356 Costume Design

Costume Design Syllabus 

1. Course Information

Course #/Name: Theater 356-Costume Design                     CRN: 78304

Location: Costume Shop-107 FAC       Credit Hours: 3            Time: TT 11:30-1:00


2. Instructor Information

Bethany Marx, Asst. Professor           Office: FAC 105B    Office Phone: 474-5365

Email: bmarx2@alaska.edu    Office Hours: Monday 3:30-4:30, Wednesday 12:00-2:00 or by appt.


3. Course Readings/Materials


The Magic Garment-Principles of Costume Design by Rebecca Cunningham

ISBN 13: 978-1-57766-408-6


Sketchpad, at least 9×12, preferably 11×14

Drawing pencils, at least two

Hand pencil sharpener

Kneaded eraser

Watercolor or art paper for renderings

Colored pencils

Watercolor or acrylic paints

Several good quality round paint brushes, at least one large and one small

Palate or disposable plastic plates, water cup and hand towel

Students should have access to a color printer.


4. Course Description

Through a series of design projects, play readings and drawing exercises, students learn how to successfully analyze text, communicate production concepts and visually express costume ideas using sketching, rendering and collage. Projects also introduce students to the practical skills needed to realize a costume design within the limits of a theatre’s resources and needs.


5. Course Goals

Students leave the class with an understanding of the roles and duties performed by a professional costume designer, and how these roles differ in a University or community theatre setting.

Students are able to read and evaluate a script for costume details, develop a concept and coherently explain and defend production choices.

Students know where to look to find fundamental period and contemporary costume research, and how to identify legitimate primary sources.

Students can to express their costume ideas visually through drawing, painting and/or collage, using a wide variety of design elements to convey character and plot details.

Students can demonstrate the appropriate organization skills required of a costume designer, including paperwork, budgeting skills and supply requisition.


6. Student Learning Outcomes

Improve students’ ability to express their ideas visually, through drawing exercises and design projects.

Learn how to read a play specifically for costume information and gather that information into a cohesive concept supported by the script.

Improve writing and communication skills.

Study the methods and techniques used to locate research for a play and make specific choices with regard to character, plot, location and other script information.

Locate research from a specific time period, and understand the difference between primary, secondary and non-traditional research.

Practice rendering in both dry and wet media.

Design diverse plays, practicing various types of stylization, realism and the suspension of disbelief.


7. Instructional Methods/Assignments

This course is taught as a combination of lecture, studio and group discussion. Students will complete projects in and out of class, which will be presented to and discussed by peers.

Drawing Assignments

In addition to in-class exercises, students will complete several out-of-class drawing assignments. Students will show instructor that assignments have been completed throughout the semester, but will only turn it in for a grade on the last day of class.

Text Analysis Project

Students will read the assigned play and come up with a concept for the production and create a costume breakdown for the play, including important details mentioned in the script. These details include time of day, weather, season, class/economic status of characters, colors or costume props mentioned, costume gimmicks, and quick changes. The list should include page numbers, character(s) if applicable, quotes from the text, and personal notes.

Modern Research Project

Students will read a short, modern script and create costume collages for two characters. Use magazine pictures, research photocopies, online printouts, fabric swatches and/or mixed media. Collages and sketches should be accompanied by a one to two page paper explaining their concept and design choices. Students who feel comfortable drawing may include pencil sketches to illustrate their meaning as well.

Period Research and Sketches

Students will create a concept for a play in a time period prior to 1900. Primary and color research will accompany pencil sketches for four diverse characters.

For Colored Girls Colored Pencil Renderings-Students will do research and create colored pencil renderings for three women from the choreopoem “For Colored Girls…” focusing on how body type, silhouette and style can communicate character when color is predetermined. Designing for a script with predetermined elements encourages beginning designers to explore more difficult design elements.

Twins Design Project-Students will read, summarize, create a concept and research ideas for a production of Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare and then sketch and render their designs for the “twins,” Viola (as Cessario) and Sebastian in such a way that they are both identical and yet identifiable. Renderings will be painted and include labels and backgrounds.

Short Film Design Project-Students will read and create a concept and several simple renderings for a short screenplay, while learning the differences between design for stage and film.

Final Costume Design Project with Makeup, Mask or Headdress Design-Each student will be assigned a different children’s play from the list below and asked to complete six final color renderings that include either a makeup, mask or headdress designs for at least four of the characters. Students will also turn in a concept statement and all the related research and paperwork. Pencil sketches will be due before the final project and one-on-one meetings will be held with each student to discuss ideas and assess progress before the final renderings are due.


8. Tentative Course Calendar/Class Topics

9/1 Explanation of the Syllabus. Assignments: Acquire supplies and textbook. Read Chapter 1:

Understanding Stage Costumes.

9/6 Beginning drawing assignments. Methods of observation. Sketchbook assignment.

9/8 Introduction to design. Tasks of a costume designer. Read PAGES 37-48 of Chapter 2:

Understanding the Play and Gum for 9/15.

9/13 Drawing the human form part one: women. Sketchbook assignment.

9/15 Talk about plays and character breakdown/paperwork. Be prepared to talk about Gum.

Text Analysis project due Thursday 9/22.

9/20 Drawing the human form, part two: men. Sketchbook assignment.

9/22 Text Analysis Project presentation. Modern research. Read Chapter 3: Doing Research

and Short Modern Play for 9/29.

9/27 Drawing the human form, part three: plus sizes and children. Sketchbook assignment.

9/29 Research methods for contemporary clothing. Internet sources, magazines, catalogs.

Complete Modern Research project for 10/4.

10/4 Present Modern Research project. Costume History in a Week!

