I created the original Great Pumpkin costume six years ago, and it was something I really loved. Ambitious. Creepy. Sort of beautiful. I always knew there was more work to be done, and over the years I have continued to add beadwork to the collar, painted vines and attached leaves to the kimono, and other small touches. This year marked the first time I was able to make a major change to the costume, finally addressing the one humongous flaw in the original presentation: it was always intended to be taller.
My first thought, when I had just started building it, was to make stilts, but as the costume took shape it became clear to me that if I wore stilts with it I would probably die.
My second thought, after debuting the costume in 2010, was that I could create some simple box-stilts which would be strapped to my boots. I could disguise them with roots, thereby enhancing the crossover between animal and vegetable that was already taking place.
This year, I made friends with a guy named Kerry who has a lot of tools and said that he could make what I needed. I described what I wanted, and drew him a picture, and then he completely ignored me and made something that I never would have thought of.
Step 1: Trial and Error. and Roots.
And how lucky I am that he did! Kerry asked me for an old pair of my shoes, and I provided him with these Skechers. He then proceeded to make these amazing six-inch platform soles out of solid blocks of larch, with contours, a dugout interior for reduced weight, and some pass-through holes to make it easier for me to attach stuff to them!
I got these just a few days before Halloween, and went right to work trying to modify them. My idea was to cover them with roots that would partially obscure the shoes, and continue coiling on up my legs to disappear beneath the rest of my layers.
I spent the better part of a day cutting out and sewing long tubes of brown cloth, and then the rest of the day stuffing them. Once I had a collection of "roots" to work with, I began to experiment with different arrangements, and discovered that I didn't like what was happening.
My half-baked plan had been predicated on the idea that I would be wearing ugly, clunky boxes on my feet. In my head, I imagined covering these boxes with an assortment of twisting roots and coming up with an effect not unlike the Man-Thing from Marvel Comics. But these were not ugly boxes, these were sleek platform shoes and they responded very differently to by attempts to decorate them.
I decided that I would need a new plan, but there wasn't enough time to start from scratch. Instead, I would do something to see me through this year, and then tackle the problem again in the future.
For now, I would narrow my focus to a total of four roots, two for each shoe. One would be very long (roughly eleven feet) and would be the main root that wrapped around the shoe and on up my leg. And then one shorter, skinnier root just for fun.
Given the narrow window of time, it was probably the only choice realistically available to me. As it was, the process of turning the naked cloth tubes into something resembling roots took another whole day. I wouldn't even have time to give proper attention to the four roots I was going to use!
First I apply texture by brushing on white glue and attaching a bit of polyester fiber pillow stuffing. I did a single, irregular line of this all the way down each of the four roots.
Then I make a mixture of brown acrylic paint and white glue, go back to the beginning and start painting this over the edges of the polyester fiber clumps. The idea is to sort of mash it all down, using the paint and glue together to stick it to the cloth and fill in air spaces in the polyester fiber. I did this in each area, leaving the middle unpainted.
In between, I would set the mixture with a hair dryer.
Once the brown had been applied along the whole length of a root, I returned to the beginning and did the same thing in the unpainted middle areas, but using a phthalo green instead of brown.
Once the areas are all painted, and have cured, they have a texture not unlike moss or other vegetable matter, and the varying levels of the the fibers makes it possible to give them deep lowlights and bright highlights. In addition to this texturing, the entire length of each root was painted with shades of brown, yellow, green and black to give them an impression of texture that wasn't really there.
Finally, I inserted a heavy gauge wire into each root to help them hold their shape and give them an additional impression of weight.
Step 2: A Rolling Stone?
The roots were doing their job, but the shoes, well, they just looked too much like shoes. So I started in on them with the same tactic of glue and polyester fiber, but used a different color palette and went for an explicit moss effect. I'm pretty happy with how that turned out, and it takes that hard, manufactured edge off of them. I'm definitely going to do more to them in the future - I don't know what yet - but this worked well for my last-minute purposes this year. And the platforms themselves are a work of art! Hail Kerry! I'm gonna make you so much pie!
Step 3: Take Them for a Walk!
The original costume had a staff, which was more cosmetic than functional, but with this year's precarious footwear the staff was really an essential element. Because I was six or seven inches higher off the ground, I actually needed an entirely new staff because the old one wasn't stable if I held it six inches above the original grip.
I found a big branch in some nearby woods and sawed off the bottom of it, then carried it back to my apartment and transferred all the old adornments from the original staff onto the new one. I went out twice this year, once on Saturday and once on Halloween night, and the only reason I never fell was because of that staff!
Over time, I became more accustomed to the shoes and more confident in my movements, but it's really not the easiest costume to wear. It is, however, very striking, and I had a great time being ogled, photographed, and avoided. Being able to revisit this costume, six years later and six inches higher, has righted one of the great wrongs of the past decade.
My favorite exchange of the night was with a little girl in a party of trick-or-treaters. She was probably about eight years old.
LITTLE GIRL: Who are you?
THE GREAT PUMPKIN: I'm the Great Pumpkin.
LITTLE GIRL: (with an excited look of recognition) I watched that Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown!
THE GREAT PUMPKIN: And I never showed up that night. So you didn't know I looked like this.
LITTLE GIRL: (nodding in understanding) Oooooh.
She walked away perfectly satisfied, and so did I.