Artist/Costumer KATIKUT is the latest subject of my interview with artists and creators series. She’s a French native who’s made a name for herself doing some really impressive period costuming. She has a day job working for Ubisoft Europe, but dress making is her extra curricular passion (and the way I discovered her work). We conducted a back and forth email interview to discuss her perspective, background, and unique experience on illustration and costuming.
Q: What is your earliest memory of being creative? How old were you when you “created/made” something from scratch?
As long as I remember I’ve always drawn. My oldest memory is me at 4, at school, drawing a house. I was waiting for drawing activities all the time; they were my favourite (until high school in fact).
Funny fact too: when I was very young, there was a time when I was always drawing a church with graves all around, in black and white. My mother asked the psychologist what was happening, since it was quite creepy. In the end, I was just trying to draw the church in my grand parents’ village. Not especially the graveyard – it’s just that these graves were a part of the scene. And I was using graphite just because it was easier to erase – I had a practical mind haha!
Not really. My father, uncle, grandfather and great grandfather are/were clock makers. They are very very handy and everything they do is always SO precise. I feel ashamed because as a child, I used to botch my work and it can still happen sometimes. My uncle has even made a plane in his garage. They are really good when they have to create something.
My grandfather and my great grandfather were quite good at drawing, but it didn’t influence me. It’s just that everybody says that they gave me this “gift”, even if I don’t like to say illustrators are gifted people. They just train insane and work hard!
My mother at the contrary has always been afraid of the artistic domain. She has always been afraid of what my career would be, as an artist. It’s hard to get a job, and she was anxious about that. But she offered me many cool activities as a child. English classes, dance, swimming, and watercolor classes. She’s a wonderful mum!
Q: You’re a multi-disciplined artist. You draw (and even animate) characters and scenes from your imagination and from your life, but you also are an amazing seamstress. I love that short animation you did for school. Very funny ending. I hope you’ll find a way to do more in the future.
Thank you! For the moment it would be hard to find time for this but if it ever happens, I’d like to do more complicated things. Rococo (my short) had a deadline that forced me to do simple animations. I regret this but I had no choice! I also had the plot/backgrounds/FX/render to make alone.
It shows. Even without knowing what part you played in the animation, I could sense that you had a major influence in some way. So, let’s talk about each of your disciplines one at a time.
Q: I follow you on DeviantArt (although you don’t post like you used to). Your artwork seems to be heavily influenced by Walt Disney animation. Was that what pulled you into making art and drawing or did your curiosity begin with something else?
I think that the big revelation was in 1994. I was 8, and the Lion King came to theaters. I remember I used to draw many Simbas during the lunch break and many kids were asking me to draw for them. I’ve always drawn a lot at home, and yes, it was essentially Disney related things. First, it was for fun, and I didn’t care about finding my own style or universe since it wasn’t serious. In highschool, I used to draw a lot of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings fanarts (thanks to the philosophy classes!). At this time, I was supposed to follow an engineer path. Drawing was just a hobby at the time, even if my dream was to work for Disney. It was just a dream. (It’s still a dream but in a professional way today haha! At that time it was a kind of silly thought, that’s all).
When I graduated, I had the choice to go in an engineering school or an art school. I’ve always had good results at school, that’s why my mother had encouraged me to follow a scientific path with many opened doors. But I wanted to try the art school though. I was accepted in both schools, so I made a choice: “Do you want to win a lot of money but be bored at work? Or do you want to eat pastas but having fun in what you do?” Guess which choice I’ve made… This is when my mother began to be stressed haha! But she was still behind me, and I’m very thankful for that. She trusted me, and it makes me happy.
Q: Who were your early influences? Much of your artwork seems to be influenced by Walt Disney animation. Did that inform your drawing and your dress making both or did you get your inspiration from different areas?
When I was young, it wasn’t easy to know who were the great artists you loved through animation. This is when the Internet was accessible that I’ve discovered Glen Keane, the man behind Beast, Tarzan, Ariel (…) and great artists I now recognize as my main influence and masters. With art school, I’ve also put names on some styles I used to love for a very long time too. I’m a great fan of [Edgar] Degas and [Alphonse] Mucha for example. My art references are totally different from my dress making references. But there are some connections though. I’m a great fan of [Franz Xaver] Winterhalter and [Auguste] Toulmouche who used to paint wonderful women in extraordinary dresses!
