A question came up for me while reading. They say actors are always learning, taking classes, improving their craft. How do you as a designer keep growing and learning in your craft, especially at the start of a career?
I think that as actors we are so lucky to always have new projects to learn through. so much of design is about understanding history as fashion is simply about who is in power – who was the king – who lead the country – for such a long time they were also the fashion trend leaders. think about how much the Cromwell era tells us about England at the time. all you have to do is look at the fashion to know what people were thinking and feeling. Each project brings you the opportunity to go down the rabbit hole of research and discover how people lived and thought. Also, to look around at the work of those you love the work of – who are your favorite actors or designers – have you read everything they have said and written about their life and their projects? That helps you learn the history of the craft you wish to be a part of and to understand how it operates and who the people are.
Every week pick a new artist and try to learn about them – not just in your chosen professions but across the arts in general. Who are the choreographers working in the world of ballet in Europe you really think are remarkable? – What is that company of artists doing in Japan that seems interesting? – Who is the architect for the new building you pass on your way to work each day? Every artist has a story to share who they are and how they think and what they want to express and you can learn from each of their stories and widen your world.
You mentioned in your last blog that you observe color, shapes, and textures in our daily lives. Do you take classes? Do you explore other artistic mediums such as sculpture or photography?
I have been taking a class via zoom at the art students league during covid just to keep my hand warm – oftentimes I am drawing so much that I can not do this. A designer has to learn through a long career about how to store their energy and their physical body as the years of leaning over a drawing table 12 to 18 hours a day can be hard on both your body and your eyes. My associates have developed ways of making me take breaks and regulating the number of drawing hours per day which has made a difference in how I can continue to draw and design. You have to respect your body if you want it to continue to perform at top speed for you for a long-distance run.
I took lots of various classes in the arts before I began to be a designer and I always say I wish I had been an architect as buildings last way longer than costumes – but I think whatever aspects of the arts you add to your artistic vocabulary is tremendous – and in fact, I think that we give far too little room for the fact that many things like engineering are hugely creative and artistic endeavors. The design of a beautiful bridge is equal in artistry to a painting – we need to look around and appreciate all the art that is in our daily lives. And another question came up for me just now. being in shops/productions as an actor, stitcher, and/or dresser, I’ve found that not all designers sew. Not all understand patterning, draping, or fabrics (content) enough to carry a conversation or give helpful instruction. How essential do you think this understanding is for a designer? Have you found designers have less and less of this technical skill over the years? iI so, why do you think that is?
We as theater artists are artisans and craftsmen – we learn from those who went before us – now that may be very different for different designers just as Van Gogh painted very differently than Renoir – we can not say who was a better painter – we enjoy each for how they bring understanding and new appreciation to us- I learned to sew at my mother’s knee and through 4-H as a kid, but that does not mean that everyone has to communicate the same way in design. s it important for me? – yes very very important to be able to communicate by speaking about patterning with the makers and the drapers my ideas – but other people have other ways. I spend a lot of time teaching students about the knowledge that a designer should have – but that certainly does not mean that I don’t revel in folk art – because it is getting at the essence of something. It is primary – it is basic and it hits the points without elaboration. There is certainly something to be learned there.
For me, I need to be able to sit down on the floor with the makers and be able to talk in their terms so I can create – but someone else could do it in another way.
After all, let us remember the one with the most clarity of line and the most dramatic use of color is the one who made us all – we can do no better than to study the shape of a lion or the ridges of the rocky mountains to understand that. What that says is that the actor or the designer you are starting at the beginning of your essence and imagination just like any painter – we just go on to add other people and their processes to our collaborative art.