A/N: The art classes are modelled on the ones I took in highschool in another country some twenty five years ago, so they may not have any relation to the way art's taught in French highschools in the 201Xs. Sorry!
Marinette loved her school's annual art day trip. All the students in her year who took either fine art, applied art or graphic design came. Each year, somewhere different – but the project briefs were fairly similar. Explore textures, materials, new mediums. Study colours and light. Get inspiration and ideas. Fill pages of your visual diary with exploration. In four weeks time, turn in a project that meets your teacher's criteria.
This year, they were at the beach.
Marinette and Nino were walking together along the beach, looking at the way the waves lapped against the sand, and the tiny lines of foam on the strand that marked where each wave had given up against the pull of gravity and its own surface tension. At least, where the strand was relatively unmarked. Most of it was dug up by feet going back and forth digging and carting wet sand. The applied art students' first activity had been materials exploration, in the form of building the most complicated sand castle they could in one hour. Alix and another girl from their year had won hands down. Marinette had begun making dribble towers – towers formed by dribbling very wet sand into slow columns – and forgotten to build her half of the fort she and Nino were attempting to construct. The towers looked like ladies in fancy dresses, seen from the right angle, and Marinette really liked the way the dresses looked. But she couldn't think how to construct that chunky textured look, and trying to work it out had distracted her completely.
Now they were collecting interesting textures and patterns, taking photos on their phones to print out for their visual diaries later. Alya was ahead of them on the beach, doing something similar and occasionally pointing something out to them that she thought was particularly cool. As a graphic design student her project was going to be different from Marinette's and Nino's, who would be making something physical and functional rather than about information, but the raw inspiration was something they could all share. Plus, walking on the beach was fun.
Marinette looked up to the little point at the end of the beach, where a small grassy park looked out over the water. The fine art students were up there doing a plein-air sketching something-or-other. She could see Nathaniel's distinctive hair. Nearby was a shrouded bulky mass that was probably Adrien. His father hadn't wanted him to come, as he had an important photo shoot for their main line the next day. The salt, wind and sun of the beach were too great a risk for his skin. But you couldn't get good marks on this project without coming on the day trip, and you couldn't get an A in the class without good marks on this project. So, Adrien was here. At least, they were pretty sure he was here, tucked in there somewhere under all those sun-protective shroudings. They hadn't seen his face to be sure it was him. It was almost easier to talk to him that way, she thought. She could pretend it was someone else pretending to be him, which wouldn't be scary at all. Just creepy. She was creepy. Oh my gosh, what if she talked to him like he was someone else and he thought she was creepy?
Water splashed into her face. She looked back around, to see Alya grinning at her as she pulled a foot back to kick some more water. Not much, just a few drops... actually, wait. She held up a hand to signal "hang on a minute" and pointed with the other. Nino looked, said "Good one" and focused the camera down. Alya came up to look, and turned her camera down to the sand as well. The drops – just drops, not a full splash – had made patterns in the grey sand almost like craters of the moon. The sun was high so they weren't shadowed, and the incoming waves had left the sand to one side smooth. The textures contrasted each other while still being very subtle.
"That would make a nice webpage background, for the right topic", Nino said.
"Only if you were making web pages in 2005." Alya rolled her eyes. "It's still too busy for text if you're reading it on a phone". She relented and added "Definitely a good poster background though, where you can control how big the font is relative to the texture." She smiled at Nino, he smiled back. Marinette looked away, but also smiling. They seemed so... comfortable with each other. She was envious sometimes. She had that ease with Chat Noir, of course, but they weren't partner partners. Not like that. And she couldn't exactly display it around her friends.
She looked back down the beach. She didn't really have any ideas yet for what this project was going to be. You needed some kind of idea that you were building the art around, something that gave it its own integrity rather than just throwing paint at your work. In this case, throwing sand, but still. She could make something easily enough, but the point wasn't just to make something. It was to express an idea in a way that people just got, in the form of something they could use rather than just look at.
