Thursday, February 28, 2013

Mailbag: All About COSPLAY

Brandy H. writes:

Hi Jen!

My friend and I are planning to go to a comic con in November and I have some questions about cosplaying. Cosplaying isn't a big thing around here and I'm just wondering what it entails? I've heard of people being outraged at cosplay being compared to dressing up for Halloween. I spend the entire year planning and figuring out what my costumes will be for Halloween (yes multiple costumes :D)...[and] I'm super excited to go and be among other people who love to dress up!

In the meantime, your words of wisdom on cosplaying and cons in general?  I would greatly appreciate it!

Hi Brandy!

If you spend the entire year planning out your Halloween costume, then I can tell you now you're already a cosplayer. It's really just a difference of passion and interactivity; where Halloween costumes are often seen as more of an obligation - you have to wear one to get in to certain parties or score free candy - cosplay is about the joy of the costume itself, and of interacting with others as a certain character.

The word "cosplay" is short for "costume play," and it's the "play" part that I think is key. Cosplay is a labor of love and pure, unadulterated FUN. We don't have to dress up; we do it because we want to!

Some cosplayers really get into the roles of their characters as well, but that's a matter of personal preference and certainly not a requirement. If you're up for it, though, it can be a lot fun to act out your character, from the way you walk and talk to the way you pose for pictures.

 This Hagrid spoke to us in character - with the accent and everything - and it was downright magical. Our friends Chris & Christie play the Joker and Harley perfectly.

I've only started cosplaying recently myself - Lady Vadore was my first real foray - but I've learned a lot from my years of photographing cosplayers at conventions and then in turn being photographed. So here are a few tips:

For cosplayers:

1. Practice your poses

This made a HUGE difference for me, because I arrived prepared for the cameras and knowing what to do with my hands and arms to make my costume look best. Don't just stand there like a lump when someone asks to take your picture; do something! Even just sticking a hip out or cocking your head at a saucy angle can make a world of difference on film.

Cosplaying with a group? Then work out a group pose that makes use of different levels and spacing. These guys snapped into position in 2 seconds flat - and note how each one is doing something different, and also positioned so I can see them all!

Props are also extremely helpful; they give you something to do with your hands:


One thing I didn't anticipate when I was in costume was that I'd also be asked to take pictures with people, so remember to practice a few options for that, too.

2. Travel Light

Don't load yourself down with a ton of bags and cameras and belongings that you'll have to put down every time someone wants your photo - it'll slow everyone down and cause a major traffic jam. Try to consolidate down to a single bag, or better yet, make it themed to your costume so you don't have to set it down!

Snow White hides her bag with her skirt.

Another option is to travel with a non-costumed friend who's willing to hold your things. Having a handler is essential for bulky or hard-to-maneuver costumes, if only so you have someone who can lead you through crowds or fetch you a drink when you can't get away from the cameras.

3. Take Your Costume for a Test Drive 

Do you know if you can eat, sit, and manage a restroom break in your costume? Find out ahead of time! Conventions make for reeeeally long days. And if your costume includes sky-high heels, always pack a back-up pair of flats. Your feet will thank you.

4. Expect delays and interruptions

Have a ton of panels you want to see, friends you want to catch up with, and a lot of serious shopping to do? Then don't wear an awesome costume. You *will* be stopped a lot, and you *will* have to interact with lots of people. If that annoys you, then cosplay may not be for you! Approach the day with an easy-going attitude, and be determined to just enjoy the journey. After all, this is your time to shine, so don't let a too-tight schedule bring you down!

Most of these cosplayers didn't know each other before the day this was taken. They met, formed a group, and spent the day posing for pictures together (and probably made friends along the way!)

For non-cosplayers:


 This is rule #1 in all areas of life, of course, but it's easy to be swept up in the fantasy of cosplay and forget that Superman over there is actually a real person and not the character he's playing.

 Although you'd be forgiven for thinking this is Christopher Reeve.

