Tea & Automatons

Diana Vick's corner of the interweb

Steamcon IV!

As you might have guessed, I get a little busy working on the convention and fail to post here.  I am trying to be better.  In that spirit, I am pleased to announce that the Steamcon IV website is up!

This year’s theme: Victorian Monsters is going to be ghoulishly delightful.  So many of the classic monsters that came out of the Victorian era.  Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Spring Heeled Jack, the Invisible Man, Jack the Ripper and many more were born in that time period.
We have announced our Author Guest of Honor, Kim Newman .  Kim Newman wrote Anno Dracula, a fabulous tale of how history might have gone if Dracula had taken over Britain.

Over the next few weeks, we will be announcing all the other wonderful guests we’ve managed to line up for this year.  This show should be the best yet, so be sure and get your membership while it’s in the early pricing.



Reader’s Choice Awards

Our fellow blog, the Steampunk Chronicles are having an awards contest, the Reader’s Choice Awards.   Here is your chance to let the rest of the Steampunk community know your opinion on the best of Steampunk this year.   They are looking for best band, maker, artist, convention and many more.  I am sure you have some you’d like to see honored.  So take this opportunity to have your voice heard.

You may nominate any number of nominees in each category, but please nominate an individual person, place or thing only ONCE.

Nominations phase – Starts in January through February 26, 2012 (last day of AnachroCon, in Atlanta, GA.)

Voting Phase – Tuesday March 5 – April 3, 2012

Winners will be announced in April as part of STEAMFest in Atlanta.

So go forth and nominate.



Steamcon has been nominated for BEST local event in the Best of Western Washington poll.  If you like Steamcon, why not go and cast your vote!  Voting ends October 9th.



Steampunk University 2011 (Seattle WA)

When I first began the process of creating Steamcon, I had  a lot of people come up and ask me what they should wear.  Having been to hundreds of conventions where the general attendee wears t-shirts and jeans and the costumer is in the minority, I was bit confused.  I, myself, LOVE to wear costumes, but I realize that I am not in the majority.  So, I thought, I guess it might help to hold a class or two about steampunk costuming and while we’re at it, steampunk in general.  It grew into Steampunk University, a one day series of talks about steampunk topics.  Happily, the first Steamcon was the best dressed convention I have ever attended.  I don’t begin to think that I had anything to do with that, although i do love to give people an excuse to dress up.  It’s in the nature of steampunk fandom, but I like to think that we gave some of them a boost.

The first Steampunk U was held in Ballard in 2009.  We had eight classes and about 100 students.  The second was held in conjunction with a fund raising film festival for MOHAI.  I had very little to do with that one except for giving a talk about steampunk.  I got to do a real presentation in a real auditorium with a microphone and a powerpoint.  That was a new experience, but very satisfying. 

By now, we felt that there were so many online steampunk resources, and two other Steamcons to learn from, that maybe people didn’t need classes.  Steamcon III is a huge undertaking and a great deal of work.  Steampunk University, while fun is a drain on our limited resources.  We thought that it just wasn’t going to happen this year.

Stubborn workaholics that we are, it looks like it will.  August 28th at the University Heights Center there will be a third Steampunk University.  Classes will include men’s steampunk costuming, and women’s, prop modding in both brass and plastic, corsetry, a basic introduction to steampunk and more.  So if you have a friend who has no idea what steampunk is, this is the place.  If you want some ideas on thrifting a wardrobe, making a prop or corset, this is the place.

Tickets are $10.00 for the whole day and are available here or at the door.  Attendance is limited to capacity, so classes will be first come, first serve.  Classes begin at noon and end at 5:00 PM.

The Steampunk University Store will be open from 11:00- 6:00 and admission is free, so please come and shop even if you don’t need the education.



The Tuscan Tea Room

My birthday has the inconvenient habit of falling on a major holiday, so I often ignore the actual date and celebrate slightly early or late.  This year I decided that I wanted to attend an afternoon tea with friends, an excellent excuse to dress to the nines.  I did a little research and found the Tuscan Tea Room in West Seattle.  It looked like an very sumptuous space and that was just the ticket.  I kept the guest list small so we could converse and got a head count.  The staff was very helpful on the phone and I was anticipating a lovely afternoon.

I dressed in Victorian attire, for once forgoing the overt steampunk elements.  I asked my guests to dress up if possible.  We got a lot of attention even before we were seated.  One gentleman came up and told us that he thought it was wonderful that we dressed for the occasion.

