STAY MOTIVATED WITH YOUR COSPLAY PROGRESS
What a day we live in as indie poor costume designers (yes, we deserve that title)! The access to so many new materials and tutorials that seem to spawn from nowhere was something us oldies could only dream of back in the day, and the cosplay subculture itself is booming with no end in sight. Even developers see the potential and joy this hobby can bring, designing spectacular characters for us to tackle with turnarounds and model breakdowns at the ready. Gaming and comic conventions are a huge moneymaker, and- let's face it- it gives us basement creepers the rare opportunities to be social and show off what we've slaved over. Geek is chic. We're the cool kids now.
With sickly-sweet saturation combined with normality can come at a cost though. Outside the cosplay world, many of us youngins have to deal with studies, ridiculous school fees, frozen wages, increasing costs of living, and physical and mental cracks that we somehow have to juggle and keep our sanity while running a full-time job. Cosplay is often our one escape from some (or all) of these woes which can give us a creative spark and help us bond together. But whether life gets in the way or you find yourself easily giving up on an outfit you've slaved over for whatever reason, keep in mind that you're not alone. I've lost count of the amount of costumes I've trashed and given up half-way through- that's how many times I've given up.
But there's a solution. Or 13.
At the end of last year I sat down and compiled a plan on how to go forward with choosing cosplays and finishing them, and so far it's working. This time in '16 I had 3 aborted cosplays in the trash with nothing complete; now I have 2 complete and another on the way. And c'mon, I'm more flaky than dandruff when it comes to sticking to a job so I hail this experiment a success! Time to try my work on you humans!
1. A DETAILED BREAKDOWN BOOKLET
I gotta be honest, this is now my most favourite part when it comes to creating a costume. Get yourself an A4 sketching journal, print out every single reference picture you can find, and stick them all in the journal- I often aim for at least 20 different photos, even fanart. Sketch out your dissections and plan what you'd like to have a crack at. Collect fabric swabs and stick them in your book aswell. It should be a creative mess by the time you are done. I love carrying mine around everywhere I go, so if I get a lucky chance to sit at a park or snug cafe, the brainstorming can begin and I have a space to let my imagination run wild. That journal must stay with you at all times until your cosplay is near completion.
Once you've broken down all the apparel, armour and props, make up a schedule on an A3 sheet of paper of each piece. Set up a timeframe for each part and prioritise what needs completing first.
It's not the best photo but here's a very basic breakdown of my current project, Combat Medic Mercy from Overwatch. Once something is done it's ticked off, and I've left plenty of space to write new tasks or ideas in. I carry a smaller one with me in my journal, and keep the big A3 one in the studio. This can help you maintain your timeframe and push yourself to stay motivated on a project. It's so nice seeing all the boxes ticked off!
2. MAKE YOUR TIMEFRAMES REALISTIC
Unless your legitimate career is cosplay and you have all the resources on hand, you most definitely won't be building your LED-infested animatronic centaur in 1 week. Stop torturing yourself with these big plans with small timeframes. This is almost like a trend within the cosplay community that needs to stop.
Yes it's very exciting when a new game is announced and you get your eyes on that new and shiny costume you know will be iconic and you wanna be the first to make it. Or maybe you've left your intricate choice of costume to the last minute and the convention is only a few weekends away so you just pull a few all-nighters to try and get it done. For the love of Zenyatta (praise our ballsy omnic overlord), do not pull all-nighters just for cosplay. This has serious ramifications for your health that can leave you sick and exhausted, and it can lead to over-eating or binging on caffeinated drinks to stay functioning- a toxic combo.
Set a realistic timeline for your cosplay. Give yourself the respect to calmly take your time to focus on the quality of progress. This will also ensure you're not spending too much money at once on things you may not even use but you've bought out of stress. Schedule days to go out shopping and see what's available before buying and committing to anything. Don't let cosplay stress you or guaranteed you will fall out of love with it- fast.
And remember: There. Will. Always. Be. Another. Convention. To. Wear. A. Costume. To. TWABACTWACT. (I don't think that's an acronym that'll catch on.....)
3. UNDERSTAND YOUR OWN LIMITS BEFORE COMMITTING
Just like climbing Mt Everest, don't commit yourself to a huge cosplay project if you haven't picked up the years of skills and know-how of putting one together. But just like a hiker, once you take the time and patience to learn the skills needed you'll be a champion- just take your time learning.
Don't get intimidated by other cosplayers you feel are on a higher level than you. We've all been there, and newcomers will be in your exact shoes one day too, looking at you and wondering if they should do better quicker. in saying this I mean take your time to learn the vital skills needed to make your cosplay come to life. I've seen many people burn out and give up because they've tackled something they've never had experience in. It's heartbreaking to watch.
And y'know, sometimes the most simple costumes that have been given patience and love turn out to be the most memorable.
4. SORT OUT YOUR FINANCES BEFOREHAND
Most of our cosplays are as expensive as we want them to be. With smart planning and time to play with, you could definitely save some cash here and there to still make a costume look cinematic.