10/6 Costume History continued. How to identify periods of dress. Selecting the period

appropriate for your show. Assign Period Research Project, due 10/18.

10/11 Drawing the human form, part four: details. Hands, feet, faces. Sketchbook assignment.

10/13 Elements of Design. Read Chapter 5 PAGES 121-134 and For Colored Girls for 10/20.

10/18 Period Research Project due. Drawing the human form, part five: alternative poses. Sketchbook assignment.

10/20 Assign For Colored Girls project, due 11/1.  Discuss fabric types and selection.

Read Chapter 5 PAGES 135-146.

10/25 Using Color Media: Colored pencil, paper and fabric swatching. How light affects color.

Sketchbook assignment.

10/27 Creating a piece list and planning a budget. Designing for Special Circumstances:

Children, Outdoor Theatre, Long Run productions, etc.

11/1 Present For Colored Girls projects. Emphasis on discussing rendering choices with the


11/3 Drawing the human form, part six: period silhouette. Sketchbook assignment.

Read Chapter 6: Rendering the Sketch PAGES 172-182.

11/8 Using Wet Media. How to paint different fabrics and textures. Sketchbook Assignment.

11/10 Read Twelfth Night and assign Twins Design Project, due 11/22.

11/15 Construction Details. Planning for Quick Changes. Pulling and buying costumes. Read

short film script for 11/22.

11/17 Other Skills Needed by a Costume Designer: Dyeing, distressing, measurements, basic

alterations, shopping and pulling lists.

11/22 Present Twins Design Project. Discuss film script. (Guest lecture by Maya?) Assign film

project, due 12/1.

11/24 Thanksgiving. No Class.

11/29 Drawing details: Masks, makeup, hairstyles, jewelry, tattoos. Sketchbook assignment.

12/1 Present film project. Assign final design project.

12/6 Sketchbook due. Discuss fittings, dress rehearsals, costume parades and strike.

12/8 Bring sketches/research/concept for final design project to be discussed with Beth


Final December 15, 10:15 am: Present Final Design Project to class

9. Course Policies


Attendance is required EVERY DAY. This is a hands-on class and you need to participate to learn. I know everyone has an occasional “brain lapse,” so students will be granted two excused absences in the semester. Any further absences will count against your final grade (see grading below). “Life events” such as weddings may be excused if consent is obtained prior to the event and an effort is made to promptly reschedule and make up missed work.

If you become ill or have a personal or family emergency, such as a funeral, please contact me prior to the start of class and bring a doctor’s slip, obituary or note. If you have doubts about whether something is considered excusable, please talk to me sooner rather than later. Excusing students from class for any reason will remain up to the discretion of the instructor.

Cheating=Bad. Learning=Good.

Don’t copy, don’t cheat, don’t trace. Don’t have someone draw for you. Don’t steal a design concept from some production you saw before I moved up here. The writing assignments for this course are limited, but remember that plagiarism—the copying of another person’s writing OR IDEAS and calling them your own—is a SERIOUS offense. Students caught cheating or plagiarizing will lose all of the points for that assignment. A second offense is cause for failure from the class. There are lots of ideas out there. Use your own.

Also, please treat your instructor, the shop manager, the equipment and your fellow students with respect. Hurtful, racist or derogatory comments, excessive use of inappropriate language, physical violence and improper use of or vandalism of university equipment will not be tolerated. (Please refer to the UAF Catalog Academics and Regulations under Student Code of Conduct for more information on the University’s policies regarding student behavior. I am very serious about this.)


When researching for your costume design projects, it is important to use as much primary research as possible. In other words, pictures or paintings of actual people and animals from the time period. Pictures of other people’s costumes or makeup, including images from plays/movies and illustrations from costume history books, are not appropriate research in most cases.


All information included on this syllabus, detailed assignment instructions and up-to-date grades will be available on Blackboard at classes.uaf.edu within the first few weeks of the semester. Emails will be automatically sent out to remind you of major deadlines; however, failure to receive a reminder email is not an accepted excuse for late work. All due dates are printed in this syllabus under the tentative weekly schedule. If you do not regularly check your university email address, you may wish to set up forwarding to an address you check frequently.

10. Grading/Evaluation

points                                      total                 % of total grade

Drawing assignments             4 per drawing                         40                    ~9%

Text Analysis Project                                                               40                    ~9%

Modern Research Project                                                       50                    ~11%

Period Research and Sketches                                                60                    ~13%

For Colored Girls Project                                                        60                    ~13%

Twins Rendering Project                                                         60                    ~13%

Short Film Design Project                                                       40                    ~9%

Final Costume Design Project                                                 100                  ~23%

Total Points Possible: 450


Absences-For each unexcused day you miss you will automatically lose points regardless of whether you make up the work. The first day you miss will cost you 10 points, or 2.5% of your grade. The next day will cost you 15 points, and each day after that will cost you 20 more. If you arrive more than five minutes after the start of class, you will be counted late. Three lates equals one absence.

Late Assignments- Each late assignment will be downgraded 5% each day and will not be accepted beyond one week after due date unless ok-ed by instructor. Students will be granted a 48 hour grace period on first late assignment only (not including drawing assignments).

A 90-100%       B 80-90%         C 70-80%         D 60-70%    Failing is below 60 percent


11. Support Services

Students struggling with writing assignments may visit the Writing Center in 801 Gruening for assistance. Writing Center hours and other helpful tips are posted on the English Department website at http://www.alaska.edu/english/studentresources/writing/.


12. Disabilities

I am happy to work with the Office of Disabilities Services (208 WHIT, 474-5655) to provide reasonable accommodation to students with disabilities. It is the responsibility of the student to contact the office and provide a letter of accommodation within three weeks of the start of class. Accommodations received after three weeks will not be backdated.