Four months in, 2017 has thrown me some real curve balls so far, which has badly depleted a lot of my energy and motivation – but my cosplay builds are still miraculously crawling along. I am going to get around to full posts for each project but for now, here’s a quick update on how things are going.
Celene has fallen onto the back burner a bit recently, as I had to postpone my plans to go and make the ballgown. That said, she now has a mask and a wig is on its way, so I’m going to have to get myself sorted out for dress making and fittings in May, otherwise my brother isn’t going to have an outfit to wear to the ball when The Calling comes around in June!
The other big task is going to be the lion’s head for the back of the dress, so I’ve been doing a few experiments with resin casting and need to find the time to actually sit down and make a clay master.
My Emerald Knight is slowly but surely coming together. I’ve finalised the embroidery design and started drafting patterns for the sewn garments. Her foam armor pieces are pretty much ready for priming and painting – just the sabatons to build and a few tweaks to the breastplate, then I need to settle on which shades of paint I want to use. I decided that I wasn’t happy with the foam scalemaille that I made for Mahariel, so I’ve been busy weaving chainmaille for Lindiranae’s sleeves, which is almost finished, and to remake Mahariel’s Regalia of Weisshaupt.
Other DA-related Stuff
A while back I booked an appointment to get another geeky tattoo and decided to get the Inquisition sigil just above my ankle, to balance out the Stark direwolf on my other leg. I have a couple of other designs pretty much ready to go – I just need the funds and to decide exactly where I want to put them!
Last month we went to MCM Birmingham and (after a few trips back and forth waiting for a quieter moment to queue) I got Gareth David-Lloyd to sign my Inquisition art book. I’ve since started stalking the other voice actors’ Twitter and Facebook pages to see if we’re likely to get any of the others at relatively local conventions so that I can get the other character pages signed.
Our next scheduled event is The Calling in June (UK Dragon Age fans, go check it out!) so I badly need to crack on!
(Okay, I know I ramble when I write posts so if you’re just here for the video, scroll to the bottom!)
Back in January, Abi of Butthead and Pastry cosplay suggested a summer Dragon Age shoot at Warwick Castle and asked if anyone would be interested. I fired off my response with less than thirty seconds of consideration. At the time, I had Lavellan half finished and wasn’t sure whether my work would be anywhere near the quality of the more experienced cosplayers, but I was so eager to be part of it.
Warden-Commander Mahariel was next on my list of “Must-do Cosplays” and my experiments were already underway, so once the date was set for August I had less than eight months to get her finished, alongside all my other projects. In retrospect, I could have done with dropping a few things so that Mahariel could be a little more polished but, life being what it is, I made do.
I always pack more props than I’m likely to need, just in case, and The Gathering was definitely no exception! As well as my Antivan Fire grenade and Jar of Bees, I packed a few lyrium and health potions, my Warden’s codex , two plush nugs and a mabari. That was as close to “packing light” as I really get!
I also found a gorgeous label for Aggregio Pavali (by taye_x on Reddit), which inspired us to make some more based on Inquisition’s Bottles on the Wall collection! From left to right: Golden Scythe 4:90 Black; West Hill Brandy; Butterbile 7:84; Aggregio Pavali; Dragon Piss. Eventually, we may actually get around to doing the rest of the collection.
I tend to be an anxious person, especially in new situations. The Calling, held at Beverley Friary in June, was my first big non-MCM event. Aside from my husband and brother, who got dragged along, I had never met a single attendee before and not only survived living with everyone for a long weekend, I loved every minute of it. Although Warwick Castle is on a much grander scale than Beverley Friary (and utterly crammed with tourists!), I felt much less intimidated by the idea of meeting so many new people than I had on the way to The Calling. It helped that I’d already met Abi and Jay, who organised the shoot, as well as a few others, at conventions earlier in the year but I was so worried about whether my costume would look terribly gauche compared with the fantastic work I’d seen the others posting on Facebook in the months before.