Firstly check out your wages on a monthly basis and prioritize the fundamental basics- house, food, bills, etc. also see what you can spare for savings or for personal splurging. Only then can you figure out how much you can play with. Do not go outside these lines. Scout out whatever items you can buy cheaper online verses buying everything locally, and wait around for sales in the shops to catch a bargain. Sometimes joining a VIP club within the shop can give you access to good deals (eg. the fabric shop Spotlight often does 30% off fabric and other accessories that only VIPs can get). Scouting the local charity stores can also give you access to once-loved shoes, costume parts, or materials at bargain price.
5. PLAY COSPLAY CONTESTS IN THE BACKGROUND AS YOU WORK
I like to put on familiar movies or shows to keep noise moving in the room and to help time flow by in the studio. There's nothing worse then awkward and cold silence when you want those creative juices flowing. But on those days when re-runs of Walter Mitty just won't do, I'll jump on to YouTube and play some epic cosplay contests to get inspired.
While sometimes this can be a bit distracting, I find those moments necessary. You can study how people brought their amazing outfits to life and how awesome they look - this could be you if you put your head down and finished your cosplay!
6. SET UP GROUP WORKSHOPS WITH MATES
If you have the space to host a workshop with some mates, start sending those invitations out now! Getting a bunch of mates to work alongside you on their own projects hits the social bird and practical bird with one stone. You can inspire and be inspire, all while stressing less and having a support team right there with you. Stretch it out for an overnight workshop if you can and cook some dinner for each other to share. I always vouch for hot pot or stir-fry. Cheap and healthy meals you can do in bulk.
Don't have a big enough house? Scout around and see if there's a community hall you can hire out for a day or two. Some are pretty cheap if you all chip in as a group.
7. COMMIT MORE TO YOUR CHARACTER BY "ACTING" LIKE THEM
All cosplayers wear the costume. Not all cosplayers wear the character though.
Study your character's personality either in some spare time or while constructing your cosplay. Figure out their dialect, stance, poses, and expressions, and practice them. It's like a brand new relationship- once you get to know the individual and understand them, you can appreciate and understand them far more. This can help be a tool to keep the passion going for your cosplay. There's nothing greater than someone who walks the line of balance and acts out their character perfectly.
8. HAVE A PROPER DIET AND HEALTH REGIME
I've mentioned this a few times already, but it's an important topic that deserves its own spot on this list.
You need a well-balanced diet to give you the stamina to work throughout the day and help keep your mind clear. A good mix of vegetables, proteins, complex carbs, and antioxidants will ensure your body has the energy to burn, and will keep you feeling good. A healthy diet will also make you look good; it'll help keep your skin clear and maintain your weight. Ensure to drink plenty of water throughout the day- tea and the odd coffee is fine, but avoid the artificial stuff packed with sugars and chemicals.
Sugar has been shown to stress the liver and cause pimple breakouts, and that high hit of sugar will eventually lead you to crashing and having mood swings. Sugar is also proven to be linked to Alzheimer's, tooth decay, obesity, some cancers, insulin resistance, and many heart conditions. Sugar also impacts your mental well-being and can inhibit depressive states and mood swings. It's statistically more addictive than cocaine! The odd naughty treat and 1-2 servings of fresh fruit a day are totally fine and are well within the recommended limits, but when you're guzzling down a guarana and sugar concoction of an energy drink that has 42g of sugar in 1 serving (that's almost 11 teaspoons) on a regular basis, or feasting on chocolates and sweets for a quick energy hit, it's not good.
In-between your projects, ensure to sit some time aside to exercise. It doesn't have to be a full gym workout, but even a simple 45-min brisk walk can help clear your mind, get your blood flowing, and give you space to breathe out of the stressful studio. You could implement this while you're out shopping for supplies or testing your near-complete costume out. A healthy body can aide a healthy mind.
I've recently started building a dancing tutorial compilation on YouTube if you guys would like to subscribe and join in on the fun: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLfn2VWuOb-3q1rR82NDF9gMtu_0h7hgoj . I'm a terrible dancer, but these quick workouts can burn calories super fast while building up core muscle and improving your reflexes.
A proper sleeping pattern is a vital part in being fit and healthy. In conjunction with a proper diet and exercise, sleep gives you the opportunity to rest and fuel up for the next day. You deserve that. Your body deserves that. It differs for everyone but aim for at least 7hrs sleep every night. Sleep deprivation will not only stress you physically, but having a tired brain will lead you to rushing things or making mistakes - guaranteed. It can also be very dangerous in the long run.
IF, for some desperate reason, you have to pull an all-nighter, make sure you're drinking plenty of water and tea, eat low-GI foods in small frequent sprints, and have small power naps when you can before compensating with a long night's rest the next day.
9. KEEP YOUR WORKSPACE CLEAN (OR MANAGEABLE) AFTER EACH TASK
This can be pretty hard to do, especially with crunching timelines and feeling so dead after a full session of creativity. Plus there's that mentality of "if I move things I'll lose track of it". I let mine go very regularly, but I've made a habit to do a full sweep once I start something new on the costume.
I work back and forth between an armoured part of a cosplay and a fabric part, just to keep things fresh and motivating. Having that big transition of tools and materials forces me to get rid of the sewing machine and scraps and prep the glues and foams.
