Coming up with interesting, memorable and unique fashion designs to use in your artwork can be a slightly complicated subject.
Whilst you can obviously copy fashions from real life and from photos, this is probably something of a grey area (in practice at least, if not in theory) when it comes to copyright. Not to mention that it also means that you are limited to only using fashions that you actually see too. So, how do you come up with slightly more unique fashion ideas for your art?
The day before I wrote this article, I happened to see a really interesting old photo of a group of people from 1993 in the local paper.
As someone who is fascinated by vintage fashion, I was drawn to this photo pretty much instantly. The fashions in it were wonderfully interesting, but the outfit that really caught my attention was an outfit featuring a slightly baggy white T-shirt and a knee-length black pencil skirt. The contrast between formal and informal was really cool (and very 90s) and it stuck in my mind.
Although this is the kind of generic outfit that probably wouldn’t raise any copyright issues (unless I exactly copied the logo on the T-shirt), it made me think about coming up with unique fashion designs.
And, yes, I used a slightly similar generic outfit in one of my surreal “1950s America” paintings -albeit with much more of a beatnik-style look to it. Although, for the guy in the background, I kind of based his generic outfit more on modern hipster fashion than on beatnik fashion.
But, how do you come up with unique fashion designs? Here are three tips:
1) The type of outfit: Thanks to the internet, artists have literally thousands of reference photos at their disposal in a matter of seconds. So, if you see an interesting outfit, then work out what general type of outfit it is (eg: gothic fashion, tunic dress, trilby hat and suit, plaid suits, denim skirt and knee boots, T-shirt and pencil skirt etc..) and then just enter this into a search engine and do an image search.
Seeing lots of different images of the same general type of outfit is surprisingly useful when it comes to coming up with unique fashion designs. At the very least, you can come up with a much more original design by taking elements from different outfits (of the same type) and combining them in a unique way.
But, if you want to do more than this, then just spend a while looking at all of the photos, then don’t look at them when you design your outfit. Because memory isn’t perfect and because you’ve looked at lots of different pictures, you’re probably going to end up making something that looks similar – but different – to the outfits that you looked at.
If, for whatever reason, you can’t use a search engine – then you can still use a version of this technique. Just think of the general type of outfit that you saw and then try to draw another outfit that fits into this type, but looks slightly different from the one you saw. Again, since memory isn’t perfect, you’ll probably end up making more changes than you think.
For example, in this digitally edited 1980s/90s-style painting from last year, I’d originally just planned to draw a generic 80s/90s floral maxi dress, but I wanted to combine it with something more unique.
So, thinking back to all of the vintage fashion photos that I’d seen from this time, I remembered that patterns using geometric shapes were all the rage back then.
Since the only other item of clothing I could think of which would go well with this outfit was a short-sleeved blouse, I added the pattern to the blouse (in addition to using some cross-hatching too). So, even having an imperfect memory of lots of similar outfits can allow you to come up with something fairly original.
2) Patterns, designs and colours: Once you’ve learnt how to draw a particular type of outfit, one of the easiest and quickest ways to make it look unique and interesting is to just come up with an interesting pattern, colour scheme or design to add to it.
Even if your outfit design is based heavily on other designs, it can still look unique if you come up with your own pattern for it. For example, in all of the versions of the background image that I use for this blog, the character in it wears a blue and black T-shirt, which shows a rectangular picture of a city broken up with several black bars.
This was inspired by a black and pink (or was it black and yellow ?) T-shirt that I saw in a shop back in 2011, where an anime-style picture was split into several oval-like sections using a similar technique.
Likewise, I’d originally planned for the character’s outfit to include a plain blue miniskirt but this seemed a bit dull, so I decided to add a spider web pattern to it – since this looked kind of edgy and gothic.
You’d be surprised at how unique and original a generic outfit can look if you add an interesting pattern to it, if you change the pattern completely or even if you use a different colour scheme.
3) Mix and match: I’ve alluded to this earlier in the article, but one of the easiest ways to come up with interesting outfits for the characters in your artwork is fairly similar to how you can create interesting outfits in real life. Just mix and match lots of different pieces of clothing.
You might have to do a bit of trial and error here and you’ll probably have to make a few creative changes, but this is probably the easiest way to come up with unique fashion designs for your artwork.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