Describe and Draw


Students new to costuming attempt to describe the clothing worn by a person in an image so that the instructor can accurately draw the clothing on a figure. I do this in real time on the white or chalkboard on the first day of class.

Length of Activity

Short in-class exercise

Activity Objectives

Demonstrate the difficulty in describing clothing without knowledge of correct terminology.

Activity Goals

This activity demonstrates in real time the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words.” I use this activity to show students why providing visual images, research, and sketches is to vital to communication in the theatre and also why knowing the correct terminology is important as a costumer.


I do this exercise on the first day of class, usually for about 20-30 minutes. I actually give each of my students a coloring sheet of an animated Disney character and crayons along with their syllabus and they color while we talk about what the class entails. The Disney characters are part of another project, but I use them for this exercise since the students are already familiar with them. You could use any images from fashion history—fashion plates, portraits etc. The only thing that doesn’t really work is contemporary clothing because they know a lot of the language to describe those things already.

I pick a random student and tell them, “describe what your character is wearing.” Then I turn my back on the class and begin to draw. We start with gender and body type and then do the clothes themselves. If they struggle, I ask questions to help them be more specific and use accurate words. Sometimes I use the activity as an opportunity to teach some basic terms such as “bodice” but mostly we focus on fitted-ness vs fullness and using parts of the body to describe the length or location of things.

Generally I do two or three of these. Then I ask the class what they learned from watching or participating in this activity.

Time Required

Half a class period or so. I think I usually do this for about 30 minutes. More than three of these and it starts to become boring to watch. I just make the point while it is still entertaining.

Required Materials

A chalkboard or white board. Or a smart board.


You could do this activity “blind.” I do it with the class able to observe my drawing, so I can ask things like, “is this right?” as we go and they can correct their description if they realize they haven’t been specific. But you could do it drawing on paper where they can’t see how you are interpreting their description. Like costume telephone.

If you had advanced students, they could do this activity in pairs and create the drawings themselves.

Students could also be asked to provide their own images so that the instructor or person doing the drawing is truly unfamiliar with the clothing being described.


This isn’t an exercise that is worth points. I give feedback to the students as they go in the form of questions and allow themselves to correct their descriptions if they realize they have not been accurate. We also discuss what we learned from watching this as a group. If you wanted to evaluate student work, I think it would be best to try the pairs adaptation closer to the end of the semester. Then you could critique them on their attention to detail and knowledge of terminology as they both describe their image and attempt to draw someone else’s.

-Bethany Marx