Paige Gardner of CostumeArt
How Long Have You Been Cosplaying?
I’ve skirted around costuming since college, but only entered the arena of cosplay (at conventions) in 2008. I was inspired to “come out” by the bravery of cosplayers at conventions – cosplayers from every interest and skill set – who put such energy into their costumes and wore their fandom loud and proud for the world to see. I wanted to experience that same challenge…and that same freedom.
Favorite Cosplay you’ve done
My current favorite costume is “Abbey” (a Warhammer 40K – inspired ensemble with illuminated elements that mimic stained glass). But I don’t closet away my previous builds, either. Every cosplay project of mine gets time to come out and play depending on the event or venue – but I tend to give more recent projects a bit more sunshine.
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I’m pretty sure that my specialty might best be described as ‘resourcefulness’. I lack most of the hard skills familiar in the cosplay landscape (sewing, riveting leather, precision), and I don’t have much money to spend on materials for most projects. In response to those two challenges, I’ve found ways to successfully craft costumes using found or thrifted elements. I also implement more base methods of construction and assembly that include using fabric glue, staples, wires, keyrings – whatever works to complete the vision. Most of the panels I present at conventions are geared toward sharing ideas on being resourceful and thrifty while working toward a costume or prop. Recycling, rethinking, and repurposing are important aspects of each CostumeArt project.[/stextbox]
Happy belated birthday! So what’s it feel like to hit the big 5.0? You mentioned prior that earlier in your career that you were hesitant to disclose your age in the cosplay arena, how has your journey progressed over the past few months?
Whoo-Hoo! Thanks, Glomp!
I was initially concerned that my age-minority status in a majority youthful cosplay community would have a negative effect on my costuming experience. But what I discovered was a vastly open-minded culture where my age was not a component of my experience. When I saw milestone 50 on my horizon, I actually made a decision to go ‘all-in’ on the convention circuit during the year leading up to my birthday.
For a whole year, I accepted every invitation I received to appear and present at conventions. Starting with Comic-Con International in San Diego in 2013 and wrapping up at DragonCon 2014, with appearances every month in between, I had a crazy fantastic ‘Year of the Fifty’ on planes, trains, and automobiles.
Has there been any internet bullying or harassment because of your age, or otherwise?
I’ve never experienced online negativity based on my age in this community. I will confess that part of the reason I still hide my face in most costumes is to keep the conversation focused on the costume – and not my age. If a photo of my work starts tracking with audiences online somewhere, I welcome conversation and criticism about the costume. What I wouldn’t welcome is trolls twisting the conversation into a diatribe about my age as a cosplayer. The masks and makeups hide that troll bait.
Congrats on being nominated for the 2014 Geekie Awards. Tell us about the cosplay you were nominated for?
I was nominated along with my fellow costumers Brannon Cristholm, Paul Bielaczyc, and Kelcey Casson, for our group cosplay. We are all HUGE fans of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time book series, and we decided to independently craft our own versions of the monstrous Trollocs from the books.
Getting the nom from the Geekie Awards in the Cosplay category was an enormous compliment to all of us – and to Jordan’s inspired literary vision of these grotesque creatures.
Last year your work was showcased with Scottsdale Public Art, how do you feel about your work being perceived as fine art, do you consider yourself a fine artist?
While I have done a few costumes that reference movies and books, most of my projects are driven by the materials that I find along the way. Because they are envisioned and assembled as original, wearable creations, I think that they qualify as stand-alone art outlets. Just as a painting or song that evinces certain responses and emotions from the person viewing or listening, I like to think that the small details and overall themes of my CostumeArt projects generate similar feelings.
I tend to craft costumes using colors, textures, and silhouettes that draw the viewer in…while adding elements of horror and discord that may repel. It’s not ‘fine’ art, but a more visceral artistic approach to using the human form as a canvas frame.
I noticed a large part of your influence is drawn from literary characters, what draws your eye to novels?
I read for a living, so my recreational reading tends toward book series and broad-spectrum literary worlds so I can really immerse myself deeply in a world. Stephen King’s ‘Dark Tower’ books have been particularly influential on my projects.
While the series characters don’t necessarily lend themselves to cosplay, the landscape and supporting characters from the Dark Tower books are always making themselves known in my work. The automatons all have a bit of North Central Positronics inspiration, the Trolloc and the Steampunk Bird Hybrid were directly influenced by the Taheen in King’s vast DT worlds.
What do you find to be the most gratifying aspect of building?
Because I’m using materials that very often were never intended for cosplay, finding the workarounds that will move the costume forward is immensely satisfying. Often I have to change my costume plan mid-project because an element or part simply won’t work. Because it’s a work in progress with the freedom to change, finding solutions – even those that redirect the project – are always gratifying!
What was the inspiration for your illuminated “Abbey” costume? How did you create the stained glass effect?
I found a stack of children’s stained glass coloring books in the thrift store with gorgeous Art Nouveau images. It occurred to me that they might work into a costume with a religious aspect. As a fan of Warhammer 40K, I started working with combining the beauty of stained glass with the ornamental and armored aspects of the Warhammer world.
The stained glass panels in the head-piece, mask and shoulders are all made of paper! I spent weeks coloring the pages before gluing them into various frames that would allow illumination. The illumination is provided by small flashlights and a strand of LEDs. While it looks massive and heavy, it’s mostly paper and plastic!
What percentage of your work is built for other members of the steampunk community?
I don’t build costumes or props for others – mostly because my skills are so limited and my resources so eccentric. And truly, the work other steampunk-inclined cosplayers are doing on their own is a huge source of inspiration and delight for me. Steampunk is a wide-open door for creativity and individual style, so I always look forward to seeing all the genius that others bring to the table.
Describe your cosplay and steampunk career but only titles from your favorite songs
Just Can’t Get Enough – Puttin’ on the Ritz – I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking for – Get Some – Thrift Shop
Give us something weird about yourself that not a lot of people know?
I have an unreasonable fear of electricity. I hate to plug-in anything, much less touch it while it’s plugged in. Lightning storms wreck me up. I’m working on it…because I’d REALLY like to learn how to use my electric Dremel.
Soon. Not today, though. 😀
Paige Gardner is proof that cosplay has limitations other than the ones we put on. You don’t have to be half-naked to create costumes, nor do you have to fall into a certain age bracket to be relevant in the cosplay community.
The motives behind Gardner’s intricately haunting masks show vulnerability and depth, exposing a concern in the cosplay community that it’s a young person’s game. But creativity comes from within, and we’re happy that Paige has recently started showing us the woman behind the mask. Not 21-years-old with a bikini top on, but gloriously brilliant with her energy, ready to take on the world, and experience life with a dedicated pursuit of her creative spirit.