Thursday, June 01, 2006

History Shapes the Future

History Shapes the Future

Spelunking Through Sketchbooks and Time

I am a fan of history. If I were to have my artistic leanings yanked from my body, and I was forced to find a real job, I would probably seek out work that dealt with the ancient past. Perhaps an archeologist or a paleontologist. Or a rogue scientist who invents a wicked time-machine (I am using wicked in the sense of nifty here, as opposed to naughty. Although, a naughty time-machine would be pretty cool too, because I imagine it would time-jump into various erotic scenes of the past).

Fortunately for myself — and the multitude of ancient peoples who would prefer to have intercourse privately — I do in fact draw pictures as a career. And every so often, my sporadic knowledge of history creeps into the drawings, as exampled above. This particular day, I was paging through a book of historic dress. It was interesting to see how these incredibly complex costumes could be broken down into simple shapes, which is what the first drawing, of the 17th Century German Man, was attempting to do. What became even more interesting, then, was exploring the silhouette created by the historic costumes; so I found a woman from a similar time period and region, and recorded her simple costume and silhouette.

I don't know about you, but I found her decision to wear that wacky hat quite interesting. She probably didn't think it was wacky, because if she did, she wouldn't have worn it — she probably thought it was "wundervoll"! I suppose what I'm getting at, is that 17th Century German Woman probably took great comfort in her wacky silhouette, because that was the style, and she was considered "fashionable". Which led me to think... How would these same people have shaped themselves 100 years prior?

The Shape of These Same People 100 Years Prior

16th Century German Woman and Man, Simplified

Turns out, it's a pretty drastic difference. For one thing, it looks like 16th Century German Man was big into balloony pants (technically referred to as trunk hose), and preferred shorter capes so he could walk through the piles of plague corpses without getting the fur edging all icky and "common". As for 16th Century German Woman, It seems it was fashionable to cut off circulation to the extremities, to keep the skin as blanched and pallid as the Virgin Queen. I think it's quite interesting to see how drastically these two similar social groups — separated only by time — chose to shape themselves. But from a broader viewpoint, it's just as intriguing to see how any culture chooses to deviate from the natural human form in their dress.

The Shape of the Future!!??

All this study of silhouette choices in historical costume naturally leads me to wonder what shapes are yet possible. Could I perhaps influence modern fashion, or the fashion of the future by proposing some possible shape options? The answer is a resounding Maybe, dependent on whether my increasingly-angry letters to the fashion capitals of the world (New York, Paris, The Banana Republic) are read by the movers, the shakers, or the movers-and-shakers. But in the meantime, I shall share my proposals with all you 21st Century men and women:

Alphabet Suit

Outfit Shape Proposal, Number 1

My line of thinking goes kind of like this: people in the future could shape their clothing like the first initial of their name. Here we have a fellow named Peter, though he could just as easily be a Pierre, a Paul, or a Percy! Or maybe some sort of futuristic name, like Skywalker, or Venusflyer! Although they'd need to start with a "P" , so — Pkywalker... and, uh... Penusflyer...

All In Favor Say Aye

Outfit Shape Proposal, Number 2

After glancing through the historic costumes book, I really didn't see anything like this, so I'm pretty excited about the unique shape above. My idea here is basically everyone walks around with their arms up, instead of hanging down at our sides. We've been doing that for millennia — and frankly, we're starting to look a little "last-season".

I know you're probably thinking I'm an idiot, because people's arms would get tired, but I got around that by having people tie their arms to the tops of the really tall Gandalf-style hats that will come back into fashion. It's a successful merging of the old fashion with the new — like how I wear the new pants Kim buys for me with the underwear I purchased twelve years ago.

Extra-Parts Are Extra-Smart

Outfit Shape Proposal, Number 3

Okay. Even I have to admit this one is pretty "out-there". But when you're playing the part of Visionary, you can't stop the vision just because it makes you looks stupid. You have to be patient and believe that in a couple decades people will drift into a similar plane of stupidity, and bring your vision to life! The concept I followed here is pretty simple — the popular fashion will be to have fake arms, legs, and heads attached to the outfit, so that there's a fifty-fifty chance that when someone pulls an extremity from your torso, it's one you actually didn't need.

So, those are my proposals for now, although I have a suspicion that more ideas will come to me in the future. Especially if my proposals above become a reality, and I start to make fashion-designer money (e.g. lots of disposable income to snort cocaine through). In the meantime, I can continue to study the past, and identify some of the missed opportunities for shape and silhouette. I'm pretty sure that 11th Century Venetians didn't fully flesh out the "Man As Hamster Ball" concept...

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haha, naughty time machine...FANTASTIC!



Fantastic drawings. Did you water color the drawings digitally or after inking the sketches? I really like the way it brings the drawings out. Finishes them a little more.... Killer font's as well. "Good show old chap!" (My 16th century speak is not quite what it used to be).

- Aaron


Paul - Sounds like I've got a recruit!