The size of your workspace can factor in on how frequently you should clean up. I'm very fortunate to have a large area to work in. If your studio (or bedroom) is quite small you'll probably have to do a quick 5-minute dusting after each setting. Try and keep your cosplay work out of your bedroom if you can - have one dedicated area for crafting, and the other to completely unwind and relax with no haunting reminder that con season is around the block. Your area should have plenty of drawers and shelves to put everything away cleanly, but if you don't have any you can easily pick up some cheap ones at thrift stores or trading apps (eg. Gumtree, eBay, etc.).
At the start of each day, make sure you have everything out and ready before you sit your booty down. Have a look at your checklist and see what you're working on that day, and get all the appropriate tools out so you're stressing less during your project.
10. STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHERS - RESPECT YOURSELF AND YOUR WORK
"Her Elsa is way better than mine" "I should've chosen the same materials he did for his armour. Mine looks like shit in comparison" "She's so pretty, I can't compete with that"
Stop it. Just stop.
You're cosplaying for the love and respect you have for your character. You're using the skills you currently have to craft something from absolutely nothing. What you have done is nothing short of amazing. Remember that. And I completely understand that bummed-out feeling of seeing a cosplay you think is better than yours. But learn to channel this negative into a positive, and use it as an opportunity to study someone else's technique and challenge yourself to push further. Keep in mind that someone is probably looking at your costume and thinking those same thoughts.
It's too easy to be negative. Test yourself, progress, and see every blockade as an opportunity.
11. REST DAYS ARE IMPORTANT TO STAY SANE
Even if you had the liberty to make cosplay your full-time career (and that's 0.001% of cosplayers), you need to allow yourself to take a break and enjoy some other hobbies. If cosplay is the only thing you look forward to when you come home, you're eventually going to hate it. You'll get bored and frustrated and stuck in your ways. Have at least two hobbies to fall back on on a regular basis, and always plan something new and challenging to do with the change in season.
I have motorbikes and games to turn to when I need a quick and accessible break. The bike is there when I want to let go of all emotion and fly wherever the road takes me, and games let me vent and shoot some bots with some mates or complete strangers. As the weather arms up I love to go snorkeling and hiking, and I plan these activities days in advance so the excitement can build up. And every year I plan an overseas holiday - last year I went swimming with whales in Vava'u, Tonga! Having that opportunity gave me a sense of wonder and appreciation for the world. I highly recommend you do the same; invest in seeing the world and breathing in some fresh air every now and then.
Don't feel like going out and doing something big? Then book yourself into a day spa to get a facial treatment, or light up some candles at home, put on some jazz, and relax on the couch by watching some Netflix or reading a book. You don't have to do something big and crazy. So long as you allow yourself to have whatever kind of break you like, you can remain content and enjoy everything you do.
12. HAVE A SECOND, EASIER COSPLAY TO WORK ON*
*This step really depends on the kind of person you are. Do you find yourself flaking often between ideas or can you remain consistent while expanding your portfolio? If your big cosplay is stressing you out, and you've done what you can to take a breather and you're still uneasy, then put it aside for 2 weeks and find a simpler cosplay you've always wanted to work on. Do not step outside this 2 week window. Your sub must be accomplished in this time-frame or else do not bother starting it to begin with. And it must be executed with affordable materials and no-fuss accessories.
There's also no shame in purchasing a costume! There's multiple cosplay stores online where you can purchase a pre-made or custom outfit which can save you some stress while having something to wear to a con or a photoshoot. Buying a cosplay does not diminish your hard work whatsoever since cosplay is simply about enjoyment and embodiment of a character or series. So long as you don't lie about making something you've bought, it's all good! (And a quick tip for anyone who has bought a cosplay and tries to enter a cosplay comp - we know when you're lying. Don't even try pulling that crap.)
13. WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?
You've taken breaks. You've tried working on something new. You've done all you can and you can't seem to find the spark anymore..... ask yourself a very important question: why are you cosplaying? Do you even care anymore?
Sometimes cosplay can remain as part of us for the rest of our lives. Other times it's just a phase that can fade from our interest over time without even knowing it. Having a particular career can affect this hobby where you don't have the time or energy to pay attention to it anymore. And no matter how the hobby end, it hurts. You don't want to give it up. It's helped you stay creative or even alive for so long. What will fill the void?
If you're really unsure on what to do, take a break for a couple of months and try to ignore cosplay altogether. Either you'll feel enlightened and come back or you'll find yourself moving on to something else. There's millions of creative activities you can do to escape the bores of reality - experiment and try some other things like painting, clay sculpting, or anything else you've always wanted to pursue. Cosplay doesn't have to always be the only thing to run to if you feel it's not worth it. If you still love cosplay after all this but you don't want to make anything anymore, maybe pursue casual photography or filming to fill in the gaps. You can still create some amazing content that you and others will love!
Phew! We're at the end!
I hope some of this advice helped you in any way. If you have any suggestions you think belong up here, please message me and let me know. I'll probably turn this into a vlog but figured having something written down would be best for everyone. Cheers! xx