So, one of my first jobs while working in library school was to assist with the digitization of a massive collection of costume design drawings from a group known as the Motley Group (not to be confused with Motley Crue). This let to me eventually finishing my library degree and going onto a degree in Theater History with an emphasis on the history of technical design work.
All branches of theatrical design are about communicating information to the audience seamlessly. In Romeo and Juliet, for example, it is traditional to costume the warring families in different colors. Romeos family might be all in reds, oranges and yellows while Juliet’s family might be in greens, blues and purples. This is useful, because it communicates with the audience immediately which character is associated with which group- important in a play with about 20 characters. Opera and ballet also have costuming traditions. In a medium where people don’t speak and the plots are often rather odd, identifying characters by their colors and style is even more important.
So, when I was selecting colors and costume designs for my ballerina paper dolls, I was well aware that there were traditions that I needed to take notice of. I did my best to keep these costumes fairly “traditional” with the exception of the Firebird. I didn’t like either tutus or the unitards that seemed to be common, so I went with something a little more contemporary.
Working left to right, the first costume was from the ballet Coppélia- usually costumed in a “folk” style which is also often used for the first act of the ballet Gisselle or any ballet where there seems to be milkmaids and/or county fairs. Next is a costume for the Waltz of the Flowers from the Nutcracker. This is a costume I entirely invented when I didn’t like any of the versions I was seeing online. For my firebird, I chose to do a more modern costume, rather than a traditional tutu. If I was going to costume something no in a tutu, the firebird seemed like the logical choice. Monica is dancing the part of Odette in Swan Lake- next week’s paper doll, Mia, will have a costume for Odile. It is traditional that the part is danced by the same ballerina, but I wanted to split up the costumes across two sets. For Swan Lake, I settled on a traditional sort of costume with some feather detailing and a headdress. From Sleeping Beauty, Monica is dancing the part of the Lilac Fairy. Obviously, her costume was going to be lilac.
For years I avoided drawing a ballerina paper doll. I was asked a lot, but I always shied away.
Mostly, because the idea of drawing tutus frightened me. I work in ink. Ink is great for a lot of things, but I have always struggled with transparency and tulle (that stuff they make tutus out of) is known for both its transparency and its texture. That alone was enough to scare me.
Then, on a fateful day last year, I had no choice. I had to draw a tutu for a contest winner. I hated the outcome of my first tutu attempt, but I swore I would tackle tutus again.
I learn to draw tutus (and I still am learning), I have had to learn to let go a little of my natural instinct for controlled linework. I’ve had to embrace the risk of messy linework. That’s been a struggle and while my tutus still aren’t perfect, they are getting better.
So, for my ballet costumes, I chose to do some classic ballets that I love. The characters are Swanhilda from Coppelia (or Gisselle before she dies, either way), The Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker, Odette from Swan Lake (though if you color it black, it could be Odile), the Firbird from The Firebird, and the Lilac Fairy from Sleeping Beauty. I chose Monica for this set, because I was thinking about Misty Copeland and also that I’ve only seen one African-American ballerina paper doll before. That would be one doll in Dover’s book- Ballet Dancers. So, here is a second African-American ballerina paper doll. She’ll be in color next week.
Well, I have been working on backend server CPU issues with my shared hosting service. Nothing really serious, but stuff that has to be dealt with for the blog hosting to continue to be cheap enough for me to justify continuing to keeping it online and free.
Lina requested an 1880s period Marisole Monday & Freinds paper doll with a ballet outfit and several other dresses. I had some trouble getting all the pieces to fit on a single page, so I omitted some shoes from the image.
Should you want proper shoes to go with this set, then I recommend checking out On the Board Walk in color or black and white or Mia Goes to the Bathing Place in color or black and white. Both of those sets both have button up style boots which, while not period, are close enough to not look totally awkward.
Lina was kind enough to send me reference photos and specific colors for the hair, skin and eyes of the paper doll, but left the color scheme mostly up to me. I wanted to use some rich colors, because by the 1880s chemical dyes were common and rich colors were very much instyle. There is a habit to think of the 19th century as sepia colored, because of sepia photos, but it was actually a rather garish era.
So, Lina also asked for a tutu based on this painting by Degas. The painting dates from 1871, a little earlier than the other costumes in the set. I omitted the sash, since I based the dress on the center figure. I don’t think the layers of the skirts really look like tulle, which bothers me. Liana has some great tulle on her blog.
The ballgown was based on this fashion plate. The gown was red, but I made it peacock blue based on a description in English Women’s Clothing in the 19th Century by Wilett-Cunnington that mentioned peacock blue ballgowns. I hate drawing lace, but it came out all right, I suppose.
The last two outfits are a swimming costume and a house dress. Old swimming costumes were extremely complicated and not very easy to swim in. Generally, I think of them as wadding costumes. Linasent me this picture and I based it off that.
The house dress is classic 1880s style with bustle, drawn up skirt and long pleats. It’s a pretty typical gown for its period. Linasent me this photo and I based the dress off of it. I omitted the pattern on the dress, because I knew it would reproduce poorly in the small scale of the paper doll set.
And that, as they say, is that.
If you haven’t ever checked out Lina’s blog, Lina’s Historical Paper Dolls than I recommend taking the time to do so. She makes wonderfully interesting historical paper dolls.