‘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



Dragon Con 2016: Paige Gardner and Her Poor Feet

I’ve been invited back to Dragon Con 2016 as an Attending Professional, and I’m more excited I’ve ever been. Mostly because it’s the 30th Anniversary year. But also because I’ve had a difficult year personally, and really need to recharge my battery through close (crowd crushing) association with 60,000 of the best sort of people. I’ve made a new costume. I don’t know if I like it yet. But I did meet my goal of building a Warhammer 40K character entirely from re-purposed junk. I’m going to call that a win.

NEWS: My panel/event schedule includes some pretty cool stuff (including my first foray into the Art Track!). The high points are posted below with hopes that some of my friends may be able to come out and join me for one or two events.

FORECAST: Dragon Con has a HUGE footprint – and there’s definitely some aggressive walking that’s going to happen with this schedule.  I’m investing in TWO layers of squishy insoles. My poor feet.

See you very soon!


Title: Vintage Vogue Fashion Show: Historical Costumes Real & Imagined
Time: Fri 04:00 pm Location: Grand Salon West – Hilton
Description: Bringing historical fashion AND costumes from Alternate History to the runway, the timeline gets twisted at the Vintage Vogue Fashion Show. Join us for a stunning time-traveling costume adventure at Dragon Con 2016! (Show Manager)

Title: Steampunk Adventures in the Land of the Wonder Women
Time: Fri 08:30 pm Location: 204 I – Mart2
Description: Brett King’s popular alter ego Gustaf Danielsson takes you on an all-new interactive steampunk adventure with comedy, fantastic props, and wild tales of exploration. Join us as we go in search of the Land of the Wonder Women! (Panelist)

Title: Chosen Cosplay Pre-Judging
Time: Sat 05:30 pm Location: Offsite GA Aquarium – N/A
(Preliminary Judge)

Title: The Desperate Steampunk (Garb & Gear on a Budget)
Time: Sun 02:30 pm Location: 204 I – Mart2
Description: What’s a costumer to do without money or skills to build a top-drawer steampunk ensemble? Take desperate measures. “The Desperate Steampunk” is your insider intro to low-cost resources, costuming shortcuts, & innovative ways to craft Steampunk gear and garb with a minimum of skill and funds. (Emcee / Moderator)

Title: When Two ARTS Collide: The Intersection of Art Photography & Cosplay
Time: Sun 04:00 pm Location: Grand Hall C – Hyatt
Description: Come hear from experts in cosplay/costuming, art photography, and “geek-culture” publishing. Learn tips and pointers for raising your art form to the next level, and increase your chances of getting publicity and exposure for your work! (Panelist)

Title: Extreme Makeover: Steampunk Edition
Time: Sun 07:00 pm Location: 204 I – Mart2
Description: This game show follows three lucky individuals chosen by our “extreme team” of top designers as they are tasked to take leftover items and found objects to clothe our contestants top to bottom in a complete retro-future makeover, with the winner chosen by our panel of celebrity judges. (Judge)

Title: Something from Nothing: Reverse Engineering a Cool Costume Crafted from Thrift
Time: Mon 11:30 am Location: 308 – Hilton
Description: Resident recycling, up-cycling, and no-sew costuming expert discusses her creative process for creating award-winning and museum-worthy costumes out of the most unlikely of materials. Space is limited. (Sole Presenter)

Title: The State of Steampunk
Time: Mon 01:00 pm Location: 204 I – Mart2
Description: Find out where Steampunk is headed. Has Steampunk finally peaked? If so, what comes next? This round-table discussion panel explores the current state of the subculture and how it will evolve. Will other sub-genres become more prominent (dieselpunk, rococopunk, etc.)?

Title: Embellishments for Costuming
Time: Mon 02:30 pm Location: 302-305 – Hilton
Description: Sometimes a few beads, a gemstone or two, or some fringe is all your costume needs to look stunning. We tell you how to use them and how to get them to stay attached. (Panelist)

H. R. Giger | Saying Goodbye to a Visionary

The Alien | Model: Kearney Smith | Photography: Dim Horizon Studio

The Alien | Model: Kearney Smith | Photography: Dim Horizon Studio

Waking up to the news that H.R. Giger has passed away … changes everything.

Introduced to his visionary work in the early 1980’s, my first impression of his art was a distinct combination of compelling attraction … followed by a visceral instinct to recoil.  His bio-mechanical aesthetic that blended the organic shapes of a human form with elements of hardware and xenomorphic signatures had the powerful effect of pulling the viewer in just as it was pushing them away. Attractive and repellant. And brilliant.

H R Giger RIP Art

When I turned toward costume crafting as a serious indulgence, both my son and immediately decided to take on building an Alien costume (inspired by Giger’s art, from the ‘Aliens’ movie). It wasn’t built from scratch, but rather the pieces were cast from an outside vendor and shipped to us. We spent many months working on the latex forms; trimming, sanding, patching holes, painting, finishing and finally, figuring out exactly how these pieces could be assembled in such a way to be inhabited. And inhabited is the word.

