Illustrator Lois DeArmond, Distinguished Service Award Recipient
By Christine Cover Ferro
Illustrator and assistant Costume Designer Lois DeArmond didn’t know that costume illustration was a career choice when it came looking for her. She was in class at Chouinard Art Institute, which would merge with Los Angeles Conservatory of Music to become Cal Arts prior to her graduation. A call came into the school from production and Costume Designer Dennis Lynton Clark. Clark had the upcoming weekend to create more costume sketches than one person possibly could handle and had called the school looking for students to assist him.
DeArmond, known to her faculty for having a clear affinity for historical costume, was recommended. By the time the sketches were delivered the following Monday, DeArmond knew that this was exactly what she wanted to do with her career. The film was A Man Called Horse, and she would go on to work for Clark for a few subsequent years.
Before joining the CDG in 1985, DeArmond worked in the Los Angeles garment industry as a menswear textile designer, including a two-year stint with Kennington Ltd. At costume supervisor Bob Mathews’ recommendation, DeArmond visited Bill Hargate with her portfolio. “Bill was very helpful to me, and actually got me a job at Disneyland in 1983 in the costume department, doing costume sketches freelance for the Costume Designer, who at that time was Jack Muhs, a very nice man,” recalls DeArmond.
Shortly thereafter, a mutual friend introduced her to April Ferry. When Ferry was hired for her first studio production, Big Trouble in Little China, she brought DeArmond on as her illustrator. Ferry warmly recalls their first collaboration: “We worked together on my first movie and had a wonderful time together. I’m very fond of her, and she is just a wonderful talent.” They would continue to work together throughout the 80s and 90s.
On the subject of the costume sketch and its function, DeArmond speaks passionately about the importance understanding fabric and construction. “I have a good knowledge of cut and drape, and I think that’s important if you’re going to be a good costume illustrator. You need to know how clothes go together. Costume illustration is where you figure out between [the illustrator] and the designer how something is going to be made… and if indeed it can be made.
The designer may have a solid idea in his or her head what exactly this thing is going look like, and I just need to put that on paper. Or they may not. They may have a vague idea, some bits and pieces or some elements, and the drawing is where you put all that together and it’s really the start of the conversation about what the costume is going to look like.”
DeArmond sees the greatest payoff to clear illustration in the workroom. Where a good cutter-fitter can certainly bring a vague idea to fruition, but the back and forth with the designer is likely to be a longer process. While her personal drawing style is quite tight, she also knows there are designers, and by extension their directors, who prefer to start with a more fluid illustration and then work out the costume in mockups. Ultimately, DeArmond sees the illustration as the beginning, and regardless of style, the costume can always evolve as needed.
DeArmond’s colleagues have clearly appreciated her ethos. Costume Designer Carol Ramsey says, “Working with Lois DeArmond has been one of my most satisfying professional collaborations. First, she is the gold standard of classic costume illustration, turning out beautifully rendered paintings in record time. Second, her deep knowledge of costume history and her research skills help keep things on track period-wise. Finally, Lois’ deep understanding of costume construction and fabric makes taking approved designs into the workroom a breeze. I’m always in good hands with Lois at my side!”
While many know DeArmond best from the beautiful sketches they’ve seen over the years, she has also been an assistant Costume Designer since 1987, and takes great pride in that work as well. “I love being out and about, being the liaison with the vendors, working with other creative people and making sure they have all their stuff.
Just making sure things go smoothly in the department and helping the designer realize their vision, that’s what gives me the greatest pleasure. Where I feel most alive in the world is in a fabric store. I love fabric, and I always have. The knowledge [of] what would be good to make what is in my bones; it’s just something that comes to me and that excites me.”
Two other projects that stand out to her as particularly proud moments are the western Wild Bill, working with Costume Designer Dan Moore, and the Revolutionary War drama The Patriot, with Deborah Scott designing. While brought on as an illustrator for both, the workload made her acuity for fabric and construction useful in a more expanded role.
On The Patriot, “I was hired first as an illustrator, but there was a lot of other stuff to do, and [Scott] let me help with that, liaising with the tailors, fabric and buttons, that sort of thing…. This is really hard work, but when you feel like you’re actually accomplishing something, and people are trusting you to do what you know how to do, it’s so rewarding.”
Regarding what lies ahead for costume illustration, the trend she, and many others, have seen in US-based production is large budgets, and with them illustration work. Illustration artists have always been seen as a luxury, primarily being allocated to genre films. She notes, “The nature of slick, shiny, futuristic superhero movies lends itself to the computer illustration look, and that’s totally understandable. For that kind of thing, those illustrations look better and convey better than what I do… It’s just a different thing, and everything has validity. There’s some beautiful work being done.”
DeArmond consciously made the decision to not pursue computer illustration. While certainly not a Luddite, what she sees as the sensuous quality of hand drawing and painting appeal to her too much to let go, and she found that it was the best path for her to convey humanity and character to her projects. Ultimately, pencil, gouache, and watercolor remain the right choice for her, and she hopes that a place for diversity in styles will always exist.