Nyvedna cosplay: ‘I saw the best of myself reflected back at me’

Katsucon 2019, Alexandra Lee Studios.

I’ve been interviewing a lot of cosplayers lately.

Talking to these imaginative, resourceful, and incredibly skilled creators has only increased my respect for this art form, which mingles craftsmanship, self-expression, and fandom pride in a way that spreads joy to everyone it comes in contact with.

The cosplayer I’m about to introduce you to makes this geeky form of dress-up  look especially effortless, polished, and strong. Drop what you’re doing and head over to her Instagram account, @nyvednaproductions, to see Devyn Coleman make a compelling case for cosplay as empowerment.

I discovered Devyn through pics of her astoundingly detailed Shuri cosplay, which immediately transported me back to the regal wonder of Black Panther and Wakanda. Marvel and Disney are go-to sources of inspiration to this aspiring graphic designer, illustrator, and fabric creator.

According to Devyn, both franchises “emphasize kindness, strength, and intelligence, and how it is okay to be all three.”  That’s an apt description for her own cosplays, which include Moana, Princess Jasmine, Teen Titan’s Raven, Steven Universe’s Stevonnie, assorted fantasy creatures, and a member of the Dora Milaje.

Devyn regularly cosplays with the group @houstoncosplayforcharity, which brought smiles to children’s faces in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Through her brand, Nyvedna Productions, she’s also spearheading an ambitious project, Marvel Wars, a fan-made digital live action comic that has assembled, Avengers-style, an impressive group of cosplayers, photographers, and artists.

If you’re wondering what kind of effort and talent goes into being a dedicated cosplayer, read on for Devyn’s thoughts about problem solving, researching the little details, the need for more respect and empathy toward people of color who cosplay, how to survive a photo shoot, and the empowering potential of D&D.

Photo: David “DTJAAAAM” Ngo.

You’re an accomplished, creative cosplayer who participates in gorgeous photo shoots and projects, and you have your own business, Nyvedna Productions. How did you come to start the business? Tell me a little more about it.

Thank you so much for the compliment! The business started off as more of a brand name for myself. I use it to record my variety of creative interests, and to share and engage with the creative and charity community. Now that I’ve branched into the more business side of things, when I have time between school, I design fabrics, illustrations, costume designs, photography, digital composites, etc. Most of my success has come from my fabric designs though.

You’re a graphic design student and aspiring illustrator/fan artist. Why did you decide to pursue this craft?

Design is something I’ve always done, but I didn’t know the name for it before. After getting my first degree in Management Information Systems and working in business for a few years, I eventually felt like I was being called elsewhere. I knew I was good at business, but I didn’t feel purposeful about it. Even when I was doing my daily job at the time, I would find outside time to design something, whether it would be an email blast for the group holiday party or a training manual.

It occurred to me then, Graphic Design is what I loved to do. So, I decided to pursue it. I consider design a creative way of problem solving, and I think graphic design met the best of both of my worlds.

Photo: Afroqween Cosplay.

Tell me about some of the graphic design/art projects you’ve created so far.

I’m particularly a fan of logo design, branding and digital illustrations more than anything. Currently, my favorite pieces are logos for a tabletop gaming Twitch stream called Knight Heart Gaming (and that’s not just because I play on one of the streams). I designed for two of the individual campaigns, Maximum Maidens and Dungeons and Dramaturgy. I am just really passionate about designing for the different and unique creative industries, and nonprofits.

Another project favorite is the Dora Milaje-inspired fabrics I’ve designed and sold on Spoonflower. Those are particularly close to my heart because the reason I made them, other than for my own cosplay, was because I loved the idea of a connection through similar fabrics between all of these beautiful people making Dora Milaje cosplays all over the country.

It felt like it allowed us all to have this uniformity (like the powerful warriors do in the Black Panther movie), despite working on things at separate times in separate places. Not only was it a way to lessen the stress of an advanced costume on others, but it was also a way to connect. At least, that’s how I see it.

Composite by Nyvedna Productions. Photographers: Lab L Arts Photography and @thomasphoenixii.

One of the exciting projects you’re working on as a cosplayer and graphic designer is a fan-made live action digital comic book, Project Marvel Wars. Tell me how that project began, where you’re at in production, and what you have planned for the finished product.

I had been mulling the idea around in my head about bringing together a bunch of Texas Marvel cosplayers to create a unique brand of storytelling through photos, particularly moving photos. I’d spoken with some other artists and cosplayers I knew who had skills and enthusiasm that could help in the endeavor, and they expressed interest in it, so I finally decided to pull together the current admin team.

