I’m a big fan of wasteland style worlds and their particular visual aesthetic, so it was a massive privilege to be asked to photograph Shadow Wars, Forsaken, and The World Went Dark this year. When it comes to costume, Shadow Wars is relatively easy – you can crowbar an awful lot of everyday clothes to fit the setting, but the latter two are a little trickier.
Realising that I have both Forsaken and The World Went Dark coming up next month in October, I figured I’d better start on some costume. I knew I had everything around the house, I just had to pull it together into a coherent outfit. The best distressing techniques for costume are much argued about, but this is how I did mine.
So I started gathering supplies, which included taking a trip to Wilkos and raiding the tool kits we keep in the basement…
- A plain Vest Top
- Trousers from eBay
- Boots from when I used to teach air cadets – try your local army surplus
- A plane blade
- Spray paints in red, brown, cream, yellow, and clear. I really like the Wilkos own brand ones – they’re cheap at £3.95 a can and they have a bit of a rubbish nozzle which is great when you specifically don’t want even coverage!
- Black acrylic paint. I get big tubes of it from The Works (it’s a discount book and art shop), but other people have good results with things like tins of cheap black emulsion paint.
- A bucket of ash or similar. I used ash straight out the bottom of our BBQ, other people have used things like concrete and dirt. You could use fullers earth, but that’s quite expensive so I reserve it for a final dusting over the kit when you’re actually wearing it.
So basically I followed Callum’s advice that you can find in the post he wrote here on LARP.GUIDE, except I added in my own prep using the spray paints before I started throwing ash everywhere. The whole process for this base layer took less than two hours – so give it a go and you’ll have the basics for monstering any system with a wasteland written into it’s background!
Here’s how I got the look:
It helped that the boots were pre-worn somewhat. If your boots are brand new, you want to soak them through, fill them with rocks, and then tie or clamp them into a folded position (lean the calf forward over the toe) and let them dry. This will start to simulate the natural wear creases that boots develop. But I started with this:
The first thing I did was attack them with the plane. Scuff up the toes and the leather around the back, and don’t forget to do the metalwork either. Don’t totally wreck the laces – you want to still be able to do them up.
It doesn’t seem like a huge difference, but it just prevents them looking totally brand new. Be careful to only skim the top layer off – wet feet aren’t fun at all when you’re at a LARP event. Keep in mind that you can always go over your boots with dubbin again in the future – it’ll take a load of the weathering off but you can reapply it again pretty easily. And that is one of the keys to making your kit feel really authentic – break it, fix it, then break it again. Preferably by playing in it, but cheating really isn’t a problem here.
Next up were the spray paints. I started with brown and a dirty clay red, making sure that I got the muddy colours into all the deep folds of the leather and around the soles. These are enamel spray paints so they shouldn’t come off in a hurry. They do dry to a gloss finish though, so you can’t just spray your boots without then weathering them on top.
After I’d added the dark colours I really gently misted the raised areas with the cream coloured spray paint. You want to do these from a decent distance away, practice on a bit of paper first to work out what the effect is going to look like.
After that it was just a case of following Callum’s tutorial and applying a load of acrylic paint and ash to the boots. I don’t think I worked enough paint and ash into the seams, but I’m not too worried. It looks ok from a distance which is the most important thing.
I confess – I didn’t make those trousers. I bought them pretty much how you see them in the picture – well, aside from the distressing. They’re trousers meant for clubbing, so they are big combat pants with lots of extra straps hanging off them. Perfect as a base.
The first thing I did was to cut the end off the straps, and randomly hack into the bottom pockets a bit. Then I attacked the bits I’d cut with the plane to make the edges look less perfect. Then I worked my way all over the entire trousers, grabbing handfuls of fabric and just using the plane on the bunched up material. This put little holes all over the trousers that look pretty natural.
A word of warning here – don’t attack the seams too hard, or you’ll find yourself with a garment that just falls apart. Which is fine if you want to repair it, but nobody wants to see your trousers falling down half way through a fight. Also, think about pockets. Holes in pockets might look cool, but they then become totally impractical for putting things in.
After that I laid the trousers out flat and then just slightly scrunched them up. A really light dusting of red spray paint followed by the cream again gave them a base texture to start working on. I used a little yellow and brown here too in order to create particular stains. The key is to go light, building up the layers slowly. Don’t be afraid to add more layers of the red and cream as you go either – they’ll add depth in the same way that you get depth from shading and highlighting a tabletop miniature.
Then, just like the boots, it was a case of adding acrylic paint and ash to the trousers. I focussed on this being below the knee, as well as to make the edges of the pockets more ratty and worn. After it had dried I thumped the trousers against the floor a few times, which took off some of the excess dust and revealed the coloured layers below. Pretty cool effect and dead easy to do.
I didn’t actually take any photographs while I was doing the vest – it took me literally less than two minutes. I simply laid it out on the floor like the trousers, scrunched it up a little bit, then used the red and cream spray paints to just add a bit of texture. I didn’t see the point in adding a load of crusty ash and paint to the vest, since I’m a big fan of, you know, actually washing my base layers between events. It works fine to go under other things, and it means I can have something relatively clean as the bottom layer!
Oh, and wear gloves. Even wearing gloves I managed to paint myself.
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