Sunday, 22 August 2010

Oriental Costume Concept Sketches and Inspirations

Zhang Renyuan's
Back Home in Dream:
 Bedroom of Girl
I was in Beijing and feeling the urge to sketch something topical (and not mope about the fact that I wasn't not at Odyssey), I embarked upon a Quest for a book on Chinese historical costume. Several book stores (including one that was eight solid floors of books) later, I ended up buying several fairly cheap artbooks full of portraits (and postcards of old photographs). There seems to be a trend in modern Chinese art to paint women in historical (or pseudo-historical) clothing looking soulfully into the distance. It's really rather prevalent and whilst the artistry is certainly exquisite in many of them, I do wonder what it says about us.

One way or another, I had my designing binge and here are some of the results. My watercolours didn't seem to be cooperating and the colours seem to be coming out more luminous than I intend them to.

Somewhere along the line I started wondering if all oriental steampunk costume has to be Victoriental in some way. The Buckle Cheongsam certainly wan't, but it really does go back to the fact that trying to communicate the technology level of your world setting in clothes is a problematic conceit. The shorthand for steampunk is well established and the ease of incorporating Victorian elements to create oriental steampunk is, in part, because one's tapping into those recognisable visual cues. When it comes to oriental steampunk, one almost has to establish one's own lexicon.

But those are design notes for another day's concept art. Today we're in the realms of knot buttons, long elegant robes and inadequate representations of brocade (one day, I'll work out how to approximate it well with watercolours). I'm spanning quite a few centuries with these designs and amalgamating quite a few ideas into a jumble of oriental-esque imagery. I vaguely had that wuxia thread in mind but much of this does deviate somewhat from "standard" wuxia fare (if there is such a thing).

Only women in this post, partly due to the overwhelming number of women in the research material (see above), but more sketches to follow. I may have to resort to looking at costuming from tv serials and those blurry photos I took from the Hong Kong culture museum.

More sketches under the cut.

Tang Dynasty-ish, long flowing silhouette, dripping sleeves and a veritable pincushion of hairpins. It's costume about laying opulent fabric on top of one another and showing edges of soft silk and stiff brocade under your myriad sleeves. Will try again with more layers in a different sketch.

Again, it's about layers. I tend to use high contrast colours on different layers for much the same reason, I believe, people who tinted photographs used different colours. It simply makes it more obvious it's a different area and a different garment.

Much more prosaic. Again the multiple layered sleeves, sashes and edging (that is probably supposed to create the stylised illusion of multiple layers). I'd flippantly say it's because the water was getting dirty, but it was actually the first sketch I did. 

1 comment:

  1. It'd better not be Victoriental, because that would get really effin' tiresome eventually. I hate the idea that Asian steampunk has to necessarily involve Victorian-inspired fashions. And I really hate that term.

    I think what would mark Asian steampunk from European steampunk in terms of costuming would be the cut. Neo-Victorian fashions are all about bodily restriction, whereas most traditional Chinese (and most other Asian) clothing tend to be more loose and simple in cut. More effort seems to go not in the cut, but in the patterns and accouterments. We really need to go back to using our own words for the clothing, because English words just can't communicate the nuances very well!

    I agree that it's all about the layers. They'd be much more practical, since you can add or take off layers as needed with the weather, and provides more opportunity for mixing and matching. The Victorians had a thing for tiny waists, while the Chinese equivalent was the lotus feet, but we can eschew the lotus feet while still celebrating their shoes, which weren't binding, but decorative.

    The trend for painting traditionally dressed women looking off into the distance was probably adapted from European painters, who used to draw women looking into the distance, too. In particular the Orientalist painters, who would paint harem women that very quite often. The idea behind it is, of course, the Male Gaze, that the woman is posed to be seen, and since she's not looking at the viewer, there's an unspoken assumption she won't react. And these women are usually portrayed as standing still, rather than doing something, furthering the illusion that they're waiting for someone, possibly the viewer, to come for them. I find that traditional Chinese paintings always have some sort of narrative to them, and traditional portraits some sort of symbolism communicated to the viewer. Western portraits are sort of meant to evoke something.


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