There were loud footsteps behind her, and a plastic bag blew past her feet. Without thinking she put a bare foot on it and trapped it – then somehow slipped and fell butt-first on the sand. Nathaniel ran past her, sneakers sinking heavily into the sand, and grabbed the bag before it blew any further, then turned back to give her a hand up. "Sorry", he said, "and thanks for stopping that. I was having trouble catching it!"
"Not a problem", Marinette smiled at him. "I thought you guys were sketching up there?" She gestured towards a now mostly empty grass patch.
"Finished that activity – there was a time limit. We had to capture impressions rather than detail. Now we're doing some stuff with water-soluble crayons. I thought I'd try using salt water instead of fresh, so that the ocean was actually in my painting. Getting some was trickier than I thought though!" He had a cheerful smile, but a slightly distant look in his eyes. Marinette recognised it as the focused look he got when he had an idea that had to get out onto paper no matter what. She took the bag from his hand, saying "Let me", and waded out a small way into the water. She held the bag handles with each hand and let the wind blow it open. Then paused, looking closely at what she held. "Ah!" she said happily. Then she scooped the bag down into the water, watching carefully as it ballooned around the water, and handed it dripping back to Nathaniel. "Thanks", he smiled, and turned and went back up to the beachside park.
"You have an idea?" Alya said, watching her.
"Yeah, I think so", Marinette answered. It wasn't quite together yet, but something about... the loss of a plastic bag, the fall of dripping sand, the destruction of a beach.
"Nathaniel must be pretty inspiring then", Nino said, poking her. Alya poked Nino. Marinette didn't hear or see any of it. She was letting the idea blossom in her mind, around all of her. She went through the last of the day's activities with good will but only half attention, barely registering when Alya went off to get some more shots of Alix's winning sandcastle losing its battle with the tide. When their applied design teacher took them aside on the walk back to the bus so they could investigate a pile of building sand outside a newly built house, Marinette crumpled the sand in her fingers absently. Even Alix's gleeful shrieks about the sand didn't penetrate.
That night, Tom and Sabine were unsurprised when they went to bed to find her still working at her desk, visual diary pages laid out, photos of sand fortresses stuck on and overlaid with black marker to highlight details, ideas written in cramped fineliner around their edges. Sabine touched the sweep of sand that brushed across one section but Marinette batted her finger away. "Glue's still wet". She cut a section of plastic bag and stapled it by one edge onto the page, translucent white plastic able to flutter and still allowing the text below to be seen. It said "Project Brief: To highlight the way in which thoughtless waste replaces and substitutes for the things normally found in a natural beach environment, through creation of a wearable outfit with substituted materials".
Two weeks later, Marinette was feeling frustrated. It should have been a relatively simple design piece. She had a simple-cut dress – so very basic! - made out of a so-cheap-it's-nearly-sheer sand-coloured cotton on her mannequin. She'd abandoned grey plastic bags for white as a better colour choice. It had taken her a while to work out how to tie the white plastic bags so that they stayed mostly inflated, and she'd borrowed a spare basketball pump from Alix that she could use to add air when needed. But that was sorted. She even had a basic method for attaching the bags. Her visual diary had a whole section arguing the appropriateness of disposable plastic cable ties, though for the purpose of such a short-term project strong double-sided tape would be enough. She needed to show the teacher at least a mockup of the actual garment as well as photos of the mockup being worn, but it didn't have to stand up to major exposure or be perfect in class. It wasn't exactly headed for a Fashion Week runway.
There was just one problem.
It looked awful on her. And on Alya. And on anyone else she'd gotten to try it on, seeing as the simple-cut dress was really just a loose shift at this stage. Her ideas of a romantically falling bustle and train inspired by those sand dribble towers just didn't work when you put them on any female with actual curves. Even on her, and she barely had any yet! The bags just pouffed out in directions that made outlines clunky, not naturally falling. Thin girls looked nearly overweight. Curvy girls looked like they were in front of one of those wobbly carnival mirrors. Bottoms were too big, chests were overflowing or sagging or, the worst she'd seen, pointing one up one down. You basically just could not put this dress on a real woman.
