The Tarot Card Costume: Baba Divina

It starts in a thrift store. It always does.

I was over the MOON when I received an invitation to Wild Wild West Con in Tucson, Arizona! A previous visit a few years ago was cut short, and I had despaired of ever having the opportunity to attend WWWC again. So after my hard and enthusiastic ‘YES!’, I realized that I wanted to bring a unique costume project, especially aimed at the 2020 theme, “Mystery & Magic”. As a slow builder, this felt impossible, but also important. As usual, I turned to what I’ve collected from thrifts and other resources. And lo, a Tarot/Astrology themed shower curtain emerges like magic.

Starting with the fabric shower curtain featuring major arcana tarot cards from the Rider-Waite deck, I scoured the thrift for garment shapes that could cobble together for a whole ensemble. Inspired by a Regency-era silhouette (high waists, long riding coats, turbans and shakos), I had most of what I needed to build a costume that would communicate ‘Magic & Mystery’.  But, damn, it was tight getting it all together in 30 days. Especially with my limited skill set. So much glue was used. So much.

(The costume project is named Baba Divina, in a nod to the blind Bulgarian mystic Baba Vanga. )

For a deeper dive into how the Tarot Card costume came together, I posted the day-by-day process in a single album on my CostumeArt Facebook Page, which can be found here:

As usual, I didn’t try the whole thing on until I arrived in Tucson. But other than a few small adjustments, Baba Divina ended up being one of the easiest costumes to don and wear. (READ: I’m going to wear this costume a LOT.)

Here are a few images from outstanding photographers in Tucson who were kind enough to share their talents toward capturing the finished project. (Thank you!)

Paige Gardner | Tarot Costume | Photo credit: Jen Perry

Paige Gardner | Tarot Costume | Photo credit: Melissa Wambolt

Paige Gardner | Tarot Costume | Photo credit: Paul Davis Photography

Paige Gardner | Tarot Costume | Photo credit: Pete Mecozzi

John Strangeway, Paige Gardner, Tony Ballard-Smoot

Paige Gardner | Tarot Costume | Photo credit: Julie Newton

Paige Gardner | Tarot Costume | Photo credit: Rick Hirschl

Arming Oriza: Warhammer 40K Inferno Gun

When I got a message from Jennifer Lynn Larson (Mayhem’s Muse) about doing a feature for Bell of Lost Souls, I just about lost my mind. I mean, BoLS is the definitive news source for Warhammer 40K arts, announcements and development…I was floored (and completely aware of the honor.)

The interview request was very detailed and included a need for images, particularly for the Inquisitor Oriza costume. But, in truth, the costume wasn’t really finished. I’d worn her twice, but had not completely the vision for her.

Inquisitor Oriza was unarmed.

That’s heresy.

I’d had plans for Oriza’s gun for a while, but the pieces and plan just hadn’t come together. Mostly, I needed help.  I turned to my junk pile and my friends Drew and Tina Gardner for their guidance building a “working” Warhammer 40K inspired Inferno Pistol for Oriza. Here’s how it happened (WIP photos below):

Starting with two big-ass plastic wall sconces from the thrift, a candlestick, a Human Torch translucent Halloween mask, the foot of a pair of pantyhose, and a tassel…I took it all to Drew’s workshop for his ideas on making a working prop.

Drew suggested clear resin panes to hide a lighting apparatus, and Tina instantly mixed up resin to pour into molds cast from Drew’s distinctive leather work (Red Horse Leather, he’s famous!) The resin relief image looked like bubbles, boiling in a fuel chamber! My idea of stuffing a flashlight in the chamber is just the kind of thing that makes Drew crazy – and was swiftly shut down. Knowing I have zero tech skills, Drew designed and 3D printed an LED stick and controls so the ‘fuel chamber’ would pulse with light. He showed me how to solder the connections, but mostly fixed my mistakes. Together, with my friends, the gun began to evolve toward a real thing.

After we modified all the parts and created lighting  at Drew’s shop, I carefully placed all the components in my hatchback for home assembly.

Then, I picked up one of my sons from a friend’s house. My son threw his backpack into the back of the car.

Right on top of all the carefully crafted parts.

Breaking the LED light stick in half. Damnit.

NOTE: Good Lord. I love my son, but I really wanted to sell him for parts when I saw what the backpack did to the carefully printed lighting structure. It was an accident so he still has his kidneys.

