Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Interview with an artist: Heather Monson

This October, I am very excited to interview Heather Monson, who has many talents in art and theater, including costume designing!

Wood Witch

How did you first become interested in making costumes? (or is the term cosplay?)

Both terms are correct, depending on what you mean. Making costumes is just what it says. Cosplay is wearing costumes and playing the characters to whom the costumes correspond. It's a Japanese-katakana-abbreviation of "costume play."

As for how I became interested in it... I attended a panel introducing the basics of costuming at "Life, the Universe, and Everything: the Marion K. "Doc" Smith Memorial Symposium on Science Fiction and Fantasy" (commonly called LTUE). This was just a few months after LotR:FotR came out. I decided to make some Middle Earth-ish cloaks. Once they were done, I decided to attempt a dress that crossed costume elements I loved from LotR costuming with costume elements I loved from "The Princess Bride" costuming. And, from there, I was completely hooked.


What kinds of costumes have you made for yourself and others, and where have you worn them?

Oh, goodness. I've built costumes for a variety of local theatre productions, and have worn a few of my own creations onstage. I've made costumes for local small independent films and trailers. I've made a lot of costumes (film-based and original), for myself and others, for conventions. Quite a few of my costume creations have been for live action roleplay games (LARPs). The LARP creations are probably my favorites, as they aren't just costumes. They are what that character wears (and, in the case of LARP weapons, which I also build, what the character uses to defend himself/herself). LARP gear must be very sturdy and functional, in addition to being attractive and out-of-the-ordinary.

 Poseidon Rising and Desert Sun

Making costumes is very time-consuming. Can you describe the personal rewards of finishing a new piece?

It's the same as writing a story, capturing a poem, creating a painting, etc. Being able to look at something and say, "that exists because I made it" is, in many ways, its own reward.

Other rewards... When I'm sewing for other people, I love seeing their reactions when I deliver the finished pieces. One friend in particular has a face that lights up like a little kid's face at Christmas when I show him a new costume. After the initial reaction, he proceeds to notice and admire all the details, try things on, admire the overall effect, and thank me profusely for my hard work. Thanks to his reactions, he's one of my very favorite people to sew for. I love giving people a chance to step into another character, another perspective, another world.

And the rewards don't end there. At conventions, it's fun to be stopped by people wanting a picture. At Halloween, it's fun to be the person everyone in the office is trying to beat (and, in all fairness, usually succeeding--but somehow I'm still the standard they want to beat). When larping, the garb I made myself really helped me to inhabit the characters I played, and to be very comfortable (in all kinds of terrain and weather) doing it.

This might sound a bit odd, but I love how costuming allows me to combine the love of art I got from my mom with the love of math (yes, math--I suck at everything beyond Algebra II, but it still fascinates me) and things that are built well that I got from my dad into an end result that can be worn and used and enjoyed.

 Arwen Mourning Gown

In other words, how do you feel when you can inhabit a character’s persona?

I enjoy getting absorbed into the character, so I suppose you could say I feel what the character would be feeling. Wearing what the character would wear helps make the experience immersive (which the spellchecker thinks is not a word, but it should be, darn it). How absorbed I get depends a lot on circumstance. For example, onstage in a play or as part of a larp event, I can get thoroughly immersed in the character. At conventions, it's a much more superficial creation of the role, as I need to fill a lot of functions besides just portraying whomever-I'm-dressed-to-portray.

 Sepiroth and Aerith

What advice would you give people who are interested in learning how to make their own costumes?

Get started, and be very, very forgiving of your early attempts. Learning to costume is the same as learning any other skill. You'll improve tremendously with time and practice.

Don't be afraid to use your imagination. If the pattern doesn't do what you want it to do, change it, or set it aside and make up your own.

Also, when using commercial patterns, check your measurements against the pattern measurements BEFORE you cut your nice fabric. Hardly any of us are shaped exactly to the pattern's measurements, and the pattern's measurements aren't always accurate. Make any adjustments you need to make when you're working with tissue paper, not when you're working with fabric.

 Jester Costume

What would your dream costume be?

lol That changes several times a year. At the moment, with full time work and new parenthood eating up all my time (though I very much love and appreciate both), my costuming dream is just to get caught up on existing projects.

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