I honestly couldn’t say exactly when I learned the term “steampunk”, but I would guess sometime in the 90′s. I first became aware of steampunk as a subcultural movement in the fall of 2008, when a friend who is into anime and cosplay mentioned offhand that there was a steampunk convention happening in two weeks. She was indifferent to going, but I couldn’t have been more excited, and my closest friend was as exuberant about the idea as I was. The convention was Steam Powered, later renamed Nova Albion.
We threw together costumes as quickly as we could. They were really half-assed, but I hadn’t done much sewing in years and had less than two weeks to prepare mine and three other friends’ costumes. I was lucky that I didn’t need to search for the “how” or “what” because I was familiar with the aesthetic from post-apocolyptic fantasy anime and video games like Final Fantasy, as well as from science fiction. Thanks to re-enactment and prior study of the creation of garments like corsets, I was also equipped to incorporate some Victorian aesthetic.
One of the friends we drug along came reluctantly, completely baffled as to why Diana and I were so excited by the idea of a steampunk subculture. I’ll never forget the delighted wonder on her face one hour into the convention when she grabbed Diana by the shirt and declared, “I get it!” She’s the one on the very left in this picture ( http://sidneyeileen.deviantart.com/art/ID-Nova-Albion-2011-202841904 ) in the eyelet lace and corset “sari”. Diana is in the orange. I’m in the kimono and kame make-up. Elizabeth, the cosplay friend who told us about Steam Powered, is in the right in a wa-loli outfit I made for her.
The convention was a font of resources and information on how steampunk was in bed with the DIY movement, sustainability, creativity, and artistry. My friends and I soaked up all of it and met a lot of other people we’ve stayed in touch with ever since.
I was a very socially awkward, introverted, hide in the library kind of nerd as a teenager. I made the conscious decision to become a punk rocker when I was 21. However, I never liked the nihilistic vein that runs through the movement. In the steampunk movement I saw all the cultural ideas that I love about punk rock, but without the self-destruction and nihilism. I still love punk rock, and incorporate it heavily into my steampunk (you can ‘punk anything and you can steam’ anything), but steampunk has more potential for sustainable action and activism, as well as being more approachable (or at least less frightening) to average people. After all, if you want to affect genuine social change, you have to get average people on board with your ideas. You can’t just scream into the storm and expect any outcome other than being hit in the head by flying debris.
My awareness of the steampunk movement came at a time when I was feeling oppressed by my day job, generally depressed, and also starting to have issues with my health (a fact I was mostly able to hide until this time last year). Creating art is a happy thing for me, and when I’m depressed I don’t do much with it, so as I created less and less art I focused instead on my sewing and corset making. I was involved in a couple different local steampunk groups (the Sacramento Steampunk Society and The League of Proper Villains), and online mostly involved with other corset makers.
About a year ago my chronic pain and mobility became bad enough that I could no longer hide it, and could no longer physically spend massive hours sewing. I floundered, dropped off the steampunk radar almost entirely, and grew more and more depressed until the day job and I parted ways at the end of last September.
Losing that job is one of the best things that could have happened. I have hope in my life again, and have returned to what I love doing most – creating art.
I’m one of those people who had a pencil in hand constantly from when I was a small child. I used to steal printer paper from my parents and pencils from school so I could draw. Even cheap art supplies were treasures to me. I also always strove for the greatest amount of detail and realism I could achieve. Since pencils and paper were the cheapest art supplies available I used them the most, and was wary of trying painting because of the expense. However, I am also easily bored and always interested in trying new things. Once I was able to achieve true photo-realism in pencil, I wanted to try other mediums and started experimenting more with style and composition.
If you are curious about the progression of my art, I have kept an almost complete archive of my art since 2006 on DeviantArt. http://sidneyeileen.deviantart.com/gallery/?catpath=/
I knew for a fact I didn’t like acrylic painting, so when I decided to take the leap and learn oil painting (spring of 2009) I took a class at the local community college. I didn’t learn a whole lot in the class (the instructor was an acrylic artist who admitted he didn’t know much about oils), but the structured environment forced me to create paintings that taught me a lot.
I’ve always loved realism, and my greatest inspirations are from the Dutch Masters, especially Rembrandt. He created a lot of his concept sketches in ink, so after the painting class I took an ink drawing class. It was my experience with the inks, and especially making a copy of one of Rembrandt’s ink drawings ( http://sidneyeileen.deviantart.com/gallery/?catpath=scraps#/d324pip ), that inspired the style in which I am now creating steampunk art.
I love oil painting, but turnaround time is extensive, and I lack space for drying canvases. Instead I am focusing on creating drawings reminiscent of a bygone age (albeit the 18′th century instead of the 19′th), using the kinds of materials and tools available pre-industrialization. The steampunk drawings in my portfolio are made entirely with dip pen nibs, inks, and watercolor paper. I am also planning to incorporate watercolor when I want art which is not monochromatic. The one completely modern material I want to use is Aquabord, because it provides a ground that is easily framed, won’t warp from moisture, and can be varnished to protect the art.
Women will likely be a much more frequent subject than men, just because I find it more interesting to draw women and women’s fashions. I have always been fascinated by the variety in the human race and in human culture, and fully plan to incorporate that fascination into my steampunk art, drawing upon inspirations other than just Victorian Europe. It also helps that most of my real-life friends (including the three women in the first photo) are anthropologists. When we’re talking about anachronism and fantasy, I’d much rather break the rules and explore new aspects than stick to a tired mold.
When I have enough interest and support for my steampunk art I plan to start working on aquabord rather than watercolor paper, and make limited edition prints of each piece so I can make them available for a price that’s attainable to most people. In the meantime I’m making the images available to online and in print steampunk publications like Steampunk Chronicle, and saving the line art stage of each piece so I can create a children’s steampunk coloring book. Long term I also want to organize at least one steampunk art group gallery show.
Despite all the problems in my life, I’m happy and hopeful for the first time in a long time, and I look forward to seeing where I can take my art in the years to come.