With really no time left to rebuild Drew’s carefully printed structure, I had to find some way to keep the broken lights centered and in place with things around my house. (WARNING: My gank-ass solutions are cringey.

Enter, Press ‘n Seal wrap from the kitchen drawer and lumber strapping from Home Depot’s trash can. I removed the LED strip from the broken stick and glued them onto a folded piece of the flexible lumber strapping. Making a cylinder from some clear plastic discarded by a sign company, I wrapped the light strip cylinder in layers of Press n Seal which both created flexible squishy layers that both held the lighting in place (inside the fuel chamber) AND diffused the illumination perfectly.

The resin light panels that Tina and Drew cooked up hid most of the terribleness, and the flame “igniter” made with the top of The Torch mask covered the rest. And damn if it didn’t work… like a champ. (There’s a WIP VIDEO of the lighting test at the bottom of this article. Worth seeing to get the whole idea of the gun works.)

Inquisitor Oriza’s weapon of choice, the Inferno Pistol, came together just in time for a photo shoot at Iron City Cosplay Day in May 2019. The images were ideal and premiered in a two-part interview with Bell of Lost Souls. (The BoLS  links with final photography are below.)

This project never would have worked without the generous support of my friends who had the skills, patience and spirit of generosity to help me move an idea to fruition. I recognize the gift of their friendship…Thank you, Drew and Tina! And thank you, Chris Ahrendt for the WH40K icons that keep adding style to Oriza!


40k Cosplay Interview: The Works of Paige Gardner


40K Cosplay Interview Pt 2: The Works of Paige Gardner



Dragon Con 2018: It’s Changed…For the Better

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of opinion (lament) about how Dragon Con has changed.

“It’s become way too crowded.”

“It’s turning into a frat party, with too many drunks.”

Call me an optimist, but even with the inherent costs of burgeoning attendance as geek moves more mainstream, I see Dragon Con moving its pieces around to retain its core as a mecca for fandom to revel in their various passions. The event, in partnership with the host hotels, appears to be strategically moving big events into peripheral settings, relieving some of the congestion that usually clogged the arteries of the Marriott. I saw hotel staff working quietly and effectively to settle rowdy behavior before it escalated into drunken melee. In short, the convention is certainly enduring uncomfortable change which naturally follows explosive growth. But Dragon Con and its volunteers are evolving their management and planning to address and correct what can be improved just as quickly. If you were as shocked as I was to find actual elbow room in the Marriott on Saturday night…it’s not due to fewer attendees. Dragon Con’s shrewd planning to accommodate their expanding audience is proving effective. Thanks, Dragon Con!

On a personal note, this year has been immensely challenging. Due to issues on the home front, any costume work was shut down as I navigated some important life changes. That’s cool, though. Priorities. But I confess that coming to Dragon Con without a new project to inhabit was going to be an uncomfortable first. I decided to revisit ‘Seraphina’ and make all the color corrections she needed (honestly, I originally worked on her in dim light, and the color conflicts revealed in photography were just awful). I also made repairs to ‘Inquisitor Oriza’, whom I’d only worn once and briefly. They both got a second wear this year.

“Seraphina” Image by Dave Lee

‘Inquisitor Oriza’ Image by Orami Kantama

My friend, John Strangeway (KittyBear), was watching my real bad year unfold and knew I was secretly sad about lacking the bandwidth to work on a new project. So, in his generous way, he made and assembled something NEW for me to wear at Dragon Con. Under the superior tutelage of Stephen Taylor, John spent months learning how to make chain mail. He also tracked down Crusader robes, courtesy of Dave Lee (Hatton Cross). My dear friend did all of this, just so I could become…

That’s me. In the beard. Looking old. With John Strangeway (Senior) and Austin Polifka (Junior) — “Choose friends, wisely.”

…The Grail Knight from Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade. I spent Friday night as a dusty old man soberly following Henry Jones Sr., Henry Jones Jr. (“We named the dog, Indiana”) and the exquisite Gambi as an as-yet-not-fallen Elsa – as we made our way through the Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott. It was hands-down, the most fun I’ve had in costume! Even though, KittyBear (John) is my treasured friend, we NEVER hang out at Dragon Con. He’s got his things, I’ve got mine. So this was the first time we actually did a thing together. It was hilarious and wonderful. 10/10 would do again. (Thank you, Kitty!)

