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!

 

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‘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

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Stained Glass “Abbey”: Photoshoot with COTC Photography

I had the extreme good fortune to meet photographer John Spectre while I was at at Gaslight Fantasia in South Carolina.  He was attending the event and capturing photos of some of the participants.  I was flattered when he expressed interest in photographing the Abbey costume there at the hotel. We found a cool mosaic alcove at the host hotel and John took the needed time to set up some really cool shots. Here’s some of the images from that day.

Costume: "Abbey" by Paige Gardner Photography: John Spectre, COTC Photography

Costume: “Abbey” by Paige Gardner
Photography: John Spectre, COTC Photography

Costume: "Abbey" by Paige Gardner Photography: John Spectre, COTC Photography

Costume: “Abbey” by Paige Gardner
Photography: John Spectre, COTC Photography

Costume: "Abbey" by Paige Gardner Photography: John Spectre, COTC Photography

Costume: “Abbey” by Paige Gardner
Photography: John Spectre, COTC Photography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We got the chance to meet again at AnachroCon some months later where he brought a ring flash and more cool camera equipment along.  These “dark” images of Abbey  (below) reveal SO MUCH more of the costume’s detail!  John’s crafting of these images just leaves me floored.

John has since gone on to craft some of the most amazing cosplay photography I’ve seen in a while through his COTC Photography venture. I’m just one of his grateful photography subjects – his portfolio is exploding!  If you’d like to see more, you can find John’s photography through his Facebook page, COTC Photography.  Recommended viewing!

Costume: "Abbey" by Paige Gardner Photography: John Spectre, COTC Photography

Costume: “Abbey” by Paige Gardner
Photography: John Spectre, COTC Photography

Costume: "Abbey" by Paige Gardner Photography: John Spectre, COTC Photography

Costume: “Abbey” by Paige Gardner
Photography: John Spectre, COTC Photography

Costume: "Abbey" by Paige Gardner Photography: John Spectre, COTC Photography

Costume: “Abbey” by Paige Gardner
Photography: John Spectre, COTC Photography

Keep up with CostumeArtist appearances and more WIP projects through CostumeArt on Facebook and @CostumeArt on Twitter. I’d love to see you there!

PHOTOGRAPHY: Steampunk Bird Hybrid (Dim Horizon)

Steampunk Bird Hybrid | Costume by Paige Gardner Smith | Image by Dim Horizon Studios

Steampunk Bird Hybrid | Costume by Paige Gardner Smith | Image by Dim Horizon Studios

Most of my work is inspired by one simple item; a vintage element or salvaged piece that begs a costume to grow organically around it.  For example, the Steampunk Bird Hybrid idea grew from an earring that looked like the tip of a bird’s talon.  As the costume evolves and develops, so does the story behind it.

For example: Miss Ava Fortune was once a lovely and celebrated high-wire artist known as “The Bird of Bombay”, but hungry for even broader fame, she sought the help of a disreputable Calcutta doctor – a man whispered about as dabbling in forbidden and fledgling genetic science. She paid him to imbue her with bird-like traits that would enhance her high-flying performances. But alas, the experimental treatments only left her disfigured and deformed, and a bit demented (hence, the muzzle on her beak.) Now Miss Fortune flits among the shadows, an exotic outcast in the Bombay underworld.

The following images were captured by Dim Horizon Studios during a visit to Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark in Birmingham, Alabama.  The costume “Miss Ava Fortune” was crafted by Paige Gardner Smith almost entirely from salvaged, re-purposed and re-cycled materials.

Steampunk bird costume artist  3c

Steampunk bird costume artist  7b

 

Steampunk bird costume artist  2b

BUILD: The Steampunk Bird Hybrid (Mask and Gauntlet)

The costume elements were my first real attempt at basic leather-working.  The results were:

1) I absolutely love wet-leather molding

2) I absolutely suck at anything else leather-related

Steampunk Bird Hybrid (Image | Dim Horizon)

Steampunk Bird Hybrid (Image | Dim Horizon)

The HEADPIECE and MASK:

I’d collected a moldering old sequence (the feather panel from a Vegas showgirl-type of costume), a brass lampshade, two cheap half-beaks from Party City, and a feathery little girl’s headband from the Dollar Store and some earrings from the China import $1 jewelry store that reminded me of bird talons. The whole collection of oddments kind of coalesced into a plan to build a big bird costume. But not the Sesame Street kind. I wanted to build big, beautiful, dark and bothersome.

