The journey continues…ITTB – We did it!

Ittb wrap

I wrote a note on my personal page that I would like to share with everyone.  A little on the long side, but it’s me.  Would you expect anything less?  This was originally published at around 7pm on July 17th.

And with that, I am done with my part of this epic journey that was the last three months. There are a few loose ends to tie up after tonight (return of rentals and such) and the final hand made project is literally less than 3 hours from being finished, but for me…that’s a wrap. Our first full season as builders for a major network television show is just about complete.

Once upon a time (actually it was the summer of 2012), the shop crew sat down as a group and had a heartfelt discussion about the future of ASI. What did we want? Where did we see this adventure taking us? How did that differ from the direction that we were heading? What, if anything, did we need to change? After much heated discussion and not reaching a unanimous decision, Hawk and I made the decision about the direction of the company. Even though we were riding high on popularity in the con circuit and had just come off of a very successful 16 week run, we were worn out, beat up and disillusioned. We were honest with ourselves, and made a hard choice. Even though the convention circuit offered a level of personal popularity for a few of us, it wasn’t going to offer the long term sustainability we were after. We wanted a business that would outlast us. That didn’t rely on just one or two people being well known. That when we were ready to retire, that we could pass on to our children. We started this company with a dream of offering a place for artists to be able to make enough money to be able to support themselves on their art. We wanted to inspire other people to be more creative. We wanted an encouraging environment for artists to feel free to express themselves. And up to that point, what we had relied on was sheer force of will and commanding personalities that spoke to the con kids about being inclusive and embracing fun and creativity in steampunk. But we were at a crossroads. It had already started to be a weird case of almost hero worship. On the one hand, the current plotted course had the potential to launch a few of our members to notoriety but the cost was overshadowing the team and potentially deviating from our intended course of having a sustainable art business in favor of individual counter-culture popularity. And even that didn’t appear to have a way of being self sustaining. In addition to that, most of us were starting to feel uncomfortable with the direction things were taking both in steampunk as a whole and as it related directly to us.

We made a choice to go back to our roots. We made a choice that popularity wasn’t the goal. Success was. And advancement of the team was more important that the advancement of the individual. We knew we weren’t going to do that in the convention world. So we made the decision to pull back and plot a new course. It meant after 3 years of hard work to push the convention world we would start back at the beginning and plow forward using our art and our talents to showcase us instead of our personalities. It meant expanding our audience. It meant more structuring as a business. It meant assuming responsibilities as decision makers and as advocates on our end, and meant assuming responsibilities as employees on the part of the crew. We were going to attempt to break into props and costuming in the television, movie and theatrical world. We decided that the French Market offered the most reliable way to keep us from starving to death while still producing art until we were able to achieve our goals, though even that was debated. This was done with the knowledge that we didn’t know when or even if we were going to be able to pull this off. We made no promises other than that we would work our asses off and do everything we could to make this a reality. We said exactly what we always had. Mission failure is not an option. We will work at this until we succeed or until we die, whichever came first.