There was a late development heading into Dragon Con 2018 that challenged my normal expectations. I was contacted by Jaclyn Shultz, features reporter from The Atlanta Scene at Fox 5 Atlanta. They were interested in doing a story on Costuming at Dragon Con, and using me as a focal point. Cognizant of the honor, but profoundly uncomfortable with the specific attention…it took a few phone calls with my superiors at the convention to get me fully on board. It turns out that Jaclyn is a costuming/fashion enthusiast herself (in addition to being absolutely charming!). Her natural interest in the topic and her team’s consummate professionalism made it much easier to commit to the interview, filming and interior viewing of my experience at Dragon Con. And although I’m still profoundly uncomfortable with seeing my face and hearing my voice, the result is a respectful and complimentary piece, and I’m grateful for the opportunity.

And about those friends. I’m blessed with the most extraordinary roommate situation. For the past several years, I’ve been welcomed by my special friends April, Terra, Vicki and visiting Erin (plus their significant others in a rotation of awesomeness). We get a lot of time to reconnect, catch up, hang out and socialize. But spread across the enormous footprint of Dragon Con are a multitude of others that its nearly impossible to connect with. Some friends, I only see in the passing blur of a crosswalk. Others are shouting distance away in a crowded ballroom, thumping with music. I only see certain friends among a panel audience, with no real time to visit before we’re rushing to our ‘next thing’. And there’s a handful of texts flitting around with variations of ‘WYA?’, ‘ETA?’ and ‘Where…in the Marriott?’. It can feel like a LOT of missed connections. But, really…even these fleeing recognitions and hellos are little miracles. If you think about the sheer size of the event population, its sprawling landscape…every running ‘Where’s Waldo’ encounter with a friend is our astounding good fortune. I got lucky this year. To every friend who shared a hollered name, a guerilla hug, an elevator debriefing, a crosswalk commentary or otherwise hurried connection with me — Thank you! It’s not quantity time, but it certainly counts as quality time, all things being equal.

It was great to see you at Dragon Con!


‘Seraphina’: From Russia, To Dragon Con

With Russia often in the news in 2017, it’s no surprise that my recreational thoughts were also drifting across that cultural landscape. This effort included my own take on a traditional Russian kokoshnik headpiece, fur trim a la Ivan the Terrible, with garment cues and colors taken from Russian royal fashion (pre-Rasputin).

I’m happy with the silhouette of the project, but candid photographs revealed some color conflicts that I hope to resolve before submitting this project for collaboration with professional photography. I’m looking forward to posting the entire WIP story for this costume project inspired by Russian forms and color. But in the meantime, I’ll go ahead and share some preliminary images taken by various photographers at Dragon Con 2017.

All thanks to the folks who turned a lens toward ‘Seraphina’!

Photo by Courtney Crawford

Photo by Jen Yates of EPBOT

Photo by Ashley Strickland

Photo by Ashley Strickland

Photo by Carlos A Smith

Photo by Anita Sims



ODD BEAUTY: The Techno-Eccentric World of Steampunk

I only knew Art Donovan by reputation. I’d followed with enthusiasm an art exhibition that he had curated in Oxford years earlier. His own body of work as a distinguished light designer and artisan captured my attention and held it in the intervening years. So it was rather a surprise to be contacted out of the blue by Art and his wife, Leslie. They were planning a new show at the and invited me to participate. But rather than sending static examples of my work, I was invited to come to the Hamptons and inhabit my work for a day as part of a living exhibit at Odd Beauty: The Techno-Eccentric World of Steampunk.

Hosted in the historic surrounds of the Southampton Arts Center, the collected works of some of the world’s most respected Steampunk artists were collected and displayed to their finest advantage in the Odd Beauty exhibition. It was a complete delight to examine and study the work of craftsmen and artists first-hand. It was an honor to move among these compelling creations inside my own contribution to Steampunk eccentricity.

I’m humbled to share space with many of my artisan heroes. And I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to experience this beautiful community and make new friends in the neighborhood. Thank you, Art and Leslie Donovan for the kind hospitality and a wonderful weekend in the Hamptons!

Photo by Amy Kirwin Photo by Amy KirwinPhoto by Amy Kirwin Photo by Amy Kirwin



CostumeArt: In the Media

CostumeArt In the Media

b-metro magazine paige gardner steampunkCover Story on Steampunk for B-METRO MAGAZINE .  This issue won an ‘Addy’ award for B-Metro Magazine.

