How the furry fandom gained a new artist — Lux Operon, weaver of light
by Dogpatch Press Staff
Welcome to Lux, with a guest post about what she does when not hosting furry movie pizza parties. – Patch
On a beautiful fall morning in Reno, the edge of sunrise starts to paint the desert mountains. The color in the sky is just right. I rush to my balcony and put on my glowing pup hood for photos, which I will share to a majority audience of people with fuzzy wolf characters. I am profoundly happy.
Electroluminescent wire is a sister material to LEDs. They look similar, but they’re functionally quite different. An LED is a diode that emits a single point of light, but EL wire works like a capacitor. Since it has no resistance within, it doesn’t heat up when lit. An exposed end might give a small shock if it touches your skin (but it won’t kill you, or I’d be dead). It’s flexible, continuously lit throughout its length, and has many applications to create an amazing glowing costume.
Like any wearable electronics, EL wire has limitations and can be finicky. Its battery packs (drivers) are each rated for a different length of wire. Knowing how to troubleshoot your costume is integral to being a fiber artist with this material. It’s easy to learn but very hard to master.
The technology has been around for some time, but it wasn’t until the late 90s and early aughts when the folks at FunHouse productions in Oakland, California decided to really develop the platform. EL wire is the unofficial signage of the Burning Man event, where you can often find people in these costumes wandering around the playa as strobing neon silhouettes in the dark.
This art was largely contained to their scene in Black Rock City until dance troupes started popping up on America’s Got Talent. For the 2012 season, Team Illuminate put together dance routines and nearly went all the way. By weaving EL wire and using the interplay of darkness to create floating shapes and coordinated blinking, they made the world aware of wearable neon, including me.
At that time, I was a cosplayer in exile after 3 years of dedicating my life to the steampunk scene. Before that I was an overweight gay woman floating through college, dissatisfied with the meager results that came from hard efforts in academia. Steampunk offered a gateway to discovering femininity, permission to love my body, and an excuse to sew as many materials into a costume as conceivably possible. Insecurity about art prowess and my body led to leaning into the Christmas tree effect: adding so many layers to a costume that it’s hard to pick out one individual flaw and everything becomes kind of cohesive.
My costume was originally made to wear at the Michigan Renaissance festival. My parents were huge Rennies and they wanted me to have my own costume to wear there. I definitely caught people’s eyes by walking down the muddy trails and tipping my top hat adorned with a pair of raver goggles. I was invited to the blossoming steampunk scene in Michigan, where we showed up at an art gallery and drank whiskey while listening to Depeche Mode and wearing a lot of leather and belt buckles. Eventually conventions grew from this. They were fun to go to, but not sustainable. People in Victorian garb would stroll around hotels, looking at merchandise without buying, and skip panels that didn’t have much to do with the event. The few talent performances were novel, but they were never really enough to keep it going.
I had another excuse to leave. Friends that I brought into the scene were the kind who never have anything nice to say. That grew clear when I put together my magnum opus: The mobile jubilation station. A mobile steampunk DJ backpack that played music and was covered with fun gizmos. I was ready to take it to TeslaCon in Madison, WI, but I was bullied to not bring it. That’s when I decided to quit my airship crew, and steampunk altogether. My costume was packed and stuffed in the furthest corner of a closet and it was time to move on.
Jumping into my studies felt fruitless, because Natural Resource Management has little opportunity to spare. One night while blowing off lab work on my computer, I stumbled across a video of Team Illuminate dancing in the dark and became obsessed. A little voice in my head whispered “I bet you could do this”.
I ordered some wire and started experimenting. I remember when I first lit up a strand and held the little piece of neon in my hand. Bending it around my finger, making it wave in the light, I wondered how far could I go? I was encouraged by my dear friend Morgan, who runs Detroit leather company (a fellow steampunk expatriate.) I vaguely mentioned experimenting with glowing wire, maybe to make a costume, but running out of money. Morgan didn’t hesitate to help me with thousands of dollars so I could afford 10 fresh spools and start my business, studio Lux Operon.
Early experimenting. This was actually the first costume that I ever threw together.
I miss those skeleton arms so gosh darn bad but they were too fragile to continue to use. I’m hoping to remake them someday with fiber optics.
It was a struggle to find a home for this studio. I remember my first convention sitting in a little corner, selling goggles and trying to push electroluminescent panels that I had woven by hand. That year was humbling. Weaving really was my passion and no one seemed interested in the pieces I put together, but I noticed that My Little pony was very popular with cosplayers. I wove up a batch of EL wire cutie marks to keep in stock. Then Morgan and some other friends invited me to a science fiction convention in Chicago. I was halfway there when I learned the name of it was Midwest Furfest.
Oh God, not furries! I’m an alumnus from the Something Awful forums, so I thought I knew what the furry fandom was and wanted nothing to do with it. Reluctantly I set up my display in the dealer’s den and prepared for a parade of weirdos.
I was not prepared for the experience. Yeah, people were weird, but also kind, generous, excited, and fully willing to support my art. I walked out with almost as much money as I had made at an anime con five times the size. I decided to do a trial by fire and walked through the artist rooms and a room party. The sense of community I felt in steampunk was there, but like a fine aged wine compared to bitter vinegar. Everyone seemed to know who they were and what they wanted. This would be my new home.
Sometimes I wonder whether I’m furry enough for the scene. It’s been 8 years and I own a fursuit, know the language, host events and have many friends, but when I think about my character, I’m a neon demon who walks on the bottom of the ocean. My other characters don’t have a tuft of hair between them. I’m a bio nerd and my inner story revolves around the idea of microbial symbiosis and bioluminescence.
My fursuit, and friends at the Frolic furry dance party in San Francisco.
The anxiety is purely internal because I’ve never felt unwelcome. This fandom lets me be who I need to be, and give my art back to the community. Sometimes I give things away for free if I can for someone who can’t afford them. Otherwise my prices range from $30 to $120, which helps me appear at conventions, develop personal costumes, and push my craft further. I recently launched woven EL wire badges, developed from t-shirt panels I used to weave. I’d like to put them in the paws of as many furries as possible.
I’ve now spent enough time paying my dues that I felt like weaving EL wire might get people’s interest, and it does. This fandom is finally giving me the excuse to do something that makes me incredibly happy.
Once in a while my parents ask if I want to get back into steampunk. We are close but I guess it’s a higher art in their minds. They mention other places I can promote my work, and I say why bother? The furry fandom has support I need and people I want to hang out with. This is a gift that I think no other scene could give, and I’m proud to walk around my with badges in non-furry spaces and represent this community.
If you like the story, please follow me on Twitter, buy something if you want to, and never stop being as bold and beautiful as you want to be. We owe our happiness to no one but ourselves, and I hope that with or without costumes and art, you discover who you were always meant to be.
You were born to glow.
Lux Operon can be found at Borntoglow.co or on Twitter as @luxoper0n. (Extra thanks for this classy badge, and try asking for one like it.)
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Lux will be on our Halloween podcast on October 31st. Give a listen: http://www.bearlyfurcasting.com
I need to get a Joe Bear one made. That is awesome work