Welcome to the Panel!

Hi! Welcome to the Panel!

by Durrilion

It’s con weekend!  There’s so much to do and to see!  Where does one start?  The best thing is to check out the event’s programming schedule.  The vendors (and their cool stuff) and the exhibitors will still be in the hall, but those panels are usually a ‘one and done’ situation at con’s.

Comic and Media Expo 2015, in Mesa, AZ had quite a selection of panels.  In fact Saturday was so packed I desperately needed Hermione’s time-turner so I could be everywhere at once.  Sadly the Ministry of Magic has never responded to my owls.  I just HAD to choose which panels to attend.

Armed with pen and paper, I sat ready to learn as much as possible.  For the more experienced cosplayer/con attendee, much of what I learned is pretty ‘old stuff’.  However, I am sure there are thousands of newbie geeks like me, hungry for knowledge.  It’s for them that I will summarize my panel experiences.

On Day 1 I went to Cosplaying with Confidence, by Gwiyomi Entertainment.

Gwiyomi Entertainment
Gwiyomi Entertainment

Fairly recently there has been discussion of size, shape, weight, age, skin color, etc in conjunction with what is “acceptable in cosplay”.  The two young ladies on the panel touched on all of those subjects.  There was intelligent discourse, some silliness, and very importantly, a positive, supportive environment.

Let's be silly now!
Let’s be silly now!

Short/tall, skinny/fat, light/medium/dark skinned, male/female, old/young, if there’s a character you really love; a character with whom you feel strongly connected, there is no reason not to cosplay that character.  Amidst all this, the only cautionary statement I would say is make sure the costume actually fits you.  By that I mean, make sure the pattern is adjusted for your individual size and shape.  Wardrobe malfunctions are only ‘funny’ when they happen to celebrities.  Also be aware of and respectful to racial and cultural issues.  Painting your skin green, blue, or purple is one thing, doing blackface (or any other offensive portrayal of any ethnic group), is just cruel.  Cosplay is supposed to be fun, top that with lots of respect for others, and everyone will have a fantastic con and cosplay experience!  By the way Gwiyomi Entertainment is on facebook, check them out and like their page.

The very next panel I went to was the Basics of thermoplastics.

Lady ember Brennan Sparks (picture from online search)
Lady Ember Brennan Sparks (picture from online search)

Lady Ember Brennan Sparks covered a great deal of information.

-Types of plastics:

worbla – best for World of Warcraft/fantasy pieces because it details very well, available in tan, black, and clear.

terraflex – equivalant to worbla, available in the Phoenix Metro area at Tandy Leather, and online at Cosplaysupply.com.

wonderflex – similar to worbla, but doesn’t form fine detail as well.

sintra – has a higher melting point compared to worbla, and doesn’t detail as well, considered best for Star Wars/Heavy Metal armor.

fosshape – found on wonderflex website, it’s good for masks because it mimics fabric well, available in two weights.

It should be noted that many of these materials have a smooth and a rough side.  Always double check which side is being used before patterning, cutting, and gluing!

-Storing:  Lady Ember stressed upon us the importance of storing our thermoplastics carefully.  Living in hot climates it is imperative that thermoplastics are never left in a car, outside (especially in direct sunlight) for long periods of time, or in poorly ventilated areas.  The heat will melt the plastics and cause them to bond with everything in contact.  This will at best reduce your supply of materials, at worst it will ruin them.  When plastics arrive via the mail, open the box immediately! Make sure everything arrived safely and undamaged, then move it to a suitable storage area.

-Sealing:  It seems that gesso, modge-podge, wood glue, and flexbond are almost universally acceptable sealing agents.  Note: Flexbond may require extra layers and gives a metallic sheen.  Also, sealing reduces the flexibility and innate adhesiveness of thermoplastics.  It also makes heating them more difficult and possibly toxic (paint/sealer fumes).  Always seal plastics last, right before painting.