The tea service was so lovely.  There were many different varieties of tea pots and cups, all beautiful.  There are 65 varieties of tea to choose from so I suggest looking online beforehand to aid in the process. I had the “Masked Ball” and it was sublime.  All the food was very wonderful and plentiful.  When I made the reservation they asked if we wanted a cake, and I am glad that I said no.  It would have been lovely, but way too much.  Their brunch menu looks amazing and most of us have stated that we will be back for brunch soon.  The staff was fantastic and very accommodating.  We had a thoroughly enjoyable time and will definitely be back.  It looks like in the future they will be adding a dinner menu as well, which I imagine will be quite delectable.

My husband took a few photos of the event for your enjoyment.


Give us some credit!

These days, the internet has made it far too easy to find fantastic works of art and repost them anywhere with hardly a thought.  In the past I would occasionally trawl Cafepress or Zazzle for people selling famous fantasy artists’ work, like Boris or Olivia and report them.  It was unconscionable to me that people thought they could profit off of someone else’s creativity.

I do see a lot of people reposting work that is not theirs.  While I completely understand the desire to show your FB friends these wonderful little gems, please realize that …  you are still stealing. You may not be trying to earn money off of the art and your motives may be completely innocent, but oft times people assume you are posting art that you created.  FB does ask you if you have the right to post it, so you are at the very least perpetrating a lie when you post a picture that isn’t yours.

I’ve often seen a  piece of steampunk art posted in a group somewhere and thought, “Nice.  I wonder who did that?” but the person who was so impressed with the piece that they felt the need to post it didn’t bother to see who did it.   Seriously?

As an artist, I realize that by putting something on the internet, I run the risk of having it copied.  I know it’s nearly unavoidable.  So, how about you do me a favor?  IF you feel the overwhelming compulsion to repost my work somewhere, you give me credit?  Tag it with my name.  Maybe put a link to my website or the site you got it from.  If you like the work enough to copy it, take the time to credit it at the very least.  We really do appreciate that you like it and promote it, just give us some credit?

My table at Emerald City Comic Con

So, for the last few days I was running a table at Emerald City Comic Con.  I was selling my original art, the merchandise I have featuring my art and doing the occasional sketch.   Not being the typical superhero artist, I never know quite how my art is going to be received, but this is my third year and I feel like I am finding some of my fan base at ECCC.  I do anthropomorphics, or animals with human characteristics, in fanciful costumes.   It’s not to everyone’s taste and that’s fine, but I do get quite a few people who are very enthusiastic.   I had a head cold, so I felt under the weather but pretty much had to soldier on.

Friday was a bit slow, and I really wasn’t feeling very well, so it was even slower.  It’s the first time they had Friday hours and the room was open from 2:00 P.M. until 8:00 P.M.  I didn’t dress up, and really didn’t feel that it was very useful.  I was hoping that things would pick up.

By Saturday, I was feeling better, so I dressed up to feel more in the spirit of things.  Unfortunately, right off the bat a complete jerk came to my table and began to inform me exactly how he felt about the genre I work in.  He grabbed a comic book off my rack, turned it towards me and said “How ugly is that!?”  His tone was jovial as if I would share in his glee of tearing down my own genre.   The book he picked up had someone else’s art on the cover, but his message was clear.  I nearly leapt across the table to throttle him.  Luckily my husband calmly took him aside and suggested that everyone in the entire room had their own particular tastes and he should perhaps be a bit more tolerant, the very topic of a recent blog of mine.  Glass houses!  You all live in the same neighborhood.  He left soon after, but I was now quite perturbed, but also feeling a bit gun shy.  Maybe I should just pack up and go.  If pimply faced, pencil necked geeks like him feel that they can just attack my work, maybe I didn’t want to wait around for more abuse.  However, in for a penny, in for a pound; I had paid for the space and I was there for the long haul.

Things picked up, and I had lots of friendly, encouraging folks come by and admire my art.  Even some people, who admitted they didn’t necessarily like the subject matter, told me that I had talent.  It was quite heartening.

A few hours later, the jerk came back, acting nice and asking to speak to my husband.  He asked if he could video “this” for his podcast, waving his hands at my display rack.  I was livid.  I told him no, and that  if he didn’t leave immediately I would call security.  Did he really think I would let him have fuel for his moronic tirade on his podcast no less?  The nerve!    I’m sure he will go ahead and make his infantile rant no matter what I do, but I was certainly not going to help him.  I went for a walk to cool off.  I told the incident to several friends and they were all stunned that someone would be so insensitive there in the midst of a comic book convention.  Talk about a glass house.