The Alien isn’t something you wear. It’s an art form that you inhabit.

'Alien' | Model: Kearney Smith | Photography: Dim Horizon Studio

‘Alien’ | Model: Kearney Smith | Photography: Dim Horizon Studio

Giger’s brilliant design brings some of the same cache along with it in the 3-D form of a costume. Its sinuous lines, its glossy patina, its shocking symmetry and phallic undertones all combine to draw people forward… even while disconcerting elements within the work are suggesting ‘step back’. That’s powerful art. It’s a powerful costume to inhabit, as well.

And every costume art project I have attempted since the ‘Alien’ has been informed by Giger’s style, always striving to emulate Giger’s power to create that same ebb and flow. Draw them in, push them away. Danger couched in beauty. A perfect organism.

Alien | Model: Kearney Smith | Photography: Dim Horizon Studio

Alien | Model: Kearney Smith | Photography: Dim Horizon Studio

The costume  images here of the ‘Alien’ were photographed by Dim Horizon Studios at Sloss Furnace in Birmingham, Alabama. As enormous fans of Giger’s work themselves, Dim Horizon’s  view through their lens is clearly influenced by their own deep respect and personal appreciation for H.R. Giger’s signature style. And I think it shows in their work. The photographs move today, from a celebration of fandom to a visual memorial celebrating uncompromising artistic genius.

The man is gone. The art remains. The legacy is forever.



BUILD: The “Siri” Mohawk Headpiece

The Mohawk Headpiece for the 'Siri' costume was a huge learning curve. While happy with the result, the journey was fraught with errors that demanded serious improvisation.

The Mohawk Headpiece for the ‘Siri’ costume was a huge learning curve. While happy with the result, the journey was fraught with errors that demanded serious improvisation.

I learned SO MUCH from my mistakes during the “Siri” build.  It was an ambitious project and my lack of crafting skills and aversion to measurement REALLY made themselves known along the way. But…I also discovered that improvisation, desperation and flexibility of vision can fill in many of those gaps.

These progress pics for the Siri costume’s headpiece really emphasize my lack of real crafting skills. Hopefully, they also highlight how flaws and mistakes can be hidden along the way; being willing to change and alter your design mid-stream is vital when you’re a mistake-maker like me.  There’s a LOT of re-purposing going on in this costume, many learn-as-you-go mistakes, and some poor planning errors, too.  Just the same, I’m happy with the end result.

Since no one is probably interested in duplicating this costume, rather than presenting it as a “how to”, the following images are intended to illustrate what kind of materials can be used for a project like this.  They may also illustrate a fair number of “what NOT to dos”.

All thumbs,


The phone/light cords were the perfect disguise to hide my measurement mistakes and provide support for the mohawk quills. AND it fit into the whole theme - so disaster averted!

The phone/light cords were the perfect disguise to hide my measurement mistakes and provide support for the mohawk quills. AND it fit into the whole theme – so disaster averted!

The Uncontested Weirdness of Vintage “Happy New Year” Postcards

With the new year on approach, these vintage “HAPPY NEW YEAR” postcard images deserve a second look. A double-take, really. What the actual hell was going on with New Years of yore?

The Danish know how to party like it's 1883. "Quick! Grab sausage, booze and pretzels! And skis!" This is all kinds of crazy.

Sausage, booze, pretzels, group ski. Apparently the Danish were rad AF in 1899.


Nothing says "Happy New Year" like gettin' boozy with the baby.

Resolution: Spend more time gettin’ boozy with the baby.


Charging into the new year on the back of a beetle. Because ...bugs?

Charging into the new year on the back of a beetle = goals.


Who wants to start the new year with a rain of champagne dropped from a zepplin by scary clown-apes. And cheap champagne, cause that bottle's HUGE.

Ringing in the new year with a rain of champagne dropped from a zeppelin full of clown-apes.


Raise your glass if you are five. WTH. Maybe baby-sitters were a 20th century thing.

Starting the New Year with a savage side-eye from your lit kid.


The gal isn't having a happy new year. She's four glasses in a giving a 'piss off' toast to her ex.

The gal’s four glasses in… and giving a ‘piss off’ toast to her ex. Or the previous year. Whatever. Piss off.


Running off the pigs of the previous year by beating them with shamrocks. Sounds legit.

Running off the previous year’s pigs by beating them with shamrocks.


Your previous year is at an end. The new year dawns. Prepare to be disciplined.

Your previous year is at an end. The new year dawns. Prepare to be disciplined.


The message: "If you get her drunk enough..." This guy's face just screams roofie.

An early example of vintage roofie face.


Why even send this card? Clearly your thirsty recipient would rather just have a damn bottle. Cheap ass.

Why even send this card? Clearly the thirsty recipient would rather just have a damn bottle. Cheap ass.


Happy New Year, Clumsy McButterfingers!

Happy New Year, Clumsy McButterfingers.


Wishing you a Happy New Year and Goose that spits money. Into a spitoon.

A New Year Goose that spits money. Into a spittoon. Why did this go away?