-Painting:  Lady Ember highly suggested NEVER mixing types of paint (ie oil vs. water bases).  In her experience Rustoleum and Krylon do not mix well.  In general it is best to stick with one brand per piece if not per project.  She stated that she feels Rustoleum bonds better to sealed thermoplastics, but Krylon has a wider range of color choices.  She said acrylic and airbrush paints work too.  When it is finally time to paint your plastic, Lady Ember pointed out that worbla needs lots of priming to look like metal (e.g. a smooth surface is needed for painting), whereas sintra does not ‘require’ any priming since it already has a smooth surface.

-Heating and Shaping:  First and foremost burns/singeing are inevitable, so be careful! Parchemnt paper is her recommendation to prevent heated plastics from sticking to table surfaces.  Keep your heat gun moving to avoid over heating the plastic.  The best recommendation for heat guns – inexpensive is better (sturdier) than expensive models (often with a ceramic core that shatters if/when dropped).  Heating is essential in shaping thermoplastics.  To reduce, if not eliminate, burns, find a heat resistant face form to shape any masks or headpieces.  Certain types of mannequin torsos can also be used for shaping chest and back pieces, provided those forms closely match one’s own measurements.  Be sure to avoid foam types, the heat will melt them.

-Patterning:  Be sure to pattern your project carefully before cutting into the plastic.  Get to know the pieces you’ll need by researching not only canon materials (written descriptions, pictures, etc) but also comparable real world items (especially armor).  Often things work in comics, anime, or on screen that will not work in reality.  Be ready to compensate for that.  Always test the fit of pattern pieces, keeping an eye on mobility and range of motion.  It’s easier to fix/adjust the pattern than it is to fix the final piece.  Speaking of, if one is working with leather, craft foam makes a great substitute material for patterning purposes as it is similar in flexibility.  Always double check the placement of detail work, whether carved/pressed or added layers.  Once the adhesives dry it is stuck! Metal sculpting tools (she mentioned pottery tools specifically) were suggested for detail work.

-Layering/Thickness:  Worbla, being thinner, can be built up by either layering more worbla (expensive over time, especially for large projects), or by using worbla to cover a layer or two of craft foam to reach the desired thickness.  Alternatively yoga mats and EVA foam mats can be used for thicker layers, and can be ‘sandwiched’ between layers of worbla if desired.

-Safety:  Usually the very first topic in panels, I wanted to close this section with it so it would stay in readers’ minds longer.  Always work in a well ventilated space.  NEVER heat plastics in the kitchen or with anything that comes in contact with food (like the oven).  Thermoplastics release toxic chemicals into the air that will bond with an oven and then cross contaminate your food.  Cosplay is fun, but crafting it can be dangerous.  Be careful, and don’t hurt your self or others.  Lady Ember has a facebook page for fans to like and follow.

Following the thermoplastics panel I went to Working with Worbla.  Panelists Anthony and Zach Verlander own and operate Arizona Worbla Company.  Their panel, while covering much of the same material as Basics of Thermoplastics, did provide additional information.  They suggested using XTC-3D, which is similar to modge-podge, to prime worbla.  Cutting gloves are highly recommended because of the extremely sharp cutting tools involved.  To ensure a smooth surface on worbla, sanding is often involved, however this can leave noticeable scratches on the clear worbla.  Arizona Worbla Company has a facebook. Check it out if you want more information for a local (Phoenix metro area) worbla supplier.

Sunday I attended A Beginner’s Guide to Foam Smithing.  Our panelists were Sam from Thermocosplay and Stevie from StevieSpadeCosplay.

Sam of thermocosplay and STevie of Steviespadecsoplay
Sam of Thermocosplay and Stevie of Steviespadecosplay

These well-informed ladies took us step by step through foamsmithing.  Cutting tools – a lockable box cutter is great to have. 1st aid – always have a 1st aid kit and a kitchen grade fire extinguisher nearby.  ALWAYS.  Gloves, respirators, and well ventilated spaces are a must.  They also echoed the same safety warnings as Lady Ember.  When it came to adhesives, contact cement was a big winner, but be aware it sticks to everything.  Also the trick is to layer both sides, wait until it’s nearly dry, then press them together.  Liquid Nails is good also, but has a much longer cure/drying time.  One attendee recommended Lexel, a flexible glue.  He uses it on flex points of his projects, and as a filler to smooth surfaces.  Sam and Stevie covered craft and EVA foam, yoga mats, and insulation foam.  Each type has it’s pro’s and con’s.  The needs of the project and budget limits will usually determine the type of foam used.  When sealing foam – (always done last, but before painting) epoxy resin works well and won’t eat into it like plasti-dip.  Wood glue works, but mixing it with acrylic seems to work better for creating smooth surfaces.  Wood glue can also be used for filling in cracks, divots, and other imperfections.

