I’ve long been a fan of historical reenactments. I love costumes—hats, hoops, bonnets, boots, holsters, buttons, bows, and frippery from another age—and a park full of people wearing them makes my pencil hand itch to draw.
Columbia State Historic Park in the Sierra foothills offers all of those things when the volunteer docents are out in full force. Since I’ve been longing to sketch people in costumes, I dragged an artist friend along for company, fun, and moral support, and we went drawing for a day during their big birthday celebration. (They had speeches! They served cake!)
The two ladies at the top of this post sat and knitted gracefully while we drew. I went full-on artiste-geekazoid mode and set my easel up in the gutter (I need the canvas to be vertical as my new-fangled specs distort my drawings if I don’t look at the paper head on. Wish I could see without the blasted things.) I even dragged out long neglected pastel pencils.
According to a friend who volunteers at the park, everything they wear is as accurate as possible. “We’re dressed from the skin out,” she says. Scandalous to tell me, but when I ask to see her petticoat, she proudly showed off her corded underskirt. “They didn’t have hoops in 1850, so they used strips of cords around their petticoats.” (Make a corded petticoat here: http://www.historicallydressed.com/research/cordedpetticoats.html)
Clothes from the 19th century are so flattering, and best of all, they need curvy girls who can adequately fill out corsets and stays. (Ladies, when an artist tells you that you are beautiful, don’t tell us you’re not. Smile and nod graciously. We’re artists. We know what’s beautiful.)
The docents at Columbia often have characters to go with their costumes. Isaac Dinwiddie posed for us a good long time. When you look like this, you really need to have your portrait drawn.
All the charcoal drawings were done on an ancient pad of Strathmore Charcoal paper, Pad. No. 460-1. It’s fabulous paper, with a rough laid pattern that the charcoal loves, but it’s turning buff colored from age. I haven’t played with the sketches in the studio, and I’ve left the scans the way they are because I like the color of the paper.