On the morning of the shoot I realised that I’d neglected to pack the tiny invisible elastics I’d bought for Mahariel’s braids, so I ended up having to use a random hairband I found in my makeup bag to pull some of my hair back in an approximate style.
I had such anxiety over my hair that I wondered if I’d get away with hiding it under my hood…
I won’t drag out a blow-by-blow account of the day, but I really want to say how fantastic the day was. All the cosplayers, roped-in partners, photographers and The 86th Floor, who did all our professional shots and filmography were amazing. It was a real pleasure to hang out with them all day and the cosplayers looked absolutely incredible. Even though I’d seen photos of a few of the costumes on Facebook beforehand, the detail and designs were so impressive. I’ll put a full list of all the cosplayers involved at the bottom of this post – please go check out their work and give them some love!
The big surprise of the day was how much the tourists enjoyed us being there! We knew that the castle was going to be open to the public – we were all there on day tickets, after all, and I expected we would probably get some funny looks and possibly some derisive comments. Some thought we were employees of the castle, in all our fantasy regalia, and a lot of us were stopped regularly so that visitors and their kids could have photos taken with us. At one point, I was sitting in my wheelchair waiting with Ellie (our fabulous Zevran) for a turn in front of the camera and we had an almost constant stream of people come, one after another, to pose with us for the better part of about fifteen or twenty minutes. They were queuing. It was the most surreal thing I’ve experienced in cosplay, so far!
We didn’t manage to get as many photos as we would have liked, especially of the Inquisition crew (Warwick Castle itself is not very wheelchair friendly and a lot of their shoot was done indoors) and somehow completely failed to get any of Catbutt Cosplay’s fantastic Yavanna and Phil the Despair Demon. We did manage to get a few nice ‘behind the scenes’ pictures, though. Go and check out the professional photos at The Eighty-Sixth Floor Music and The Space In Between Photography!
We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get Alistair to pose with the ballista!
Merrill; Varric Tethras; Hawke; Tallis; Aveline Vallen; Anders
Varric Tethras and Bianca
I think this shot of Merrill might have to become another Kirkwall Office of Tourism postcard!
How amazing do these guys look?! Cole; Sera; Dorian; Solas; Inquisitor Lavellan; Cullen Rutherford; Cassandra Pentaghast; Vivienne; Varric Tethras; Lace Harding
Managed to catch Harding in her other role as photographer. I’m hoping she’ll be publishing a photo book in collaboration with Varric – “Scouting Thedas: Images from the Western Approach to the Brecilian Forest “
Photography by D. Allen
The Champion is wondering what she did to get stuck promoting Kirkwall’s Office of Tourism
Naturally, the Viscount got roped in to promote Kirkwall as a tourist destination…
Yavanna – Photography by The Eighty-Sixth Floor Music
Our thanks to Warwick Castle for letting us come and play on the site; Abi and Jay for organising everything; The Eighty-Sixth Floor Music for all their hard work; The WinnTeam and The Space In Between Photography for helping to capture the day; all the cosplayers and helpers for making the day so much fun. You’re all so amazingly talented and it was a real honour to be part of this project with you.
The knuckle-bow turned out to be much more frustrating and time consuming than I imagined. Getting a good reference image was a nightmare – I ran poor Cassandra around a few different locations, trying to find a spot that was well-lit and with a handy boulder/wall/staircase available to stand her against so that I could force the camera as close as possible. I ended up with three actually useful images – two that showed the shape and curve, and one fairly clear shot of the depiction of June.
Almost a week on, I’ve got the hard part done and the longest part (waiting for layers to cure) is almost over.
I tidied up the edge below the spines with some 2mm craft foam, sealed it with two layers of PVA and tried out my can of Plasti-Dip on it… which just seemed to make the entire thing bendier. I coated the whole thing in a thin layer of resin to give it a bit of stability, then slapped three layers of PVA/water/casting powder over it.
