Even though I've been a geek for life, it was only about ten years ago that I attended my first science fiction convention. It was there I discovered the vibrant energy of cosplay within these 'con' settings, and it simply blew me away. I felt like I'd found my tribe, and I wanted to join them in that celebration of fandom through costuming. But unable to afford most primary materials and without traditional costuming skills, it seemed unlikely that I could craft a recognizable costume from my favorite comics or films.
To my advantage, the emergence of Steampunk costuming, with its reliance on exploring alternate history, became the perfect opportunity for me to explore crafting original costume pieces using alternative methods and unconventional materials. While I do sometimes craft costumes that fall into the 'cosplay' definition (based on existing canon or media), I approach my original costumes as art projects – as visual storytelling devices.
Yes. Because I lack the traditional skill sets for costuming (sewing, leather working, sculpting etc.), I depend on finding ways to re-imagine and rework existing materials. It's also an economical choice. Using cast-off items, trash, and dollar store resources allows me to make mistakes that aren't too costly. Giving discarded things a second life through an art project is likewise rewarding.
Photo by Dim Horizon
As a non-sewer, transforming unconventional items into costuming elements is always a challenge. I've had great success using fabric adhesives, safety pins, key rings, zip ties and other alternative means to reshape materials into forms that meet my needs. While I depend on various glues for my work, I'm really pretty clumsy with it. I've accidentally glued my lips to a pencil. I've glued my car keys to my hand. The glue struggle is real.
Because I'm working primarily through original costumes, my inspiration is always the human form. Sifting through thrift and salvage sources, I'm looking for forms that mimic shapes found on our bodies. A brass butterfly wing may follow the same line as a jawbone, tea strainers are shaped like eyes, wicker baskets may curve like hips and shoulders, and a child's lacy skirt can mimic hair. Looking for anatomical shapes within the detritus of our lives, and finding ways to re-purpose them within a human template is the primary inspiration for my projects.
Photo by Conography
I tend to work in a direction that's opposite from a traditional art process. Rather than sketching out a plan for a project and then executing the plan, I let the objects and elements that I collect drive a costume's evolution. For example, finding a stack of stained glass coloring books in the thrift store begged the question, “Could the paper pages be colored, and illuminated, for use in a costume?”. That same thrift store produced two 1970's plastic wall lanterns that offered both framing for the 'stained glass paper' and space to provide a light source. And the lanterns were just the right shape to become 'shoulder'. From these initial items, the stained glass “Abbey” project began to grow organically, evolving along the way as additional items appeared with connections its Gothic vibe.
The “Abbey” costume (with the illuminated stained glass elements) was inspired by the Gothic elements in Warhammer 40K, a multi-channel gaming system from Games Workshop. Combining the beauty of stained glass windows in Gothic cathedrals with a dark armored vibe felt like an interesting dichotomy to explore. Crafted with pieces of thrift store clothing, kids coloring book pages, kitschy wall décor, dollar store jewelry, and some tornado debris, 'Abbey' was one of the most well-received costumes I've crafted. The costume was filmed by Beat Down Boogie at MomoCon in Atlanta. A snippet of this video showing the costume in motion appeared on Imgur earlier this year – and quickly accumulated about 1.8 million views. The most common response I get when 'Abbey' pops up in media channels is questions about how heavy the headpiece is. Viewers assume that it's real stained glass. The panes are actually paper colored with Copic markers.
Photo by Subversive Photography
Referencing the colors and streaking in early stained glass window art, Copic markers were the best choice to get both the best color combinations and blending control I needed to color the paper inserts. The method that produced the best results was using two markers just one shade apart. I would color the outer side of the paper with my primary color, then use the related shade to color the back side with a brushing motion. This produced a flowing watercolor effect that added depth and variation of hue. Copic markers made it possible to create pretty realistic stained glass from translucent coloring book pages.
Cosplayers take color seriously. Whether they are trying to get tones and color that exactly match those in the source material for the costume, or curating colors for original prop builds, Copic is always going to have the best range of hues. Because cosplay entails actually wearing what you make, Copic's color durability makes it a first choice for wear-and-tear, too. (I carry Copic markers in my repair kit for touch-ups.)
Photo by Dim Horizon
I meet so many folks who are interested in costuming but they don't believe they have the talent or funds to get started. I discover that they are waiting; putting a project off until they can learn to sew, saving up to buy expensive materials, waiting to lose a few pounds. They're usually waiting for things that are unnecessary to create a costume.
My advice is: Don't wait on all the details to come together. They're just details. Get started and let your project guide you along the way. Finding your path along the way is what makes the journey exciting!
My event schedule for 2017 is still coming together, but I do post event updates on my Facebook page at CostumeArt and welcome anyone interested in costuming to join me there. My panels and workshops on crafting costumes with the minimum of skills and resources tend to attract folks who are new to costuming and who may be hesitant to take the first steps. These events include a generous helping of physical comedy related to the various mistakes I make during projects - guaranteed to may everyone feel better about stepping into the cosplay world! I'd love to see new faces at my upcoming appearances in 2017!