Sunday, June 12, 2011

Tips for Artists: Drawing Women in Kimono

If you're reading this, you're probably either one of my regular readers (hi and thank you! :D ) or an artist who entered "how to draw kimono" into a search engine.

For the artists who typed that, you've won half the battle of drawing Japanese kimono accurately because you've taken the time to do research. Today's post is all about helping you render Japanese kimono accurately in your art without making the common mistakes I see all over the place. Here are the biggies:

- No contrasting. Outside of underwear, called juban, your average kimono does not have contrasting collars or sleeves. A kimono is made entirely from the same bolt of fabric, collar and sleeves included. If you think you're seeing contrasting collars, it's probably either the underkimono peeking out (as it should) or a fake "dickey" length of fabric worn under the collar to suggest a second layer of kimono that isn't really there.

- Left over right on the collars on both genders. Right over left is only for corpses (though even some young Japanese don't realize this, not having grown up with kimono as their grandparents did). A properly folded kimono looks like the letter "y", with the wearer's left panel on top of the right panel.

A bride and groom in full formal wear.

- No whiteface. While being pale is still considered beautiful in Japan (I loved finding foundation pale enough for me in several shades when I lived over there) the only people who wear whiteface on a regular basis are geisha and classical theater actors. Period.

- Smexy women's "kimono" nakedness (tiny bathrobe "kimono" hanging dangerously low/loose/"I can see all the way south to Florida"* on women). I realize not all artists are going for historical realism, but putting a girl in a skimpy short bathrobe and calling it a kimono (or worse, her a "geisha") shows more of your own fantasies than anything else.

(*We love you, Carrie Fisher!)

A woman performing traditional Japanese dance.

- Square sleeves. Kimono are not bell-sleeved. A kimono is a T-shape when hung on a line, the sleeves plain rectangles sewn to the rectangle body at the top of the shoulder seam. This makes it an approximate pain in the ass to draw, but a little practice and looking at photos can help.

- No cleavage. See "South to Florida" above. ;) Women's kimono are worn folded high at the neck.

- Formality. Whole books have been written on this topic, but here's a quick and dirty cheat sheet to get you started:

Young women in yukata.

Young or adult woman: summer festival? Cotton yukata-type kimono, short sleeves, simple narrow obi usually tied in a pseudo bow in the back. Geta wooden sandals, no split-toed tabi socks. No obiage scarf or obijime cord.

Young or adult woman: every other occasion?

This is a formal furisode for special occasions.

Young woman: long-sleeve kimono, wider obi folded in half to look narrow in front but at full width in back, with giant offset bow or elaborate knot in back, obi-age scarf tucked into top of obi, wide obi-jime cord around high-middle of obi, zori sandals, white tabi.

This adult woman is performing tea ceremony in a "komon" type of kimono.

Adult woman: short-sleeve kimono, wider obi folded in half to look narrow in front but at full width in back usually done in a short and boxy-looking taiko knot, obi-age scarf tucked more into top of obi, obi-jime cord around middle/low part of obi, zori sandals, white tabi.

For more specific looks, try searching for the terms komon, tsukesage, houmongi, furisode, irotomesode, kurotomesode, kakeshita, and uchikake to see how kimono types look different as they become more formal. Obi types begin at hanhaba and go up to Nagoya, fukuro, and maru.

So, fellow artists, if you have any questions, please feel free to drop me a note and I'll help if I can. :) I know firsthand it can be intimidating drawing a certain type of clothing if you don't know much about it (one reason I have yet to draw anyone in traditional Chinese outfits).

All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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