I damp-sanded the blade and sprayed on three coats of Plasti-Kote as a base. Once it’s done curing, I can make a start with the acrylics.
Like the Ardent Blossom helm, Evanura is secreted away in the Emerald Graves and can only be acquired after picking up the codex entry The Silver Knight (a tale which I have rambled on about in other posts, so I shall refrain from doing so again). It is restricted to warrior class characters, so I was gutted that my Dalish rogue couldn’t carry it. I really wished that there were a way to display certain unique weapons on the walls of Skyhold because their designs are gorgeous and the backstories make for interesting reading. I think my Lavellan would have felt much the same affinity for this blade as I do and it seemed a pity that my options were to sell it, keep it hanging around in my inventory or stick it in the Undercroft chest.
When I began making plans for Lindiranae , Evanura was the first thing I wanted to tackle. I’ve tried my hand at a couple of foam creations (Silencer – which I must get around to finishing! – and Mahariel’s breastplate) and decided that foam was probably going to be my best bet. I spent ages working out how the measurements for Evanura in-game (based on an estimate of how wide Cassandra’s hand is!) and made a cardboard mock-up… that was absolutely enormous! The stupidest part is that it wasn’t until I had finished taping it all together that I actually realised how badly I’d calculated it. So I gave all my mangled mathematics to my engineer husband, who laughed at me and scaled up my reference sketch to the right size. The difference was more than a little bit ridiculous…
I stocked up on 3mm yoga mats when our local Poundland had them in, so armed with my new template, I started hacking mats into pieces. I built up the first layer around the cardboard to give the foam a bit more support and slapped on a couple of coats of PVA.
I found foam too fiddly and flimsy for the grip and despite my best efforts to carve my thicker floor mats into the right shape, I just couldn’t get my edges even. I ended up building a scaffold out of corrugated cardboard and layered sections of hardboard over it to keep the octagonal shape. I experimented with a few ways to make the cross-guard and decided I would have to do it in three sections – the écusson built onto the grip to keep the defined edges, then the foam quillons were slotted on underneath. The knuckle-bow has a design worked into it so I thought it would be easier to build that separately to be attached prior to priming.
Building up the layers was significantly easier than I expected. I thought I would end up having to take a rotary tool to it where the edges meet, but by the time I had finished gluing it down, it already looked pretty much how I wanted it. A third layer under the spines went on in the same way.
The next job is to get the knuckle-bow finished and then I can start getting it ready to paint.
I’m sure it won’t come as a shock to anyone that I’m a huge fan of the Dragon Age elves. Mythology and history are long-harbored passions, so I found the snippets about Dalish culture and lore irresistible. I loved collecting the codex entries about their history but there was one particular story that I just couldn’t let go of: the fall of Dirthavaren during the Second Exalted March. It was one of those tales that settles into your brain, takes a look around and decides it’s going to move in on a long lease. I was so enamored with it that The Silver Knight was the first in-game tale that I set to music and then I promptly went away, crammed my head with as much information as I could find on the Emerald Knights, and wrote Lindiranae’s version of events.
Bringing Lindiranae and Evanura back to life as a cosplay project seemed like a natural next step. Since Evanura is an available weapon in game, it was easy enough to get reference images but the only imagery of the Emerald Knights (that I’ve managed to find, at least) were the statues in Din’an Hanin. The same statues are also at the Winter Palace in Halamshiral, which let me get better lit screenshots. Dozens and dozens of screenshots…
Given that they’re the Emerald Knights, I knew greens were going to be predominant in my colour pallet, but I also wanted to include some of the bronze tones from the Sentinel Elves’ armour.
With that in mind, I’ve tested a few colouring ideas out and I think I’ve finally settled on a design that I’m happy with. I’m not expecting to have Lindiranae finished until spring 2017, so I’ve got plenty of time to experiment. Evanura is already well underway and I’m expecting to be priming and painting over the weekend.
