Introducing James Neathery
As I’m sure everyone can imagine, I’m excited to share my interview with steampunk maker James Neathery. I will admit, I’m little bit star struck with this new round of interviews as I learned about James, and some others I will be interviewing soon, from the GSN TV show Steampunk’d. If you haven’t watched it, please do. All the makers competing on the show are talented and inspiring.
James and I talked about his life, his crafting, how he got into steampunk, and what it was like to be on Steampunk’d.
The Interview with James Neathery
Jonathan Fesmire: Hopefully everyone has seen you on Steampunk’d by now. For those who haven’t, and those who have but are curious about your background, please introduce yourself.
James Neathery: Well, I’m 32 years old, married with 2 kids. During the day, I am a mobile radiographer. I drive around with a collapsible x-ray machine in a van, doing x-rays at nursing homes and prisons. It’s not a bad gig–the pay is decent, and I get to listen to all kinds of audiobooks and talk to my wife all day because I’m driving 85% of the time. I have been doing leatherwork for about 4.5 years. My wife is actually the one who got me into it. She bought me a cool leather steampunk style watch for my birthday, which I promptly began to modify until, uh, it had to be “retired.” Doing that got me interested in making my own watch, and making one led to making more, which led to making bigger things and different things until I got to where I am.
JF: Were you always into speculative fiction? When did you begin to focus on steampunk?
JN: I have always been a fan of science fiction, fantasy, and anime. I used to read the Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars books (at night by flashlight when I was supposed to be asleep), so I really enjoyed the John Carter movie, even though most people hated it. Also really enjoyed Saturday Anime on the SciFi channel waaaay back in the day. Akira, Iria, Green Legend Ran, and Venus Wars being my favorites that I can remember. When the Terminator movies came out, it really got me interested in the fusion of man and machine and cybernetic prosthetics. Then the movie Steamboy came out and I absolutely adored the style, complexity, and whimsicality of steampunk, and I really started researching it.
JF: Did you want to know how things worked when you were a kid? Basically, is there anything in your childhood that might have given a clue that you would end up making fantastic things as an adult?
JN: Oh yes, I sure did want to know how everything worked. From the time I learned to use a screwdriver, anything electronic or motorized was coming apart. I was constantly in trouble. Then I discovered Lego Technic sets, and I would spend hours and hours building the models in the instructions or making my own contraptions. I still play with them to this day! My wife, knowing my love of Lego, has bought me several really expensive sets since we’ve been together.
JF: How did you get your place on Steampunk’d? What was your reaction when you found out you were going to be a contestant?
JN: I applied when I saw the post in Steampunk Revolution asking for applicants. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try, but I never really expected it to go anywhere. I mean, I had been trying to get noticed by the steampunk community for almost 4 years at that point with little success. I never thought anyone would think my stuff was good enough, much less a TV production company. But I kept making the cut somehow, and suddenly I was going to be on TV. It was surreal, I was shocked I made it, but also supremely happy and thankful. I couldn’t have gone if it weren’t for Sara (my wife). She has been my biggest supporter from the beginning and has made sure I have been able to pursue every opportunity I am presented with.
JF: You were given only three days to make a room! How did he find the first challenge? That’s a ton to accomplish.
JN: Three days is actually a bit of an exaggeration. We spent 3 days filming for each challenge, but we probably got a total of 20-22 hours to actually work due to having to stop periodically for interviews and talking with the judges.
JF: What did you think when you saw the workroom and the steampunk yard?
JN: I may have squee’d my pants a bit. At home, my workspace is basically a 10×10′ space with all my tools and supplies. I have to limit the amount of junk I can keep and am limited by budget when it comes to big tools. But here I am in this big workshop with all these tools that I can’t wait to try out, all this junk that is easily worth tens of thousands of dollars, and a workspace that I can make an utter mess of and not have to worry about cleaning up.
JF: How did you feel about Eddy’s approach on the first task? At first, he seemed to want to just build and see what came out (though he did get very focused after a talk with the team the next day).
JN: I’m not a big fan of winging it. I will say, I like an organic approach to a build. Make a general idea, a template to follow, but let the build tell you what it’s going to be as it progresses, while maintaining attention to detail. Sometimes you come out with something even better than you imagined. After we all came to a consensus, a template to follow, our room came together very quickly.
JF: I have to admit that I was a little disappointed when Tobias had to go home after the first episode, as I really wanted to see what he could do. How did you feel about it?
JN: I hated to see him go. I very much didn’t like having one person eliminated every episode. I felt like Tobias never got a chance to show the world what he can do.
JF: Without giving anything about the show away, how did it feel to see one person after the other going home each week?
JN: Again, just not a big fan of that format.
JF: I saw a post on Facebook suggesting a point system with no one going home, and the winner being the person with the most points at the end of the game, which would allow each participant time to shine even after a bad week. Do you think the show would be as appealing to viewers that way?
JN: I love that idea. That would give a chance to run each contestant through various types of challenges to see who can really excel in which areas and who can adapt. You’ll notice during the show I never really did any leather work, even though that is my specialty. I wish I had gotten a chance to. If I had been there longer, mayhap I would have.