Female cosplayers get the worst of this, sadly, so I'll spell it out, just to be on the safe side: No touching, no con-creeping (ie following them around), and no inappropriate comments. 


It's easy to treat cosplayers like they're paid professionals at a theme park, but that fact is they're not here solely for your amusement. Odds are they have things they want to see at the con, too, and sometimes they have to eat and take breaks and just hang out with friends. Don't approach a cosplayer who is partially out of costume and sitting down or eating. That's their break time. The same goes for bathrooms and during convention panels (although the times right before and after the panel are fine.)

Sometimes you'll want a photo of a cosplayer who's either mingling with a group or talking one-on-one with someone. As long as the conversation doesn't seem tense (I see a LOT of lovers' spats on the con floor) then here's how to politely interrupt:

1) approach the cosplayer and stop a respectful distance away - at least a few feet
2) have your camera in hand, and wait
3) when the cosplayer looks your way, raise your camera slightly while raising your eyebrows

If the cosplayer doesn't notice you, you may have to get a little closer, or try catching the eye of the person they're with - I've had a lot of luck with that method, particularly for cosplayers in vision-impairing helmets and such. However, read the situation and use common courtesy; sometimes it's best to move on and try to catch them later.

I never advise touching a cosplayer to get their attention - not even a tap on the shoulder. It's too invasive, and too easily misinterpreted, so just don't. If you take a photo with a cosplayer, then wait for him or her to initiate contact. Often times they'll throw an arm around your shoulders or cozy up next to you - but if not, then keep a respectful distance or exercise a judicious bit of hover-hands behind the waist. 

- a quick word on kids: I always like to double-check with the parents before photographing younger kids. It's just the non-creepy, polite thing to do. Then I get down on one knee so I'm more on the kid's level:

If you're curious what she's doing, I explained here.

3. COMMUNICATE  On the opposite end of the spectrum, it's easy to get so intimidated by a great cosplayer that you freeze up and run the risk of seeming rude. I saw this happen pretty often as Lady Vadore: people would stare at me, pointing, even running backwards in front of me grabbing multiple photos, but refusing to speak to me, meet my eyes (granted, not easy in my mask, of course), or acknowledge in any way that I was anything more than a walking statue. I was talked about ten times more than I was talked to.

Again, with my full mask I realize mine was one of the harder costumes to communicate through, but I've seen this phenomena happen with plenty of non-masked cosplayers as well. (I call it the "beautiful people in spandex" effect.) And the solution is so simple! Here's all you have to do:

1) Make eye contact (or with helmets, look in the general direction of their eyes)
2) Smile

That's it! If you want to go the extra mile, give the thumbs up or call out a compliment or "thanks!" if you've taken someone's picture. Just that - just that! - made me feel a million times more appreciated. Don't assume that just because someone has a great costume they've heard it all before; everyone wants to know that their work is valued. I can also guarantee that most cosplayers are only too eager to talk to you about their costume, so don't be afraid to start a conversation from time to time!

Note: My friend Christie just had another good point: every cosplayer would much rather pose than be "photo sniped" when they're not looking or camera ready. So don't be shy: just ask!

If you want more tips on convention-going in general, then you might want to check out my Dragon*Con Survival Tips -  keeping in mind that most conventions aren't nearly so big and overwhelming.

Ok, guys, I'm sure I missed plenty of things, so please share your tips for all things cosplay in the comments! And here's a final giggle to send you off:

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Jen's Gems 2/27/13

- In case you've missed it elsewhere this week, check out this AMAZING Bag End Bonsai!

 By Chris Guise, found via NerdApproved

There's something magical about miniatures that will always fascinate me - and I can't get over all the details Chris included!

This is more than just a miniature diorama; it's a living sculpture. The tree, grass, and moss are all alive and growing:

Be sure to check out all of Chris' process photos, from placing the bricks to hand-turning the tiny brass doorknob on a metal lathe. (Seeing how something was made always makes me appreciate it that much more.) So, so cool.

- Laura S. wrote to me to show off her twin sister Kelly's t-shirt designs, and I can see why!