After a few brainstorming meetings last year, we as a group decided upon pursing the idea of a “live” action comic book. From there, I’ve led the team as the creative director and project manager to where we are now. The hard work put in by the admin team has certainly paid off, and the response has been incredible to watch. I am humbled by the positivity of the participants and those outside of the initiative.

Currently in production, we’ve just wrapped up recording and all of the photo shoots, and are in intense editing mode. I’ve just created the poster for the members, as a special thank you, a memento of the experience. For the finished product, we definitely plan on displaying the fan-made comic on the internet for the members and public to read, as well as have some behind the scenes documentation of the experience. That’s the most I can give, but we are so excited to share the vision with everyone!

How did you first discover cosplay?

Through my introduction to anime, and then the convention world after that. The funny thing is I didn’t know I could make my own costumes, it never occurred to me. Halloween was not too big of a deal in my household, so I only attended Halloween school functions and bought my costumes.

What was the first cosplay you ever did?

My first true cosplay, I think, was either a generic White Mage from Final Fantasy, or Mayuri Shiina from Steins;Gate.

You create your own costumes and they’re exquisite. What’s your sewing/crafting background and how have you put that to use in making cosplays?

I started sewing in high school. My first costume I had made was a purple, sparkly, renaissance style dress instead of the simple skirt pattern my teacher wanted me to do. She helped me anyway, and was enthused by my ambition. The glitter was everywhere, and it was not the best fit due to my novice skill levels, but boy, I was proud. After that one class, it taught me the basics, and from there I was sewing all of the time and learning on my own.

In regards to crafting, I went through so many artistic phases, I can’t even list them. However, what really became a basis for my cosplay was my love of projects, and finding a way to communicate information and awe through a piece. To me now, cosplay is a form of creative problem solving. How do we take something that is meant for fantasy, and bring it into the real world?

I am heavily sewing based in my cosplays, though that has now transcended into headdress making, hand beading, and other small detail work. Sewing and project oriented background has allowed me to delve deep into researching, and allows me to put out the best I can. It’s especially easy to do because I’m usually really interested in the project.

Katsucon 2019, Alexandra Lee Studios.

On your Instagram account recently, you’ve been featuring your Shuri cosplay, which is delightful. I love it! Tell me about the process of putting that cosplay together.

Oh man, that was a journey. Planning on how to achieve those stellar Wakandan details was 50% of the project, to be honest. The things I remember most about the process are several things: 1) Only the third time making a body suit, and this was the first time I had to pattern my own panels. 2) I designed my own fabrics for this, and hand cut iron on vinyl, somehow having to match and hide seams for the sake of accuracy. 3) That neck piece is the most elaborate EVA foam anything I’ve put together.

So, all in all, everything was either designed or made by me on that cosplay, except for the gauntlets (RandMaskEnterprises on Etsy) as I just added the lights and made them wearable, and the wig was from Anne Elise Braids, where I customized the color for my base. From there I styled the wig. It’s my most comfortable cosplay, except for the lack of neck movement.

As a fan, what does Shuri mean to you?

Seeing an intelligent, young, witty, fashionable, beautiful, black woman and princess innovating and solving problems in her society through her intelligence and creativity is so incredibly encouraging to my childhood self.

I have experienced confusion and hostility from society towards my intelligence in my own life, as well as not being believed just because of my age and my race. In Black Panther, those traits are encouraged and celebrated. She is valued and encouraged to continue to pursue her intelligence and be her complete self.  When I saw Shuri, I saw the best of myself reflected back at me.

You mentioned the fabric designs related to the Shuri cosplay you sell on Spoonflower. Why did you decide to share those?

I believe we are all more successful when we are able to help others in their growth and their journey. If those fabrics make it easier for another cosplayer or a little kid to be closer to the character they love, being Shuri, or to better improve the quality of their projects, I feel like I’m doing something right.

@seeorseemphoto

Many of your cosplays are Marvel-themed. Marvel fans are having a lot of thoughts and feelings about Avengers: Endgame. What are your thoughts and feelings about the movie?

I think Marvel wrapped it up very well. I cried multiple times. The Easter eggs were everything. The lines and the action were just as funny as they were amazing. I could nitpick, but honestly, I don’t want to. I enjoyed the movie for what it was, how it ended this 10-year journey. It really just reemphasized why I love the franchise and their characters so much. I have ten more cosplays I want to do now because of it.

Where do you tend to get ideas/inspiration for your cosplays?

I just have to love it; be it the design or the character. Usually both. Many of them I wear to help me embrace the strong part of myself, as well as emphasize the kinder part of myself. Which is why I think Marvel and Disney represent my cosplays the best. Both emphasize kindness, strength, and intelligence, and how it is okay to be all three.

Detail wise, usually researching historical context or details from fashion shows and trying to figure out what fabric someone might have used, or the texture of a flower I passed on the street. As well as a lot of artwork inspiration, from historical to fan art.

