Cristalis Bonilla, Pyramid of Fire, 2016, sketch inspired by Burchfield's smoke clouds

Cristalis Bonilla, Pyramid of Fire, 2016, sketch inspired by Burchfield's smoke clouds

Costume Designers Inspired From Art Exhibition Blistering Vision: Charles Burchfield’s Sublime American Landscape

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Costume design students were encouraged by Professor, Ann Emo, to use an unusual approach to envision creative costume design.   Her students toured the Burchfield Penney Art Center engaging with artwork to motivate their imagination.  How to look at a work of art was enhanced by Kathy Gaye Shiroki, Curatorial Associate at the BPAC, who guided students in the galleries with interactive activities stimulating critical thinking.  Students selected artwork in the exhibition Blistering Vision: Charles E. Burchfield’s Sublime American Landscape to design a costume inspired by their selected Burchfield watercolor painting or sketch.

Thank you to the innovative students for writing blogs sharing their thought process and to Ann Emo for reaching out to the Burchfield Penney Art Center encouraging art to be a catalyst for creative thinking.


 THA 335 Costume Design fall student blogs:

I was honored to be given the opportunity to design for Burchfield Penny.  As a service-learning project for my costume design class at Buffalo State I was told to choose one of Charles Burchfield’s works and create a garment or costume off the piece.

I really wanted to embody not just the piece I chose, but Burchfield’s design and aesthetic. I began by touring Burchfield’s work and was immediately drawn to his piece “The Poetry of Accidental Events.”  It is a small piece, just a sketch, but it shows a little insight into Burchfield’s process and line. In all honesty I had that piece in mind to design from.   When I started sketching out my design it became clear it wasn’t the piece for me. I felt that I was contorting and manipulating his work. I didn’t want that, so I scraped that and started over.

I quickly became entranced by the trees in Burchfield’s works, particularly the trees in “Deserted Miner’s Home”. His trees always seem alive. They have movement and personality. Especially in this piece. I find it kind of ironic that I chose this piece, because I am not a person who likes hunted houses or spooky things. I happened to walk by the piece and glanced at it.  In a way it was a series of “Accidental Events” that brought me to that pieces.

When I started sketching I could see that character I was developing. She was the spirit of the mine. Darkened with coal and withered by time. Drawing in those in with her beauty. I felt that Burchfield does that in his work, this piece in particular which is very dark, spooky, but has beauty and elegance to it that draws you in. I made the costume like that. A drapy black dress, but form fitting so I could get that elegance. I really wanted to embrace the haunted vibe that the miner’s house was giving so I design the sleeves and hem to be very flowing. I did that also to mimic the movement of the piece and the trees.

I also gained inspiration from another artist Babs Reingold, whose exhibit “The Last Tree” inspired a depth to my character.  In her insolation I can see the connection of trees and people. The constant hacking of an ax and the humanistic feel for the trees made my character grow. I began seeing why she was drawing people in. The Miner’s destroyed her chopping her down and destroying her forest. She feels trap and rooted, much like the trees in Reingold’s isolation.  Overall, I am was really inspired by this pieces and immensely happy by the inspiration I gain from this experience.

Shannon Stacy is a Theater Major at SUNY Buffalo State focusing on Theater Technology and Design.


I used a Charles E. Birchfield watercolor and graphite work called Untitled (1918) for my inspiration. This piece contains tall, multicolored trees, with whimsical looking branches. My first thought was the silhouette, which I wanted to be long and flowy like the trees. I also noticed that the shapes of the branches created shapes with the sky, and it reminded me of large shoulder pads. The rest of the painting I used as color inspiration, using the oranges, blues and greens from the tree trunks. I also liked how the one tree trunk had some dark lines on it, maybe indicating a fire or old age, so I incorporated dark red stripes to represent that.

Sydney O'Shei is a junior fashion merchandising major at SUNY Buffalo State and would like to work with visual presentation.  She plans on attending the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City the following fall.