How great is this Harry Potter shirt?! (Available at RedBubble in any color you like)

And this one made me laugh out loud:

Kelly has lots more fun mash-up shirts at her RedBubble portfolio, so go check 'em out! I'm really hoping her designs start hitting sites like Woot or TeeFury, though, where they're more affordable. (RedBubble is great, but kinda pricey.)

- Caitlin T. surprised me this week with this GORGEOUS watercolor ACEO:


I went nuts for him as soon as I saw it, and managed to wheedle the original out of Caitlin through excessive and utterly shameless begging. :D Now I can't wait to see this little guy framed and on my office wall!

If you like him as much as I do, be sure to check out Caitlin's other work on DeviantArt - it's a mixture of sweet watercolors like this and simply stunning nature photography.

- Disney just announced a new line of Haunted Mansion merchandise, and WOW. Dizgeek jackpot!!

This gargoyle candlelabra should be available sometime next month.

This wine stopper won't be out 'til June, but it's definitely going on my "must-buy" list:

Fans will recognize this guy from the Mansion's iconic queue stanchions. I can remember petting the bats' smooth metal heads as a child, and to this day I still get a kick out of giving them a little pat as I walk by. :) John and I aren't wine drinkers, but I plan to find a nice bottle or brass candlestick to display it on. 

Head over to the official Disney blog to see the rest, including an intricate music box, hourglass, and more. SO MANY GOODIES.

- And finally, this isn't so much a Gem as a question regarding the show Primeval

 Does it get better? 

Because John and I have just *barely* managed to make it through season 2 on Netflix, and now one of the few remaining good characters just died, and the writing and plot holes and ridiculous clichés are actually getting worse, and...yeah. Does it get better, or should we give up now? I mean, I WANT to like it, since the show's premise is so darn cool, but oh, the writing, it hurts us, Precious. IT HURTS US. 

Anyway, feel free to chime in in the comments. And as always, I welcome your Netflix recommendations!

Monday, February 25, 2013

DIY Vintage Rustic Cabinet Doors

For our next phase of the laundry room/pantry makeover, John and I decided to install three cabinets above the washer and dryer. We figured we'd buy the same style of Ikea cabinetry that we have in our kitchen, and then beat them up a bit to get the vintage distressed look I was after.

The Akurum cabinets (in Ädel Medium Brown) that we have in our kitchen

So, off to Ikea we went, where a helpful sales guy printed out our list of materials to bring to the check out.

We were about ten feet from the register when I looked down at the price list and lost my mind.

"Did you know it's over four hundred dollars just for the cabinet DOORS?!" I hissed at John. The total for everything was nearly six hundred, but that included the cabinet boxes, shelves, mounting hardware, and hinges. The five doors were the crazy expensive part.

So after a hasty discussion we bought everything BUT the doors, and then set out to make our own.

This post is going to be kind of long, so here's a sneak peek at the end product to keep you going:

The color ended up matching pretty well, don't you think?

John spent about $60 on the wood and stain, and then got to make use of all those fun power tools in his garage:

He had three big power saws out on our driveway - the testosterone was flying, y'all.

John ripped 1X6 pine boards in half lengthwise, and then routed the edges with a groove like you see here. Then he used the router to add tabs on the short sides of the boards, so they'd fit together like this:

 Here's the fitted edge, also known as a tongue-and-groove joint, for obvious reasons:
With this technique you can build a cabinet door without screws, staples, or nails. The only thing you need is a little wood glue!

We used pine for everything, which is a very soft wood, and plywood for the center panels. Hardly furniture-grade, but since we planned to beat it all up, it made sense to go with the cheap stuff.

Here's me stepping in with the palm sander. Love that thing.

Another look at the tongue-and-grooves as John assembles the doors.

All done and stacked overnight for the glue to dry.

Next came lots more sanding: after smoothing out all the sides and center panels, I also knocked off all the hard corners and edges to give the cabinets a soft, worn look.

