In May of 2017 Insomniac Events hosted Middlelands music festival. Held in the Texas Renaissance Festival Fair Grounds, it was on of the biggest Electronic Dance Music festivals of the summer. I wasn’t big on EDM at the time and had never been camping at a big festival, but I love crazy lighting, costumes and all things Renaissance, so my friends had a pretty easy time talking me into going.
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I knew I was going to be camping with an experienced group of festival-goers who would be well into the spirit of things. We had reserved a lot under the name House Stark Raving Mad, and I wanted to live up to our title.
Obviously, the name was inspired by Game of Thrones. I used a projector to trace the Stark sigil, a Dire wolf, onto a sheet, painting the borders with black acrylic. I wanted the banner to be colorful, so I tye-dyed the sheet first with some leftover Easter egg dye that I was going to throw out anyway.
The wolf was tacked town onto a black tablecloth with needle and thread.
I splattered some neon paint around and wrote our name with it. It looked great at the camp but even better in a blacklight.
We even spotted House Baratheon banners just down the road.
It felt appropriate to wear an old Halloween costume, especially to go see Kristian Nairn’s set. He know’s how to put down a set as well as he knows how to hold up a door.
With thousands of camps, tons of vendors, live entertainment, and a huge variety of artists performing on 5 massive stages, all spread across hundreds of acres, it can be hard not to lose track of your crew at a fest like Middlelands. This is part of why people at big festivals make totems. Your clan can all find you and rally under a large, flag, inflatable, or other recognizable items, waving high above the crowd on a pole. People get really creative with them, often including artists logos, or pop culture mashups and memes.
I knew I wanted to make a totem and already had a lot of blue and bronze fabric from making a Ravenclaw Common Room, so I settled on a RAVEnclaw banner. Much like the Common Room, it started with a few sketches.
I used the projector again to paint the elements of the banner directly onto the fabric at scale.
It all got pinned down and sewn together with a sleeve at the top where the PVC would go.
The PVC pieces were decorated with ping pong balls and tassels. I used dowels and cardboard tubes to secure them on the ends, then spraypainted everything to a nice shiny finish.
The only drawback was that cloth and T’s at the top were a little heavy for the 3/4 inch PVC to support without bending. Next time I’ll put it atop an aluminum pole.
I wanted a sign to put out in front of my tent, probably because I’d recently watched one of my favorite movies, The World’s End, and was obsessed with pub signs. I thought a lot about what kind of pub would fit in at an EDM festival, but also had a Medieval, English kind of feel to it. Some of the ideas included The Lit Club, The Drunken Fool, The Toadstool, The Double Stoop, The Endless Trance, and The Lost Tracks. In the end, The Dropped Bass was the obvious winner.
I cut the pieces from a styrofoam insulation sheet, which was about an inch thick.
Getting a weathered wooden look was easier than I expected. I used cheap foamcore with the paper peeled off and cut planks to fit the main form.
I used a woodburner (go figure) with a knife blade tip to carve in the cracks and grooves of weathered woodgrain. The slower you go, the deeper the groove. I painted black acrylic into all the grain and the spaces between boards, wiping away the excess. A few shades of brown brushed lightly over the top made a convincing wood texture.
One more wash of black over this made it sufficiently dreary.
I stuck some cardboard tubes into the bottom half and glued hollow, plastic chain onto them in order to connect the two halves.
I had planned to use EVA craft foam for the fish, but the styrofoam from the foamcore gave it more dimension and it held the acrylic paint perfectly, so I went that route.
The EVA was perfect for the border though. I used a blowtorch to heat steel wool, touching it to the foam to burn in a rough, iron texture.
Hot glue worked well to secure all the components together, but thumbtacks made it look much more hand-crafted.
All it needed now was a post to hang from.
This was mostly just a PVC pole with a T on it, but I wanted some fancy wrought iron above it. I used some high-density foam molding strips. When heated to about 200 degrees (I recommend a heat gun), they got flexible enough to twist and bend into some fancy shapes. They cooled quickly to become even denser, stronger, and more textured, making hot glue and a few zip ties a good way to attach it all.
I knew I was going to want a costume specifically for Middlelands. It took a while to decide which direction to take it, but I settled on a jester. I’d done a jester costume in high school, with a huge paper mache skull mask.