JF: I understand that the steampunk community is generally very understanding and works well together. Did the pressure of the show change that, taking something that is fun for so many people and adding high stakes?
JN: I expected there to be a lot of clashing, honestly. I was happy that it seemed like once a consensus was reached on each challenge, that the work went along reasonably well and everyone seemed to get along. All of us makers are very used to doing things start to finish on our own. Some of us love collaboration, some of us just want to do the thing without having to consult with someone else. I don’t think the prize money was something that most of us were thinking about. Mostly, we were just having fun getting to build things and not having to concentrate on everyday life.
JF: Put that way, it sounds like a bit of a vacation! Stress aside, it must have been great making new friends.
JN: I love these humans! I talk to Karianne, Tayliss, Niki (Lady Hawk), Ave, Charles and Tobias almost daily, looking at each other’s current projects and relaying news. Josh (JW) and Eddie I talk to as well, though less frequently. I feel like I will love these people for the rest of my life. We all went through something together that was a grueling, emotionally and physically exhausting ordeal, but it was great to discover how much we all had in common.
JF: You create some great costume pieces, and I really love the masks. Where do you draw inspiration?
JN: I draw inspiration from other designs for sure. I see something and I think, “I love that, but what if I took something like that and added this? Or gave it more functionality?” Or more often, “Has anyone made this thing yet? Nope. Looks like it’s up to me.” I never thought I’d be making masks, but I find I love them! My bomber mask is a completely original and unique piece, having the turbine in the front and the bomber teeth tooled into the leather really sets it apart. It’s probably my favorite, even though it’s technically dieselpunk.
JF: It’s like the axiom, “There are no new ideas.” But you can always do something different with an idea to make it original.
JN: Whoever said that hasn’t seen my bomber mask or widowmaker watch! Lol. But yes, that is technically correct. The best kind of correct.
JF: What do you like most about being a maker?
JN: For me, making original art and sending it out into the wider world is the best part. I often wonder where my stuff will end up, if any of it will still exist after I’m dead. Making something you love, you put yourself into it, you put that love into it. It’s you.
JF: No profession, even one you love, is perfect. What do you like least or find the most frustrating about being a maker?
JN: Cutting the f#cking straps. Ask any leatherworker, lol. After that, hand stitching, deadlines, and not having enough time to make things you want to make because you are running out of time to finish commissions or having to do life things.
JF: What does it take for you to be completely satisfied with a finished product?
JN: It has to be durable, functional, reflect my style, and be pleasing to the eye. I once made a custom hand tooled leather watch band for a client. He liked it, I didn’t. I started over and made another one. I loved it. He was crazy about it. That is what it’s about. It’s the difference between a satisfied customer and a loyal one who will come back for more work and promote the hell out of you to everyone else.
JF: That’s an awesome attitude! Sounds like it really pays off. Do you have many repeat customers?
JN: Oh my, yes. My friend, Terry, is my most loyal customer! I swear he is starting his own gallery of my work. I pretty much know at this point to make 2 of each item: 1 for him, and an additional one so someone else has a chance at it, lol.
JF: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions! It’s been great getting to know you. Is there anything you’d like to say to the readers?
JN: I’d like to thank everyone for taking the time to read my interview. I’d like to give a shout out to RJ foster (the true Captain Nemo) for taking me under his wing before all this started and giving me the confidence and inspiration to take my work to the next level. If anyone reading this is interested in starting their steampunk outfit, or just has questions about making steampunk art, feel free to hit me up any time. I don’t know everything, but I have learned a lot along the way. Finally, I’d like to thank my beloved Sara for being my entire reason for being where I am. Love you baby!
Thanks for the interview, Jonathan!
James Neathery Online
You can find James online, and buy many of his leather creations, from his website, and online business, Starboard Sky Leatherworks, where you’ll find options for watches, armor, customized items, and much more. I also urge you to like and follow the Starboard Sky Leatherworks Facebook Page, where James shares his projects as they become available, pictures from conventions, information about Steampunk’d, and a lot more.
Two other makers so far, from Steampunk’d, have agreed to interviews! I’ve been asking them one at a time, mostly so that I don’t get overwhelmed preparing for many interviews all at the same time. In any case, I’m really excited to be interviewing them both.
If you’ve subscribed to my, you already know who one of the two are, and I will reveal the other to my subscribers shortly. If you’d like to know ahead of time, join the mailing list below. I always include something extra in the list that is not in the blog! Also, mailing list members get to read Creedverse short stories and more as soon as I’ve finished writing them. Now’s a great time to sign up!
While you’re here, feel free to comment on this interview or ask questions!
FYI: I write a new blog post nearly every week and send out a helpful newsletter every week, usually on Monday or Tuesday. I cover all sorts of topics, though they mostly pertain to writing, science fiction, novels, and art. Feel free to subscribe below. If you like steampunk and/or westerns, you’ll probably like my books as well.
“Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.” –Isaac Asimov