As I said this was first approached in a leaky warehouse in New Orleans among the people who were at the time full time shop crew. On the surface, everyone agreed until we started talking about the real life ramifications of what we were proposing. We talked about one of our strengths being the ability of our artists to see into other people’s heads and bring the pieces they were seeing into reality. We talked about how our visions of art pieces would become display and example pieces or personal pieces, but that the business model would be bringing other people’s visions to life. That is in a nutshell what prop makers and costume makers do. We don’t create the vision. We see another person’s vision and create the item. Ego would have to be removed from the equation. It would no longer be about so and so is a great artist. It would be that the company can pull amazing rabbits out of hats and bring dreams to life. This brought the discussion to a screeching halt. To say that there were some heated exchanges about why people were here would be an understatement. I was told in no uncertain terms that some of our artists would never be willing to bring other people’s work to life without making it into their own vision. I tried to explain, calmly at first, and then not so calmly, that that wasn’t what our jobs would be. That if we were ever given this opportunity there would be ample time and money to make your vision all day long, and we could sell it too, but where we as a group fit into the industry wasn’t looking for our vision. They were looking for our skills, our talent and our ability to move from concept to creation. I was told I didn’t know what I was talking about. Which, to be fair, at the time I was really just guessing based on discussion and research I had done. I had no real life experience to draw on. Only intuition and study. The subject was tabled and we moved on to the next issue I suspected would be a sticking point. Props and costuming people aren’t in front of the cameras or audiences. They aren’t famous in circles other than their own. Most people don’t know who works behind the scenes to make things beautiful and amazing. Was everyone ready to more or less give up the limelight in exchange for being able to build worlds in which they would never get any recognition for other than a byline in the credits. No face time. No cultural popularity. But a somewhat stable job, doing what you loved, and creating beauty for others to enjoy. With an added long term goal of once we had a name and reputation enough in the industry, to start talking about arts education. This was even more contentious. For about half the shop crew, this was nothing. We didn’t have anything to loose in this issue and everything to gain. For the other half, it was a mixed bag. One outright refused even the idea. The other raised an eyebrow and said, I see where you are coming from and I agree with it to an extent. I think we need a strong image for marketing and for promotions. We need to maintain the image we have already created, but we need to focus what we’ve achieved towards our new goals. As for my personal need for face time, let me deal with that. And with that the discussion ended, the majority made the decision and we moved on to addressing the outlying members of the crew. It was decided that we would wait on moving forward until the end of summer in order to give Hawk time to get through surgery, and us time to earn money for the summer. We said we would readdress the issue at a later date, and we went back to work.

Before we ever got that far, the world exploded, and the end of summer 2012 was chaos. Forced move, lost friendships, a caved in roof and a hurricane punctuated a 4 week period of time. But now that the command staff was in full agreement, we moved forward with the plan without reservation. We announced to the crew our intentions and for the first time ever we didn’t ask for permission. We had been screaming amongst ourselves for years that we needed a focused vision and to remember that we were a business first, and this was the first real action we made as business owners. We simply stated that this was what was happening. Everyone was invited to join or that if they would rather just be socially connected that was fine too. No harm no foul. Things would continue as before until we actually succeeded, but this was our goal. This was our focus and these were our long term objectives. We lost two more. But that was it. Everyone else was either encouraging or apathetic. Both we considered to be acceptable responses.

It’s been 3 years since those moments. It’s been 3 years since the decision to focus on the company and the group over personal fame was made. Having our name out there did make a big difference in finding the door, but it didn’t make a lick of difference in our ability to do the work. Being popular doesn’t make you talented or successful. Sorry kids. It doesn’t work like that. Changing the focus made real what we always knew, but popularity often skewed. That we are better, as people and as artists, when we combine our efforts and recognize someone based on their abilities rather than, lets face it, how they look or how demanding they can be. If we are going to be heroes, it won’t be because somebody hired us to do our job, or assumed it in a vacuum or had it assigned to us. It is going to be because we earned that title. Earned. Not demanded. It is going to be because we went above and beyond what was expected, and out did even ourselves. It is going to be because people are inspired by our work and by our story. Anything less is not worthy of that title because a hero saves people. We make props. We build stuff. There are only a few instances where that makes you a hero and even then, only to a few select people. And if you want to be worshiped, I’m pretty sure there is a medical term for that somewhere that needs medication. Popularity? Cool. But be careful what you are known for. Be known for being kind. Be known for being inspiring. Be known for being talented. But there is no honor in being known for being a clueless, self important douche. Seriously, who wants to be the Kim Kardashian of steampunk? If that is what popularity has become, I think we will leave that honor to someone else. Seems Hawk and I were both right. Turns out, I was right on the money on what it meant and what it would take. In fact, in the end, the only way to do what we have done (all by hand mind you) is through group effort. Every step forward we have made, we made together. And there were times when it took everyone of us to make that step. When you see everything on AMC this fall, know that many hands touched and shaped each piece. Many hands worked together as a whole to create beautiful art, and each artist we employ is represented in those pieces. They all needed each other and worked together. As Airship Isabella. In the end, everything you see that we made was made by 14 people. 5 full time and 9 either part time or called in. It has been inspiring to watch. My husband was also right in the end. He was right about needing a solid and visible public image, and he has managed to still have face time and get face time for those who wanted it without impeding on our business goals. Leave it to him to be able to have his cake and eat it too, lol. Michael Ford, Andrea Izaguirre, David Orenday, Rebecca Harrison, Andrew Fox, Suzo Frazier, Derrick Duplissey, Josh Suit, Dominque Fleatis, Bryan Oliver, Chris Hasara, Jina Stockton and Jesse Thaxton, thank you for being part of an amazing project and an amazing team. Anything after this is gravy. We made it through the door. We did the thing. And you made it happen. If you aren’t proud of yourselves right now, you are doing it wrong.