I has a Spotlight Fashion skull cap (these are ideal for attaching things to when building a headpiece). I just needed a strong, flexible and durable way to attach all the bird-face bits.  Leather seemed ideal…but how?  I’ve never used leather before.

My friend, Drew (Tandy Leather in Birmingham) suggested that I might try wet leather molding to build a mask, or at least a framework to connect the items I wanted to use with my Bird mask and headpiece. He showed me how to wet the leather and then press and stroke and push it repeatedly in the shape and direction I wanted it to go. Sounded legit. I was definitely going to try this at home.

Using raw leather, I sort of pressed it to my face (dry) to get an idea of how to cut it before wetting and shaping it. I could do finer cutting after it was shaped. Once I wet the leather, I pressed it over my neck and face, sculpting the folds and striations that I hoped would hold as it hardened.  What I didn’t realize is how LONG it takes for leather to dry into its shape.

Claude Rains, "The Invisible Man" (1933)

Claude Rains, “The Invisible Man”

Without a head and neck mold, I only had me for it to dry on. So I grabbed some thin scarves and tied the damp, shaped leather tightly to my neck and face. I looked just like Claude Rains in the 1933 film, “The Invisible Man”. I stayed like that for 3 hours. My kids were terrified. But it worked.

When it dried and hardened I had a flexible yet sturdy face piece to affix the beak and face bits to. Experimenting with leather dye was also cool. I used brown. It was too brown.  I covered it with black…which was too black.  I tried rubbing off the black, which left me with a really cool blend of the two. Accidental awesome.

The leather face piece need to affix to the headpiece, so I asked my friend Drew to show me how to put snaps in leather.  He did. But after watching me futz through the first snap, hovering on the edge of snap disaster…he quickly stepped in and did the other three snaps for me. I realize that it’s nerve-wracking to watch me teeter on the edge of ‘fail’ when crafting…but it’s important that I do it myself.  I’ve since found a hack for snaps – so my crafty friends won’t cringe so much when I pick up a leather tool – smile!

While I can’t sew in the traditional sense, I can hand-tack the hell out of stuff.  Using an icepick, I poked holes in the Spotlight Fashion skull cap, used the holes to tack the ancient feather piece on it. I also tacked a fabric remnant along with it to hang down the back and hide my hair, and the clumsy leather working I did in the back of the neck.

THE GAUNTLET:

While hanging around as The Invisible Man, I was playing with the leather scraps left from my earlier cutting. As I wrapped them around my fingers, it occurred that I could use wet-leather molding to craft a scary bird hand (with earring talons) while I waited for my face to dry.

I cut the leather scraps into long triangles, wet the leather and wrapped it around my fingers.  Then I ran right into the same problem I had with my currently drying face and neck.  How to keep this leather in its shape long enough to dry and harden?  Further, I’ve only got one hand, and no helpers (the kids are still hiding from my scary head at this point).

Noticing scraps of tulle netting on the floor from another project, I picked them up with my toes, tossed the scraps on the table, and used my free two fingers and my teeth to wrap and tie the tulle around each leather encased finger.  The tulle was strong and ventilated, so I merely slipped my fingers out and let the leather “fingers” wrapped in tulle dry overnight.

When I unwrapped them in the morning, I realized I had tied the tulle too tight ( <- alliteration bomb!)…and the tulle had left its netting impression in the leather’s surface. Oh no!  But after looking at it for a while, I realized it was another case of accidental awesome.  The pattern left my the tulle looked exactly like bird flesh!  When it was dyed, it really popped and added a cool element to the bird claw. The $1 earrings with the dangling hearts made excellent talons – simply bent around the “finger” tips.  A cocktail strainer with a claw-like handle worked out for the thumb. I used the last scrap of leather to wet mold an arm gauntlet – just used two screw posts and two holes to fasten it on and off with ease.

These costume pieces are wrought with errors and rough work — but I’m very happy with the overall outcome.  The clumsy stitching, the mistakes, the unevenness are all largely hidden from view.  That’s what a costume is – it hides what’s underneath. By that measure, this totally succeeds.

Miss Ava Fortune, Steampunk Bird Hybrid (Image - Dim Horizon)

Miss Ava Fortune, Steampunk Bird Hybrid (Image – Dim Horizon)