A Creative Process in the Art of Costume Design

The homospatial process is used in the creation of new clothing design.

Posted Oct 18, 2018

Empirical study of the psychology of creativity carried out with Nobel laureate scientists, Nobel laureate as well as other both leading and developing creative authors and artists has identified specific creative operations, one of which is designated the homospatial process. This process consists of actively conceiving two or more discrete entities occupying the same mentally represented space or spatial location, a conception leading to the articulation of new identities. It has been shown to have an important function in various types of creative achievement in literature, science, art, music, and business. (See The Homospatial Process.)

Here, I shall describe the creative operation of the homospatial process in the art of costume design together with a technical method for producing and facilitating it. This method reproduces the mental effect of discrete entities occupying the same space through the use of slide transparencies superimposed on a projection screen from two separate light sources. In this application of the homospatial process to costume design, visual elements are used to reproduce internal mental images of entities occupying the same spatial location.

Neither flicker fusion—the frequency at which an intermittent light stimulus appears to be steady to an observer, nor binocular fusion, merging of slightly different images from two eyes—were appropriate for representing the homospatial mental construct. To display two or more visual elements as occupying the same spatial location, I have used the full visual exposure of a slide projector and screen because it allowed elimination of any dominance or obfuscation effects. Most important, I needed to select and match slide photographs in very specific ways.

Ordinary photographic scenes contain elements that dominate perceptually over other elements, and an overall picture tends to be perceived with particular elements in the foreground and other elements in the background. Shape, clarity, and thematic interest play a role in this, but I have found that lighting plays an especially important part. When bringing together themes already having strong foreground and background features, it is crucial for a representation of the homospatial process that the two be balanced in foreground lighting particularly. To bring about the homospatial process superimposition of elements in which neither foreground feature nor full figures predominate but in which each is recognizable and essentially equally perceived, it was necessary that the lighting of the slides be carefully balanced.

Psychological visual theory (e.g. Gestalt) posits that all perceptual fields are mentally organized into wholes having figure or form and ground or background setting relationships. According to this theory, there would be no intermingling and interaction with the major elements of slide images appearing as occupying the same space. Major elements from each of the slides would in alternation be seen as the figure while the rest became the background. This would produce a constant shifting of the perceptual field rather than, as shown here, the interaction of the major or figural elements that the homospatial superimposition produces.        

It is also necessary for scenes to contain figures that occupy roughly similar outlines or else one would clearly dominate over the other. Once the balancing of images is attained, there need be no restriction whatsoever on subject matter. Naturalistic scenes and pictures of faces, bodies, animals, as well as complex objectless photographs can be projected. In costume design, therefore, superimposing two proportionate costumes suggests a new costume. This costume is not merely a mixture or combination of features, it has new patterns and images and a new overall effect. It retains some of the qualities of both images and is a new creation. The features undergo numerous dynamic alterations and transformations until a new integration of the elements is produced. The resulting creation is a unified whole in which the discrete elements are intrinsically interrelated with one another. So, too, the creative clothing designer may articulate the superimposed image into a developed style in which the elements interact and are in balance in the context of the entire costume.

Superimposition of Images

 Albert Rothenberg
1. 1955 teal-blue dress
Source: Albert Rothenberg

The accompanying figures (1-3) illustrate the steps in the superimposition of a costume dress with another form, an architectural one. Shown on the first figure is the 1955 style teal-blue taffeta gown with a scoop neckline, fitted bodice, and dropped waist. The building in the second figure is a red brick city apartment dwelling with a somewhat ornate roof trim and outside steel fire escape structures.

 Albert Rothenberg
2.Red Brick City Apartment
Source: Albert Rothenberg

Superimposed with the gown in the third figure, a new variegated dress pattern with stately architectural features is produced as a basis for a new design.

 Albert Rothenberg
3. Superimposition of Figures 1 and 2
Source: Albert Rothenberg

The Creative Process

Because of evidence from other artistic fields, I believe that the type of superimposition I have shown approximates events that occur mentally in the most creative type of costume design. After a dynamic interaction in the mind among the elements of a superimposed image, various types of elaborations, alterations, and transformations then precipitate out and are delineated. These result in new fabrics, completely new styles, or sometimes a new modification of an old style. In this way, a homospatial process in costume design operates similarly as it does in other creative areas. In other visual arts, bringing together discrete entities into the same space suggests dynamic new relationships among visual shapes, forms, colors and lines. These new relationships are then articulated by the artist into new integrations in the form of paintings, sculptures, dance, or works of architecture.

In other creative areas such as poetry, there are other integrations and unifications. Poets often choose two or more words that they feel ought to be together, literary constructs that include both the written words themselves and numerous associated sensory experiences, so that all occupy the same mental space. From these independent images of superimposed words and sensory experiences together, they articulate independent poetic metaphors and more extensive writings. So, too, the creative costume designer is able to bring together into the same mental space clothing elements and items that he or she feels ought to be interrelated with each other. The technological advantage of externalizing the superimposed sensory image aspect of the homospatial process in photographic images is that myriad concrete representations can facilitate numerous creations.

I feel sure that a professional designer would, at the outset, knowledgeably select particular fabrics, styles, and designs that would produce especially exciting new fashion. The first step of the homospatial process in all types of creative activity, in art, literature, music, science, technology, advertising, and business is such selection of potentially interesting discrete elements to be brought together. Once such selection is made, the technological procedure of taking photographs, projecting them onto a screen, and superimposing them can be critically and creatively facilitated.


Rothenberg, A., Sobel R.S.  A Creative Process in the Art of Costume Design. Textiles Research Journal, 1990:9.

Rothenberg, A. Creativity and the Homospatial Process: Experimental Studies. Psychiatric Clinics of NA, 1988:11

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