The most challenging thing to me is to create characters with a soul, with a story in each drawing. This is why animation inspires me so much. I’d love to reach this goal someday (even if we always learn). The other goal I have is to get away from this specific style to add the little touch that will make the people say: It’s Mary who did that.
When someone comes and tells me that even if the Disney influence is obviously there, my style is recognizable. It makes my day each time, you have no idea! I’m aware that my style is very Disney-ish. I guess it’s my biggest default. I try to explore new things as I grow as an artist.
Q: What was your biggest learning from school? What were you able to get from going to school that you had a hard time understanding or that you didn’t really know you were missing?
It was important to learn how to observe, and how to communicate. A drawing, a website, an ad is always made for a public. I had some marketing/sociology classes where I’ve learnt to understand my target. The drawing is a kind of interface between me and people. This was one of the great things I’ve learnt at school.
Q: Was there any negative, for you, in school? For example; some people might say that school is too formal (too much theory, not enough real-life practice) and doesn’t encourage true creativity. Thinking outside the box. Do you have any criticism of formal education or was it a very positive experience for you?
OH YES. It was VERY expensive for a school where we didn’t have real classrooms or teachers (these guys often didn’t show up!). I won’t say much, but really… It was like a war at the end between the directors and our parents. I had some great teachers, but they left when they saw how the wind was turning. Our director was a kind of Dumbledore. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to stay and our last year was a disaster. Rococo [her short film] has been made with blood.
This is one of the good aspects of this school. I haven’t learned to draw or animate there (just some theory, but Richard Williams’ book has taught me more than school), but I’ve received a good education about communication, marketing, sociology, advertising, and even html or CSS. Even if these domains aren’t my cup of tea, it was important. Because when I draw, I now have the reflex to ask: who’s the target? Who’s going to play this game or watch this ad/drawing? Which typography should I use to make something classy but not too boring? How to make a great portfolio, CV or a website to reach my goal easily and catch people’s attention? How the user will navigate in my portfolio so he won’t be bored in the first seconds? Etc.
Concerning the drawing session, we had one per week. Which wasn’t a lot. We went sometimes to the Louvre, it was great. I used to sit on the ground and draw. It was my home! I had a student card that allowed me to enter for free. Good times! Concerning animation, I’ve learnt during an internship to use Flash. Concerning the way things move, I’ve read Richard Williams, Preston Blair, and even Aaron Blaise some months ago (he makes wonderful animation videos!). I know the main principles. I just need some practice. I love to animate even if my first function is to illustrate. I would have loved to make traditional animation and more complicated moves in my short as I said before.
Q: Do you still work at Ubisoft? If so, tell me about that experience and how your schooling helped (or not) to prepare for working in the industry…
Yes, I still work there. I’m currently working on a 2D project that I really love! I learn everyday ! First, something funny: Ubisoft is located at the very place Disney animation Studios used to be in France. These walls have seen Tarzan taking life guys! *so ironic*! I’ve never worked on our big games since these ones are made in Montreal, but I already had the chance to share with great artists when I was working on Assassin’s Creed Pirates :). It’s good to feel like you’re part of a BIG team. Concerning the school, as said before, it didn’t help a lot.
Q: What is the biggest/most important lesson you learned in the real world outside school?
School isn’t important somehow. The Portfolio is important. The personal work is important. Outside it’s still school somehow. We never stop learning!
Q: Your blog mentions that you started to sew in 2011, but is that really the case or is that just when you took it more seriously?
You are talking about my short and this is funny because it’s part of the answer. I’ve always loved 18th century. This is why I’ve decided to make a little short about it. While looking for references, I’ve discovered that people were actually making costumes for reenactments. It was love at first sight! I’ve started to ask for advices on some forums and blogs and I’ve made my first costume just after school, so it was in 2010 if I’m right. But I was living with my sister in a very small studio in Paris (we shared 190 square feet) and used to sew at my parent’s home on an old sewing machine some weekends when I was able to come back. I was spending more time to fix the machine than sewing with it. When I’ve moved I had more room and a new machine, and I’ve really started to sew in 2011/2012. I’ve learnt by myself, and it’s quite horrible since I’d like to draw or sew more sometimes. Having 2 passions takes a lot of time. Sometimes I feel ashamed when I’m sewing. I should be practicing my drawing.