Patterning is essential, and their method was to use plastic wrap and tape.  It is difficult to write a clear description, so I’ll suggest readers look up Youtube videos for duct tape dress maker forms.  I made one years ago and my costumes fit perfectly – until the form died.  If anyone decides to create their own ‘duct tape dummy’, I highly recommend covering it in fabric or sealing it in some way.  The glue on the tape will eventually dry, causing the dummy to split and distort out of shape.  Sam and Stevie also covered disinfectants.  Be careful because they can damage the paint.  If you are over 21 use a 50/50 mix of inexpensive unflavored vodka and water.  This will kill most if not all germs and bacteria on foam pieces that have direct or near direct skin contact. If you are not over 21…ask more experienced cosplayers for suggestions.  Both Thermocosplay and StevieSpade Cosplay have Facebook pages.  Like them and keep up with these knowledgeable cosplayers.

After lunch my next stop on my cosplay education tour was How to Start Taking Cosplay Commissions.  Once again Sam

Sam of thermocosplay
Sam of thermocosplay

and Stevie

Stevie of StevieSpadeCosplay
Stevie of StevieSpadeCosplay

were at the table.  The panel began with a basic list of “Do’s and Don’ts”.

Do: account for the cost of materials, assume materials are more expensive than online retail suggests, include budget ‘creep’ to cover unexpected expenses (extra fabric, grommets, new sewing needles, more glue, etc), keep labor and material costs separate.

Dont: assume materials can be found whole sale, ask client for more money when you underestimate costs, spend carelessly.

To better help track the funds there are many budget software programs.  Sam listed two: Excel (which she said is more suited to a Windows guru or someone who is financially savvy).  Word apparently has a basic form that budgeting beginners can use more easily.  The smart phone app Cosplanner came up, but like me, panelist Stevie prefers to just write everything down on paper.

Speaking of paper- they both stressed the importance of a contract.  It sounds harsh, but legally it is the right thing to do.  Make sure it includes your name (or business name), the client’s REAL name, start and end dates, milestone dates (project reviews, patterning, fittings, payments, etc) as well as exact details of materials used, expected hours of work/labor, services rendered (sewing- machine or hand, embroidery, beading, foamsmithing, painting, etc), and contact information for both parties.  While this sounds intimidating, it does protect your time, money, and other resources from people who would take advantage of kindness.  Trust me I know from personal experience.  I am still owed a lot of money, but my ‘friends’ haven’t returned my calls or online message for years.  If there had been a contract maybe I would have been paid for my work.

Other things to consider in a contract are the completion criteria (specific must have by date, can changes be made, and is there a cut off date for changes, who has final say on the project, etc).  Recording all verbal communication is also a good idea.  Written communication should always be dated (most email services automatically time and date stamp this form of communication).  Both Sam and Stevie recommended contracts for trades as well.  If you say you’ll make a foam sword for me in exchange for me making your sorcerer’s robes, and only one of us follows through… not only is that rude, it’s technically stealing.  Having a written, and legally binding contract is important.  Time and money are usually in short supply for creative people.  Protect yours.  There are many basic contract forms available in Word, or online. Do a little research, and find one that works for you.

Once your cosplay commision business is off to a great run, you may want to develop a website.  Sam, having had bad experiences with several host sites, finally found wix.com.  So far she says there have been no issues with their services.

As you can see, attending a con or an expo is much more than shopping, and socializing.  Panels can teach us all so much – even if we think we already know it all.  Take some time at the next con, and risk learning something new.  See you at the next con!

Stay tuned for more about Comic and Media Expo.  Coming up: Meet the amazing cosplayers and their stunning work, hear about the Nicole and Kiba the Cosplay Corgi Q&A, plus an article devoted solely to Karl Yune’s Q&A panel as well!

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