I did it!
'Do something that terrifies you' has officially been ticked off my 'to do before 30' list and in real 'once in a life time' style too... My last blog post - Art Battle Manchester - Part 1 - was all about the lead up to the 8th Manchester Art Battle, and basically covered how freaked out I was by the mere thought of painting live in front of 500 people. Especially given some pretty large personal (performing in public is my worst nightmare) and artistic (I haven't painted in nearly a decade) obstacles. So in the worry that I might have put anyone off doing something similar I wanted to follow it up with what actually happened on the night.
On the morning of battle after two more practice paintings, one OK and one that genuinely looked like Quasimodo, I finally accepted that despite being of the same subject, all of my paintings had turned out completely different and that further practice was futile. What would be painted on the night would be equally varied. So after getting ready and packing and repacking my kit for the night I arrived at London Road Fire Station geekishly early.
I walked past my name pinned to an empty easel on stage, which whilst at that moment looked like a hangman's noose in my head also meant that I would be painting in the first round which I was very happy about. I don't think my nerves would have held until round two. I set up my stand with examples of my work, sketchbooks and prints for sale as well as having some of my practice paintings ready to put out after my round was finished.
I headed into the main room at 8pm and began to get ready for battle. Sat in the middle of stage with a blank canvas in front of me and hundreds of faces watching is definitely the most nerve raking thing I have ever done but also the most exhilarating. I can only liken it to being at the very top of a roller coaster and knowing full well that you will scream the whole way down but also love every terrifying fun filed second of the ride. We had 15 minutes to set up but they vanished instantly and Kate Cocker who was presenting the night shouted 'ready, steady... paint' and we were off. I had headphones and the loudest 30 minute playlist I could compile at the ready so I pressed play, drowned out the audience and just concentrated on painting.
My practice paintings might have been very hit and miss but they did allow me to practice to the same playlist over and over which was so valuable on the night. I knew that by the end of my first song I had to have painted the background and by the end of the third have completed the eyes and mouth. This was a great way of knowing if I was on track and more importantly knowing how long I had left without being able to hear Kate's countdown. On the night adrenaline kicked in and I actually painted faster than in any practice rounds and those 30 minutes disappeared in no time at all.
Whilst painting with my music on I really didn't notice the crowds, I was concentrating so hard on all the elements I need to include and my timings that the hundreds of people watching might as well have been card board cut outs. The only time I did break concentration was when a photographer lay on the floor at my feet and set an alarmingly bright flash off in my face... All I could think was 'well that angle is going to make my nose look huge' but after the dots of light cleared from my eyes I carried on, and luckily I haven't seen that particular photo online anywhere yet so I'm guessing he agreed!
I took my headphones off just in time to hear Kate shout out '5, 4, 3, 2, 1... brushes down'. And after putting my voting bucket in front of my easel I stepped off the stage and spilt the drink that was handed to me thanks to my hands shaking so much. After concentrating on all the details so intently as I painted it was nice to step right back and see what the overall piece looked like. It wasn't the best that I had done but it certainly wasn't the worst either so I was happy and even more so when I saw people dropping their voting chips into my bucket. I wandered round the other easels and was amazed at the variety of work... from portraits and dogs to flames and fire hydrants no piece was even slightly similar. The second round went well too and I really enjoyed just watching it as an audience member, walking clockwise with the crowd and seeing how each painting came together. The audience was really supportive and the atmosphere was fun, relaxed and friendly which was something I hadn't realised during my round with my headphones on and concentrating so hard.
After the second round I grabbed some food, watched the fire eaters and street artists painting a fire truck and headed back to my stall. I managed to miss the vote and call out for the semi finalists whilst selling prints and some of my practice paintings which have found a new home in Scotland. When I got back to the main room Kate was introducing Wood Street Mission the charity that the event was raising money for and presenting Dano with a golden paint brush as the winner for his fun fire hydrant. Several of the paintings sold during the the silent auction raising even more money for the charity and mine went too, though I will be a little sad to not see it again... It isn't exactly my best piece of work but it sums up a stressful few weeks followed by an amazing once in a life time night that made everything worth it.
So if you are reading this and considering entering yourself... go for it. It will be nerve racking but you will not regret it and I promise you, you wont experience anything similar!