Me with some friends at the table

I was determined to put on a smile and cope.  My postcards, magnets and mousepads were selling.  I did a sketch for a girl of a pirate mouse that came out quite well.

An African man came to the table and looked through my work.  In a very thick accent he told me it was very beautiful.  Then he asked “why animals?”  Good question.  I showed him some of my game card work and said that it wasn’t because I couldn’t draw humans.  I just enjoy drawing the anthros more.  A dancing gypsy bear, a pirate fox captain are more whimsical, more fun for me.  I have always been a Disney fan and Robin Hood is one of my favorite movies.  I love The Rescue Rangers and Tailspin.  Pepe le Pew is one of my favorite characters.  To this day, I will watch almost any animated movie that comes out.  I didn’t go into all that for him, but simply said I find it more fun.  He smiled broadly and said “Keep young.”  I nodded happily.  Indeed.  I guess that is the crux of it.  Colorful, whimsical animals help me stay in that youthful mindset.

The rest of the weekend was good.  Sales weren’t as good as I would have liked, but they were decent.  The amount of folks that came by and enjoyed the work was so encouraging.  Working from home and doing things online can be deceptive and anonymous.  One can feel overlooked.  It’s really nice to get personal responses.

I tried to figure out if I had a specific demographic this year, but it was really not specific.  Whole families would come up and debate which postcards they should buy.  Men, women, young and old all seemed to be equally appreciative.   Last year I was pleased to discover how many young girls delighted in my work.    I never really saw my work through their eyes before.  My favorite customer this year had to be the child of some friends.  I came back from a break and he was clutching my Cleopatra postcard.  He had been too shy to talk to me earlier.  I knelt down and we chatted about the pictures.  He said he liked my Queen of Hearts and I asked if his mom had read him Alice in Wonderland. Yep.  But, he confided in me that Dad didn’t really like Alice.  We agreed that she was pretty neat.

One of the things that makes me really happy about living in this century, is the technology.  I used to do production work on comic books and it was tedious.  Also, you had to make a minimum order, store it and ship it yourself.  Such a hassle!  These days print-on-demand services are a godsend.  I can make postcards, stickers, mousepads and it’s so easy.  I have even realized a dream of mine and made a little book of my art.  It’s 40 full color pages and I can order just a few copies at a time.  Also, the print quality is fantastic.  Being the typical starving artist, I was strapped for cash before the convention, so I could only afford to order one copy to use as a sample.  I told my friends who said they wanted one that they could go to the site directly. On Sunday, a nice gentleman came up and spent time looking through everything, then said he’d like a copy of the book.  I explained things and said that I’d be happy to sell him the display copy if he didn’t mind.  He agreed and asked me to sign it.  It really made my whole weekend.  I sold my book!  I know if I had had more copies I might have sold more, but just the fact someone wanted it made me feel successful.

To add to my successful feeling, I have some of my designs coming out as rubber stamps on Wednesday from Queen Kat Designs!

I want to thank everyone who came by the table and showed me some love.  Self doubt and fear are always in the back of an artist’s mind, but nothing dispels them better than getting to see someone’s eyes light up when they look at your work.

Glass Houses

Tolerance.  Respect.  These are things I’d like to see from the people I interact with.  When I see knee jerk reactions, ridicule, judgment and prejudice, I feel ashamed for the perpetrators.   The world may not “get” us, but I guess I just expect more from people living in the neighboring glass houses.  I feel most ashamed for those in subcultures putting down their fellow subculturists.   We live on the fringes and do things that aren’t considered normal.  I certainly don’t expect you all to share the same interests, but can you really not see that they are the same as you?  I think that people who strip half naked, paint themselves green and sit on hard benches in the freezing cold all day to root for their favorite team, are quite crazy, but since they are doing something socially acceptable, and there are so many of them, we shrug and shake our heads.  We don’t have the luxury of majority.  We need each other.

Recently I came across a book called “Your Scene Sucks”.  The author is a decent artist and a not bad humorist.  His desire to make a buck off of deriding others is unfortunate, but the one thing that actually surprised me is that he took the time to get it right.  His portrayal of each “scene” is accurate, not just a snarky half assed caricature.  Maybe if we take the time to look at our fellow freaks, we might not be so fast to generalize.  I know a lot of Goths and they don’t worship Satan, in fact all most all of them are pacificists.  I know a lot of furries that aren’t perverts.  I even know gamers who bathe regularly.  Do you want to be represented by the most outré of your group?  That’s not who you believe you are, so why do you feel the need to make those assumptions of others?