Alya agreed. "Look, girl. It only has to be a mockup for the project. It doesn't have to actually work."
"But this is the sort of thing I'll want to include in the fashion portfolio I'm building. I want it to be the best it can be."
"Don't you have to, I don't know, include ideas that don't work, so they can see how you problem-solved? And that you know when to ditch a bad idea?"
"...maybe. But most of what I make is really ordinary clothing."
"I don't think it's ordinary. You do some amazing designs". Adrien had come up behind them, and overhearing the conversation, felt it was worth adding that in. Marinette was so focused on her art project she didn't realise, and just answered without thinking.
"I mean, well, ordinary in that it's something you can see someone actually wearing. This is a concept art piece. Nobody's going to actually wear it at a ball, let alone down the street. That's why I need to do a good job of it. It shows how far I could push the boundaries if I wanted to."
The three of them stood there together for a minute. Marinette sighed. "Oh well, I guess it's not like fashion hasn't been designing for real women for decades. Wasn't it Coco Chanel who said the ideal woman was a fourteen year old boy?"
"Sounds more like Oscar Wilde", Adrien laughed.
Alya had a gleam in her eye. "Fourteen year old boy, huh? I happen to know one of those who models clothes professionally. Maybe you should ask him to help, Marinette." She looked directly at Adrien.
It was at that exact moment that Marinette realised that the boy in question was standing next to her. Looking at her with a helpful smile and a sincerely friendly look in those beautiful green eyes. She turned dead white, and lost all ability to speak. Alya started laughing. "Ask him, girl."
"This is for your applied art project like the one Nino's doing, right?" Adrien asked. "I'm helping him with his, getting a couple of photos of the finished piece. I'd be happy to help with yours too."
"So what is it I'd be wearing?"
Alya bent over, laughing so hard she could barely keep on her feet. "Apparently it's something that would look perfect on you."
"Really? That sounds great!" Adrien smiled at them both. "I'm free on Saturday afternoon and I'm seeing Nino then. Want to do yours then too?"
"Uh... sure! Yes, sure!"
It took about half an hour for her to feel like she could breathe again. Almost as long as it took Alya to stop chuckling.
They met up in the park near school, not far from the statue of Ladybug and Chat Noir. Adrien and Nino were there first, taking photos and selfies and generally larking about in Nino's t-shirts. Nino had gotten the sand textures printed onto some fabric. Marinette had given him a basic t-shirt pattern from her pattern box, and he'd managed to cut and sew some in the school's sewing lab. They weren't perfect, but they didn't have to be. The craters-of-the-moon sand pattern slid up Adrien's left side and across his shoulder, looking surprisingly sleek. Nino's shirt had a giant footprint in the middle of the chest, with the words "Leave Nothing But Footprints" in pink over his heart. They both looked adorable.
As Marinette and Alya started to walk towards the boys, there was a beeping noise. A small truck backed up towards the children's play area. Alya squeezed Marinette's hand, saying "Gotta go!", and dashed towards the truck leaving Marinette more than a little confused. Nino waved at Alya, then at Marinette. Too late to back out now, despite the loss of her wingwoman who was now wielding her camera at the truck and... Alix? Marinette shrugged, then continued on to Nino. Just Nino. Nobody else. Concentrate on Nino, who she'd known for years. Her feet felt like they were glued to the grass, but she made herself walk anyway. She needed this done for the project.
"How are you doing?" she asked the boys – Nino – with a smile. "Those shirts are looking pretty awesome!"
