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Pulp Fiction by Rembrush

Masterful storytelling is about suspending disbelief.

One would think the most important element of a story being told is the events being depicted. Belief in these events, however, is a prerequisite to appreciation. Picture this: watching Anna Karenina in the theater, you’re riveted to the epic tale of doomed lovers. Your friend, a history professor with a fetish for details, laughs at random moments. After the movie, he pontificates at length on how unbelievable the movie was, harping on the mistakes made in recreating a colonel’s uniform. For most of us, all 1800’s European military uniforms look alike. This is merely an example of how a small detail that suspends belief can distort our ability to get into a story, no matter how compelling, because the costuming and haircuts and other set direction is just so off. We just don’t believe this story may have happened.

As humans, we’re hardwired to interpret everything we see as connected to events in our own lives. Whether it’s real life, photographed, or illustrated, it’s natural to start transforming who, what, when and where into a feasible tale. Even when looking at abstract paintings, we find ourselves recalling past events, or becoming lost in an emotionally inspired daydream. This makes storytelling an ineradicable component of art. Whether the setting is familiar, like kids frolicking on a beach, or bizarre, such as aliens fighting on Mars, viewers engage by filtering the scenario though familiar social interactions.

Anna Karenina
by frontbrush

Artists and writers know the importance of adding just the right detail to drive belief in their story.

Emotion is portrayed in body language and facial expressions. Body language indicates relationship status. A specific time or place is defined by visual cues such as architecture, weather, technology, or the subtle difference in morning light from sunset. There are many reality–defining artistic opportunities. Here is one critically important element to help viewers piece together the story behind a character: clothing.

Clothing is the first step to building a character.”

– Sylvester Stallone

Fashion is instant language.”

– Miuccia Prada

Socially, clothes define who we are and where we fit in our society.

The finest clothing made is a person’s own skin, but, of course, society demands something more than this.”

– Mark Twain

In the creation of a story narrative,

The generic uniforms of schools, sports teams and military are important, mainly for drawing distinction between opposing forces. In contemporary times, the opposite is true. We tend to dress like other people we identify with, adopting and influencing trends and styles. It’s a way to communicate our interests, presenting ourselves as potential comrades to others who think and live like us. We speak through our clothing and general attitude far more than through words. As the stage has given way to the cinema, so too has a facial expression come to communicate as much as a soliloquy. Just like high school kids sizing each other up on the first day of school, people of all ages and cultures instinctively seek distinction between social groups.

Trends are a great example of fashion as cultural measuring stick. Skip back in time for ten or twenty years, and you’ll encounter fashion mistakes made en masse. Perhaps trends aren’t meant for long–term adoption, but in art, they help place people in time. With a working knowledge of how different social groups throughout time choose to dress, artists can create realistic depictions of character. The more detail, the better viewers can understand and believe in the time and place an artwork represents.

Style is how you wear it–wear and tear expresses character.

Two men may wear the same suit. But one’s accessorized his tailored jacket with a perfectly folded pocket square and chain watch, shoes shining brightly. The other man’s jacket is too large and rumpled, his shirt untucked. A handkerchief hangs forlornly out of his back pocket, and a cigarette off his lip. It’s not difficult to imagine how an interaction between the two might play out based on their style.

Fashion is what you’re offered four times a year by designers. And style is what you choose.”

– Lauren Hutton

Style goes beyond clothing trends or what is fashionable. Style incorporates attitude. Style adds character. In character design, it’s important to think beyond the fashion your character would be wearing based on his or her time or social group. Consider how that individual would choose to accessorize. Are her clothes tattered or immaculate? Is he desperately trying to be seen as a respectable individual, or brazenly disregarding what other people think of him?

The details make the reality.

It’s been said that, “the suit makes the man.” Meaning, we draw conclusions about a person purely based on what they’re wearing. It’s the same in art. Investing time in well–defined details allows viewers to interpret important character–defining traits, intuitively. In the same way artists build a realistic picture by giving thought to what their characters believe, where they’ve come from, and the relationship to each other, clothing can add another layer of individual personality. And the more details, the more we believe in the reality—and the more affecting it becomes.

Your Thoughts

  1. Do you think how you dress says a lot about the person you are and the life you are living?

  2. How have you approached clothing design for your characters—have you found a process, or is it different each time?

  3. Which artists can tell a great story with their characters’ outfits? What are they doing that contributes to the character?

