Olivia Mears is an incredibly talented 26-year-old artist from North Carolina. She has gained national recognition and internet renown for some of her creations, including Taco Belle, Pizzarella and PBRmor.
Mears recently took some time to chat with OiO about her art and influences.
Tell us about yourself. Is costume design your full-time profession?
In short: no. I create costumes mostly as a hobby, or for contests, shows, fundraisers and individual commissions or contracted projects.
The very first costume you created was Link when you were 11 years old. How has gaming influenced your life and art? What are other geeky influences in your life?
It’s true. I wanted to be Link for Halloween (I wrote him more letters than Santa) and the only option was to make the costume. I took two green pillowcases from the closet (sorry, mom) to be my tunic.
I started sewing costumes consistently with a machine in college, but gaming still definitely had a heavy influence on what I made. I learned what cosplay was and went to my first convention (Dragoncon) in 2011 and was instantly hooked! I don’t cosplay as much now, but I do still seek out concept art from my favorite games to admire and be inspired by.
Can you walk us through how a piece is created? What are all the steps?
Many of the dresses are one-of-a-kind and take weeks to create. Gathering materials usually takes the longest, especially if I’m up-cycling/recycling the items. Several dresses still start with a fabric base I sew and go from there. Some start with paper-mâché or foam. I’ve recently been recording videos to show how I make several pieces, since the process for each one varies.
How much time are you able to spend in an average week on your art? How labor intensive can each dress be?
It takes me anywhere from 10 – 30 hours on average over the course of a week or more. It really depends on the material and size of the dress.
Where did your inspiration for food-themed dresses come from?
While in school I spent my summers singing at children’s birthday parties as various princesses. Beauty (well, Belle) was a popular character and I ended up going to Taco Bell after one of these parties while in costume.
My friend took a photo, it went viral, and I decided the pun needed its own dress. Two years later the Taco Belle dress was made and went viral as well. It was a ridiculous design and I loved it, so I’ve kept finding odd things to style dresses after/out of.
You’ve made costumes out of beer cans, Mountain Dew containers and Taco Bell wrappers. Where does the inspiration for garments made out of recycled materials come from? What are some of the challenges with working with these materials?
While in school, I had to get creative in finding inexpensive materials. Nice fabric right off the bolt wasn’t something I could often afford. Instead I tested what I already had or could find at thrift shops: tablecloths, curtains, plastic bags. Eventually I was sculpting dresses from paper-mâché or cutting up aluminum cans for armor.
Your artwork has been featured on some huge platforms, including Good Morning America and NBC’s Late Night with Seth Myers. How does it feel to be recognized on such a huge scale for your talent?
It’s pretty great, albeit surreal. I’m just glad so many people enjoy what I do.
Do you ever get a negative backlash for posting your work on social media?
Anything worth attention is also going to get negative attention. That’s just how it works. People are hurting and don’t know how to reach out in positive, helpful ways. That’s part of why I create: it is healing for me but also brings some happiness to many others too.
What are your best sources for feedback and constructive criticism?
My close friends are some of my best critics. They see my pieces up close first and will notice things that I don’t. Imgur, too, has turned out to be a great source of critique if you can ignore the weird stuff.
AvantGeek is a perfect name for your art. How did you decide on it?
I came up with the name originally as part of graphic design project in school, where students made their own [fake] magazine. My magazine was for cosplay culture and virtual fashion, I thought the play on Avant-Garde was perfect. It wasn’t until later I decided to post my own costume work online under that same name.
What advice would you have for others looking to get into costume design or cosplay?
Invest in a sewing machine. Lots of basic machines go on sale online all the time for under $80, like the SINGER Tradition (one of my first machines I used for years).
Look up tutorials for making a dressform using duct-tape and/or foam if you can’t buy a mannequin. Coming from experience: be sure to have someone around who can cut you out of the tape if you choose to make your own. There are thousands of patterns out there, so if you’ve got an unusual design in mind, just keep searching and consider “franken-patterns” (mixing parts of multiple patterns) to get what you need.
How does your cat feel about wearing costumes with you?
He’s leash trained so he doesn’t notice a difference with costumes as long as there’s no headpiece. It usually means snacks and going for a walk, he’s pretty okay with that.
Follow Olivia online: