Alcaria Cosplay
Cosplay and Props

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Learning how to use everything

I remember crafting my first costume like it was yesterday. It was during my LotR hype when a friend suggested to dress up as Nazgûl for that year's carnival. In less than 12 hours we had discussed the budget, figured out how to make everything, and bought all the materials we needed. We were still in the dial-up era so there was no internet research for reference or tutorials. We did everything out of memory and creativeness. My friend was a very hands on person. She, too, loved crafting projects. We used black sheets for the main body, since we couldn't find thick black fabric in our price range, and aluminium foil tape for the gloves and boots. We bought cheap gloves and made small cuts over the fingertips. We also bought claw-like fingernails from the Halloween store. We wore the fingernails, put on the gloves with the finger holes and taped them all over. We ended up with a silver looking gauntlet. The whole experience made me feel so creative, I remember having more fun crafting the costume than wearing it. In the following years I didn't have the budget, the space, nor the chance to craft and cosplay. A few years passed before I started crafting again, and each project was bigger, pricier and more ambitious. 

The materials I knew how to use, back then, was fabric, cardboard, polymer clay and wire. I used all those materials and the knowledge I had with them to craft my Ezio costume. Then, thanks to the internet, I had a lot of reference pictures and help with learning about other materials. That is when I discovered foam. In the following years, foam, Gesso, and PVA glue became my favourite medium! I learned how to craft things out of foam and make them look like different type of materials; wood, metal, plastic, leather, bone.

I didn't even know how to layer, seal or shape the foam!

I didn't even know how to layer, seal or shape the foam!

I'm not even going to pretend that I know how to sew. That was one of the most difficult things I had to do back then and to my eyes I nailed it!

I'm not even going to pretend that I know how to sew. That was one of the most difficult things I had to do back then and to my eyes I nailed it!

I've learned to use 3D modeling and posing programmes, like Pepakura designer and viewer, Sketchup, Blender, XNAlara, and designing software like Photoshop and Inkscape. This helped immensely, with both reference pictures and creating/adjusting patterns. I made my first quarter-sphere which helped with my understanding of spherical shapes for handmade patterns. 

While learning how to design costumes, I experimented with different materials. I tried polyurethane (expanding) foam, fiberglass, foamboards, plastiform, resin, silicone, latex, and my personal favourite, thermoplastics. My least favourite was fiberglass. I only tried it once and disliked almost everything about it. The smell was too much that, even with a mask, in a well ventilated place, it still smelled bad. The armour piece never stopped smelling like fiberglass resin. It destroys the brush you are using to apply it and you have to be extra careful not to let it touch anything or drip anywhere. Lastly, the curing time was too long and it was too expensive and hard to come by. I built an N7 helmet out of cardboard and fiberglass. It was rough inside and needed to be patched and the outside needed to be covered with copious amounts of putty. It was too heavy, too smelly and too uncomfortable. And that was the last time I tried fiberglass.

Yes, those were part of a breastplate pattern. The "boob domes".obj 

Yes, those were part of a breastplate pattern. The "boob domes".obj 

This is after the first layer of putty was applied, before it was sanded. 5 layers later, it still looked bad. 

This is after the first layer of putty was applied, before it was sanded. 5 layers later, it still looked bad. 

The material that actually surprised me was the expanding foam. I barely had any experience with sculpting or carving, apart from a couple of school art projects, and I wasn't sure if I could handle shaping a big piece proportionately and correctly. Especially if it had more than one parts which had to be identical. My first attempt was with a bow. I found it quite easy and (weirdly) entertaining, shaving off layers of dried foam with a cutter. Over the years I picked up a couple of tricks which made this technique even easier. If I wanted a very specific shape or size, instead of freehand shaving a chunk of polyurethane, I sprayed foam into moulds I'd make. All the pieces came out in the same size and all I had to do was give them the correct shape. 