  4. Should an outfit be believable within real life physics? Or do you prefer fantastic, impossible designs?

  5. Has a character’s outfit ever distracted you from a story or picture because it didn’t make sense? Be specific about what you didn’t understand or like.

As humans, we’re hardwired to interpret everything we see as connected to events in our own lives. Whether it’s real life, photographed, or illustrated, it’s natural to start transforming who, what, when and where into a feasible tale. Even when looking at abstract paintings, we find ourselves recalling past events, or becoming lost in an emotionally inspired daydream. This makes storytelling an ineradicable component of art.

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Artificial-Thunder Featured By Owner Edited Nov 18, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
I love drawing certain kinds of clothes. It's a very nice method of self-expression. Particularly, I like shoes the most. I like drawing work and hiking boots even more than I like to wear them, to me they convey a sense of confidence and the ruggedness to get things done. I feel more empowered like that whenever I wear them and just as much, if not more, when I draw them on a character.
ickda Featured By Owner Nov 18, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
I dress differently from every. I don't just dress from a time pass, I add gothic to it and soon leather armor, To describe why I choose to dress like this is said very well in this peice.
I Dress for my self, to tell a story, and just because I think it has a layer of art to it.
Fashion, at least modern fashion is meh. If I don't care for it, why where where it?
I would rather stick out like a sore thumb.
anakure Featured By Owner Nov 17, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I love that one of Jessica Rabbit!
TuesdayNightCompany Featured By Owner Nov 16, 2014
I used to think that a crazy, intricate costume was required for characters.  I drew my comics thusly.
These days, though, I recognize that costuming is entirely visual personality.  Sometimes the costuming is used to mislead, but it's still pretty important.
I don't spend much time on costuming characters anymore, and I don't have a particular process for it.
Except the aliens in that one story I still haven't released... dear god, I spend a lot of time trying to make outfits that reflect alien culture, practicality, and individuality.
yulon Featured By Owner Nov 16, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Lol, thought of Kill la Kill upon seeing this Giggle 
samohtsidnum Featured By Owner Nov 16, 2014
My first thoughts were of Doctor Who and how, no matter where or when he is, the wardrobe seems acceptable both in style and usage.  
Mythix7 Featured By Owner Nov 16, 2014
Laurosaurus Featured By Owner Nov 15, 2014   General Artist
I am not very good at drawing humans, yet I try my best to learn how to draw them.
On the other hand, I am a writer, so I mostly describe my characters and protagonists, for Roleplaying as well, as for stories.
However, when it comes to designing characters, the first thing I think about is, how the character looks without clothes.
I imagine birthmarks, scars, tattoos etc.
Then I think of a personality and try to match the clothing to the characters, since
it is some sort of statement for the creation itself. It is an identity.
For example, a female warrior in a man-dominated world probably won't wear a dress and high heels. She'd be more likely to
disguise as a man, with trousers and boots.
The same goes for a gentleman, who wouldn't wear a baseball cap, trainers and a large hoodie.

One example is my character Parvin: She is an agile and feminine woman, however her character is outgoing, sceptical and sassy.
She'd look weird in a skirt and with high shoes, besides it wouldn't help her in her profession.
So she wears trainers, a jeans and a t-shirt instead of wearing something to fit the first impression she gives.

I really liked the article. Also I sincerely apologise for errors in this comment, since english isn't my mothertongue.
Thanks for reading.
ShinpanX Featured By Owner Nov 15, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Great in-depth article, made me realize how important clothing actually is for identifying a character. It speaks just as loud as body movements, character tics, and the such that makes a character or anyone in general memorable. 
Peepmouse Featured By Owner Nov 14, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
I actually find it very difficult to get an actual style for my characters as I make a lot of them. Usually just to skip it I draw them without shirts and in jeans because to me its like a neutral style therefor it can't really say to much about my character even if I have given them an identity. 
HeroComplex4 Featured By Owner Nov 14, 2014
This was very insightful into any setting and character's self-expression. Thanks for posting it.
BrooklynTurbo Featured By Owner Nov 14, 2014  Hobbyist Photographer
Nicely done
Facejeans Featured By Owner Nov 14, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
i really like that DA is showing these articles on the front page, very cool idea, and fun article.
Panda-Spirit Featured By Owner Nov 14, 2014  Student General Artist
This was visually appealing to look at, and very fun to read. Lovely work here! (:
GentleSquall Featured By Owner Nov 13, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Wow, good point to take note of. How do write the details of the elaborated piece of clothing in a story.

E.g  this:…

or  this:…
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