Thanks to Tyson Collins for some of the photo's used above. You can see more of Tyson's photos from the night here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tysh/sets/72157673904435672/with/30232447082/
I’ve never been one for resolutions usually because I undertake boring ones that I get bored of after a few weeks. However, this year I asked my friends to suggest some things that I should do before turning 30 next year and they came back with some varied suggestions including; ‘go skinny dipping’, ‘work at a festival’, ‘ride a motorbike’ and ‘do something that terrifies you’. I ended up with a pretty decent list and kicked the year off with a skinny dip in the North Sea on New Year’s Day. Yes, it was very, very cold as the bemused dog walker who spotted me pointed out. After this fun start to my challenges I had a look at the rest and the one item on the list that worried me for obvious reasons was, ‘do something that terrifies you’. I originally thought of a skydive in memory of my Paratrooper Grandad Stan, thinking that this must surely be the scariest thing I could do…
I was wrong.
In August I saw a Tweet by @ArtBattleMCR asking for local artists to compete in their biggest art battle to date at the newly opened London Road Fire Station. The premise being that 10 artists paint live, in 30 minutes, surrounded by an audience of 500 people who then judge the winner. A few things I should probably mention at this point…
Which all made it a prospect that definitely terrified me - a good opportunity to tick that off my list. So taking all of this into consideration I decided to enter. I have NO idea what came over me. I spent a few days hoping that they wouldn’t pick me (they did) then I spent another month hoping that a zombie apocalypse would break out (it didn’t). And when they announced my involvement online and I got a mention in the Manchester Evening News, I finally had to face up to my decision and figure out what on earth I was going to do. I went through several ideas, some good, some bad and most totally impossible in under 30 minutes including a portrait of Bill Murray and a detailed drawing of the venue.
It was only a week before the battle that I finally found something that I could just about paint in time and that I didn’t completely hate. So in the run up to the battle this Friday 14th October I will be painting the same piece over, and over and over in the hope that I can recreate it on the night despite my already flight inducing nerves. Right now jumping out of a plane sounds like a wonderful idea, though I think the adrenaline rush on Friday night will be greater for me.
I will write a follow up post next week and share some of my practice work as well as the painting that I will hopefully produce on the night, unless a zombie apocalypse does break out in the next few days… a girl can always live in hope!
Back in February I took a slight career change and began working on The Horsfall, a local creative programme, for which one of my first tasks was crowdfunding to help kick the programme off. This was a baptism of fire and would in itself be a whole series of blog posts but one element was to design the rewards that people could buy. I included the almost obligatory mug and notebooks, made all the easier by a stylish logo created by Taylor O’Brien and the catchy tag line 'Useful and Beautiful', but the reward that overtook my life and resulted in something that left me with a very un-British sense of pride upon completion was the colouring book.
Basing each colouring page on an item from the Ancoats Art Museum collection (now housed in The Whitworth and Manchester Art Gallery) which the Horsfall creative programme is inspired by, I drew line drawings of 40 of the original pieces. Ranging from Pre-Raphaelite paintings and William Morris fabrics to Japanese sword guards and Victorian ceramics.
The project was painstaking and far more time consuming than I had anticipated but the resulting book came together eventually and was printed by Marc the Printers in August and shipped out, with people since sharing photos of them using the book which is really amazing to see, especially as I can remember exactly what I was doing as I drew each piece. Usually watching TV or sat in the sunny garden with a glass of wine!
Hopefully the book will continue to raise money for the programme and bring people as much joy colouring it in as I got from drawing it, and I have even started to colour a copy in myself, which is a challenge in itself as I have never managed to finish a colouring book before, but there is always a first time for everything.
Having worked in film and TV I often find it hard to switch off and just enjoy the programme that I’m watching... there’s always that thought at the back of my mind of how the scene was shot and what went into the planning of the costumes. One such TV show that I have really been enjoying lately (and yes I know I’m a little late to this particular party) is ‘Breaking Bad’. I’m up to the third series and the point has come where I have to get the costume bee out of my bonnet so that I can just go back to enjoying the show.
‘Breaking Bad’ has one of the boldest colour palettes I have ever seen in anything other than a children’s show where character distinction is essential. And I don’t mean this as an insult, it’s not. To have such a strong look in a drama is a very bold move. However, the designer has done so with ease and the final result isn’t distracting, rather it manages to define characters and reflect their emotions miraculously subtly considering how obvious the costumes are once you have noticed them.
Hank and Marie Schrader
Hank is typically in browns with a few other earthy tones thrown in along with some great Hawaiian patterned shirts. Whilst his wife Marie is almost exclusively in a very specific plum purple, which extends not only to her clothes but jewellery in the form of big necklaces and long earrings in a matching colour.
Walter White Jr.
Walter Jr. has a less specific colour scheme tending to be dressed in polo shirts with spaced apart stripes in pale earthy and pastel tones, though in the third series he is frequently seen in orange, which is an unusual colour selection for a character costume scheme.
Saul doesn’t have a specific colour scheme, but his costumes brilliantly reflect his arrogant and self assured personality by way of grey suits worn with a very bright shirt and patterned tie.
Walter tends to be seen in pale earthy tones; beiges, creams, browns and white. However, his costumes tend to be linked through pattern rather than colour, almost exclusively wearing shirts with checks or stripes. Whether obvious and large or narrow and subtle this is a particularly strong look for Walter.
Skyler has probably the strongest colour palette and look in the series so far. She is almost exclusively in blue tones, which at times for me was pretty distracting once I had noticed. However, her costumes do branch out quite obviously depending on the situation she is in. When being a good housewife and mother, or in some cases the injured party in her marriage she frequently wears white. And on the other hand when she is in the wrong (and a slight spoiler alert here if you haven’t seen up to series three) singing Happy Birthday... the Monroe rather than kids party version, to her boss or having an affair, her costumes switch to black. With her wearing tight fitting dresses and shirts.
Jessie has one of my favourite wardrobes in this show he has some great hooded jackets and t shirts, mostly along the colour scheme of black and red with a few hints of white thrown in. He occasionally wears other colours as well depending on his situation often seen in yellow worn with black and grey.
I would recommend watching ‘Breaking Bad’ for its own brilliant self... but hopefully now you can have the added fun of costume colour spotting as well. And if you have seen any films or shows with similar obvious costume colour palettes please leave a comment and let me know!
So to follow on from my previous post ‘Attention All Newly Fledged Costumiers’ I thought I would go into a few of the pro’s and con’s of pursuing a career in costume. I have to point out that these are from my point of view entirely... what is bad to me might be good for you.
The In Between
1. The money –
For the first few years the money is shocking as you will be expected to build up contacts and do lots of ‘expenses only’ work. Unless you’re really lucky you will have to juggle a part time pay-the-bills job with costume work. This in itself is difficult due to the unpredictable nature of this industry... your part time job is going to have to be pretty understanding and flexible when you get a call through about costume work the day before. However, it does get a lot better and depending on what aspect of costume you decide to make your career in the salary is usually pretty good.
2. Catering –
Ok possibly not the most vital aspect but I like my food, and trust me when you’re working 18 hour days in the wind and rain you want a decent meal. On set catering can be massively hit and miss and not just based on the budget of the job. I’ve worked on a student film where the directors mum cooked for everyone and it was phenomenal, and also on a BBC show where the rice pudding had burnt flies cooked into it. Its usually pretty good though, plus it’s always fun to sit on the catering bus!
1. Travelling –
This is one of those points that you might put in ‘The Good’ column, but for me travelling just means time away from home. I like my house and all the crap that I have in it, including my two dogs and occasionally the husband. Most of the TV work I have done was in the north, so I could drive to location each day. Though this sometimes meant a 2 hour drive each way, which when you have to be at unit base for 6am isn’t fun. The commercials are usually great and other than a Foxy Bingo shoot that had me driving all over the UK in one week they are usually only a day long so not too bad. It’s the films that really get you. Four weeks to six months (longer if its a big film) away from home, and when you’re working 16-18 hours a day 6 days a week there just isn’t time to get home.
2. The instability –
This is possibly the thing I hated most. For some people not knowing what you’re doing next week might be fun, but not for me. I like to know if and when I am working and more importantly whether I will be able to pay the bills next month. I’ve had producers phone and ask if I can design and buy for a whole cast and be on set within 4 days because their previous designer quit and I’ve had directors cancel a job on me because their friend wanted to give costume design a go, you can’t rely on anything!
3. The long hours –
Believe me the hours are long, and the type of work is tiring. The costume department have to be at the unit base to prepare the days costumes at least an hour before the first actor is due to get dressed, and then about an hour to wash and sort all the costumes after wrap is called. So you’re usually starting around 6am and ending around 9pm. And in this time you’re either running around manically trying to get actors and supporting artists ready or your sitting in silence whilst their filming – which is when its hardest to stay awake and on the ball.