I chose Charles E. Burchfield’s March Sunlight, 1926-1933 because of the colors of the trees. If you look in the lower left corner you can see two trees which is where I got the inspiration for my design. If you turn those trees upside down they look like those huge Las Vegas showgirls feathers. Those huge feathers are what makes up the bottom of my dress. As for the top half I still wanted to keep that pink and brown contrast. So to represent the brown trucks of the trees the top of my dress is made up of brown leather belts with square buckles. I also added and darker brown belt at the waist with a circle buckle.

Felecia Malcolm is a senior with a double major in Theater and Media Productions at SUNY Buffalo State


Charles Burchfield’s “New Moon” while unfinished, is still an incredible piece. Charcoal, graphite, gouache and watercolor make up the composition, and the biggest aspect of this piece that I was inspired by was the color pallet. The billowing clouds and dark colors accompanied by a striking sunset provided the perfect dramatic costume concept. Much like Burchfield’s work, the focus should be on the setting sun illuminating a small area while storm clouds take over. I originally thought large threatening clouds would translate to a big poofy skirt. However, as I continued to develop the design Grecian draping seemed to be much more appropriate. Your eye travels from the top right hand corner of the skirt down to the dark ring of blue. The top is plain white with a very faint gray smudge on the neckline. The sleeves are dainty to resemble the line work on the train tracks. I wanted it to balance out the whole dress while also representing the unfinished part of “New Moon”. I originally intended it that way, but it seemed too plain. I added a belt which ended up almost being a part of the skirt. The belt was made based on the small factory shown, and also the chaotic atmosphere of the piece.

The design slowly transformed from just a costume to a full character. Since the moon was such an essential aspect to the original work, I didn’t want it omitted from the costume. Although, I also couldn’t force it into the dress without compromising my own vision, so it’s an accessory. It’s almost as if this woman is hypnotizing you, much like the actual moon can sometimes. The factories in the unfinished composition are emitting smoke, and with the sun behind it, they look like they’re on fire. I added a candle in her other hand to balance the costume and add the element of fire. Overall, to me this woman is controlling the scene in “New Moon”. She holds the moon high in the sky and is the reason the clouds are swallowing the frame, but she is also providing the only remaining light.

—Rachael Steinmetz is junior at SUNY Buffalo State, a Fashion and Textile Technology Major with a concentration in design, and minoring in theater. Her big goal is to become a costume designer for movies and TV shows in the future. She love designing and the aspects of fashion, however would love for her work to be shown in something she truly passionate about. Rachael is currently watching nine ongoing TV shows and her list of favorite movies is endless. “If I can one day see a costume I’ve designed on something that I watch, then it would be a dream come true.”                              

The Four Seasons is a watercolor painting created by Charles E. Burchfield and it is currently exhibited with his other paintings and drawings at the Burchfield Penney Art Center.

I was inspired by the coloring of the piece. In this one picture, you can see all four seasons and their transformation. I used yellow hat with orange ribbon to express warmth of spring, green and blue for youth and liveness of summer, orange tights and black shoes for red leaves of autumn, and black tree and bird flying for coldness of winter. The process of the drawing of dress was very enjoyable. Idea of creating another art piece into another form, which is a clothing in this project, is very inspiring as an artist. The stitches you see on the skirt of the dress is inspired by leaves and arch of the trees in the painting. The birds flying to the sunrise is also printed on the left shoulder of the dress.

Airi Kohlbach is a senior at SUNY Buffalo State as a Theater major concentrating in set and prop design.  Airi would also like to develop advanced skills in puppetry.


The inspiration behind my sketches is this watercolor on paper. My sketch is a work in progress. I got my basic color scheme from this painting. I saw certain shapes in the piece that I used in my design which caused me to think about the possible climate that is portrayed. I based the kind of clothes I drew on this. With this painting I wrote a story scene in my head. I saw this as the setting for a villain and bystander to have an altercation. My sketch has two characters. It is up to you to determine who is the “villain” and the “bystander”. I left the costumes simple to give my audience free rein to decide who the villain is.