For the most up to date information on Into the Badlands, check out http://www.amc.com/shows/into-the-badlands.  Airing November 15, 2015 at 10pm/9pm after The Walking Dead!

ITB-Poster-Logo-1200x707 copy

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: A Captains Journey

Greetings from the deck of the Isabella.  I thought it time to sit down and put a few thoughts together and respond to questions that have been asked via emails and in person during this roller coaster journey we find ourselves passengers on.  This journey started four years ago when I found myself adrift in a world that was cold, unforgiving, and completely uncaring.  I decided at that point I would do everything I had in my limited power to change it. At first I almost gave in to my societal training and to just roll over, take it like an adult, lick my wounds and my pride and slink off into the night. What Power does one person have? And then I realized I was not alone out there.  There were thousands if not millions of us that were living on the exact same societal training. And I also realized the only person telling me I could not do anything in the world I wanted to do … was me.

So we formed this into a company not to get rich, not to just make a living, but to change how we looked at the world and to get a message out there and to stand up and say you are not alone. We can make a difference, and we can be proud of who and what we are no matter how different you chose to be.  If you can dream it, you can be it and do it! Little did we know where this journey was going to take us, a group of people were pulled together in a way to this day I am still in awe of. And off we went. More than once I heard “ Uh Capt where we going on this ride” My response was I honestly don’t know but you’ll know when we get there… Maybe.

In the title I said the good, the bad and the ugly, well hmmm… Let’s do this in reverse order so we end this on a good note. The Ugly.   We have lost people that we thought were family and good friends.   I personally have been called every name in the book and some I had never heard before. It has been said I am fake and don’t believe in what I say. The hard part is having to stand by and watch the people (My Crew) that truly have given everything up to fight this fight ,get attacked and trashed on for standing  with the crew and being made by others to chose between being ASI or being friends with those parties. I won’t type here what I have to say to those people.  I know my heart and that of my crew, and that is all that needs be said.

The bad.  Being on the road for weeks at a time, long, long hours and miles. Being tired to your very bones and core. The fear of making a bad decision or saying the wrong thing in a moment of exhaustion. And the biggest fear, letting the crew down or worse letting those out there down or not hearing a cry for help in the night from someone reaching out. These are just some of the things that can place fear in your heart and stop you in your tracks if you let them.  Have you crawling for the shadows.

The good. I have seen in four years people grow and stand up to start their journey. I have seen the smiles and the wonder in a thousand eyes looking back me. I have met and, if for just a very short time, been honored to be a part of someone’s life, even if it’s just a passing hello and thank you for listening or coming to my panels . It is receiving those emails that something you said gave a ray of hope to that one person that was sitting in a panel and having decided that this life is worth fighting for. The people we have met along the way with whom our paths may never cross again, but you carry a piece of them with you and of you with them.  Watching the members of this crew do and achieve things they never thought they could and seeing them truly smile after talking with someone out there.  I have watched the magic open up for people of all ages, and that is worth every single tear, heart ache, blood and scar I have received on this journey so far.

