Cosplay: The Dos and Don'ts of Commissioning

We’re exactly a month away from Gen Con 2014 <<giddy squeal>>. At this point in just about any other run-up to a convention there’d be a couple progress posts detailing what’s been done on a given costume. This season is a bit different for a couple reasons, not least of which being that the sheer number of outfits being constructed for Gen Con is far greater than any I’ve attempted previously in my cosplaying ‘career'. There will be three costumes in the Gen Con trousseau: two for me and one for the GIR. It’s only the second time that we’ll be cosplaying together and the first time that I’ll be making an entire costume for him (the GIR’s previous cosplaying experience required only that I make a mask). While having three costumes in process simultaneously has been a fun challenge, a lot of executive decisions had to be made in order to keep all three on schedule. At the heart of these was the verdict to outsource some of the labor on various components to a handful of artists.

The concept of having an outside party complete any part of your costume is a contentious one in the cosplay world. While there are no statistics to describe the phenomenon, if you were to bring up the subject to any number of cosplayers you’d likely encounter more than a few ‘purists’ who would take umbrage at the idea. It’s a behavior that you’d see in just about any hobby or fandom: that adherents try to create devotional castes based on types of participation. In cosplay, there is a potential added level of judgment from your fellow con-goers, since one of the most common questions you’ll be asked is, “So how long did it take you to make [awesome costume piece]?”

This is not to say that if you went out and bought part or all of your costume that you’re guaranteed to face a deluge of scorn. However, knowing that this might be something that comes up during your cosplay gives you the chance to prepare a response ahead of time, thus upping your odds of preserving a solid convention experience (assuming the latter is your goal). Of course, your personal cosplayer’s manifesto may include component purchasing because, for you, cosplaying is about wearing a costume and having fun and fie on those who would throw shade at you for doing so! We all come to the avocation for different reasons and with different goals in mind. That in itself is awesome and should be celebrated, but the reality is that some people aren’t willing to accept that. Whether or not that matters to you is your choice.

Item #2 on my personal manifesto is that I endeavor to make as much of my costumes with my own two hands as possible, so it’s not often that I’ll outsource the work. However, sometimes circumstances create conditions in which it’s cheaper and/or less stressful to make a purchase. Case in point is the trident that I’ll be wielding as part of my Mera costume. Though I do have a decent amount of experience in prop-crafting, the fact that the trident will have to make a 1,000 mile journey and pass through two airports gave me pause. The trident would ideally need to be capable of being disassembled and in order to do that I would need to purchase a bevy of power tools in addition to the raw materials needed for the prop. After hearing of my dilemma, the GIR pointed me towards DeviantArt member finaformsora, whose profile indicated that he was available for commissions. After a brief exchange of emails, we came to terms for an official order.
What finaformsora has made for me so far. Absolutely amazing & exactly what I'd imagined.
Cosplaying lends itself to a very wide variety of crafting but sometimes it’s preferable or more logistically feasible to seek out an expert in a given medium than to try and learn a new skill from scratch. This is particularly true if the skill in question is for a costume element that isn’t transferrable to other costumes. You may not want to invest significant time and resources in, say, teaching yourself to cast a pair of latex lekku if you only plan on dressing as a Twi’lek once.

While I do love the challenge of building stuff on my own, I also very much enjoy the opportunity to support artisans. Often the people you’ll encounter in your search for the perfect cosplay piece are extremely passionate about their craft and are thrilled to have a reason to indulge in it. Depending on how many costume pieces you end up needing over the course of your ‘career’, you can build up a little network of crafters and maybe make some new friends. Achieving that outcome or even just ensuring that you receive the pieces you need, however, can sometimes be a tricky course to navigate. The following are a collection of tidbits I’ve acquired via direct interactions with artisans over the past few years.

Do: Read over the artist’s website/Etsy store/DeviantArt page carefully before attempting to contact them. Aside from being good due diligence practice, this will spare you from potentially wasting time (both yours and the artist’s). It can be frustrating to see a gorgeous piece on DeviantArt that would be just the thing you need for your costume only to have the artist tell you that their work is not for sale, as is listed on their page. Furthermore, the artist likely has better uses for their time than to regurgitate stuff they’ve already written.

Don’t: Treat the artist’s page like Amazon. Yes, using the interwebs to procure wares from artists is online shopping, but not all such commerce should be considered equivalent. Most crafters work alone and sell their work as a side business, a hobby, or both. Creating your <insert desired costume piece here> is not likely their full time job and most pieces are made completely from scratch. Once again, the Golden Rule (or the Wil Wheaton rule, whichever you fancy) comes into play when we remind ourselves that we’re asking for a product from a real life human being who deserves respect and consideration. Correspondingly, it’s wise to build a good chuck of time into your cosplay lineup if you’re planning on working with an artist. Speaking of which…

Do: Be clear and upfront about your desired time frame for receiving your requested item. Again, you’re on the hunt for a piece that will probably have to be custom made for your purposes. Making something from scratch usually takes a bit of time, potentially a lot more than a bit depending on what you’re having made. In order to prevent frustration, be sure to include your desired delivery time frame in your very first message to the artist. A simple, “I’d like to be able to bring <awesome thing> to Gen Con, which is in mid-August. Do you think it’d be possible to have <awesome thing> finished by then?” goes a very long way. Establishing a firm deadline helps both you and the artist manage your respective projects. Additionally, you can use this line of conversation to talk about updates (if you’d like to receive any and, if so, in what format and how frequently). A precedent of open, clear communication is rarely a bad thing.

Don’t: Ignore the reviews. Not that many people ignore reviews when they’re available, but you definitely want to make this a sizable part of your research before you contact the artist. Fortunately, most individuals who want to maintain or grow their business will have a social media page of some kind where reviews and other interactions can be found, so you can get a good idea of what to expect. Be wary of sellers who have been online for a while, but have very few reviews or sellers that have no reviews at all. With that in mind…

Do: Leave honest feedback for the artist. This is really only necessary if it’s clear that the artist is trying to maintain or grow their business but, as we’ve discussed, taking this step helps both the seller and other cosplayers who are considering making similar commissions. A good, informative review will briefly cover both the commissioning process and the finished product. Hold off on posting anything until you have the piece in hand and the agreed upon payment has been rendered. In the event that something should go awry with the transaction, take your gripes to the artist or payment service first and give them a chance to respond before venting your spleen on the internet. That being said, if you had a bad experience don’t be shy about it, but don’t let your feelings undercut the overarching message in your feedback.

Don’t: Pay in cash or with a personal check. This is not to besmirch the artist you’re working with but rather is just a method for adding a layer of protection for both parties. Using your credit card or a verifiable/trustworthy online payment system not only gives you detailed information about where your money went and when, but most such services have an easy-to-use mechanism to file a claim if something goes wrong with the transaction. Hopefully your experience won’t come down to that, but it’s very nice to know that option is there should the worst happen.

Best of luck on your commissioning ventures!

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