Come with us on a journey of imagineering and urban fantasy both rare and extraordinaire, as we have a chat with amazing decopunk Aimee Brooks! She tells us about the unique and exciting worlds she inhabits and creates, and shares some of her dreams of the retro-future in this candid and tell-all interview.
Aimee’s Links: *Facebook * Wattpad * Deviantart*
For starters, tell us a little about yourself and your background. What art forms and mediums do you work in, and describe your creative process?
My background is nothing out of the ordinary, really- typical middle class suburban life. I got picked on going through school for liking things my classmates thought were weird, or for reading too much, but sadly that’s hardly unusual. I currently work in security, but I’m hoping to leave that business soon.
As for art, I like to draw, but need to spend more time at it. I use pencil and ink, then I like to scan my images into the computer and do the coloring with photoshop, which is actually quite time consuming. People have a tendancy to think that digital art is easy and fast- click a few buttons and done. In reality, it can be quite labor intensive in its own right, there’s no “Easy” button. Like any tool, it takes time and practice to get good. I also am a costumer/cosplayer. Currently I work in sewing and leather, but I’d like to branch out into armor building and prop making, as well as prosthetic makeup.
When you’re not hard at work on your creative masterpieces, what sort of pastimes do you enjoy? What sort of projects are you currently working on, and what are you planning for the future?
I love reading- fiction, current events and social issues, history, lots of interesting things. Aside from costuming and crafting, I’m also a fan of online gaming- I’ve played several MMOs, I’m currently active in Final Fantasy XIV online, which provides a nice level of challenge and is fun. (Not to mention the gorgeous gear sets which scream “Build me!, Wear me!” I also like to engage in sword play, although I don’t have the opportunities for solo practice I once did, and it’s hard finding willing sparring partners.
Currently I’m working on a couple of costume designs- Aon Center of Chicago, and Chrysler Building of New York. Chrysler may have to wait a little bit, I need some practice with elaborate builds like her crown.
Decopunk is a really obscure sub-genre, but it’s catching on fast. How would you best describe it to someone/what does it mean to you?
I would tell people that Decopunk is similar to Steampunk, but it deals with the Art Deco time period and aesthetic. I love it, personally! Looking at original Art Deco art and architecture, you can sense that it was an age of innocence, an age of optimism and hope. (At least before the great depression hit) You see things like the ceiling mural in the entrance to the Chrysler Building lobby, which celebrated the automobile among other things, or the medallions highlighting the various elements of skyscraper construction in the Empire State Building lobby, or the countless works of public art in Rockefeller Center, praising communications technology and progress, or showing humanity seeming to overcome warlike urges and transitioning to peace, and you can see an entirely different mindset at work than what’s going on in our culture at the moment. It seems we’re fixated on doom and gloom, and apocolyptic imagery, and people seem to have a very “meh” view of technology that our jazz age ancestors would have been in awe of. Truthfully, I think we need some of that optimism and joy back. We as humans face many real challenges, and can we truly work to overcome them if we’re stuck in a hopeless apocalyptic mindset?
I think that a lot of the “punks”- Steam, Diesel, Deco, etc are trying to bring back something we’ve lost- across all of the “punks”, I see a real concern for aesthetic- the clothes, accessories, gadgets, you name it. Unfortunately our modern world has kind of lost that, so many objects that we use every day- our phones and computers to name just a couple, are so plain and minimal that they’re practically non-design. And so much of street fashion is just so generic. That coupled with the fact that so many people take casual dress to extremes- pyjamas have practically become street wear. Now, I don’t want us to go back to the days when a woman HAD to wear a hat and gloves to go out in public, but sometimes when it comes to fashion it’s like we’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. I think a lot of us “punks” are rebelling against it- rebelling against the blandness, the boring and mass produced qualities of so many of the things we wear and use every day. We’re trying to reclaim some of the beauty and elegance that we seem to have lost, trying to integrate it into our lives in various ways in a creative, DIY fashion.
