Tom Banwell

Banwell is a self-taught man of many talents. He is a leatherworker, a caster/sculptor, and above all he is a tireless inventor. He has created a vast selection of imaginative gas masks and leather face masks, many of which have been featured in films, television and in major magazine editorials.

He is also a participant in the Wide World of Steampunk and he will be displaying his work at the Nova Albion Steampunk Exhibition this March.

Banwell recently teamed up with photographer Topher Adam to create a gorgeous series called Fantastical Adventure Seekers. You can view the entire set on Tom’s Flickr and you can even buy a 2011 Calendar from Topher Adam. (Topher Adam styled all the additional wardrobe, props and created the incredible CG sets in the background.)

All photos from the “Fantastical Adventure Seekers” series are the property of Topher Adam.

Banwell’s most complex and extraordinary work is in the Steampunk genre. When asked why he creates Steampunk gas masks, Tom states,

“A gas mask is a piece of equipment worn on the  face whose purpose is to purify the air being breathed. While it is fundamentally functional it becomes part of the costume as it dramatically  alters the appearance of the wearer. This can be perceived by the viewer as  either terrifying—as one resembles a monster—or humorous—as one becomes a  silly clown.

As a steampunk artist, my creative challenge is to imagine what this equipment might have looked like. I like to combine the  terrifying with the silly so as to invoke curiosity and wonder. The antiqued  leatherwork looks like it came from the nineteenth century, but the form of  the masks—which might resemble a rhinoceros or an elephant—are pure  fantasy.”

Press photo from Spanish television show Escuela de Villanos (School of Villains).

Banwell also is well known as a creator of elegant, delicate facial party masks….

Photo courtesy of Anya E Photography

previous two photos courtesy of WinterWolf Studios

….as well as clever and unique costume masks.

Featured in Vogue – Photo by Mert Alas & Marcus Piggott.

He also creates historical replicas of helmets and ancient headgear.

And of course…. he makes Rayguns.

His fantastic blog is a must-read for any costume designer and lover of Steampunk. It is filled with well written, step-by-step explanations for most of his most complex creations, as well as, many other interesting tips-n-tricks. What are my favorites? Glad you asked! Please check out the invaluable “Make a raygun holster,” “Creating elevated shoes,” “making imitation ivory buttons,” and  “Turn a $5 straw hat from Kmart into something Indian Jones would wear.” The blog is also peppered with interesting Steampunk references and links. In other words, bookmark this!

Banwell Notes (the five questions I ask every artist):

What artists or creative person has influenced you?
Michaelangelo, Frank Frazetta, Escher, Rick Griffin.

Not including other artists or art, what inspires you?
Beauty in nature.

What is the part of your process you enjoy the most?
Designing, conceiving, beginning a project.

… the least?
Making a piece over again.

If you were NOT an artist, what would you be doing?
I don’t understand the question. Does not compute.

Banwell is constantly looking at the world around him and recreating it in the most mad and pleasing manner possible. And it is clear, looking through the vast fan photos – that when ‘regular’ people adorn his masks, they unleash their more fantastic selves that lay dormant within their hearts. The world NEEDS more people like Tom who unabashedly proclaim, “YES, we should be mad, we should be silly, we should live as fully and as robustly as humanly possible!”

There is so much more of Tom Banwell’s work to see!
websiteFlickerEtsy StoreTHE Blog.

(all photographs unless noted are the property of Tom Banwell.)