Q: Let’s talk about your dress making. You have a blog called Dentelle et Satin (Satin and Lace) where you share pictures of your work and your thoughts about some of your creations. How important do you think it is to share your knowledge and learnings with others?
First, having a blog is a good way to show what you make because this is how your creations can exist. Some people sometimes tell artists not to share their work if they don’t want their drawings to be stolen. But hey, we share our work because keeping it for us is not interesting! Same for costumes. A costume is not only pleasant to show when finished, the construction is also important. Costume porn you know. Costume makers LOVE to see the construction of a costume. That’s why it’s always a pleasure to show the step by step. Then I think it’s important because I like to show people that it’s not so difficult. I’ve made a tutorial on Youtube to make an 18th century dress. You have no idea of the messages I’ve received from people in their first costume. These guys had never sewn anything! It was like a revelation. “Hey it’s not so complicated after all”! That’s also why I like to share. I love when people come back to me, proud of their work. I can be proud of them too! Because they all made wonderful costumes. Nobody would have guessed they were beginners. Congrats Padawans!
Oh yes it was! My first one wasn’t very good, and sometimes it can still be hard to learn new things. I’ve started to sew after seeing some reenactment photos when I was looking for reference for Rococo.
Q: How much help did you have over the years? It seems like you have some local friends who share your hobby. How much have you learned from your group of friends/family versus from your own individual research on the internet and books, etc?
My two friends Perrine and Sarah have started at the same time than me. We’ve met since we weren’t very confident! We were beginners, entering a world full of talented people. That’s how we’ve become friends. It was natural. We’ve helped each other, we often share feedbacks. We’ve met on a costumer forum where many people used to share some tips. It was also a place to get feedbacks, but today, with facebook and all… The forum is quite dead.
Q: You have a very particular fascination with clothing from the late nineteenth century. What is it about Victorian (and Georgian) era fashion that draws you to it and makes you want to recreate that style? I’m guessing some of it comes from your French upbringing and your country’s connection to that monarchic history.
I don’t know if there’s a particular reason for me to love this fashion more than another when I think of it. I totally suck at today’s fashion, but I think we can compare this to a woman who would like glam rock and not bohemian style. It’s the same for me. I’ve got favourites, but I also have eras I like in history, without liking the fashion (for example I’m not fond of romantic era, or 20s, but I love the history at this time!). At the contrary, I love the Marie Antoinette fashion style, but it wasn’t a great period to live in for my country.
Q: What motivates your choices for the next dress or outfit you make?
It can be a movie, a photo I’ve found, but generally it’s because someone announces an event with a particular dress code. I have to adapt my choices in function of the budget and time I have.
Q: Walk me through your process of making one of your outfits.
Well the process is generally always the same depending of the dress. An original dress or a reproduction.
In case of a reproduction, I can spend hours finding the good fabric or reproducing it. Then, for every dress, I look for the right patterns, or similar patterns to transform, which may be very long. Then when you’ve got everything, you start by the underwear if you don’t have any (every period has its shape and undergarments) then, you can make a mockup. You make the dress in an old fabric, with boning and all. You make the modifications you may need, report them on the pattern, and tada, you can start cutting the final thing.
She made a Youtube video explaining the step by step of a particular style of dress (Robe à l’anglaise).
Q: You’ve occasionally done more standard cosplay outfits, but very few. Is part of it the lack of challenge or maybe the fact that too many people already do that kind of thing very well and your own work would not stand out as much?
Oh no, cosplay is the most challenging to me! Finding the good fabric is already SO complicated! Technically historical costume may be less challenging in fact. Because you need the good shape and all, but you don’t have to worry a lot if you can’t find the exact color or trim you’ve seen on your reference. You can mix many things and let your imagination go free. It’s not possible with cosplay. Cosplay is also more challenging to me because people know exactly what you’ve tried to make and will compare you to the original.