"Almost done, dudette", Nino grinned. "I've probably got the best shots already, but I was taking one or two more just in case. How about you? You ready to go?" He looked away from his phone, taking her in. Both boys realised at the same moment that she wasn't carrying anything except her purse. "Weren't you getting Adrien to wear something for you too?"
"Yeah", Marinette replied, trying to concentrate on looking at Nino. She felt herself stiffening up anyway. "It's... it's at my house. It's not something we can photograph outside."
"Oh, OK. Is Alya coming back over with us?"
Oh my gosh I hope so if she doesn't I am going to spontaneously combust from embarrassment said Marinette's inner voice. On the outside, she kept smiling like a maniac, hoping her legs would start working again, and nodded furiously.
"Well then, let's head to your place". Nino seemed to have realised that Marinette's voice box had left with Alya and was taking over the conversation. She was grateful to him.
At the bakery, they waved hi to Marinette's dad, busy serving at the counter, and she led them through to the stairs. Up in the living room, both boys let out a startled sound. Marinette had covered one wall with butchers paper and painted it with a swift impression of pale ocean and grey sand. It didn't look a lot like a beach, but it looked more like a beach than a living room. "All right", she said. "This is my project". She gestured to the dress, on its mannequin. Inflated white plastic bags draped down and swirled out from the front to the train. Both boys looked at each other, then her. Adrien smiled. "This should be fun!" he said. "Let's try it on."
"Right", said Marinette. She suddenly looked down at the ground. "Um... eh. Ah. Uh... upstairs. I'll go upstairs. Nino, you help him." And she was out of the room faster than the two boys could blink. Nino shook his head. "I hope you know how to get into something like this", he said to his friend.
When Alya got there about ten minutes later, Adrien was posing in front of the makeshift background like a lost princess on a lonely beach. The dress fluttered slightly in a soft breeze from a fan. It looked perfect. "Darn, Adrien. You can even make plastic bags look good. Maybe Chanel was onto something," she said.
He looked at her and grinned. "It wasn't Coco Chanel that said it", he said. "But I prefer a quote from William Battie." He gave an unexpectedly flirtatious wink to Marinette and continued. "Style is when they're running you out of town and you make it look like you're leading the parade".
Marinette got good marks for her project, in the end. Her teacher liked the substitution of materials, although she had some comments about supporting the discussion of waste with some facts and not just emotional appeal on its own. Nino's t-shirts did all right too, and he uploaded the "footprint" image to a print-your-own-shirt site after receiving several requests from people to get their own. It didn't make him a lot of money, but did pay for the fabric he'd printed for the project. The applied art student who got the highest mark though was Alix. Her sprawling sand castle fort in the park kept toddlers (and their older siblings) entranced for hours, and had some really clever engineering. Alya's project – a video diary of the fort – finished with Alix being carried around on the shoulders of the other applied art students, all of them whooping in excitement.
A/N: Thanks for reading this, I know I got caught up in the details a bit but I love the whole art-making process (it probably shows) and I figure Marinette at fourteen/fifteen is pretty aware of the whole conceptual side of things beyond just sticking colours and shapes on a person's outline, even if she's not too experienced with it yet. Also I design and make my own dresses, and I ended up having to buy my own wedding dress after the design I was working on didn't go around my newly-pregnant curves properly (like at all, it was amazing how many ways it Did Not Work On Me). So I know the problem of a beginner-designer trying to fit to curves quite well.
Also: the quote I mention about the ideal woman that Marinette says might be Coco Chanel? I'm pretty sure it wasn't her that said it, and I am not impugning her at all. Problem is it was a famous quote back in the decades before the Internet, but in 2017 there's so much better stuff about body positivity around (thank goodness) that I can't find the quote anywhere to check who actually said it. Please remember: it's not true. If you have curves or you don't have curves or you're short or tall or lumpy-looking - you are real. None of that "ideal" crap matters. If you wear dresses? as long as they fit you comfortably and you like them, that's all that's important. All. (Oh, and pockets. Because pockets.)