Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Review: "1000 Steampunk Creations"

For my birthday this year I received a copy of "1000 Steampunk Creations: Neo-Victorian Fashion, Gear & Art" by Dr. Grymm with Barbe Saint John from my very-much-a-steampunk-fan mother. I like Steampunk a lot, and though I don't consider myself an expert on it I do appreciate lovely pieces made in the name of Steampunk and wish that they were in a more "me" colorway (black and silver, naturally.) Anyway, on to the book.
This book is, basically, a full-color art book full of pictures of Steampunk goodies. We don't hear very much from either Dr. Grymm or Barbe Saint John, just an introduction at the beginning, which does not explain the details of the Steampunk culture and aesthetic (you are, presumably, supposed to understand this beforehand or interpret it from the book) but instead boasts as to how the art style has grown over time and encourages its readers to "follow the curious tinkerer who lives inside all of us." As someone who understands the foundations of Steampunk already, I didn't mind this, but beginner types might want for a bit of context.
The format of the book is that there are 1-6 pictures on each page with a tag number, artist/creator/designer's name and where they are from, as well as any business they might own. Usually there is only one picture of the piece, but some have shots from multiple angles to show off the details. I found this format easy to view and the simple page backgrounds didn't distract from the lovely pieces themselves. I was also happy that they included the designer's name on the direct page, since I recognized some of them! Designers familiar to the Steampunk community, such as Catherinette Rings on Etsy, are present, but there are more obscure and independent individuals represented as well.
There are seven chapters: "Modified Technology," "Fine Art and Sculpture," "Home Decor," "Fashion and Haberdashery," "Hats and Accessories," "Jewelry" and "Inventions and Contraptions." I thought these chapters were an excellent way to divide up the book, since they cover almost all methods of Steampunk personalizing any object or medium (I love the Fine Art and Sculpture section because there is a wealth of photography in there that isn't just chaps in top hats and ladies in corsets, however lovely those two things might be.) However, my first complaint is that the chapters are extremely varied in length, the longest of which is 84 pages while the shortest is just 14. I think this is a bit uneven and should have been smoothed out somewhat. Surely there are plenty of Steampunk objects for the author to find to fill in the gaps?
My first thought when I picked up the book is that I feared that it would basically be like a Google Image search of the word Steampunk: t-shirts stamped with gears, goggles on top hats, no imagination or appreciation for the Victorian inspiration for Steampunk whatsoever. I was, however, pleasantly surprised. Indeed it is a little bit like an image search, but it's like the authors ran the image search through a fine-toothed comb to get rid of all of the "faux-Steampunk" nonsense. Of course, there is still a little of the "let's slap gears on anything and everything" aesthetic but I gave up on thinking that the world would simultaneously realize that this is all very silly and should be stopped, so I direct my attention and annoyance to a few pieces that are not Steampunk at all, just antique looking or even just odd. For example, the stunningly modern-looking couch made of pipes (tag number 0470) or the plain gramophone (tag number 0008.)
However, like an image search there is no description of the item, so you can't always be sure of what it is that the artist/designer/creator was trying to create, especially in the "Inventions and Contraptions" section. You could, if you wanted, google search the Artist's name to find more about them (Or use the handy-dandy "Artist Directory" in the back of the book) and their object. In the "Image Directory" section you can find little blurbs about the object, but not really much to go on. They could have spliced these little blurbs, some of which are quite short, into the pages of the book on which the images of the objects resides, but for some reason they did not, creating the need to flip back and forth between the page and the directory to figure out what the artist was doing.
One thing that I should have known would happen would be that this book activated the Magpie-like center of my brain with all the "Ooh! Shiny!" stuff in it. Of course, with the Artist directory I was able to look up the people in the book, check their prices and wince a little, calming my inner Magpie quite a bit. Of coure, by all means look them up yourselves, but be prepared for sticker shock. Which reminded me that the spirit of the book is about DIYing to make something match your personal aesthetic, in this case: Steampunk. So now I'm in a DIY mood.
Of course, one shouldn't steal people's ideas, and supporting independent artists is something that all subcultures should be doing anyhow, but taking inspiration is natural. (And, I'll admit, some of the jewelry would be perfect for me if I changed the color and some of the motifs used. Because, while gold/brass, brown leather and scarab beetles are lovely for the Steampunk aesthetic, they can't be matched to silver, black leather and bats in my mind.) And of course, I've been wanting one of Tom Blanwell's black leather plague-doctor mask with silver accents (tag number 0743) before I ever picked up the book. The book just reminded me how much I love it.
(Not the exact picture used in the book, but the same product.)

So, do I recommend "1000 Steampunk Creations" to my readers? Well, it depends on what you look for in this type of book. Do you need a beginner's Steampunk guide with tips on how to make your own creations? If so, then this book isn't for you. But if you either A.) want a pretty art book to look at B.) a book to broaden your horizons on the Steampunk aesthetic or C.) are a DIY-type who needs inspiration for your next project but not a guide to walk you through it, then yes I would recommend it. It is for sale on Amazon currently for $16.50 USD.


  1. I LOVE plague doctor masks.
    I was looking at a few last night actually, trying to see about using them in some drawings or paintings.

  2. I absolutely adore them, and I have an access of leather from a jacket I'm modifying, maybe one is in my DIY-loving future?
    I'd love to see more of them in painting, would you consider posting a picture of your painting to your blog if you do end up using them?

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