CostumeArt | Fox 5 Atlanta: The Georgia Scene (VIDEO)

CostumeArt Feature in ORANGE MAGAZINE

CostumeArt Interview (VIDEO): Built From Scratch

Costume Artist Paige Gardner | Exhibit at Morris Museum: Jersey Arts CULTURE VULTURE  New Jersey Arts Maven

Paige Gardner of CostumeArt LIVE Exhibit at Odd Beauty: The Techno-Eccentric World of Steampunk, Southampton New York:  DAN’S PAPERS (The Hamptons),  THE HAMPTONS , PAINTING the HAMPTONS

CostumeArt Paige Smith | Interview ABC 33/40

CostumeArt Paige Smith | Interview (VIDEO) ABC 33/40

CostumeArt Paige Gardner | Interview with GLOMP MAGAZINE

CostumeArt Paige Gardner | Interview with ADAFRUIT INDUSTRIES

CostumeArt Paige Gardner | Feature with GAME TYRANT

A Really Funny Interview with THE DORK KNIGHT on YouTube (LOL)

CostumeArt Featured at San Diego Comic-Con International | THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

Stunning Stained Glass Steampunk | Feature with ADAFRUIT INDUSTRIES

The Works of Paige Gardner (Part 1 Warhammer) | Interview with Bell of Lost Souls

The Works of Paige Gardner (Part 2 Cosplay) | Interview with Bell of Lost Souls

Feature in STEAMPUNK CHRONICLE | The Steampunk Exhibition | Atlanta GA

CostumeArt Exhibit Steampunk: The Exquisite Adventure | Scottdale AZ

Feature in THE DAILY DRAGON (Atlanta, GA)

Costume Art featured at (VIDEO Gamer Next Door at San Diego Comic-Con)

Costumed Appearance on CBS SUNDAY MORNING with Mo Rocca “Steampunk: Yesterday’s Tomorrow”

CostumeArt featured at New York Daily News (San Diego Comic-Con International)

CostumeArt featured in B-METRO MAGAZINE (May 2012)

VIDEO INTERVIEW: Paige Gardner Smith, Director of THE GADGETEERS SHOWCASE at DragonCon

Girls of the Con | Feature (Photography)

Madame Perry’s Salon | Interview with Paige Gardner of CostumeArt


VIDEO Costumed Appearance and Character Role in ‘Wolf in the Woods’ 

VIDEO of the MECHANIZED Ouija Board (Part of the Steampunk Automaton Fortune-Teller).  The movement of the planchette is directed by discreet glove contact on the sides of the mask.

VIDEO of Warhammer 40 Inferno Pistol LIghts Demo

VIDEO of the T-REX FINALE at Dragon Con’s Vintage Vogue Fashion Show









A Junky Journey to Warhammer 40K Cosplay at Dragon Con 2016

Inquisitor Oriza, a Warhammer 40k costume. Image by Conography (Joe Hacker) for Blastr Media

Inquisitor Oriza, a Warhammer 40k costume. Image by Conography (Joe Hacker) for Blastr Media

With just 5 weeks to build a legitimate Warhammer 40K costume using only salvage and thrift materials (excepting corset and boots), I didn’t have a chance to try the whole thing on before taking it to Dragon Con 2016. That’s cool, though. I knew going in that there were some lingering issues and that the convention photography would reveal all. But the photos also revealed the best of it, too.

The response to the “Inquisitor Oriza” project was overwhelmingly positive and I’m especially grateful to every camera and phone that took a minute to record the result. I’ve gathered a few of these pictures here (with credit to the photographers) to recognize the compliment that’s paid every time someone takes time to craft your image in a photo. It’s sincerely appreciated. Every time. Thank you.

Photographer: Conography

Warhammer 40k Inquisitor Oriza (costume by Paige Gardner) Photographer: Conography

Image by Subversive Photography

Image by Subversive Photography


Image by Ethereal Visionz

Image by Ethereal Visionz

Original Image by Dan Gary

Original Image by Dan Gary


Image by Timothy Helbing

Image by Timothy Helbing


Image by Adam Felts

Image by Adam Felts


Photographer: Conography

Photographer: Conography


Image by Charles Felts

Image by Charles Felts


Image by Daniel Sharps

Image by Daniel Sharps


Image by Sally Shalett

Image by Sally Shalett