There were materials I tried and even though I liked at first, I didn't quite agree with them in the end. Polymer and any sort of clay can be very easy to shape and manipulate (especially since you can sand it after it hardens) but they are rather heavy, especially if it's used for something large. Another issue with it is that it's very easy to crack or brake off. And unfortunately, it doesn't like most glues either. I've made jewellery or even props with clay, but each time there was something negative about it. 

There's also paper. I tried it with fiberglass, resin, wire, putty and hated the results. Even by itself, it's not such a great idea because It may look fantastic once you're done, but from that point on it's just waiting to get ruined. You can't put any pressure on it, you can't fold it, it has to be absolutely dry. 

This was an unfinished Sub-Zero prop from half a decade ago. I gave up when I figured out that the skull would be even heavier than the spine, which was already too heavy. I learned then that I needed a different material.

This was an unfinished Sub-Zero prop from half a decade ago. I gave up when I figured out that the skull would be even heavier than the spine, which was already too heavy. I learned then that I needed a different material.

Feathers made out of 160gsm paper. The cutting, gluing, painting, and finalising took longer than the actual "life" of the feathers. They were folded and torn off some hours after I installed them on the costume. Yet another material scrapped. 

Feathers made out of 160gsm paper. The cutting, gluing, painting, and finalising took longer than the actual "life" of the feathers. They were folded and torn off some hours after I installed them on the costume. Yet another material scrapped. 

One of the materials I'm somewhat familiar with but still a beginner, is acrylic resin. Moulding and casting, in general, isn't my strong suit. I'm still not sure about measurements and colour types, techniques, and measurements. I've only used it twice and the first attempt was a huge failure. I must have messed up the mixing because even after 48 hours (twice the required curing time) it was still sticky. I will have to learn more about this since my upcoming projects require gems of a certain size and colour.

I had tried 3 different types of paint for this and the 2 of them didn't mix with the resin. One of the online guides said "acrylic paint" which I used and it was good. It looked flat and opaque but once it dried it turned transparent.

I had tried 3 different types of paint for this and the 2 of them didn't mix with the resin. One of the online guides said "acrylic paint" which I used and it was good. It looked flat and opaque but once it dried it turned transparent.

Upon closer inspection you can see the imperfections of the gems. Either the clay piece wasn't sanded well or the mould had dirt when the resin was poured. The colour isn't solid either. There are spots of the ink that didn't mix well.

Upon closer inspection you can see the imperfections of the gems. Either the clay piece wasn't sanded well or the mould had dirt when the resin was poured. The colour isn't solid either. There are spots of the ink that didn't mix well.

And my most favourite thing in the world: Worbla! I discovered it back in 2012, but without tutorials, guides or variety of different types of thermoplastic, it was a steep learning curve. What made matters worse was that the following year, due to certain economical issues and restrictions, nobody shipped thermoplastics to Cyprus. It took years before I was able to get more of that product and learn how to properly use it, and by then there were different types of thermoplastics, and each one had different properties. Once you craft your first solid piece that looks good enough, then you can't stop using the material. I couldn't wait for the next order to arrive, or the next. I burned through the product so fast, I kept finding excuses to use it for things other than cosplay. People would walk into my (workshop) livingroom and see armour pieces and props, made out of Worbla and they would ask me if they can pick it up or if it's too fragile. I would always grab a piece and throw it on the floor to show that it's solid. It wouldn't crack or break, and even the colour would stay intact. I've tested different types of sealing agents, different painting techniques, different glues. I love this thing! Even though it can be a bit expensive, I prefer it to anything else because I can pack it and rest assured it won't break or bend. I can readjust elements on it, quickly and without trouble. I can put it back together after breaking or disassembling it and nobody would notice a crack or a seam! I can add a strap or a buckle and know that it will never, EVER, break off or open. 

From claws..

From claws..

..to horns..

..to horns..

...to chains! 

...to chains! 

Now this year's main project will see the combination of PVC tubes, foamboard, EVA and Worbla. And all that will be connected to a wooden base harness. That's right: wings! I am experienced with all the materials, but I've never built or used a harness before. I'm not even sure how to secure it and hide it under the backplate. I've been trying to figure this out for 3 weeks. Exciting times ahead!