Middle Lands had more of a happy vibe than Halloween though, so I based my mask on the happy one in Drama Mask set. I used modeling clay to sculpt it our onto a styrofoam head. The forward half was replaced with a plaster life cast I’d done of my face. This would ensure that the mask fit my face perfectly. Lenses from a pair of sunglasses are a great way to keep your eyes from showing while letting you see out pretty well.
I piled plaster and gauze onto the sculpt to get a good negative mold.
The sculpt pulled out pretty clean, leaving a smooth mold to cast in. I needed the mask to be light so I wanted it to be made of foam. I planned to experiment with expanding foam. There are two-part compounds available in a range of flexibility, specifically formulated for masks and the like. Unfortunately, time and money were both in short supply, so I decided to give it a go with the insulatory variety that you can buy in cans for sealing gaps and keeping pipes from freezing.
I had left plaster surrounding the edge of the mask as a stop for the life cast, so it could be put back into the negative after filling it with foam. If you’ve never used expanding foam insulation, it’s just about the stickiest stuff made by man, so the felt over the life cast would make a nice backing where no glue would be needed and the thickness of the felt was already accounted for. Even though the foam sets to be extremely porous and spongey inside, the outside forms a very tight skin. I was hoping the foam would expand up against the smooth negative to leave no pores. The lifecast and foam head had to be taped to the negative while the foam inside set, or it would have had expanded forcefully enough to push it out entirely.
Sadly, I had to destroy the plaster negative that I’d worked so hard on in order to get the casting out in one piece. And yet, the results still left me smiling.
The foam had only set about 24 hours when I removed it. The surface of the mask bubbled a little as it finished setting now that it was fully exposed.
The foam can be sanded pretty easily, but this exposed the pores, making it harder to paint.
I hoped to fix this by sealing the mask with latex (also from the hardware aisle). This is a staple in EVA cosplay, used to fill seam gaps, so it made a lot of sense.
It may have even worked, but by this time it was the night before and I didn’t have time to let it dry completely before painting. It also showed signs that it would eventually shrink to leave cracks in the paint. The latex ended up peeling off, so I knew I’d never get the perfectly smooth look that I was going for.
I had to either embrace the rougher texture of the pores coming through the paint or hide it. I decided on the later and went full Jackson Polluck on it. In the end, it still came out cool.
The rest of the costume was a black and white one-piece spandex suit, combined with custom hat and neck elements. The hat was designed to have two green horns on the sides, draping down in an almost Twi’lek kind of way, then a purple horn in the back coming over like an angler fish.
I don’t think it really looked how I hoped, but for something thrown together the night before, I can’t complain too much.
I ran into a leather smith at the on the grounds that had a much higher quality version of what I was going for. It sold for about a month of my rent, or I would have considered buying it.
The other element of the costume I wanted to discuss, which I sadly did not manage to get any good photos of, is the collar piece. I sewed purple and orange pieces together but wanted glowing baubles on the end of each diamond. The problem with making glowing baubles is that you need even illumination. My first idea was to use colored plastic balls. These are sold as cheap versions of ping pong balls but are made of a different polymer than the celluloid of actual standard table tennis balls. These would have lit up the right colors with a white LED inside but would have shown the seam where the two halves join. I’m not sure why, but this bothered me to an extent that I was determined to solve the problem. I realized that water balloons provide an even coloring, and when stretched around the finger light LEDs I had, would also keep the two pieces attached without problems.
As you can see, print and seams of a ping pong ball still came through though. I needed a sphere that diffused light but had no seam. I settled on styrofoam spheres. Some of my LEDs were already green.
For the purple, I used white LEDs, colored with permanent marker, inside of purple balloons. This meant that the baubles of each color looked right, day or night.
The LED piece slipped into the inside of the collar diamonds. The styrofoam balls got shoved into balloons, then the balloon ends went through the diamond tips and stretched around the LEDs on the inside so the balloons themselves held the baubles on. I was able to switch on the LEDs through the cloth of the collar.
The design worked well and looked great, but the costume as a whole was a bit jarring and awkward. Luckily, it fit right in with the massive culture mashup that was Middle Lands.
The weekend was such a perfect blend of Dark Ages, bright lights, and loud music. I made amazing friends, saw some true spectacles and was a part of something that even the most seasoned festival-goers will all concede to be one to remember. Sadly, the people of Todd Mission, TX decided it was too loud for their liking and shot down plans already in the works for the next year’s festival. The EDM community is still waiting for the producers to find another home for Middle Lands to be reborn. Until then, I’ll be planning my next costume.
Thanks for reading!