Aaron - They're watercolored after the sketches - it does help make a rather quick sketch look a bit more "meaty"... :D


say, what plates are you referencing for these? i've been looking for a good resource of past fashions for some time...

also, i totally have a 'p' suite that i wear when i feel like letting everyone know that my first name, contrary to popular belief, does not begin with a 'j'.


Sooo.. alot of people love to call you James or Jerwitz or something?

Great stuff, Kevin!
I love the 16th Century german man! (Well.. I don't love him, but you get what I mean...)


Ah yes. Reading Bearskin Rug at work, and guffawing gleefully at "I have trouble with doorways!" makes my co-workers think I'm even more strange (I'm the only designer, surrounded by programmers)

I have a quick question though, regarding your sketches. You said that you watercolor them after you sketch them... have you ever used any Prismacolor Gray Markers?

And if so, what's your opinion on them vs. watercolors?


hrm. Apparently my copy / paste skills are somewhat lacking. This is the link that I meant to put in the post above:


Paul - The book I have is Braun & Schneider's Historic Costume in Pictures. I'll make sure I link it in the article, while I'm at it...

Murten - I hear ya... you'd buy him dinner, but not dessert. I feel the same way about those heavy 16th Century flans...

MattLat - Yeah - I used to use markers a lot in college. I prefer watercolor now because it's more versatile, and if I ever wanted even tone with a marker, I'd have to use marker paper - which just isn't as pleasing to use (or to present with) as watercolor papers. Plus, markers bleed through pages much easier than watercolor washes, so it would render a lot of sketchbook pages useless.

The Colonel

I hate to go with the obvious one here, but Penusflyer?

You're one letter away from some sort of crazy new insult that ALL the kids are going to be saying.

Kudos, K-man. Looks like you're innovated more than just clothes.

Either that, or the Penusflyer could be your next fashion... although, I'm certain, I wouldn't want to see a sketch of that.

Rob Weychert

I wonder if other war crimes will inspire new fashions in the future, as the Abu Ghraib scandal seems to have inspired "All in Favor Say Aye."


speaking of war, the nazi's were pretty snappy dressers.


Damn, The Colonel beat me to the Penusflyer gag.


AlphabetSuits: available with serifs for formal occasions, yes?

Extra-Parts: I think this would work equally well as tandem clothing. Every year, there's more and more people; sooner or later, we're gonna be walking around stacked two-high anyhow...


Abu Graihb chic is, like, sooo 2003 Kevin.


i forwarded your designs to the talent scouts for "project runway." i hope you don't mind. the arms-up, tall hat, skinny tie, pinstripe pants look is really slimming (and it's nice to see that mustaches will come back/still be in fashion in the future fashion wonderland you envision.

Russer Butters

Well, I think a big R suit would work nice, as it would have a leg out behind I could lean on, or maybe a big B, which would mean I could rock back and forth.
Great idea Kev.
I have worries though about the Gandalf hat. While the idea of hands up in the air and the Gandalf hat a cool, who wouldn't want to walk around with a Gandalf hat, one has to worry about structure. To support the hand lines at the top you would need a strong pole up the center of the hat, that would crush the head downwards under the weight of the arms. A small price to pay I guess for having your arms up in the air all the time to help you cast spells.

Terry Tolleson

What I love most about these illustrations is their depth - literally. I love the fashion sketch being constructed from ink and watercolor and the background simply watercolor. It makes the figure really pop and gives good dimension to the scene.

As always, Kevin, good show on your typography. Seriously, man - make font sets of your illustrative handwriting!

Elsewhere judging by the positively electric background in "Extra-Parts Are Extra-Smart", I feel confident in my assumption that those "extra parts" are not merely cos-play. The desolate hill-scape... the cables of catastrophe... no grass she's a mutant, my friends!


It is disappointing that one particular name did not occur to you when you were casting about for something beginning with 'P'. I obviously have not been making enough impact on your subconscious in my comments. I shall try harder.


Joesplanet - Haha! Good observation about the fancy "Serif" formalwear!

Wayne - Oh yeah - mustaches are a BIG time player for the future. And Kotekas.

Russer - Hey - A "K" suit would have that same built in kickstand! Good observation, Russ! Hmmm - I do feel sorry for the "O"'s... they could easily fall down a hill and just keep rolling.

Terry - Thanks Terry! Yeah - the watercolors do a good job of fleshing out the somewhat rough and sloppy drawing. It's actually a good example of how a sketchbook forces you to find new tricks to flesh out an existing sketch. If I knew what I was doing from the start, these probably would have followed the ALA process... but since I was flying by the seat of my pants, it forced me to find a different solution.

Pierce - You know what's funny... I actually was looking pretty hard for "P" names... I originally had Peter, Pierre, Pedro and Pieter... then I realized they're all pretty much the same name...

Tell you what... my first-born child... I'll name him or her Pierce. Sound good?


That sounds fair.

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