Thoughts & Process: Drawing a National Fashion Costume

An illustration of a woman in a bedazzled pilot costume, with some props of swordfish, flamingos, pigs, a plane, and a sun piece behind her.

Yep, I may have fallen into a new yearly rabbit hole. My partner, proud of his Nicaraguan blood, was watching the Ms. Universe 2021 national costume showcase, and showed me a picture of what Ms. Nicaragua looked like. He initially didn’t like what she wore, however I expressed admiration for it. We sat down watching some of the other candidates display their costumes on the stage, which then became more candidates, we shared our opinions with each other, and next thing we knew, an hour had gone by and we saw them all. Then, I got an idea, how would my characters look in these costumes associated with their ethnicity? So now we have Kya in Ms. Bahama’s national costume, and I’m asking you to join me on hearing how the hell this piece happened.

A photograph of the Ms. Universe Bahamas' national 2021 costume. She's wearing a bedazzled pilot uniform, with props of a plane, a sun piece, swordfish, flamingos, and pigs.
Shauntae Ashleigh Miller in the Ms. Universe Bahamas’ National Costume

I’m going to start this write up with a lesson that I learned while drawing this piece: if you are drawing a complicated outfit or setting similar to this, always get multiple references! When I sketched and drew the lineart for this piece, I was only using one reference image to figure out how the costume should look, and it was only during coloring the fish props that I realized I had gotten so much of the costume wrong! I could have gone back and spent the extra hours fixing the incorrect elements if I wanted to, such as the tassel pieces on the sun actually being large feathers, and missing coloration markings on the fish. However, I was running out of time to finish this piece for the week, and decided it would take too long to go back. If I do another Ms. Universe national costume, I’ll need to be more careful in the future. Some of those costumes are astonishingly detailed!

A black and white sketch of the above illustration of a woman in a bedazzled pilot costume, with some props of swordfish, flamingos, pigs, a plane, and a sun piece behind her. One side of the plane and props are missing, and is instead replaced by writing that says "Dupe it lawl."

First, the sketch. I’m sure everyone’s going to find the sketch funny for obvious reasons, but at the same time I knew it was just easier to duplicate the half of the prop costume I drew already during the sketch editing stage. However, when I drew the lineart, I did do both halves without duplication so it looked less symmetrical. With the angling and perspective, the two sides wouldn’t properly overlap anyways.

Kya, my OC, is half Bahaman and half African American, so I thought she’d look good in the Ms. Bahama national costume. The Ms. Bahama costume is one of the more ornate costumes featured this year, with all the props coming together to make a transportable background. The model, Shauntae Miller, has handle bars that are attached to the back of the set, that she can use to wheel it down the runway. Honestly, watching her strut down the stage so happily was so cute and infectious, that’s another aspect that makes me love this costume so much.

When I did the sketch editing, I did the usual anatomy fixes and fixing any proportions on the set piece. When I duplicated the props and plane wing, I had to transform the sketch a bit so it was clear the piece was at an angle. The right of the canvas sits slightly higher than the left, and the width of that side is skinnier than the other. This is more obvious when you flip the canvas back and forth. There wasn’t too much change here from the original, and the lineart was straightforward as well.

I finished coloring Kya first despite starting with the sun piece, I won’t lie, I’m a very character focused artist. I was mainly proud of the fact I managed to finish coloring her in one sitting. I really like how Kya looks here, especially with the blue makeup and how the hat and shoulder pieces look. Somehow, I don’t have much to say about her this time.

The waves were somehow both fun and total pain in the ass. Using a selection tool to color what you wanted, which is generally what I do to color large spaces, ended up leaving lots of nooks and corners where the colors didn’t fill, so I had to go back and thoroughly clean everything up. On top of that, I felt it was appropriate to color the lines of the waves a solid blue so they contrasted less with the other props. It was fun seeing everything come together, and it is probably one of the more engaging aspects of the piece besides Kya herself.

The animal props were pretty fun to draw and color, although I kept second guessing the pigs. The pigs in the reference have shorter, wider eyes than the flamingos and fish, and without the cartoonish shading, it looks creepier than the other props. However, I wanted to stay true to the reference. But I may have put in one small easter-egg in the props. Have you noticed the flamingo to the right of the canvas looking straight at the audience from behind the handle bar? Boo!

The sun piece was a bit of a challenge. I mentioned before that I had drawn tassels where there were supposed to be feathers, but it took me a bit to figure out how I wanted the beads on the sun piece to look. I actually had to redo the three inner circles because I wasn’t happy with how it looked the first time. After I had worked on…literally everything else and the only thing left was the sun piece, I drew the beads in a similar manner to how Kya’s waist piece looked. I still think it could look better, but at least the piece has cohesion.

A zoom in of the first illustration of a woman in a bedazzled pilot costume, with some props of a plane and sun piece behind her. The character has her hat in her left hand, slightly tipping it off her head at the audience.
A zoom in showing the sparse glitter on the plane

Okay, I gotta talk about the glitter. When you watch Shauntae walk down the stage, and you zoom in on the reference image, it becomes clear: this costume and the props are littered with glitter! It was honestly rather intimidating to figure out how to go about doing the glitter at first, since I had to ask myself: do I wanted the glitter to be obvious from far away, or should it be something that the audience notices upon looking closer? As you can see from the final result, I picked the latter, as my artistic style and drawing is more familiar with some flatter coloring, and I thought high contrasting glitter would overwhelm the piece very quickly. The small beads on the piece, such as on the outfit and props, are more prominent because they are bigger gems, but the glitter effects are simply slightly lighter colored dots put sparingly on the canvas.

That’s all for today, thanks for listening to me ramble about how much I loved an outfit on a big annual competition show. I plan on doing some of the other national costumes from the same event, such as Addo in Ms. Cameroon and maybe Ray in Ms. Germany, and I’m thinking of putting them all together in one final piece once everything is said and done. That’s definitely why the final piece has a blank white background, it wasn’t me not knowing what to do at all…Thanks to those who read this far, it means a lot that my ramblings can continue to amuse. I wish you the best, until we meet again.

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