This tutorial has been a long time coming so here it is: Red Sonja’s shoulder armor!
When I first decided to do Red Sonja for WonderCon, I knew I wanted my Sonja to be a battle-ready Sonja cosplay, which meant that she needed to have some protection aside from her signature metal bikini. So I came up with an idea to create a shoulder armor piece to help with a battle-ready look (also so I wouldn’t feel so naked!). I poured over dozens of picture of Sonja from the comics and beyond and decided to go with a modified shoulder piece I knew I could make myself without much trouble.
A lot of people at WonderCon asked me how I made it, so I wanted to share my process. I must warn you: This was my first time making craft foam armor, so I definitely did some things off script, but you’re welcome to check out the tutorials I used as reference. However, if you’re a beginner, I hope my methods work for you too!
What You’ll Need:
2 Sheets of Craft Full-Sized Foam
(Optional) 1-2 Small Sheet of Other Color Craft Foam
Flexible Fabric Glue
Metallic Fabric or Flexible Acrylic Paint
Dark Colored Acrylic Paint
Step 1: Sketch Out the Round Piece
You’ll want to sketch out the shape on the poster board or cardboard to make sure that it forms up perfectly. Sketch out this butterfly shape so that the opposite sides have the same cut out angle. Hint: the sides will be shorter than the top cutouts.Depending how round you want it, make the cut outs shallower or longer. I wanted mine to be long on my shoulder, so I cut pretty deep.
Step 2: Make Sure the Shape is Correct, Then Cut Out the Pattern
Putting the sides of the cutouts together should make the poster board form into a nice curved shape, the same as your shoulder. As you can see, mine turned out a little pointy, but that can be fixed later when you add the details. After cutting out your pattern, you can use tape to make sure that you get the right shape. If the sides don’t match up, remeasure and draw again until you find the perfect shape. After you get a shape you’re happy with, cut out the pattern from the board to use on the craft foam.
Step 3: Cut Out the Foam and Adhere the Sides
The tutorial I followed said to use some sort of super glue to adhere the sides, but the glue had a tough time sticking to the foam. I’m sure you can find a powerful glue that 1) won’t melt the foam and 2) will be able to hold the sides together until they dry. But since I didn’t have that, I decided to improvise by used a needle and thread. The seam was going to get covered up later during the detailing stage and I knew that the sides of the foam would hold together even if I moved around and transported the armor. Use some clothing pins to hold the sides together and do tiny, tiny stitches to form the rounded shoulder piece.
Step 4: Line with Cheese Paper
After the sides of the foam is secured, lay out a piece of the cheese paper on the piece and use the Elmer’s Glue to paste the paper to the foam. I suggest gluing one side at a time or it can be tricky. Wait for the glue to dry and then add another coat — this will help make the foam stiff and keep it’s shape.
Step 5: Start Detailing
Once the cheese paper and glue has dried, you can start on some of the details. I wanted to use a different color craft foam so it was easier to distinguish, but you can use the same color if you want to. Use some of the poster board to trace along the edges of the armor piece so can sketch out the elevated details. I feel this gives the armor a more complete and 3D look. It was also a good way to over up the seams on my cutouts and make them look more rounded.
Step 6: Add 3D Paint on the Seams
I wanted the armor to have that bolted look that metal armor has, as if the elevated bits were actually bolted to the main piece. I just did good-sized circles and tried to avoid getting that little wisp at the top. Feel free to reapply if they all don’t look as uniform as you’d like.
Step 7: Seal the Foam
Warning: this part will take a while so you might want to dedicate a day just to sealing your pieces. After the 3D paint has dried, you’ll need to seal the foam so that the metallic paint you’ll be applying won’t just soak into the foam and show all the pores. Mix up 1 part school glue, 1 part fabric glue and 2 parts water. Paint the mixture onto the foam and allow for it to dry. You’re going to want to do between 7-10 coats to make sure your armor turns out smooth and not porous.
Step 8: Start on the Arm Pieces
While you’re waiting for the coats to dry, you can start on the two arm pieces. I simply measured my arm and free handed the shape I wanted the pieces to be. Then, I held the foam over the lit stove for a few seconds and then wrapped it on my arm. Do this twice and then add the cheese paper like you did before. You’ll also want to seal these too.
Step 9: Begin Painting
Yay! I chose a metallic acrylic paint, though if you’re going to be moving a lot in your armor, go with a fabric paint. It is more flexible and won’t crack. Use a big paint brush or long strokes so that you don’t get a lot of lines. I did 2 or 3 coats on each piece so that the metallic color popped and I didn’t have any lines. Pro tip: Paint the underside of the armor too just in case it will show up in pictures. One coat will do!
Step 10: “Age” the Armor
After the metallic paint is all on, you can start the “aging” process. One of the tutorials I looked at suggested using Rub ‘n’ Buff to achieve a weathered look, and another suggested either black acrylic or fabric paint. I tried both paints and it didn’t turn out the way I wanted, so I ended up just creating a dark gray paint instead. Put some of the gray paint along the edges of the pieces and quickly wipe it off toward the center of the piece with a tissue. Then, in a circular motion, rub the remaining paint to get that weathered look. Apply on along all edges, including the seam edges.
Step 11: Attach All the Pieces Together
Once everything is all good and dry, you can use a hot glue gun to attach the pieces together. I used a bit of leather string and hot glue to tie the armor down on my arm, but you can use whatever clasps or ties you want to.
Overall, I loved the way the piece turned out and it held up incredibly well during the Con and afterwards. I was able to move my arm freely and it wasn’t itchy or uncomfortable! I call that a win!
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