4. The lack of social life –
Whilst the social life on set is nice, if you want to plan anything with friends and family... don’t bother. The hours are unsociable anyway when you’re working from 6am – 9pm but added to that you could get a call about a job the day before your due at a friend’s wedding, and because your self employed you have to think really carefully if you can afford to turn it down. Also in this industry if you turn down a job with a director who likes you, that gives another designer a chance to work with them. Then for their next project they’ll probably just remember that you were too busy and you won’t get the call.
Like I said – this list is entirely from my point of view, you might love the sound of aspects of the job that I hated... all I know is this type of work isn’t for everyone. You have to be patient beyond belief, seriously well organised and to be pathologically work obsessed is a plus too!
When I was at Edinburgh College of Art studying Costume Design and Construction I had a great time... The course was fun, you did lots of designing and making. You came up with your own briefs so you could go as big and as bold as you liked. There were even extra courses in screen printing, historical costume and breaking garments down.
We were also encouraged to do two or three work placements whilst studying. I ended up doing over 20 and thank god I did...
Because university does NOT prepare you for the working world of film and TV.
We weren’t taught on set etiquette, which when working in this fast paced yet delicate industry is vital... especially if you’re going to be the one asking actors to strip off! We weren’t taught how to alter garments quickly – our pattern cutting tutor was fantastic but not all of her disciplined methods translated easily to working on a busy set when you have 30 seconds to alter a pair of trousers, whilst the impatient director is standing over you. We weren’t even taught how to negotiate rates of pay, or even what an acceptable rate was. There seemed to be a hush hush, taboo element to asking a tutor what you were actually supposed to charge.
I left university and had literally no idea how to...
a. Find a job and
b. What to charge for that job
So just before my university library card ran out I went and photocopied The Knowledge. This was a £200+ book that listed thousands of industry people. They are now thankfully online – so finding the information is much easier and cheaper!
From this book I emailed over 200 Costume Designers (rooky mistake number one - it’s usually the Costume Supervisors who hire trainees and dailies) and from all of these emails I got just one reply. The one person who did reply and end the misery of my email black hole was a designer called Scott.
He was working in Manchester on a children’s BBC show called ‘Jinx’ and offered me a few weeks work as a costume trainee. It was perfect, I packed up and stayed back home while I worked on Jinx.
Walking into the BBC studios on Oxford Road on my first day only to be met by a poker faced security guard who demanded my name was scary. But when he checked his list of the people permitted to enter... I got a handed a card and told to head on through the barrier.
The two weeks passed quickly and to be honest I can only remember snippets of the whole thing. After this Scott passed my name onto a producer who hired me as the designer on a web series called Girl Number 9, and every job that I've had since then I can trace back to Scott. Either he recommended me directly or I have met someone on a job I got through him. And sad as it is with talented students graduating every year it really is ‘who you know, not what you know’. You literally never know where a chance encounter or in my case, email will lead. If Scott hadn’t taken (rare in this industry) pity on a student that he didn’t know I wouldn’t have done 99% of the jobs I have worked on. Which is a terrifying thought.
So to wrap up this post (which has gone slightly off track) if you or someone you know is studying Costume or Fashion Styling, and have questions about any aspect of the Film & TV industry, from how much to charge per day to whether on set catering is any good. Then just let me know – the best way is to reply to this post and then if someone else has a similar question they can see the answer too. Or if you’d prefer drop me an email with any questions and suggestions for posts at email@example.com.
I’m afraid I can’t offer work placements, as I said in a previous post I don’t do a lot of costume work anymore – if you’re interested in why though I can always explain and tell you of some of the pro’s and con’s of this career!
This is where I share my love of drawing and the people and places that fascinate me. It is like a visual diary that enables me to chronicle my work and (hopefully) see the development of my style and ability. I trained as a Costume Designer and feel happiest with a sketchbook in front of me and carry at least three sketchbooks and a pencil case with me at any time, though I often work to commission on larger standalone pieces as well.
I hope that you enjoy this blog and that it might inspire you to start drawing yourself, it is a fantastic pass time, regardless of skill level and after all… practice makes perfect in any area. My blog will include artwork, photography, descriptions of my techniques, materials and much more. I also sell my drawings as prints so please get in touch if you are interested in a print or an original commission.