I spent years telling myself that cosplay wasn’t for me. Long before I joined my first cosplay group or forum, I was aware of the bullying that comes from offering images of your work and yourself up to the web. So every time I envied the amazing cosplayers that I came across, I would remind myself that I was too old, completely the wrong body type and that my wheelchair would “ruin” everything. Wheeling around a convention at eye-level with most people’s belt buckles could never look as impressive as striding across the floor, sword in hand. I was quite sure that I would be opening myself up to nothing but ridicule and negativity – after all, if a person can receive the sort of hate that I’d seen online, just because they are considered too thin, too fat, too tall or too short for the character they’re cosplaying, what hope was there for me?
By chance I came across a supportive and encouraging group in autumn 2015, and I took my first real cosplay out last November. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some incredibly creative and talented people, who have made me feel very welcome, and as a result I’ve had so much fun cosplaying these last ten months.
But although I’ve been fortunate to have experienced the best that the cosplay community has to offer, despite my fears, it saddens me that cosplay bullying is still such a problem. For every well-circulated incident that we see on social media, there are so many more that we never even hear about.
We’re all geeks in costume, celebrating our fandoms. We should be building each other up, offering encouragement and constructive feedback, sharing our skills and experiences, not ripping our comrades in arms to pieces.
I was more than a little bit apprehensive about putting together Mahariel’s armour – other than the scale maille, I haven’t had very much experience crafting with and painting foam, so it’s something of a relief to now have the most complicated part finished.
The Regalia of Weisshaupt armour, from Dragon Age II, has three slightly different designs depending on Hawke’s class. A slightly updated version is seen in Inquisition – the armour worn by your Grey Warden contact looks like a cross between the rogue and warrior versions – but as my Mahariel is a rogue, I found it easier to screenshot reference pictures of the armour on Hawke.
The armour is listed as four separate components in game, which I broke down into the following pieces:
Since I’ve just finished painting the breastplate, that’s where we’ll start…
When I was putting together my references and writing up my shopping lists, I had planned to do all of the armoured pieces as Worbla over foam. As it happened, I’ve not had time to play with the pieces of Worbla I bought a few months back, and I ended up just bodging it together.
The first piece I actually made was the griffon insignia and built the rest of the breastplate around it. It wasn’t until I was ready to glue everything together that I found something I had missed in my reference pictures: the raised edge around the larger piece. After spending a good ten minutes cursing the pictures, the computer and myself, I cut the extra pieces and layered it all up to see whether I needed to either cut a smaller pair of griffons or a taller base. Then I decided I actually liked the effect of having the tips of the wings over the border, glued it all together and sealed it with a coat of clear glaze.
After gently heat-shaping the foam, I tied the corners together to support the shape and gave it another couple of coats of glaze. I have loads of silver PlatiKote left from the scales, so I decided to use the spray for the base colour.
Once it was dry I thought it was much too shiny and “new” looking, and all of the creases and marks on the foam were suddenly glaringly obvious. I made up a bucket of not-quite-gesso* and gave it two generous coats, which have left the breastplate pretty sturdy but it still has plenty of flex.
1 part casting powder (I use Scola, which sets really quickly so I recommend making lots of small batches rather than making a whole bowlful at once)
1 part PVA glue
1 part warm water
Once it had set, I sanded it down (I definitely need to get a rotary tool!) and painted the front with black acrylic and PVA…
Then layered on the first coat of silver acrylic.
I much preferred the acrylic paint to the PlastiKote. Yes, it took significantly longer than the spray but I think the matte finish really suits the piece and it made weathering much easier.
I may find myself adding a little to the weathering over the next couple of days, and I still can’t decide whether I want to risk going overboard on it to work in some darkspawn blood before I seal it. Other than that, the only job left for my breastplate is to fit all the straps and buckles!