You have a very unique and fascinating perspective on architecture, especially skyscrapers. How did you first begin to imagine your urban fantasy universe?
I’ve been making characters out of buildings and telling stories about them ever since I was a kid! I remember making up stories where the avatars of all these buildings just hung out together someplace- you had 1970’s skyscrapers mingling with medieval cathedrals and the like, with even ships and others coming to join them. In a way I’m still doing that, I’ve just gotten a lot better at it.
When creating a ‘personality’ for a building, what sort of features inspire the personality of that individual?
For example, what determines its gender, attitude, etc.?
It’s hard to say- I’ll look at a building and just get a feel for it- some of them feel very strongly male or female to me, others are more ambiguous. Likewise personality- some really come across as dignified, upright types. Others seem like the ones you would want to be sitting next to in a boring class- you know they would find something to start wisecracking about, saying all this stuff to make you laugh.
Some of them really start to take on a new depth once you get into their history- there’s a few skyscrapers in New York which have had multiple brushes with fire- how would that affect them? I think about things like that. Also, do they have a lot of “siblings” around? (Buildings designed by the same architects), What has their past been like? Lots of things going on, or uneventful?
Your costuming skills are incredible! When did you get started in cosplay, and what are some of your favorite experiences while impersonating these magnificent structures?
I’ve been making things for myself for a number of years- simple projects and closet cosplay, but I really started getting gung ho into it when Revenge of the Sith came out and I wanted something to wear to the movie. After that, I kept making things- starting with Jedi robes and then branching out into original character design- taking the characters I’d been drawing for years and bringing them to life. In some ways, this is more challenging- there’s a ton of tutorials out there when you’re researching how to make (Insert Anime Character’s name here)’s cloak or wand. There’s no tutorials for “How to make Chrysler Building’s crown”.
My favorite thing has got to be how the staff at One Penn Plaza have embraced me, joking about how I’m their unofficial mascot. I’ve got some awesome pics of me posing with them in full costume. It’s amazing that they’ve been so cool with what I do, and so welcoming. They’re just happy to see somebody who likes their building as much as they do! Having taken a lot of hits for being a skyscraper geek and an overall nerd, it means a lot to me to be so accepted.
If you could choose one skyscraper in the world to suddenly become a living individual, which would you choose, and why?
Do I have to pick just one? I would love to bring a few cities’ worth of skyscrapers to life. But if I had to pick just one, it would be either One Penn Plaza or One Astor Plaza- they’re both designed by the same firm, Kahn and Jacobs. And we’ve got a lot in common. We’ve all been called ugly and taken crap for our looks. Like me, One Penn has been largely ignored and treated with indifference despite being a great building with lots to offer. And like me, Astor Plaza has been ridiculed for being different, for not conforming- whether it’s a cool spiky, finned crown or unorthodox fashion sense, some people hate that. So I kind of identify with those two buildings.
Are there any conventions or events that you dream of attending someday?
I’d love to attend New York Comic-Con or the Middle East film and comic festival in Dubai!
What city in the world would you most like to live in?
New York of course! But if I couldn’t have New York, I’d take San Francisco as my second choice.
That said, what do you feel is the most important thing people should realize and appreciate about the buildings which surround and support us on a daily basis?
Mainly, pay more attention to them! Don’t be afraid to look up, or to admire the details inside and out. Even the office towers people tend to ignore unless they work in them are still part of a long and fascinating history and evolution.
Which artist/writer/costumer/etc. has the been the biggest inspiration to you, and why?
Tough call! I can’t name just one. One of my favorite cosplayers has got to be Kamui of Kamui cosplay- She does some awesome builds, but my favorite thing is how much she’s done to share knowledge with the cosplay community through tutorials, books, and so on.
If you had a time machine and could travel anywhere, past or future, where/when would you go?
I’d love to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge on opening day- May 27, 1937. I’d also love to visit the original WTC towers before 9/11.
What is your favorite thing about humanity, and your least favorite? P
I love our sheer ingenuity and determination, not to mention creativity. We’ve done so many amazing things. My least favorite things would have to be our the awful things we think of to do to each other, and the reasons we justify that- sometimes we just can’t be willing to live and let live.
Pretty sure I know the answer here, but do you prefer Star Wars or Star Trek?
I like both of them- Gene Roddenbery wove a lot of optimism and idealism into the Star Trek universe, to show us what we could be if we learn to work together, and treat others we encounter with respect. But at the same time I love the Star Wars universe, the sheer amount of storytelling that’s come out of it. And lightsabers are way more fun than phasers. Aside from the Klingons, I like the costuming in the Stars universe better too.
If a movie were to be made of your life, which celebrity would play you, and why?
I’m honestly not sure. As things are right now, it might be one boring movie!
What do you consider your greatest success up to this point?
I haven’t racked up a lot of traditional “successes”. Crappy job, not a lot of money. But I have managed to save up enough to travel- I’ve planned several trips out of the country and I’m pretty cool with travelling alone.
And what do you wish you could do over or forget?
I wish I’d learned to drive, I wish I was better at math, and I really wish I hadn’t been afraid to really fight back against some of the bullies who made life miserable for me. I wish I’d really kicked an ass or two- it’s not very PC, but it’s the only thing some bullies understand.
I also really wish I’d decided to go back to school and study fashion design years ago instead of wasting so much of my life in a job that has worn me down physically and mentally.
If money was no object, what would you do all day?
I’d master lots more creative skills and fabrication methods, and become one of the best costumers out there! I’d also write and draw more.
What’s the weirdest thing that ever happened to you while you were in costume?
I can’t say anything really weird has happened, I’ve had a few people mistake me for a nun when I was in Jedi garb though.
Do you believe in extraterrestrial life?
Very much so! Seeing just how vast space is, and how many thousands upon thousands of galaxies there are out there, it’s hard to believe that we’re the only planet with life. Maybe there are extraterrestrials out there who know about us, but are choosing not to interfere- we’re not the only species capable of coming up with something like the Prime Directive. Or maybe they’re in the same boat as us- they know there’s a huge universe out there, but there are serious technological hurdles involved in getting very far away from home.
If you were selected to become one of the first colonists to settle on another planet, would you go?
I doubt it- there’s too many things here at home that I’d miss, and I’m not big on roughing it or frontier living. That, and colonists would probably be expected to breed, to grow the population. I don’t want kids so that would be a non starter for me. Now, if we were talking about an established colony and regular traffic between there and earth was a thing, I’d go visit.
What would you most like to see emerge in the decopunk sub-genre, or what would you like to see more of?
I’d like to see Deco/Deiselpunk become as popular as Steam! More people means more ideas, more cool stuff being made. I’d love to see more costuming, more artifacts, as well as more interest in preserving the Art Deco wonders we still have.
What sort of dreams/hopes/goals do you have for your future?
I hope I can find work that pays well in the creative field, I’d love to be a costume or fashion designer.
Finally, do you have any advice or suggestions for any beginning artists or decopunk enthusiasts?
For beginning artists- keep practicing! I almost flunked sewing in home ec, now I have a master’s sewing award given to me by Yaya Han. Start simple, and keep practicing, keep looking at your work and thinking of ways to improve. Don’t be afraid to try new things, or think that you have to look a certain way to cosplay. Remember, it’s cosplay, not cos-body doubling!
For Decopunk fans, read lots- there are lots of great books out there full of Art Deco architecture, fashion, decorations, so much inspiration for your own creative projects. Observe lots too- period movies, architecture, artifacts- there’s so much inspiration.
Thank you so much Aimee for being my first deco-interviewee and for being such a fantastic, beautiful person inside and out. Keep on shining and keep those eyes to the sky, great things are ahead for your deco-future!