The comic book nerd who sneers at the goth, the steampunk who laughs at the furry, and the sci-fi geek who belittles the cosplayer, all feel slightly superior for a moment, but they aren’t doing themselves any favors.  None of them appears any less ridiculous to the world at large.  For every fellow fan that you fail to empathize with, there are many people outside your subculture judging you and finding you wanting.  If we can’t treat each other with respect and dignity, then why would we expect anyone else to.   Think before you hurl that epithet.  Don’t you live in a glass house too?

A Steampunk Litmus Test

There is an awful lot of confusion about what this thing steampunk really is.  People trying to understand this newly popular genre are often confronted with vague statements that it’s “whatever you want it to be” and “you’ll know it when you see it”.  While these sentiments are very open and welcoming, they aren’t really very helpful to people trying to join in.  With only that to go on, people could assume that neon skeletons in go-go boots are steampunk.  It helps to narrow it down a bit further for the sake of understanding.  As someone who is often asked what steampunk is, I have pondered this question a lot.   I have spent the last three years, paying attention to the growing pains of the genre and I have begun to distill things down to some succinct answers.  For the purpose of this article, let’s say we are determining if a story, book, movie, what have you, is steampunk.  I hope that some of this will be of help to you.  These are just my observations.  Your mileage may vary.


“Steampunk” the term was coined by K.W.Jeter as a tongue in cheek play off of the then popular genre cyberpunk in the 1980’s.  He was referring to the altered history science fiction stories that he and some friends were writing.  He felt if there were a collective term for them, it might help set them apart.  I’ve always felt that the term was inelegant, inaccurate and clunky, but it is the one that has persisted.  Steampunk, as we will explore in a moment requires neither “steam” nor “punk” as most people conjure the image.  The “punk” in steampunk leads the average person to think of the punk rock culture and music, which it has little to do with.  In much the same way that punk culture was counter culture, our punk is a divergence from the norm.  The average Victorian gentleman didn’t have a science lab in his basement, an airship at his disposal or thoughts of exploring the darkest continent with his automatons. As for the absence of steam, we will get to that in “power sources”.


Steampunk is at its core Victorian science fiction.  So, the first element to seek out in any story is the element of science fiction. In other words, elements of the story that are anachronistic, speculative or fantastical.   While entertaining and often a ripping good read, Sherlock Holmes stories are generally not steampunk as they lack any element that is not possible.  Doyle’s writing is about the improbable but not the impossible.  Even the current movie, while containing aspects that at first glance seem supernatural, manages to explain all its seemingly science fictional aspects except for one minor plot detail towards the very end.  Since the story doesn’t hinge on this point, I state fairly confidently that it isn’t steampunk.  It’s a wonderful period piece, but no more steampunk than any other Holmes story.  Steampunk is not a veneer or a feeling, but a quantifiable genre.  It is a subgenre of science fiction, so the first thing that must be present is the science fiction or at the very least fantasy aspect.


Steampunk, as originally defined, is based in the Victorian era, and perhaps a bit into the Edwardian era as well.  It’s not a huge expanse of time, but it was a very exciting, and verdant one, especially for those motivated individuals that often populate steampunk tales.  There was still so much to explore, discover or create.  Also, when we say Victorian era, I feel we refer to a time period, not a place, so anywhere in the world during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837 – 1901), not just London, although it is a very apt setting.  India, Japan, or the American west are also perfectly acceptable, if often overlooked settings for steampunk stories.  You can also have an alternate reality with as much or as little resemblance to Earth as you wish.  “The Golden Compass” for example is often considered steampunk for its ambiguous time period and imaginative transportation.  Post apocalypse settings are not really appropriate unless the apocalyptic event happened in the Victorian era.  All the elements that make up steampunk diminish the further from that era you get.  “Mad Max” for example has diesel as the main power, but we can get into that in the next segment.

Power Sources

Steam is obviously the most common steampunk power source; steam engines, steam powered riverboats etc.  This is a fairly large indicator of steampunk, but you can have several other power sources that also work equally well.  Clockwork is often used, and cogs or gears are a major symbol of the steampunk genre.  Magic is another possible power source for a more fantasy based steampunk story.   You can even have a completely made up source often referred to as aether, but the level of tech should still remain fairly primitive, just verging on the industrial revolution.  Once you get into other actual, historically valid power sources, you have stepped beyond steampunk.  I consider the rise of diesel power to be the end the steampunk era, and the beginning of dieselpunk.  Beyond that you have atompunk, cyberpunk and postapocalypticpunk; all based on the type of power that is prevalent in the era.  Take “Firefly” for instance.  It is science fiction, but not era appropriate and the presence of much more sophisticated technology, takes it out of the steampunk genre.  “Mad Max” is dieselpunk, since the existing power, depleted though it is, is still diesel.  You can’t unring the technological bell.  People fighting for survival aren’t going to reinvent old technology; they are going to try to salvage what exists first.    I’m going to state here that cases can be made for scenarios which will work, but it’s going to be very rare and a lot of work on the part of the writer.  There’s nothing wrong with postapocalypse stories, I enjoy them immensely but they are very rarely steampunk.


