Modernizing Les Misérables: Post 3

Before I started on my final renderings, I did some character sketches for the characters I felt changed the most over the course of the novel.  Those characters were Valjean (whom I did three sketches for: one of him when he was imprisoned, one when he becomes mayor, and one shortly after the climax) and Cosette (one when she was a foster child at the Thénardiers’ and one shortly after she meets Marius).  As for Javert, Fantine, and Marius, their clothing changes are much less drastic.  Javert frequently wears his uniform. Marius leaves his grandfather’s house shortly after his introduction (from that point, his clothes become steadily more worn).  Fantine was a little more difficult: her changes are mostly in health (and therefore make-up) but her clothes do become incredibly more revealing when she is forced to turn to prostitution.  However, because she is not a part of the novel for a very long period of time (much less than the other characters I completed renderings for) I decided to keep her at one rendering.

For my renderings, I wanted to draw in a more professional, official style.  I reviewed pictures of other costume renderings online and reviewed the types of poses the characters were drawn in to best display their clothing.  My Introduction to Theatre professor frequently reminded our class that the renderings of a show usually reflect the style of the show, so I tried to keep that in mind as I worked as well, keeping the costumes to a minimal color palette that reflects the mood of the show (red & black were probably my most used colors overall).  I used watercolors on 9” x 12” sheets of watercolor paper to complete the renderings, as my instructor suggested.

Overall I am very pleased with my final designs.  Having just read the book and taken extensive notes on it, I was able to directly refer to all the quotes about the characters I had collected while working on my renderings.  Working with watercolors is always a little tricky; even though I have experience with them, they can still be difficult.  On Javert’s design in particular, I feel like the color does not appear completely even.  And, of course, I did make a few mistakes.  I actually had to redo Marius’s rendering; he wears a lot of black, which was much harder to correct when it went out of line.  However, Fantine, Valjean, and Cosette all went fairly smoothly!  Overall, I am very pleased with what I was able to accomplish in terms of both my renderings and my research.

Having finished them all, I can say with certainty that Cosette’s design ended up being my favorite for a lot of reasons.

Young Cosette

Though I had initially planned on creating a costume for an older Cosette, when I reread the book the sections about young Cosette really stuck with me.  Hugo states that “the little girl’s whole person […] expressed and translated a single idea: fear,” which I really tried to capture in my rendering (333).  I also drew inspiration from the classic illustration of young Cosette by Émile Bayard that is so often used as a symbol for the story.

(For comparion, here’s Bayard’s classic illustration:)

Bayard Cosette

Overall, I feel like this project improved not only my skills as a painter and designer, but taught me so much about the world of costuming, an area I had little to no experience in.  While I initially planned to do more research on the 1830s, most of my research ended up being on the characters themselves, so I could better translate them into a modern era.  The research I have done this summer has strengthened my interest in all the fields I worked in, and modernizing these characters has made me grow more attached to them than ever.


  1. Christine Kim says:

    Your project was really interesting, and I enjoyed reading your blog posts. I especially like how you used the Baltimore Protests as a parallel to the June Rebellion, and comparison of les misérables to victims of police brutality today. What a great way to tie in the main events/ideas from the book and incorporate them into our current society today! History really repeats itself, though perhaps in more subtle ways, and your project really exemplifies that by the way you were able to modernize Les Misérables. Great job, and your rendering of Cosette is fantastic.