Warhammer 40K Inquisitor, photo by Conography
Repurposing found items to use in costumes is an art. You have to open your eyes and see what might look like junk with a fresh perspective – a more creative one. Paige Gardner, a.k.a. CostumeArt, does just that with her complex and gorgeous builds. I asked her about inspiration, how she thrifts when making costumes, and more.
Adafruit: How long have you been crafting costumes, and what inspired you to start?
Paige Gardner: I was inspired to start seriously crafting costumes around 2008, when steampunk was emerging in the convention scene. As someone who lacks traditional costuming skills (sewing, leather working, foam craft etc.), the recycling ethic that was driving these alternate history costumes seemed like a legitimate entry point for me. While I couldn’t create ensembles from scratch, I knew that I could, with enough time and commitment, craft costumes from thrift store oddments, trash and salvaged items using the minimum of conventional skills. The steampunk landscape gave me the inspiration, freedom and confidence to aggressively pursue some pretty bizarre ideas through original costuming.
Dieselpunk Siri (Zip Tie Mohawk), photo by Dim Horizon Studio
Adafruit: I noticed your cosplay portfolio features many costumes with masks. What do you like about designing and making that particular accessory?
Gardner: I believe that masks are an incredibly primal and powerful element in costuming. There’s something about playing around with the human visage that draws viewers into closer study. I think that we are compelled to stare a little longer at faces that are altered, exaggerated, or obscured in some way.
I love rummaging through junk looking for things that can mimic eyes or lips, things that can mirror or alter the shape of the face. If I can make a mask that both draws the viewer in, and at the same time makes them a little uncomfortable as they study it – then I’ve achieved my goal.
I’ll go ahead and confess that as a woman in her fifties, I also feel that my face/age can detract from the initial perception of the costume project. Using masks to hide or obscure my face, removes “me” from the work, and allows the project to be explored and viewed without bias, It can be perceived without the distraction of my face and my expressions. While I’m completely comfortable with both my age and my face, building and wearing masks gives my great freedom to craft and inhabit some really weird stuff.
Steampunk bird, photo by Dim Horizon Studio
Adafruit: I am thoroughly impressed with the amount of items you repurpose for your costumes. When you’re looking for supplies for your next ensemble, where do you begin your search? Any tips to help people retrain their eyes, so to speak, to see the possibilities of everyday objects for costumes?
Gardner: Thank you! I’m literally a walking junk heap. Thrift stores are the most convenient and affordable source for things that can be reworked, reassembled or revamped into costumes and props. But I encourage fellow costumers to be bold enough to look in trash bins, dumpsters and curbside piles, too. If it’s free, you can’t lose! One important tip to help retrain the eye to see costume elements in everyday cast-offs: Look for shapes that mimic parts of the human body. Try to envision found items overlaying the forearm (gauntlet), the shoulders (pauldrons), the jaw line, eyes, the fingers and so on. This helps you imagine how unlikely items might be incorporated or reworked into a mask or prop.
Stained Glass Abbey, photo by Subversive Photography
Adafruit: Your stained glass Abbey project is positively stunning. How did you construct the headpiece and light it?
Gardner: When I discovered a stack of “stained glass” coloring books at the thrift (25 cents each!), I was desperate to find a way to add these ornate pages into a costume project. Knowing it would be best illuminated, I started looking for ways to ‘frame’ the coloring book pages and still allow for lighting behind it. I started with a piece of poster paper taped around my head in a column. Seeking a headpiece that mimicked a religious mitre, I got the general paper hat shape wrestled into place and then cut out openings that fit the stained glass coloring book pages I wanted to use. Once I had the template, my friend Daniel Valdez used it to laser cut the form in styrene for a more durable headpiece. Then, I spent a LOT of time coloring stained glass panels to glue into the window openings. Serious, ink-stained hand cramps. The framing mitre with colored paper panels was then bent around a skull cap and screwed down. I used pieces of fabric and trim salvaged from thrift garments to both hide the open back and to add textures to the framing. Since I don’t have LED skills, I strapped some small flashlights and rope lights from the local hardware store inside the headpiece and behind the colored panels. The additional “window” framing in the costume came from plastic wall decor and a broken porch light from the thrift store. There is nothing elegant at all about this project’s assembly or function (which is true of all of my costuming), but persistence carried the day and the stained glass “Abbey” costume ended up working out pretty well.
Adafruit: What kind of skills have you had to learn over the years because of costume-making?
Gardner: I have really plumbed the depths of creative use of zip ties. Seriously, they are my everything. Without traditional skills, I also heavily depend on glue, fabric adhesive, safety pins, key rings and other means of making things connect and hang together. I think I’m most proud of my ability to connect in-congruent things together with some seriously unlikely methods.