My original thoughts for characters- the female on the top half of the page is our bystander, and the female in the orange tone dress is our villain. I thought this would be a warm day based on the painting and the brightness of it. Again shapes were a factor in my sketches.

Brianna Carmichael is a SUNY Buffalo State undergraduate student junior pursuing a degree in theatre. Brianna is from Brooklyn, New York and will graduate class in 2018.  After graduation she plans to go into cosmetology.    

“With my degree I want have a career on Broadway as a hair and makeup artist/designer. Pulling inspiration from several sources is an important

component of design, so this project was great practice for that.” 

—Brianna Carmichael


The piece that I used as an influence for this design is the Sunburst (1929-31) by Charles E. Burchfield. I gained a great amount of influence for this design particularly from the dark clouds and the sun rays peeking through. This was actually the first piece of art that stood out to me, design wise for a costume or outfit. I envisioned the clouds and sunrays the opposite way, with the clouds for the top part of the dress and the sun rays as a translucent bottom piece. The top of the dress imitates the shape of the clouds and progresses into the rest of the artwork. Since you can almost see past the sun rays, I wanted the bottom piece, past the waist, to be translucent, to see the bright blue skies. I did a dark to light color progression on the dress to replicate the colors in the artwork of the dark clouds to the sunrays peeking through them.

Laura Roberts is a Fashion Merchandising major with a Photography minor at SUNY Buffalo State.  She is part of the Burrell Scholarship, Dean's List, and a member of Casting Hall on campus. I love taking creative and design classes to widen all areas of interests whether it be for fashion, photography, or art.


I choose the image of the half constructed house with the small flames at the side. Originally, I planned on creating a costume that depicted two personalities within that individual. Instead I decided to use the flames in the image to show a powerful thick female that is not afraid of society and their idea of beauty. The colors represents the flames and the hardships that she has encounter throughout her life. The yellow and light orange colors are a representation of light shining through her dark world.  Her wardrobe has curve edges to symbolize the softness of her body and the tenderness about her personality.  Hence way the title of this creation is the girl on fire, because she is powerful in her own way.

Ashli Doeman is a junior majoring in Business and Theater. In her free time Ashli enjoys long walks in the park and finding new adventures to keep her busy. She is fascinated by art and how it can be easily created.  Ashli hopes to graduate as summa cum laude.


The painting “Pyramid of fire” was an inspirational timeless piece of artwork. The painting was a catalyst for the painting I have created, “pointe inferno”.  Burchfield’s painting spoke to me, it was pulling me in. I saw more than flames, or a house. I saw a message, which was a cry for help. My artwork was a mere reflection of the house which withholds the flames.  Much like Burchfield’s painting, my figure, the ballerina acts as a container for the flames. She wants so badly to be free, to be bold, and to express herself. The only way she knows how is through dance, she then feels in control of her destiny. The flaming flower, is symbolic to her rage. She temporarily feels better when she dances. All of her problems that she holds within meet the surface only at this moment.  The flower is in her hand, because she can never actually let go of issues. They still hold onto her, and she holds onto them. After a while she becomes one with their issues and doesn’t know what it feels like to live without them.  She is her own prison, but she makes it look so good.

Damario Burks attends SUNY Buffalo State in both theatre and fashion & apparel design major. Damario loves to do any activity that involves self- expression, and happiness.  “I believe the key to enjoying life is to go out and find your happiness. Don’t wait around for it to find you.“

The Pyramid of Fire caught my attention because of the intensity of the flames. The inspiration for my costume design came from the smoke clouds that are forming in the upper right corner of the painting. I wanted to incorporate the transition from darkness to all of the reds, yellows, oranges, and gray tones in the fire. The mix of colors Burchfield used were layered on top of one another and it reminded me of a ballerina’s tutu.  I then went on to create my own version of the flames based on the many layers tutus normally have.

Cristalis Bonilla attends Buffalo State in the Theater department with a concentration in acting. “Drawing has become a hobby as of late so working on this project was exciting. I was very pleased with the end result.”