Then came the fun part: beating them up! John always lets me do this part, possibly because the sight of his wife with a hammer in each hand gleefully whacking the bejeebers out of things is kind of terrifying.

The best tools for distressing cabinetry are a hammer and a long metal wood screw. Smack the wood with the edge of your hammer head to make subtle, half-moon indents, and then hammer the side of the screw into the wood to make an impression like this:

Also use the hammer claw to make small gouges, and then just get creative! Experiment with different tools and keep abusing the wood until it's beat up to your liking. It won't look like much on the raw wood, but all those areas will show up nicely once you get the wood stain on:


Here's John wiping on the Mahogany stain:

We were professional painters for about ten years, guys, and I'm telling you right now: there is nothing quite so terrifying as wood stain. It's completely unpredictable in terms of color and saturation, and it's nearly impossible to take off if you screw it up. So always - ALWAYS -  test it on scrap wood first. (Or in our case, about ten pieces of scrap wood, each with different colors, saturations, degrees of sanding, etc.)

It also helps to use a product called pre-stain. Pre-stain seals the wood slightly and prevents some of the blotchiness and uneven areas you get in crappier woods like our pine here. Our doors are still a little blotchy, but they'd have been much worse without the pre-stain.

Under our garage shop lights the stain tended to look reddish-purple, but once inside the color was revealed to be a nice, true brown.
Next I printed out some large numbers on cardstock:

...and cut those out with a craft knife to make stencils:

We marked both the stencils and the doors with center cross hairs (using chalk on the doors), and then matched up the lines to place the stencils in the exact center of each door.

Gettin' messy.

After this I went back and sanded down the numbers (yay more sanding) to age them.

We debated what kind of sealer or clear coat to use on the doors, and settled on this heavenly Feed N' Wax stuff, which is a combination of bees wax and orange oil:

I say "heavenly" because the wax smells like heaven. The orange scent is right out of Horizons - for any of you classic DizGeeks out there - so I stood next to John the whole time he was wiping the doors down just breathing deeply and making a bunch of indecent noises. MMMMM. I want to rub this stuff all over my entire house.

Ok, so, ready for the big reveal? (Keeping in mind that the laundry room itself is still not done yet?)

Ta-da! New cabinets!!

(Door number 2 doesn't look *quite* that light in person, but I'm still debating going back and sanding the others down a little more to match. Or maybe I'll just add more stain to door #2. Hmm...)

The handles are also from Ikea and cost about $4 each - but I first found them on ebay here for $16 each, plus shipping. SERIOUSLY. Comparison shopping, guys: it pays off.

The handles were a perfectly smooth satin black when we got them, so I hit them with a few blasts of matte black and oil-rubbed bronze spray paint to give them a slight texture. No can really see the difference but me, I'm sure, but now I think they look more like wrought iron.

We aged and stained both sides of all the doors. Those are the Ikea birch cabinet bases underneath, but you can only see the lighter interiors when you open the doors.

And here's that closeup again:

We saved about $400 making the doors ourselves, although we spent several days' worth of labor on them in return. We were planning on aging and distressing the store-bought doors anyway, though, and I always like something we've made ourselves better than store bought. It was fun! Plus now we have one more thing in our house that we can point to casually and be all, "Oh, that? Why, WE MADE IT, of course." And then we can chortle knowingly and remember why people hate us sometimes.

Oh, and we also installed a new light fixture, which gives the room a much warmer glow. It's hard to see when it's on...

...but it's this one:

It took forever to find a simple, vintage style globe that was a semi-flush mount, but I'm really happy with this one. The price on Amazon fluctuates almost daily, so I watched it go from $32 up to $53 and then back down to $29 before pouncing on it (and free shipping with Prime. Holla!) It's back up to $52 right now, but watch it for while if you want one.

K, that's all from the land of laundry room re-dos! Stay tuned for our next installment, where we'll be assembling wall shelves using industrial metal pipe. Woohoo!


Come see ALL of my craft projects on one page, right here!