, Adele's Costumes.
6. Large museums, like the Metropolitan Museum or the Victoria and Albert in London have costume collections which can usually be sketched or photographed. Examples: Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Tomorrow: Six more costume tips.