Figuring drawing reference: How to pose an outfit

Outfits and costume are essential to creating a character and expressing who they are and what they are about.

But we often run into trouble when trying to:

  1. convey who that character is through their costume in the first place
  2. Posing both the character and their outfit in a relevant and interesting way.

You know sometimes it is just so easy to deck your highland warrior out in a flowing cape and a hulking great sword and set off to make them cool and dynamic. Pretty standard. Then, when the sketch is nearing the final stages you realise to your utmost horror that you posed them like a pious nun and not at all like a fierce warrior.

Just like poses can convey action and intention in a scene, they can also work alongside other visual aspects like costume design to annunciate elements of your character and help the reader or viewer to contextualise them and even understand them as a person, and not just a character.

Here are a few examples of poses that you can use in different cases to accentuate both the look you so carefully crafted and the character wearing them.

Look down on the peasants:

A pose like this is great because it immediately frames your character as someone of stature and rank. If you've got a snobbish queen in your story, use a pose like this combined with a regal and opulent outfit to create a sense of superiority to her. Regalia? Never met her.

Jumping into the fray:

Poses like this one are great because you get to emphasise an action within a scene as well as the costume at hand. Perhaps draw billowing sleeves or skirts as a way to make it clear that your character is leaping toward a victim and snarling all the way. Imagine Dracula's Bride in a pose like this, and you get the idea how pose and costume can perfectly inform character, and vice versa.

You will meet a sneaky fiend in a back alley:

You know the vibe. You're drunk on ale, you've just had a fistfight with a rude bard and you need to check on your horse before you wobble back inside and go to bed at the inn. Suddenly, a mysterious stranger is behind you, offering a warning and a snide remark. What is she wearing? Oh, a scantily clad bikini in the middle of the snowy night. Oh well, at least she's wearing a cape to hide her bow and arrows.

Introducing yourself sword first:

Think Wonder Woman, think Rey from Star Wars, think Iron Man properly suiting up for the first time. Angles and poses like this one work as a perfect two-way introduction to your character. First, let's say this is the first time your reader sees them as a warrior capable of battle. The hand drawing the sword from the back, and the stance showing their readiness to engage. Secondly, it introduces them to their costume or fighting garb, and the pose allows them to take it in and get a memorable impression of their new favourite character ever (hopefully).