Women Of Retropunk: Katie Ward

Eric Renderking Fisk | February 22nd, 2016

Eric Renderking Fisk: Tell us about your background. Where did you grow up, what were you like as a kid, and what interests did you have that brought you to Steampunk and Cosplay?

Katie Ward I was always an 'out there' sort of kid, weather it be in terms of talking to everyone and anyone, filming silly stories with my school friends or having weird fashion sense (or just being weird in general), I was always a bit of a stick out at school, but in a good way. I always loved sci fi and fantasy, Dr Who was always my favourite show and I guess that's what bought me into loving making things. Obviously what I make and design now is very different to what I used to do within school, sixth form and eventually university, but its been an ongoing interest and passion in my life, not many people can say they have walked down Rochester high street, carrying a Giant Hammer and a multitude of nodded nerf guns. However despite my childhood weirdness (and I always use the term weird in a good way) I didn't discover my Steampunk life until later in my life.

ERF: How did you get into Cosplay, and tell us about the process of creating your own costumes.

KW: I was born and bread Warwick, but it wasn't until I moved to Kent when I really discovered my love for steampunk. You could say I accidentally became a Steampunk in my first year of university, I used to love wearing my top hat and I had a pair of goggles on it and I used to like wearing a corset with any of my dresses which I could wear with it. That's when someone said that my look was a bit steampunk, so I did some research and I really liked what I saw, I started looking in my wardrobe to see what I could Steampunk up, what I could wear differently  to give it a bit of a Victorian feel. Charity shops and ebay became my source of adapting my wardrobe and I started wearing Steampunk outfits most days.

I had was about about halfway through my second year at university  (December 2012) when I met and joined the awesome group Great Kentspectations, that's when my flair for steampunk really started to come out. For the first time I had friends who dressed like me, we met up and had a chuckle, and I can safely say that doing steampunk has made me a better person.

Over the years my Steampunk wardrobe grew, I love experimenting with my outfits and characters, using wigs, contact lenses and make up to develop  my looks and characters and recently I have been going into the Steampunk cosplay scene. I alway admired cosplayers but never thought it was something I could do myself until my housemate suggested doing some group steampunk cosplay looks. With a bit of work I now have two steampunk xmen looks and have also put together two inpretations of characters from my friends books The Monster Hunter and Doctor Tripps Kaiju Cocktail.

EF: I've always been amazed by the costuming community and how we're all a great close-knit community. It's like many of the people I just met who are into my areas of expertise, people I just met fell like people I've known all my life. What other experiences have you enjoyed in the community, and what have been some negative experiences with fellow cosplayers that you might not have gotten along with? And how do you handle that?

KW: I think one of the best things about steampunk are the people you meet and the opportunities it has bought for me. Through steampunk I have meet some of the most loveliest and splendidly creative people and some of the closest friends I have ever had. You meet a fellow Steampunk and you instantly have a connection, you start talking about costumes and gadgets and then all of sudden your being invited around for the tea and cake. It's such a welcoming and loving community, who helps to support each other, weather it be giving each other ideas, swapping bit and bobs or helping with character development, we always try to help one another. And like I said doing steampunk has opened so many doors for me.

On a personal level, steampunk and cosplay has lead me towards a part time modeling career and on a group level we get involved so many awesome events, it almost feels unreal. Within only a few years our Steampunk group, Great Kentspectations, Has grown so much, we now run one of the biggest steampunk events in Kent, we hold the best steampunk Halloween parties in the planet (well in my opinion anyway) and get invited to be part of so many awesome days out, where we get to display our creations and tell the  curious public about our rather peculiar interest.

Like in any society  it is impossible to not cross wires with some people, but as a rule steampunk is a very positive, supportive place. You sometimes get people saying things like "that's not steampunk" but within our group we always say there is no such thing as that's not steampunk, steampunk is about doing what you want to do and being able to express that amongst friends. In public and in costume, you are bound to get a bit of heckling, personally I get alot of comments about my chest, but I don't let it bother me, it's true that I have some "ample" features and that by wearing a corset certain things can get "pushed up"  but they are a part of me and I want to dress in the clothes I choose to wear. Generally people enjoy seeing us dressed up, but you can get the occasional narrow minded person who feel it necessary to make a comment, but we don't let it get us down.

ERF - One of the things I’ve admired about you is how you’re unapologetic about your size and your appurtenance. You’re not a traditional sized model and yet you have exceptional confidence, “this is who I am, period.” I don’t think I’ve ever read you saying ‘If you don’t like it, tough,” or “If you don’t like it, go elsewhere.” You’ve always been “this is me” with no apologies, no caveats, and very little response to trolls. Do you see yourself as a crusader for healthy body images, or is this just you and being a role model is something that just happens as a side note? 2 – On the note of your ample features and comments – you do get a lot of positive comments and requests from some asking to see more. Do you regard yourself as some kind of a sex symbol? What’s it like getting provocative reactions to some of your more risqué pictures? Are there more limits and envelopes you want to push? 3 – Let’s talk about your creative process – how do you start your process? How do your ideas for a costume go from an idea to the finished project?

Katie Ward: I have never really seen myself as a role model I guess, I mean I always appreciate it when people say they like my looks and creations, and it touches my heart when people say that I have helped them feel more confident about themselves but I didn't set out to be a crusader, I have just always done this because it's something I want to try out and do. I am a plus size girl, and I have and still do have issues with my own body, but it's still my body, I am currently in the process of loosing weight, I know I will never be a small size but that's ok. I think I am more about everyone being happy with the body they have, I have friends smaller than me, I have friends bigger than me, but they are all still beautiful and when it really boils down to it, a person isn't just what you see in front of you, it's who they are inside and I think steampunk is the perfect way to express that, it's bringing passions and loves and putting them into your outfit and having fun with it.

Eric Renderking Fisk: On the note of your ample features and comments – you do get a lot of positive comments and requests from some asking to see more. Do you regard yourself as some kind of a sex symbol? What’s it like getting provocative reactions to some of your more risqué pictures? Are there more limits and envelopes you want to push?

Katie Ward: Personally I see the comments as tongue and cheek, weather it's meant that way or not (because 9 times out of 10 it is). Within Steampunk there is a sort of polite naughtiness that you kinda adopt, ladies in corsets and men in dapper looking suits plus a fun but friendly atmosphere with close friends, it's what you get used to and things don't get out of hand when its the people you know (I can tell if someone is having a friendly fnar and when someone is just being inappropriate) I sometimes get messages through Facebook, people who say they like my stuff and get quite flirty and try to be naughty, but I have never had any serious problems. Those sorts of people, the people who are just interested in wanting to get flirty and see more than I show on Facebook,  normally back down when I say thank you for appreciating my work but I have a boyfriend  (which I do and he is the most caring and loving person I have ever met)  and I don't send out private pictures. If people show a genuine interest in my costumes and in steampunk, I am more than happy to chat about stuff and be friends. Like I said I have ample features (it's actually quite difficult to hide them) but I design my costumes to be more flattering to the figure I have, rather than showing bits for the sake of showing them. It's true I have done burlesque type shoots, but it's something I have always wanted to try and I still see them as tasteful, if not a bit naughty still.

Eric Renderking Fisk: Let’s talk about your creative process – how do you start your process? How do your ideas for a costume go from an idea to the finished project?

Katie Ward: My steampunk characters normally start with a wig, I have a weird thing where if I have a new coloured wig, I will probably end up making a new character, then I think of a profession and that's when the fun starts. Most of my outfit items are generic, so get swapped around with different characters and looks, but I have certain items that stick with certain characters. Some of my characters have backstories as I have written about them with friends (we had a Facebook story page) so the outfits can become quite detailed, but most of the time it's what I think will go together and what suits the character. So for example, my character Miss Victoria Sparks, she is from atlantis and is a mechanic. She started off as a blue wig and a pair of yellow contacts, then I put an outfit together that I thought could be seen as a Steampunk mechanics outfit. I put most of it together from primark, quirky but practical pieces of clothing,  bought together with a corset. Then I wanted to add props, so I thought well she is a mechanic, she needs tools, so logically it made a giant hammer and giant spanners out of cardboard, a broom handle and paint, something fun and over the top. I still add to my characters and none of them have just one outfit (except my xmen cosplays), I still swap things around, add bits, take bits away, the point for me is to have fun and do something different.

Eric Renderking Fisk: Just a follow-up on your modeling career so far: What was it like when you started modeling and your first photo shoot? Was it Steampunk, Cosplay, or something more burlesque?

Katie Ward: My first shoot came after I meet a photographer called Brian, he was interested in my costume when he saw me at the dickens festival, so we exchanged emails and planned a shoot. It was my first time in front in front of a camera that wasn't at an event so we decided to do a joint shoot with a chap who I had met and who was used to modeling more. It was a Steampunk shoot at Rochester castle gardens and I loved it. I have done multiple outdoor shoots with Brian, that's how my modeling career started, he would see me in a costume at an event and ask if I would like a shoot in that particular outfit. I have done shoot with a few other photographers and I don't think it would be fair to pick who is my favourite as they are so lovely and have never pushed any boundaries, I have done a topless shoot before and that was only after several shoots with the photographer and they were more for my benefit than showing them to others . I did my Burlesque shoot with a chap called Doug in his studio and that only came about because he asked me if I wanted to try it and I felt very comfortable around him, i had done a few shoots with Doug by then and i had always said i would like to try something more daring and we did.

There are always shoots I prefer over others, but I have enjoyed all of them and I hope that there will be many more to come. There are always shoots I want to try, I would love to do more technical ones where you can see more than one of my characters in the same shot, and I would love to do an underwater shoot with my atlantian character, but I am happy to let my career grow and see where my shoots take me.

Eric Renderking Fisk: Has there ever been a photographer who wanted to go further than you were comfortable or wanted to go, and how did you react to those requests? I see a lot of comments from guys (and some gals) who post something like "Show us your... !" How do you react to those requests and say "no, I'm not doing that" and still maintain a working relationship?

Katie Ward: Like I said before I take the comments on my photos with a pinch of salt, I will never show more than I am comfortable with and I never let them pressure me into doing it and like I said it has never been the photographers i have worked with that have made the requests that have pushed too far, in this respect i am bery lucky. At the moment my modeling career is still growing, I don't have loads of shoots under my belt and I am still learning but it's fun and I get to express my characters and outfits in a more professional manner, and hopefully it will lead it to something even more exciting.

Eric Renderking Fisk: What's the one fabric or material you've always wanted to use but haven't yet?

Eric Renderking Fisk: How about genre's? Have you wanted to tackle another genre you haven't explored yet?

Katie Ward: In terms of fabric, it  entirely depends on the person doing it, Myself, the type of fabric doesn't bother me, if the colour and pattern is right for what I want to do then I will go with it (obviously the time of year effects some fabric choices, but I tend to to layer up rather than wearing one thing that is thicker as outfits can get very warm, especially when wearing a wig). However i know some of my reenactment  friends like to go down the more historical route when it comes to Steampunk, some of my cosplay friends try to go with whatever is closest to the source material, it all depends what you want to achieve with your outfit, and let's not forget personal budget is always going to be a factor.

Eric Renderking Fisk: Talking more about Steampunk or the whole _punk movement... Now that it's becoming more mainstream, has it lost some of its hipness or allure, or is it now more exciting because more people are getting into what I call 'retropunk?"

Katie Ward:I think there will always be mainstream versions of things like steampunk, dieselpunk, cosplay, etc, but in my personal opinion I think there will always a difference between the mainstream and the full on following. I don't think it will take anything away from say the Steampunk me and my friends do, in fact I think it might add something, being able to buy  bits and bobs from  the high street and adapting them could lead think even more creativity. I have bought Christmas decorations from Wilkinsons in the past and added them to my costumes and I know alot of my friends who do the same, so many things can cross over and intertwine, it's all about being creative.

Eric Renderking Fisk: How about genre's? Have you wanted to tackle another genre you haven't explored yet?

Katie Ward: As well as steampunk and cosplay, I have started looking more into Dieselpunk, which is similar to the Steampunk scene but rather than the Victorian era being "punked  up" , it focuses more on 1930's and 1940's.

Eric Renderking Fisk: What advice would you give to anyone wanting to follow in your footsteps? How would you get started? And if you could start over, what would you do differently?

Katie Ward: My advise to anyone wanting to get into steampunk and steampunk modeling is that don't be afraid! Don't be worried about starting small: outfits, characters and confidence all take time to build, we all have to start somewhere and don't be afraid to be creative. Steampunk can be a very personal thing, so don't be afraid to experiment with colour and material and accessories, make it what you want it to be. See if there are any groups local to you, meet fellow Steampunks and have some fun, the only reason I started modeling was because I got spotted at an event with my friends, you never know who will bump into.

Eric Renderking Fisk: What does the future hold for you? What are your plans, what projects are you working on, and what do we have to look forward to seeing from you in the near future?

Katie Ward:My plan for the future is to hopefully continue with my modeling and continue helping to run events with my Steampunk group , I have a few shoots planned for the coming months and countless events to help out with over the year, but most importantly, I want to continue to have fun, with my lovely steampunk friends. I have a few new projects which I want to work on, I have a dieselpunk character and outfit I am working on and possibly some more steampunk cosplay cross overs. All I can say is watch this space.