Star Wars: Interview with an Armorer

DW sits down with Brittany Kenville, crafter of Mandalorian Helmets!

As someone who was truly born into nerdiness and has been cosplaying since 2005, I am keenly aware of what being a woman in a primarily male dominated hobby is like. Somewhere along the line, I met Brittany Kenville and we immediately clicked. Ever since that magical meeting, we’ve been inseparable and we’ve helped each other grow and progress in our crafting along the way. Once The Mandalorian hit Disney+, Kenville’s cosplay focus and skills have taken a surprising and abrupt turn to a new facet of the hobby for her: armorcraft. Being so close to her, I felt it was only right to crowdsource some questions from my fellow GateCrashers  to ask the Madam Mandalorian Maker herself. What follows is an interview with Kenville with the questions crafted from the GateCrashers crew and edited for clarity where needed. 

What specifically appeals to you about the Mandolorian armor itself?

I admire warriors. The Klingons, the Warrior-of-the-People Buffy Summers, Xena, Okoye, Aragorn…. they’ve always been the types who appeal to me. Mandalorians fall into the same category. I feel that part of being a warrior tends to involve you having some type of armor, but the Mandalorians and their beskar…. they just know how to make armor look GOOD. I was dazzled by Din Djarin and the Armorer, and the rest is history. 

What got you started with focusing your craft on armorsmithing?

I’d made a few props before, like Buffy’s spinning stake, the Slayer Scythe and a Scarlet Witch crown, but nothing near the level I’m on now. When I watched the first season of The Mandalorian and saw the Armorer’s fight scene at the end of the season… that changed everything for me. Lauren Mary Kim did that fight over 400 times to make it perfect and it shows. I’ve never been captivated by a fight scene like that in my entire life and I knew I had to make her armor the second I saw her standing like a champion over the destroyed Stormtroopers. You immediately know why she’s the only Mandalorian left in their covert.

While making your armor pieces and props, do you prefer to work in silence or with music?

Typically I like to watch/listen to TV shows, since I make everything in my house. While making the Sabines I watched the entirety of Yellowstone, Longmire and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and a lot of Frasier. When I was making Bo-Katan and Armorer I watched all of Clone Wars and Rebels. It’s easier to zone out and work for hours straight when you have shows autoplaying, rather than having to stop every so often to change the music. 

What made you decide to start working in the often overlooked medium of cardboard?

I started using cardboard because I wanted to make an Armorer helmet, but all the 3D printed ones I’ve seen online (to this day) haven’t gotten the back of her helmet right, which I get because you can only see it for a split second in the show. I wanted to try to get it right though. I attempted to use paper clay, and foam, and a few other things but I wasn’t happy with how any of it came out. Then I tried using cardboard because I had a bunch of old boxes saved from shipments I’d gotten, and now I love it because you can truly do so much with it. It’s nice to be able to recycle all my old boxes, and I feel like making props from cardboard is more accessible for broke bitches like me. I’m trying to avoid getting a 3D printer because I remember when they didn’t exist, and I don’t like to imagine a future where people can’t create art without computers. I want to keep the old ways alive. 

What are some of the challenges involved when working with cardboard?

The challenges are endless, I swear. I’m thinking of changing up the way I do things because as good as I consider my helmets to be, I’m still not satisfied with how they’re coming out. Cardboard alone is not stable enough for what I do with it, so I also use papier-mâché to help everything stay together, and then tons of gesso to have something to sand smooth for painting. But the papier-mâché tends to soak into the cardboard and cause it to swell and ripple, and I’ve probably redone every single component on every single helmet I’ve made at least five times. For the life of me I still can’t get the range-finders to do what I want or get a visor to fit perfectly, but I have many more helmets in my future and am hoping I can perfect my methods eventually. 

Outside of more Mandalorian armor, what’s your next cardboard creation?

I’m dying to make Jadzia Dax’s bat’leth from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. She specifies her dimensional preferences for it down to the centimeter, so I’ll be able to make it just like hers. I’m also going to be making her outfit from the episode “Blood Oath”, so I’ll have some cardboard Klingon armor in my life. 

When it comes to suits from comics or games, what is the most difficult part about making them look good in real life?

Well…. this is where I get into trouble. A lot of times I don’t think canon designs look that great. I take tons of artistic liberties, and I think that’s part of why I don’t get much recognition from the Star Wars community. The Sabines were definitely the most complex things I’ve ever made. Sabine is animated, and the design of her helmet is just not….rooted in physics or reality. So I tried to use my knowledge of how they translated Bo-Katan’s to real life, and I attempted to replicate that process. I am a painter, like Sabine, and to me some of the ways her helmets were painted by the animators just didn’t fit with the way her painting style on other things was. Her armor is painted in a different style than her helmets. Sabine to me is like a graffiti artist, with a good eye for colors and a desire to show off. In my opinion her helmet paint jobs would look a bit bland and flat in real life, (no disrespect to the artists, just looks better in animated form), so I did what I felt Sabine would have done if she were a real person and a real painter. I think the extra touches of color that I added, along with the ~purple beskar~ give them a deeper, more cohesive and beautiful feel. And now they all match! 

Judging by your Instagram, you’re a woman of many talents. How do you incorporate what you learn in your cake decorating into your armor building and vice versa? I feel like the attention to detail and patience required for both factors into it a bit, yeah?

Both cake decorating and armor building have a lot in common. I do a lot of planning prior to attempting either one. Cakes are a bit more forgiving, I’ve messed up cakes and have been able to fix them with just a little bit of time. Building armor is an entirely different beast though, and I’ve had to toss entire helmets because I’ve messed them up so badly. I think doing both has helped me with patience, doing a four-tiered wedding cake in 3 hours feels just as daunting as spending 3 months working on a helmet. I’ve learned that I can’t rush things, and if I want to spend my time repainting a helmet twenty times or redoing an inscription on a cake twenty times I’m going to, because the effort shows. I always try to present my best work, whether it’s a cake or some armor. 

As a woman in a fandom with rampant sexism, how do you navigate that?

I don’t really know how to. I spend a lot of time feeling like shit about it. It’s frustrating to see male cosplayers and creators getting supported overwhelmingly more than female/non-binary cosplayers and creators. It’s annoying opening my DMs and seeing dudes wanting to flirt with me instead of talking to me. It’s all discouraging and definitely gives me imposter syndrome and makes me want to only cosplay Jar Jar in a Star Trek dress so that Star Wars fans won’t want to talk to me. It’s pretty easy to find male Mandalorian helmet makers on Instagram, but it took me a while to find another woman so let me do you a favor in the spirit of supporting women: follow @vaultfox! She does fantastic work and gives me hope that the Star Wars community isn’t all bad.

What advice would you give other folks wanting to dive right into armor crafting and cosplay?

My best advice is this: don’t compare yourself to anyone else, don’t let anyone make you feel like your costume looks bad and don’t be discouraged if you mess up. People can be cruel and judgmental, but at the end of the day, if YOU like your costume that is the ONLY thing that matters. And if you make a mistake, just remember that I have probably made a worse mistake than you so don’t beat yourself up about it. I see people with flawless 3D printing files struggle to get their prints to come out right. It happens to the best of us! And please know that I’m happy to help any of you with anything you’re making!

Want to know more about Brittany Kenville and keep up with her latest cardboard cosplay exploits? You can find her over on Instagram: @swordofkahless.

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