I have grown as a person in ways I did not even understand when we started this.   I have gained respect for those I love, both family and friends, that have truly taught me the meaning of those words. I have learned words are a very powerful tool and weapon, and that every single person out there is worth fighting for.  Sometimes you must give all you have and be willing to walk away and know you did your best to reach them. You are going to screw up and make mistakes.  It’s not the mistakes that make you who you are but how you react to it and what you learn from it. How you put those lessons in play.  A Captains Journey is one hell of a gut wrenching roller coaster ride that, well, I guess all you can do is put your hands up in the air and enjoy it.  And if  at the end of when and wherever that may be,  you can look back smile and say wow, show your scars and get ready for the next coaster to jump on. Where it goes…who the hell knows! The fun is getting there. Keeping looking at the horizon and NEVER EVER stop dreaming and asking what if!!

Steampunk as a Cultural Movement

We’ve all heard the “steampunk is an aesthetic” and the “steampunk is a genre” discussions that have been going on recently, but while I would argue that it’s both depending on what you are talking about, I’m not interested in going into detail on that subject. While Cap and I were on our way to get dinner this evening, we were discussing why is steampunk, as a cultural movement, worth fighting for. To begin with, I should probably expound upon why we feel it is a cultural movement.

In our early days on the steampunk scene, we encountered quite a culture of snobbery. It wasn’t ever-present, and it wasn’t everyone. But it was enough to be a real turn-off to the community. People tended to be possessive of geographic areas and didn’t really like seeing new faces on the block. It was really hard to get started in the community, and we had to really ask ourselves why we even wanted to try. After much debate we decided that the push of creativity and the spark of innovation that steampunk seemed to inspire in everyone that came across it was enough to fight for. It was so contrary to the 8 to 5 workday, everyday dole-drum hobbies that even tinkering in the art-form was enough to change the way you looked at everything around you. Your broken bits and baubles became gold, and your arts and crafts classes became a way to express a long repressed desire to create. Once started, we all asked the same question. Why, again, did I stop playing dress-up, and when exactly did I stop seeing the world as a giant canvas for us to paint? It’s those questions that ultimately make this a cultural movement.

Steampunk challenges the idea that make-believe and hand-made creativity should prudently come to an end at the age of 18. The formal end of childhood also marks in our culture the expectation to “grow up”.  At one time, entering science and engineering was a formal way to continue the creativity and innovation of childhood, but in the last 30 years we have seen a marked increase in dogma in those fields as well. Less and less funding has gone to theoretical research and otherwise “alternative” scientific fields. This is doubly true if the field and study doesn’t have an obvious way to turn a profit. With the privatization of scientific research, funneling large sums of cash for the purpose of improving the human race or the understanding of the universe isn’t exactly a priority. Beyond that, the cost of higher education has sky-rocketed, and many people can no longer afford to attend college especially in fields that will require more than four years of study. Traditional art is another option, but it is both highly competitive and requires a natural talent that very few of us possess. Even then, the term “starving artist” is a very real testament to the value our culture places even on the most talented of us.

So where does that leave the rest of us? Those of us who have either already completed our higher education or are not able to start for whatever reason. Those of us who don’t have the drive or the natural talent to strike out as artists. Are we suppose to give up all of our innate creativity in exchange for more practical pursuits? In terms of occupation, maybe. But in terms of hobbies and lifestyles, society would say we are more than welcome to take up jewelry making or soap making or model building or knitting, but those things hardly make a lifestyle. I have found that steampunk often starts just like knitting and model building would, as a hobby. But it involves more than rote mechanics and learning a craft. It engages the imagination. It encourages people to imagine a world that doesn’t exist and to place themselves inside of it. To create their own place and personna in which they play roles that range from princes to janitors in much the same way we created our outlaw worlds in childhood cowboys and indians.

Society frowns deeply on this, and you have to ask yourself, why? The answer isn’t as simple as it may seem. In our travels we have heard a number of reasons why we should “just grow up and stop this”. One, it’s weird. Why? Because it’s not normal. That’s only true because more people don’t do it. Two, it detracts from the normal progression of adulthood. This is true, but the comment assumes that our “normal progression” is a positive and desirable goal. I would argue that it’s not. It stifles cultural, mechanical and scientific innovation at a time when there really isn’t a non-profit driven vehicle for this type of exploration. Three, it’s silly, and you are embarrassing yourself. Well, it is silly, but I’m not embarrassing myself at all. I may be embarrassing you, but I’m doing just fine. And again, the statement assumes that being silly is an undesirable quality. I, again, do not accept this statement. Being silly helps you to retain your sense of humor and calm in a world that is increasingly bleak. Four, and my favorite, aren’t you too old for this? Which brings us back to the original assumption, once you are past 18 years of age, you should no longer be creative or silly in ways that are outside of the established norm. I reject this wholeheartedly for all the reasons I have already stated plus one. The one that answers the question that hasn’t and won’t be asked by those who are disturbed by what we are doing, and that answers how steampunk is a cultural movement.

Those of us, especially those of us who are older, who have embraced the steampunk aesthetic and have involved themselves in the character and world creating genre ultimately find themselves asking the question how did the world that we are living in now get so screwed up? It is inevitable, really. When you start creating worlds in your mind, you can’t help but do so in light of the world you live. You are attempting to either build a better world or to find the ways that it will ultimately fail, depending on how you are looking at your characters. But all roads lead to the same place. They lead you to look critically at the “real” world. Just as in childhood, acting out your conflicts, your inner demons and your fears helped you to cope and to change your responses, so it also works in adulthood. Writers think in this manner as a matter of course, and are often considered some of the most dangerous and influential people in the world. It’s no wonder a genre/aesthetic that encourages and trains people to embrace this mindset might seem disturbing.

In the last year, I have begun to see more and more people embracing this playground, and as they do, I see more and more of them waking up to the reality that they are living in. Every moment of our lives are choreographed and planned according to the dictates of age, race, and class. The odds of breaking free of whatever cycle you were born into are nearly insurmountable, and the society in which we are embroiled has done little to nothing to improve those odds. We have a host of failed and over regulated programs that many of us have begun to wonder if they were ever intended to succeed, or whether they were always meant as a placebo to people that noticed and called for change. From our laughable education and public assistance systems to the empty promise of bettering ourselves through higher education. And by and large, people are trained to look the other way. We are trained to accept as inevitable the oligarchy that this country has become. We accept that our jobs are tenuous and just working is a privilege for which we should be thankful. How far have we fallen even in the last hundred years? We watch with placated eyes as the work our grandfathers fought for is taken from us without so much as a backwards glance. We fight to get ahead for the promise of comfort and security, when neither are even a probable outcome for the vast majority of the populace. We no longer fight for happiness and well-being, but for a bigger house, a nicer car or a new ipod. Happiness is measured by how much money you have in your bank account. To that I have an answer that is often used around the Airship Isabella shop. Money may buy you comfort, but it will never buy you happiness. We have made a conscious choice to live a life where we are happy, and have rejected the idea that success can only be achieved by making the appropriate amount of money. While many have not made the same type of leap, I’m starting to see more and more people reach these same conclusions.

In addition to abandoning the idea that the newest toys are the best toys, today, I am watching as an involved and creative community is starting to turn what they are learning playing games to apply to their real brick and mortar lives. A series of steampunk cultural norms are beginning to emerge and develop by which those in the movement are expected to adhere. Honor, loyalty, respect, free expression, compassion and sharing, especially in the do it yourself/maker aspect of the community. You hear the saying, There are no such things as “trade secrets”. I have seen a return to a community support system, and quiet but real push away from the old snobbery of a few years ago. It has been replaced with a open arms and teach everyone philosophy. While the differences to accepted cultural dogma might not be drastic, the ideals that are being formed are different enough to be considered a real deviation from the norm. As far as a cultural movement goes, by it’s very definition, it is a change or deviation in the way a culture approaches work or thought. We definitely fit that criteria.

