Cosplayers Get Ready for Cons at Artisan’s Asylum
By Arlene Elkins
The Boston area has it fair share of fan conventions (or cons for short) from Arisia in the winter to Anime Boston in the spring to Boston Comic Con, happening this coming weekend. Many Artisan’s Asylum members participate in local cons and some even travel to go to out-of-state cons. Some go as volunteers and others go to cosplay. For them, cons are a break from the normal day-to-day. “I get to pretend I’m someone much cooler for a few hours!” says member, Sarah Kaiser.
Sarah makes props and costumes out of a variety of materials, including foam and silicone, in her studio space. “[Artisan’s Asylum has] given me a large, easy to clean space out of my roommate’s hair with a wealth of knowledgeable helpful neighbors.”
Jade Harley is another maker who uses her studio space to work on cosplay. “It provides an environment that I call the ‘get off your ass and work’ environment. The presence of several artisans makes it easier to find motivation to do work, and being in a creative space helps me find the will to get things done.”
Jade started to do cosplay after a friend suggested she try it. “Cosplay was just meant to be an idle pastime,” she says. Over time, it became an important creative outlet. “I always try to take on an outfit that has at least one component that I don’t know how to make, in order to challenge myself to learn a new technique.”
Like Sarah, Jade casts in silicone, but she also uses other methods from high (3D printing) to low-tech (chainmaille). “Having easy access to tools like a 3D printer and the metal/woodshop has allowed for much more detailed pieces to be made.”
Jacob LaRocca uses resources, including the shared workshops and help from the community, at Artisan’s to make his cosplay. “I 3D print props, as well as use foam, metal, and wood, but EVA foam is my main costume material, and I have someone else do all of the actual cloth work,” he says. “[Being at Artisan’ Asylum] allows me to collaborate with other cosplayers, costumers, and prop builders. The tools are nice, but the resources in the people have been immensely educational and I have learned so many things from the people here.”
Jacob takes that community mindset outside of the Artisan’s Asylum walls. He brings tools with him to cons and offers free cosplay repair. “I was at DragonCon last year, and didn’t want to wear the one costume I had for the last few days. I realized I had my whole tool kit with me, so I went to CVS, bought some cardboard, some extra supplies for repairs, and some markers and my free cosplay repair gig began.”
Photos of him in his repair gear went viral in May and he was interviewed in Kotaku, prompting many online commenters to refer to him as a real-life hero. “One of the first fixes I did was duct tape a girls shoe back together. It had literally disintegrated. The fix worked!”
But not all of it is cosplay. Brian Johnson is the owner of MakeWright, a company he runs out of Artisan’s that creates immersive experiences, including pop-up escape rooms and a starship bridge set, complete with crew. “We once had the pleasure of having Garret Wang (Ensign Kim from Star Trek: Voyager) be the captain of one of our bridges for a few hours. He really got into it, and everyone had a great time!”
Last year, Brian received an Artisan’s Grant that allowed him to create Escape Velocity, a pop-up escape room. Visitors had to solve a series of puzzles in order to escape a crashing space ship. It made its debut at the Artisan’s Asylum in the fall and Brian plans to take it to conventions in the future. “Conventions are a great way to reach a wide variety of like-minded people. I really enjoy bringing events to cons, where people can bring home great memories!”
While everyone’s work is different, they all agree that preplanning is important. “For Escape Velocity, we built a 1:10th scale model of the entire layout, and it allowed us to see how we’d flow people through the area, as well as where we wanted to put puzzles, clues, and props. It allows us to make sure we’re telling a good story,” explains Brian.
“Everything starts with reference materials,” says Jade. “Where I can, I like to get 3D models to spin around, but most of the time, references are just a corkboard of screenshots and concept art of the character. From there, I break down the piece into its components. Almost everything gets a pattern or schematic drawn up, and from there I make the pieces one by one until it’s done.”
When asked about her process, Sarah says, “it’s different for every get-up, but it always begins with sketching.”
Our con makers are always looking for new and improved ways to make their creations. “I’m really looking forward to the prop shop opening up [in Artisan’s Asylum], which will feature a large vacuum thermoformer, as well as casting booths, a spray paint booth, and tools!” says Brian.
Keep an eye out for our makers this weekend at Boston Comic Con! Says Jacob, “It’s a fun way to express my nerdiness in a way I can also showcase some of my favorite hobbies and skills. It’s really just an outlet and a way to connect to other nerds.”
Arlene Elkins is an arts administrator, marketer, and project manager. Her hobbies include dance, jewelry-making, and sarcasm.