Let's see...a winged baby, a wicked scythe, an hourglass...and a box. Hmmm.. I'm thinking that time's running out and OMG!! What's in the BOX? What's in the BAHHH-XXxxx?

Winged baby, wicked scythe, an hourglass…and something awful in the New Year box? Probably 2016 in that box.


Maybe this vintage gem was sent by abstainers to their more festive friends to put them off their New Year's Eve drinking plans. HOwever, according to this image, he should be most afraid of the foot odor demons the next day. The person who sends this is not your friend.

Maybe this vintage gem was sent by abstainers to put friends off their New Year’s Eve drinking plans. However, according to this postcard, the foot odor is the real demon here.


This postcard's message seems pretty clear. "Hey 1888. Go die in a fire."

This postcard’s message seems pretty clear.
“Hey 1888. Go die in a fire.”  FACT: 1900’s sentiment, still timely in the 21st century.


Party on, vintage people. I like your New Year’s style.



Steampunk: The Exquisite Adventure | Scotsdale Public Art

Steampunk Exquisite Adventure Scotsdale AZI had the distinct pleasure of meeting curator Susin Rubin at Comic-Con International in San Diego this summer.  She found me sometime after my Steampunk panel, and was very complimentary of both my costuming work…and curious about the notion that I didn’t sew.

Susan was representing Scotsdale Public Art which was presenting a large exhibition called “Steampunk: The Exquisite Adventure” – and as such, invited my participation.  I was honored and very excited about the potential.  They were also very impressed with the talented photographers whose skilled eyes capture my projects to best advantage – and requested images of additional costuming to be framed and shown alongside one of my costumes and gear. The photography of Dim Horizon Studio was selected by SPA to accompany my static exhibit.

Together SPA and I elected to exhibit “Tornado Jane” as a strong example of re-purposing salvaged materials. Tornado Jane was constructed using storm debris from the tornado that savaged the Birmingham, Alabama area in April 2011. (NOTE: the debris was collected with permission and care at the home site of my friend Stephanie who lost everything but her life that day.)

"Tornado Jane": Constructed using debris collected in the wake of the April 2011 tornado that savaged Pleasant Grove, Alabama.

“Tornado Jane”: Constructed using debris collected in the wake of the April 2011 tornado that savaged Pleasant Grove, Alabama.

Scotsdale Public Art had a highly professional method in place to collect and curate various Steampunk-inspired work from as far away at the British Isles.  They were patient and practiced throughout the run-up and opening of the event. They even took time to text me images of my own work being assembled at the venue.

While I missed the October exhibition opening due to distance (Arizona is FAR!), I enjoyed the images and online coverage from the event, marveling at the other artists’ creations and vision. I connected with many of these artists through the only means at my disposal – social media!  Even long distance, I was in the finest company.

In December, I received a call from one of the event curators who was very dismayed to report that my particular exhibit had been tampered with and parts of it stolen. Part of the headpiece had been taken and some of the handpiece had been dismantled and stolen. They were so upset and seemed gravely concerned about my response to the incident.  They were sending me an incident report for my review and asked me for a dollar value to compensate for the loss.

Truth be told…it doesn’t have real value. I mean, it’s debris that’s been torqued, attached and turned into costume art.  I assured them that I wanted no money for the loss, but rather hoped that they would take a page from my method and look around to see what they could replace the missing parts with.  It suddenly seemed like a fun idea that the work could morph mid-exhibition into a group project – smile!

They seemed deeply embarrassed about the thievery, and I appreciate the feeling of violation the curators and host venue must feel.  But in the end, I’m glad it was my ad hoc, eccentric collection of oddments that was pilfered rather than some of the finely crafted works that are on display there.  Instead of any compensation, I asked only that the event grant their permission and blessing to me as I chose to talk about what happened publicly.  I didn’t want to portray what happened as any kind of failure on the event’s part.  They have been exquisitely careful with all the artists’ work throughout.  This unfortunate theft was just a bizarre exception in an otherwise flawless exhibition.

"Tornado Jane" exhibited with Photography by Dim Horizon Studio

“Tornado Jane” exhibited with Photography by Dim Horizon Studio

But, hey! Someone wanted part of my work badly enough to cross the ropes and do some rather involved deconstruction to get what they wanted.  That’s a STORY right there.  Who was the person who wanted these cast-off and damaged bits so badly? Why take time to disassemble it and steal parts? Why not take more? Why mine? Instead of a standard show, I now have a unique memory – a tale to tell from the show I couldn’t even attend in person.  That’s like gold, y’all. I love a good story, something to think about, a unique experience best of all. Achievement unlocked.

Tornado Jane was taken off exhibit after the incident. And that part does make me sad. I’m hoping that my friends at Scotsdale Public Art have since hit the thrift

store-junk drawer to see if they can replace the missing parts with things THEY think might look good on the costume.  I think it’s in keeping with the whole tornado theme; a community putting things back together after parts of it are damaged or lost.  I hope Tornado Jane can come back strong.  She’s tough. And she’s been through worse.

It has been – in fact – An Exquisite Adventure after all!