There are several scenarios that are exemplary of steampunk.  Exploration is a very Victorian adventure scenario.  “From the Earth to the Moon”, “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”, and “Journey to the Center of the Earth” are examples of Jules Verne’s work that could arguably be called the first steampunk stories.  Invention or mad science is an excellent steampunk scenario.  Creating life as in Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein”, building robots or inventing time travel are all perfect examples of steampunk style stories.   Fantastical modes of transportation make up wonderful story bases.  Altered history is often a key scenario of steampunk.  Books like Cherie Priest’s “Boneshaker” take us to a past that never happened.  These stories often feature slightly anachronistically accelerated technology or tech which has taken a different path than ours.  It should however still seem like something that could have been invented in the Victorian era.  Gleaming brass pipes, gauges and spigots spouting steam and rattling merrily as they perform whatever task they are about.


Anachronism, as I mentioned before, is often a steampunk element.  Airships or dirigibles are a favorite element of steampunk stories, but in reality weren’t common until much later in history.  Automatons or robots are a fascinating element of steampunk stories.  Goggles have become quite ubiquitous in the steampunk community, but like a not so secret hand shake, they serve to help us identify one another.  They are also completely practical when it comes to most steampunk characters going about their endeavors, whether it be flying in an airship or practicing mad science.  Also gears, cogs and keys are touches that work as identifiers.

So to sum up, the below list includes the very essence of what comprises steampunk, an ingredient list, if you will.


  • Science fiction


  • Victorian era, but anywhere in the world
  • Alternate universe, but still fairly equivalent to the technology of Victorian times

Power Sources

  • Steam
  • Clockwork
  • Magic
  • Made up power sources


  • Exploration
  • Mad science
  • Invention
  • Transportation
  • Altered history


  • Anachronism
  • Airships
  • Automatons
  • Goggles
  • Gears
  • Cogs
  • Keys

If the story contains something from each category, you can fairly confidently call it steampunk, but like all good recipes, a single ingredient is not enough.  The presence of steam in a story wouldn’t make it steampunk without the right setting, scenario and elements, just as a pair of goggles doesn’t turn a random outfit into a steampunk ensemble. All the flavors must combine to make it truly steampunk.  It is a marvelously rich, imaginative, fertile genre in which to tell stories.  The dirigible filled sky is the limit really.

Gage Masquerade Ball

I was reading my email recently and I found an events newsletter listing a discussion about the internet and the arts. I went to the Gage Academy website to check it out and found a notice about their Masquerade Ball and Charity Auction coming up on Friday, less than a week away. I found a spot where they might need volunteers and checked in with my husband. Sure enough he was game, so I emailed the event coordinator and said we’d love to help. The fact that it was being held at St Marks Cathedral which is two blocks from our condo, was a bonus. They said they could use help and since we were willing to dress up, we could be greeters. The theme was Commedia dell’arte, and I didn’t have anything really appropriate so I asked around. No luck. Well, some but no time. So I went to my closet and found a lovely red top I hadn’t worn yet and debated the rest. I decided against the tutu or tulle skirts for warmth and being stationed at the door, I’m very glad I did. I did find that I had a red mid calf length skirt that was almost exactly the same shade of red. I already had a plethora of masks to choose from so I was set. It wasn’t very commedia dell’arte or period but it looked very coordinated. I got a ton of compliments on the ensemble. No one believed that I just threw it together out of things from my closet. We got to greet the party goers as they entered. There were some lovely costumes and masks, but less than half the folks participated. Still it was fun to see the ones who did. A lovely evening and it looked like they raised quite a bit of money. We were glad to be a part of it.

About The Author

Diana Vick

I am an illustrator, writer, costumer and steampunk enthusiast.
I have done illustration for comic books, animation and collectible card games such as Magic the Gathering and Legend of the Five Rings. Currently, I do art for my own line of cards and gifts in my Zazzle shop.