This is not to say that the community is without its problems and inconsistencies, but in all honesty, that is to be expected in a movement as young as we are. By the time this sees the public page, some of this will already be outdated. We are growing and changing so fast. But in that break-neck pace, mind-blowing train that is steampunk is a spark that I haven’t seen in my entire life. The encouragement of creativity and inclusive mentality is a positive point of growth for our culture, and that alone is worth fighting for.

Besides, we have better cookies. <wink>

A New Sky

NOVUS CAELUM

There comes a time when your outlook on life changes drastically…. or you just simply have new options and opportunities sprout that makes the outlook feel like something new to fill the void of ‘I don’t know where I’m going with this’. I can’t exactly settle on which it is for me or if it’s both but nonetheless, this feels like a turning point. A big one.
I realize I’ve been practically neglecting my poor lonely artistic talents which I’m sure alot of artists do at one time or another. Well tada! Here I am- Odysseus hath returned from the fray after years and years only to find his dog had waited for him long enough to see him one last time and die there on the spot… Doesn’t that make you all warm and fuzzy? I’m joking about the connotation, there is none and no I didn’t come back to anything bad. But I have come bearing gifts of sorts.

The Neo Dulcimer has grown exponentially in the past year, especially this past quarter. In doing so we have not only grown but grown close to another airship crew that found themselves in distress. With what crew was on hand at the time, we came to their aid to the best of our abilities and together pushed through a fight. There is now a blood pact between us and we are now tight knit family. Brothers and sisters ready to face anything. That airship is christened Airship Isabella. There will be no place they go that you won’t see us by their side and vice versa. I’ve found a family in the midst of the chaos that is life, ASI to me aren’t friends, they’re brothers and sisters I was never able to have before. They came and filled in that void and with them came a wave of inspiration and feeling that I myself can be like them and make something of myself and my talents. They have given me hope where I had none.

We have taken the Con circuit by storm in just a short time. After the tiny Anime Overload convention in Austin this past weekend, through networking we are booked solid through for the next year. It’s a daunting thought, but chillingly exciting just the same. We are dealing with part time jobs that are stingy with our time but have no problem with mistreating us, whereas the con lineup IS a job. There is so much preparation that goes into each one and with the guest perks comes the merch tables. Any free time that can possibly be scrounged up, I’ve dedicated to the production of merch for these events.

It’s funny, in just the last quarter of this year I’ve grown so much in respect to my skill sets. Dear God, constructing the Steampunk Mad Hatter alone was monumental for me. I had one month and one month alone to build the costume from scratch. I’ve never done woodworking, metalworking, resin casting, LED and electronics wiring, any of that. In a month I not only learned and had to learn really quick, I constructed that beast of a task. I’m proud of it. I believed in something and I did it. Completed it to my own satisfaction which is something I haven’t ever done before. Yes, I’ve never been satisfied with a work of art I’ve produced before this. More pictures are on the way of the costume btw.

All of those things aside, I’ve found what I feel is my true calling. Cedric Whittaker, Captain of the Isabella, took me on as a leather working apprentice. Sure I’ve had a bit of experience in leather work before but it was nothing compared to his 17 plus years of skill. In just a few days, he opened up my knowledge and craft with this medium to endless possibilities that has practically no limits to applications. Keep your eyes on my gallery, it’s about to be dusted off again. Slowly but surely my set of leather working tools has been growing. I feel free when I’m set loose on constructing a project now. I guess I’ll close with this… The possibilities of what I could have been have now become what I am and more beyond what the horizon can hold. Look out world, here I come.

— Captain Lazuli Delacru
Airship Neo Dulcimer