Make a Killer Halloween Costume

Halloween is like Ocean’s 11: You’re in you’re out, right now.

“Half-in” doesn’t really fly. Like wearing sweatpants in public, making a lame last-minute costume broadcasts a depressing lack of both imagination and initiative. Why bother?

On the other hand, we’ve all had the experience of going all-in on a great costume that ended up eating whole weeks of in the always-busy run-up to Christmas. That’ll give you an even bigger regret hangover.

So Halloween’s the perfect occasion for a Big Day. The looming natural deadline primes the subconscious to produce a Big Idea. Then you bear down on it for a short time.*

For me it began with a puppet-making workshop as the eastside Vancouver studio of Wryly Andherson, Svengali of the Vancouver International Puppet Festival and a master of turning the box your TV came in into, say … an octopus. Indeed, it was a disassembled octopus in the corner that caught my eye as the humpback whale I was trying to draw up started looking more and more like a hot pocket with arms, and I opted instead for an octopus from Wryly’s template.

The best thing about deadlines is they squash the impulse to be perfect. Perfectionism has its place, but not in the making of a costume that will have the lifespan of a fruit fly and you’re gonna wear in the dark. Precision exacto-blade cuts gave way to flat-out rips. Less and less choice cuts of cardboard were scavenged from flattened boxes with bends in the wrong place. The whole process involved continuously lowering the bar as nightfall approached.

But you know what? The creature wasn’t looking half-bad. Wryly’s tailoring helped.

To get the paint to stick I needed a coating of paper mache. This stage turned out to be a family event. The girls had their own costumes finished long ago: a jellyfish and a sea star. Now, as they watched me going under, everyone came to the rescue.

There is no Benjamin Moore colour called “Octopus Red.” That’s because octopuses aren’t just red. They can morph into almost any colour.

Lila and I worked on opposite sides of the head, painting over the newsprint that was beginning to flake. At one point I realized we were painting slightly different shades.

“It’s like he started to change colour and then thought better of it,” I said.

“Makes a unique costume,” she said.

“An indecisive octopus.”

“An indecisive octopus,” she said, “with a horrible skin condition.”

The octopus’s final colour was a kind of a mottled rust. It was a good look on him. It was a slightly less good look on the dog after she padded through the wet orange paint as the costume lay drying in the carport.

Go time.

Actually, the octopus will be attending two parties. The first is Halloween night. But the main event, the place where he’ll really feel at home, is slithering down East Vancouver’s Parker Street in the Parade of Lost Souls, a beautiful, leaderless gathering that honours ancient traditions and threads the needle between life and death.

What better customer for an acephalous event than a cephalopod?

  • I will come clean and say this particular Big Day was done in a couple of pushes over two days, rather than a single push in a 24-hour period. I had to wait for the paper mache and two coats of paint to dry.

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