• Thelma Afford report: Caitlin Murray’s Thelma Afford Award adventure

Live Performance designers are very fortunate to have a number of generous benefactors who have left a scholarship for designers as part of their legacy. The Thelma Afford Award, Mike Walsh Fellowship and Loudon Sainthill Scholarship all carry the name of these benefactors, and support a new generation of designers, as does the Kristian Fredrikson Scholarship which was set up by friends and theatre colleagues in his memory.

The APDG has the enjoyable task of managing the Thelma Afford Award. The award is an initiative of the late Thelma May Afford, an Australian designer, theatre performer and journalist. In 1934, she was commissioned to design costumes for the Melbourne centenary pageant, then, in 1936, to design the South Australia’s centenary celebrations and she was later called to Sydney to design the costumes for the sesqui-centenary pageant. She enjoyed costume designing on a large scale and professed that period costumes’ gave a designer more scope than modern clothes.

The Thelma Afford Award for Costume Design in Stage and Screen was established to promote the further study of theatre, film or TV costume design, in various visual dramatic media, for young matriculating high school art students or students from drama and art schools.

Last year emerging costume designer Caitlin Murray was the worthy recipient of the Thelma Afford Award. In the following report Caitlin describes some of her study experiences in London, supported by the award

The Thelma Afford Award gave me the opportunity to spend the 2019 summer in London exploring and developing my skills as a costume designer, and what a summer it was! I used part of the award as a stipend to live like a local in an East London house share. From here I got on the tube or walked most days into town, attending summer semester classes at the University of London and Central Saint Martins. I studied costume design & history, immersing myself in UAL’s vast design library and completing a project to design Oscar Wilde’s ‘Importance of Being Earnest’ costumes for theatre. I also did an intensive CSM fashion drawing course with the fabulous Paul Kindersleys, which included experimenting with collage, pastels and life size figure drawing. In the evenings I attended charcoal portrait drawing lessons, and creative photoshop technique lectures in an effort to nurture my costume illustration skills.

I soaked up all that London’s famous museums had to offer, and used the award to become a member of the V&A. This meant unlimited access to the costume exhibitions including “Dior: Designer of Dreams”, “Mary Quant” and “Tim Walker”. I took my little travel notebook to the V&A galleries and practiced the drawing skills I had learnt at Central Saint Martins, and ate scones, cream and tea in the members lounge.

Whilst I was in the UK the annual ‘Costume Symposium’ was on in Liverpool, and so I jumped on the train and spent a long weekend there. The symposium is a 3 day event run by the Downton Abbey designer Susannah Buxton. There was a keynote lecture from the designer of ‘Gentleman Jack’ Tom Pye, where I was amazed to learn even a BBC period drama only had a permanent costume department of 6. There were lectures on everything from how to tie period ties and starched collars, to Game of Thrones embroidery techniques by Michele Carragher. That weekend I attended a 2 day ‘Renaissance Knitting’ workshop by Sarah Shepherd, much to the delight of my inner knit-nerd. I learnt victorian techniques to ‘turn a heel’ on a sock, and designed medieval knitting patterns on the knitting machines.

I was also lucky enough to travel to the Pine Wood studios for a week to attend the Costume Breakdown course from Jane Clive. Jane has been a leading costume art finisher in film for decades, having worked on everything from ‘Man in the Iron Mask’ to the latest ‘Maleficent’. Under her direction we learnt dyeing techniques, created silk screen prints, and broke down a military jacket to look like it was bloody and muddy straight from the trenches of WWI. The latest James Bond film was being shot there at the time, and we had a lecture from the breakdown artist on the Bond blood techniques, and we even spotted Daniel Craig bike riding around the lot.

I want to thank the Thelma Afford Trustees for granting me this amazing opportunity. With their award I was able to take a once in a lifetime sabbatical which allowed me to stop, think and nourish my design skills. I came back to the Australian costume industry revived with ideas and new skills I am now putting into practice in 2020.

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