Paige Smith: Making Mechanoid Magic
Created by ProfHoppingood on 4/22/2013 11:53:10 AM

Paige Smith discusses her methods and her creative inspirations.

The makers in our community decorate our scene and bring to life the inspirations and imaginings of fantast creations and marvelous machinery, and none does it more beautifully, and creepily, than Paige Smith.  You may not recognize Paige's face, but you have probably made a wary double-take when you see on of her tall, elegant, and frighteninly serene automatons coming down the convention hall.  Beneath the masks, the mechanical appendages, and the extravagant costumes is hidden one of the most delightful and resourceful makers one could ever hope to meet. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself.  How long have you been crafting in the Steampunk style?  What drew you to Steampunk?

As an avid fan of both Science Fiction media, history and antiques, the attraction to the Steampunk world was instant and entire.  I had been crafting in a Steampunk fashion for years before I knew there was a word for it.  Broken vintage toys and antique figurines were getting Sci-fi upgrades to give them a longer life (ie broken ventriloquist dummy gets a vintage metal pumpkin head … and a top hat).  I only began Steampunk costuming and building in 2007 – when I merged my interest in vintage robots with the Victorian aesthetic, starting a series of Steampunk automaton costumes.

What is favorite medium and why? What’s your favorite technique?r

My favorite medium is trash, cast-offs and flea market finds.  My favorite technique is to find the means to re-purpose and re-build them into costuming and gears that suits my needs.  It’s no secret in the Steampunk community that I have few “build from scratch” skills.  I don’t sew or solder. I do use wire, safety pins, fabric glue and tears to remake found items into something else altogether. I love to create masks and hand-modifications that are at once beautiful… and unsettling.

Where do you draw your influences?  What other works by other artists do you like?

I draw a lot of influence from early science fiction literature, silent film, as well as modern urban fantasy. The Arts & Crafts movement and the early twentieth century design are also important sources of inspiration for the things I build.  I love Klimt, William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, and Gustav Stickley.


What distinguishes your work from others?

Truly, most Steampunk builders have strengths and weaknesses that distinguish their work among the others.  My strength probably comes from crafting costumes and gear that create a strong overall initial impact. The elements come together well, with one or two items that grab attention and encourage closer examination. My weakness is that it is usually closer examination reveals my lack of hard skills to build something truly extraordinary.  If you look too closely, you will see the clumsy hand-sewing, the wires and glue that hold the pretty parts together.  I can live with that balance.

What is your creative process when starting a project? Do you sketch it out? Do you just go for the gusto and start creating?

As a costume builder, as opposed to someone who builds stand-alone projects (ie jewelry, working mechanisms etc), I’m always thinking about ‘the purpose’ or the ‘back story’ behind a Steampunk costume character.  I ask myself, “What would this person or robot do in an alternate history setting?” Once I ponder their role, I start sketching some of the gear or clothing modifications that would get them going.  The discovery of a broken bit of tech in the thrift store can also inspire the evolution of a new character – a cast-off fireman’s helmet can start a whole mental exploration of a Victorian steampunk fireman automaton. Since I’m usually building from a box of junk, there is definitely a month’s long period of assembling bits various ways until they “click” – then come the wires and glue.


What’s your least favorite aspect or technique? What do you wish you could do better?

I loathe trying to hide the flaws in my assembly techniques.  But hide they must.

Paige Smith Finding the best way to cover what’s “behind the curtain” is often my biggest challenge.  I wish I weren’t so afraid of my sewing machine.

What tips would you give beginners?

Be bold with your vision.  In the Steampunk realm, no one can tell you “That’s wrong”.  It’s your vision – you make it the way you see it. My best advice  is to keep going with it.  You learn something with every build – tools, tips and tricks that move the execution of your work forward with each new outing.

How do you keep growing as a maker?

I keep seeking new sources for cast-off and forgotten materials. I’m always looking for something plentiful that can be re-purposed cheaply and easily - this keeps me going forward with new ideas and themes.  I also don’t shy away from asking for advice and guidance from other builders who have real build skills and knowledge they’re willing to share.

Form or function first? GO!

Form. First and last. I don’t have the skills to build working mechanics, so I channel all my drive into the visual impact of my work.  I like to build tall, big and with organic movement (swinging chains, wafting fabrics, feathers etc.)

Do you prefer to work in found objects or start with raw materials?

Found objects definitely.  Giving old or broken things that have moved past their original purpose a second life as costume art is immensely satisfying for me.  I have an instinct to take something on its way to obsolescence or destruction, and give it another go-round as something positive. One of my favorite projects used debris from the property of a friend who lost everything in the tornados that ravaged Alabama in 2011.  She asked me to salvage what I could that might survive a bit longer as a costume piece. Which I did.  And it has.

Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Don’t be in a hurry.  Spending a lot of time just thinking about your build is okay.  Once you plan comes together in your mind – all that remains is the collection and build (which goes pretty fast, once you know where you’re going.)

If you have a recommendation for a Marvelous Maker that you'd like to see featured in Steampunk Chronicle, let us know at!

Photo credit: Dim Horizon Studio

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