Theater makeup, wigs, costuming…and cosplay? Even a costumer with a Master’s degree can’t resist the call to cosplay, and Lady Ember Brennan Sparks is no exception. She’s passionate about design and it shows in the intricate cosplays she creates. Lady Sparks took some time out of her busy schedule to talk with Talk Nerdy With Us about her designs and cosplay.
How did you become interested in costuming and/or cosplay?
“Costumes have always been a strong point of my life. Halloween is my favorite time of year and I also have been working with theatre as a makeup artist, costume designer and wig artisan. Creating costumes for people that don’t exist is my life. I started cosplaying Steampunk as a way to express my own design ideas and also work more on my skills. I am one of those that always loved Steampunk but didn’t know it had a name. I went to my first convention in 2010. PCC. I pulled together a closet Steampunk cosplay and people liked my costume. People wanted photos of me. I was hooked.”
So it sounds like you prefer making original designs rather than screen/comic-accurate–or is it a little bit of both?
“I started with Steampunk because I liked putting my on twist on things and because I didn’t have a strong knowledge of comics. I read a lot of fantasy fiction books and I understood the world of Steampunk better and it allows for a wide range of personal expression and definition. But then I started learning more about comics and found characters I loved and wanted to recreate. Enchantress was my first comic book character. When I create a costume I pull all visuals I can find. I pull from movies, art, whatever I can find but I try to put my own flair on it. Translating something from 2d to 3d means adjustments have to be made and especially made to fit my body so I don’t hold completely strict to screen or comic accurate. I try to pick details that are the spirit of the character to focus on. But it really depends on each character. My Captain Marvel is pretty comic accurate because I love the look of this current suit, yet my Enchantress keeps on changing because I don’t love one artist’s interpretation. So I pull what I can from each. If you don’t love it you won’t have to drive to push past the inevitable mishaps that happen during builds.”
Very creative! How long have you studied? Or are you more self-taught?
“I have an MFA in theatre focusing on design. I also have a lot of self taught skills.”
“In Grad school I learned a lot about painting and crafting and sewing but I learned how to sew because of my mom. She was a single parent and so my Halloween costumes were hand made. Fancy dresses for Holidays were also hand made. I also have an odd body frame so many off the shelf items don’t fit me so I have to sew or alter cloths a lot.”
Do you make a lot of commission cosplays in addition to your work in theater?
“I am currently a full time cosmetologist and do occasional work for theatres. I have a business called All Is Vanity Expressions. I take on wig commissions and makeup applications and consultations. I sometimes do small costume commissions but they are rare. But I do a lot of wigs. I think I have 5 wigs on my table right now the need to be done by Fan Fest.”
Is it hard making wigs for different people? I ask because I have a larger sized head and my mom’s head is small, so I would imagine not all wigs are one-size-noggin-fits all.
“I have multiple canvas head blocks that have different head measurements and also I will do a head wrap if I need to do something specialized. I have been working on wigs since 2000 and I have worked on tons of sizes of heads. It all comes down to fittings and making the adjustments needed based on the fitting. Most quality wigs have elastic in the back so they can fit multiple head sizes.”
Yeah, the one wig I’ve tried had the elastic, but it still gave me a headache! Haha What kinds of things besides Steampunk and comics give you inspiration? For instance, I watch the heck out of Project Runway. Cheesy, I know, but I’ve learned a lot from watching it. But with your background, I’m sure you don’t need a show like that to inspire you!
“I am inspired by comics and art and music and other cosplayers. Faceoff, Instagram, and even Project Runway. Video games and comics and books. And TV and movies. I never know when a character will jump out at me and scream build me. Make this!!!! I love pop culture and art and there is inspiration everywhere.”
What is your favorite part of the cosplay/convention scene?
“People. I have met so many people that have become friends I get to see at the next event. And kids. Kids are so amazing. I had a little girl take a photo with me because Black Canary was her favorite character and it was her birthday. I think I was more excited than she was. And they are smart too. They know their characters so I make a point to do research on who I wear.”
Do you ever cosplay for charity events?
“I haven’t yet but I would not be opposed to it. I have had a crazy schedule for the past few years so it hasn’t happened yet.”
What do you consider to be the three most essential items for any cosplayer’s closet or workspace?
“Sewing machine, good pair of fabric scissors, and a fabric steamer. I have a lot of tools but those I use the most. A heat gun gets an honorable mention.”