No, in general I say that I don’t do cosplay. I make reproductions. I don’t want people to think that I’m playing a role. (Except for Christine, I used a big wig because it was a private in-joke, it was at the Opera Garnier and all. It was THE occasion to have fun, but if I wear it again I’ll maybe have a historical hairstyle instead.). No, it’s generally that I see a dress that I love in a movie and that I need it in my closet! That’s all. I’m not a cosplayer. I use the same process when I reproduce a dress from a movie than a dress from a historical picture or painting. I sometimes think of making an Ariel dress for my sister for fun, to wear at Disneyland for Halloween. Maybe an occasion for me to make a Belle cosplay too, but it’s not my priority, I prefer leaving cosplay to cosplayers haha.
Q: From reading your blog, I can see glimpses of your personality. There’s a lot of humor, but you also have some strong opinions that seem to be held back a little from your readers. What do you think about the current state of women’s fashion?
I’d say that it’s not the style that bothers me, but the making of these clothes. I see things that I can make for $2 costing something like $40 sometimes. It’s quite horrible, especially when you know who are actually sewing those clothes. It’s hard for me to buy new clothes since I know the price it really costs, and how the human behind the clothes is “rewarded”…
Q: What would you change in female clothing if you could rule the world?
In France (because it’s not the same everywhere), I’d propose clothes for women with shapes. Personally I have to wear a size 12/14 US (42/44 FR) at the waist for my jeans since I need a size 8 US (38 FR) for the waist. Women aren’t tubes! Seriously wtf? Of course some girls are made like this but generally we have more curves! Every woman I’ve asked seem to have the same problem. Then, my husband is very very tall. But thin. He can’t find clothes at his size. Tallest people aren’t obviously fat. Same for small people, they aren’t forced to be thin. Today’s patterns are just horrible. They are made bigger or smaller. It works for the normal sizes, but the tall and small people have pattern that generally can’t work! Patterns are not adapted, they are just scaled like you’d do with a photocopy. It sucks.
Oh and I’d make the skirt not being an invitation for annoying guys. Wearing a skirt is comfortable that’s all! We’re not “asking for it”!
Q: I mentioned earlier that I discovered and follow your work through online communities like DeviantArt. How helpful has a site like that been for your personal artistic journey?
It was a great place to meet other artists before FB and all. The only one I used to know in fact. It was THE PLACE TO BE some years ago. Now I have to say that I disagree with many of their policies. They encourage artist to make commissions for almost nothing, they encourage people to post porn or to steal other people’s work somehow… Well. I don’t like this place anymore. Many of my favourite artist and friends have left too… I keep checking it every day, I keep posting a little bit… But as I’ve don’t have a lot of time to post finish pieces, I prefer posting quick sketches on FB or instagram instead of polluting my deviantart gallery.
Q: With the positives of online communities also comes some negatives. I know you’ve reported before that people were stealing and selling your design ideas and dress images; representing them as their own. Can you comment on your current situation with your own work and in general about this increasing issue?
I don’t care about people who want to reproduce for training. I did it too, it’s just that I didn’t have Internet to post them at this time haha! Generally when someone needs to use my work I generally say yes. I don’t like to discover that someone uses or alters my art without my permission. I generally say yes when it’s asked kindly. But yes, when it’s for selling… Obviously it annoys me. Concerning the costumes now: what I didn’t like with this stolen pics of the dresses was that it was a personal picture of me, in my apartment, with the unfinished dress! It wasn’t even finished! I don’t care about a reproduction, I haven’t invented the red Victorian gown. But taking personal pictures (blurred and all! with a bad light!) I don’t understand. I’ve taken the habit to add watermarks to my work (drawings) but I had never thought they would steal pics of my costumes, even more pics that aren’t very flattering for the dress in question. I hate watermarking. I hate adding a big horrible text over a piece I’ve spent time on. But I have no choice :(. It costs me energy, it makes me sad. It’s not a pleasure to add watermarks (I say this because people were angry when I’ve started to watermark my work). Then people can remove the watermarks if they take the time. But this kind of guys are here to make money, not to lose time. Unfortunately, if they can’t steal easily your work, they’ll steal your neighbors’ work…
Q: Is there anything friends and fans can do to help you with this situation?
I won’t give any country name but this generally helps me when people able to speak and read the language of the thieves can help me haha. Then, thieves can be everywhere of course. But when I can’t read or navigate through a website to report a thief, it’s harder. Then, everybody can help by reporting this kind of guys. Thanks again to my community for the help they gave me!
Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions.