I’ve always been a bit of an odd chicken full of strange ideas and impractical dreams. I guess that’s why my Twitter bio reads, “I’m an idealist living in a realist’s world.” I just refuse to believe that gravity has any effect on me no matter how many times I fall. I’m resilient, and I don’t let a lot get in the way of my dreams.
So I guess it’s ironic, then, that I work in the corporate world and keep so much of my personality at bay. You could say it’s the realist’s world that this crazy idealist creative lives in. So when people ask me the question, “What do you do outside of work?” I’ll beat around the bush and give some generic answers like photography, hiking, spending time with friends, drinking good beer, et cetera. But sometimes, I’ll grin and say, “I make costumes.” Almost every time I answer in this way, I get the follow-up question, “Why?” So this is what I tell them:
Back in 2008, I had just graduated college, and taken a corporate gig that moved me up to Lexington, KY. It was a year to meet new people, try new things, and a time to reinvent myself. In the middle of all this, my job was creating a lot of stress. I was a fish out of water working in an industry and a region I was not familiar with. I had a boss that was an “old school” sales manager and was causing a lot of friction and frustration in my daily life. On top of this, I felt as if all the creativity that I had developed in high school and College was being sucked out of me with a vacuum. What I needed was an escape.
What I needed was a way to break free from the long, grueling days working in a suit and tie and do something creative. So around September of that year I thought, “What if I spent some time learning how to make a ridiculously detailed costume?” I didn’t know how to sew, but I knew how to use a glue gun. So I went to work making my first costume.
That year I created what became known as the “Navy Seal.” And, yes, I’m aware it’s a terrible pun. I’m full of terrible puns. Heck, even my costumes are stuffed with them. I’ve got “Bridezilla” and “Poultry-Geist” just to name a few.
People were impressed with what I was able to do, and after Halloween, a friend of mine told me that there was no possible way to top that character. I took that as a personal challenge, and over the next several months leading up to Halloween of 2009, I began studying and working towards my first full character, Starlite.
Halloween 2009 was awesome, to say the least. Partying in costume and having fun with my friends in character was an amazing (although mostly blind) experience. I even had the guts to enter a bar costume contest, which I won. Don’t be too impressed though. My final competition was a guy that was only wearing a thong, and I was mistaken for a “My Little Pony” character. Thankfully this was also before the rise of Broines though, and nobody thought twice about it because it was Halloween.
As a result of my growing costuming prowess, in 2010 I was asked to create costumed characters for an event at my church called, “Jesus Prom.” For those that don’t know what Jesus Prom is, it’s an event for physically and mentally disabled individuals that may not have ever gotten a chance to go to prom in high school due to their disabilities. It’s a formal prom complete with tuxes, dresses, and the occasional special guests, and this is where we came in. This was the first time I was able to see that there was a place for what I was doing outside of Halloween or sci-fi conventions, and it encouraged me to go deeper with my craft. Additionally, as a Christian, this was an excellent chance for me to honor God with what I was doing instead of just competing in bar contests for my own glory (and beer), and I loved it.
I served with Jesus Prom in 2010 and 2011. If I could go back, I would do it again in an instant. Because of Jesus Prom, I went from only having made 2 costumes to 8 full-bodied suits in about a year’s time. My sewing greatly improved during this time as well, as did my confidence for what I was capable of, which is why one of the 8 characters made in 2009-2011 was Bridezilla. I moved back to Knoxville in 2011 as a result of a business venture, and sadly had to resign from of Jesus Prom after that year as well since the logistics proved too difficult.
Since 2011, I’ve continued to use my skills and characters to serve the community and in my church, and I’ve also continued to build my skills as a costumer. I’m to the point now where I’m starting to get to do professional mascots (like the one pictured to the right) and private commissions. In fact, the first mascot I did on commission was the one that Dan Thompson saw and spurred a conversation that led to the conception of “Picture Me Loving You.” As of the time of writing this post, I have made 13 characters and am currently working on characters #14 and #15. If you’re interested, yes, I am open for commissions, and you can view a portfolio of a selection of my work here.
This hobby has truly become a passion of mine over the past 7 years. The doors it has opened, and the experiences I’ve had as a result of my willingness to put myself out there and try something different are incredible. If you learn anything from this post aside from how weird I am, I hope it’s that you should do what you love, unless, as this series will teach us, it’s killing people.
Find out more info on Chris Hill, his costumed characters, and other creative work at http://www.screamingchickenstudio.com/