@themontrosestudios

What are some of your favorite cosplays you’ve created so far?

Moana, Shuri, Dora Milaje, and Princess Jasmine. All for different reasons, but mostly they just made me so proud to create, to wear and become those characters, as each mean something personal to me.

You’re part of @houstoncosplayforcharity, a group founded in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. How did you become involved with this group? Tell me more about the work you guys do.

I was tagged in an event in the Houston Cosplay Group on Facebook, where a bunch of cosplayers were getting together to visit relief areas to help bring joy to children and families that were displaced by the hurricane. It was exactly the motivation I needed to continue to cosplay, as I was considering not doing anymore with the amount of stress it was causing.

This event gave my cosplay a purpose. So I joined in as Moana. The smiles on those children’s faces were beyond anything I could have prepared for. From there the group formed, and now we travel over Texas for charitable initiatives such as 5k runs, hospital visits, blood drives, and other charitable benefits, bringing joy and engagement to our community.

Devyn as Jasmine at a Houston Cosplay for Charity event in honor of Earth Day. Photo: @houston_cap.

What do you enjoy most about being part of the cosplay community?

Celebrating our love of something. Whether it be a movie, a character, a game, etc. And then finding out what those characters/media mean to someone. I could run into a complete stranger, but we’re both dressed up from the same fandom, and in one amazing moment we’re gushing over each other’s cosplays and celebrating one another’s effort. It can be very wholesome and uplifting in that way.

Plus, I love learning new techniques. This is such an innovative hobby, it’s incredible what sort of creations come out of it. The imagination is so free, and we are only limited by our own efforts. I love that a bunch of people can gather around and celebrate our diverse love of entertainment, history, and creation.

Cerberus Photos

As a woman of color, is there anything you’d like to see change within this community or fandom in general?

I would like to see more respect and empathy towards one another. The amount of hate, I can’t even call it criticism, that the POC community receives for just existing in cosplay is atrocious, especially towards POC women if they are not in the “standard” that is “approved of” by society. We are so diverse as a people, the notion is absolutely crazy that people believe they can police another person about what their body happens to look like. Anyone can cosplay!

Also, let’s just stop the offensive skin painting for the “sake of accuracy.” You are still accurate without painting your skin a natural skin color of someone who lives with the difficulties of having that natural skin tone every day. Let’s open our own minds in each of our individual demographic communities and start letting people know certain behaviors are not okay, and lets continue to have communities lift each other up, and respectfully fight ignorance with knowledge and understanding.

What’s your geek origin story? Were you a geeky kid?

I don’t know if Legos are geeky enough, but that’s all I played with as a kid, other than chess, the cello, Age of Empire, and other strategy games on the computer. I guess reading was my first introduction to true fantasy geekdom, and then anime and manga after that. My geekiness is honestly all over the place. I’ve never dedicated myself to knowing one thing, so I guess I’m a geek-of-all-trades? As many as I want and feel like knowing.

Cerberus Photos

You’re obviously a big fan of Marvel and Disney. What are some of your other favorite fandoms?

Game of Thrones, My Hero Academia, Steven Universe, Star vs. The Forces of Evil, Miraculous Ladybug, and Critical Role!

Why do you think women are embracing the D&D fandom?

D&D can be incredibly empowering. It gives you a sandbox, a safe environment to explore aspects of yourself that sometimes the real world has not yet made room for. It’s rather therapeutic. I am a huge fan of the roleplay and storytelling component of the game. D&D is also a form of problem solving, and teaching empathy. So not only is this game encouraging you as a person, giving you true experiences and unforgettable memories, it is also a way of growing. Also, who doesn’t want to be a hero?

For women in particular: You are choosing your own destiny, and can do so without biases if you’re experiencing a healthy game play. That’s why it is so loved. The variety of body types, races, classes you can pursue, how powerful you can be, how sweet or stern you can be, it’s all so diverse. And it’s all okay! And it’s great, and rewarded even.

Fantasy in literature and in movies has often been a way to put a spotlight on society and some of our problems (Star Trek, Black Panther, etc.) and then perhaps hint to us ways we can potentially fix it in our own. I think D&D is a little like that, only you’re telling your character’s own story, perhaps virtually facing a problem in your own life you’re dealing with and practicing safe ways to solve it, with a little team work and a DM to guide you.

@seeorseemphoto

As a cosplayer, you’re constantly participating in stunning photo shoots. I don’t know that much about what these photo shoots entail. Can you tell me more about the experience of participating in one?

Planning, commitment, and communication! A lot of the success of these shoots comes from having ideas, and finding a way to make them reality. And they are not something that can be done alone, so find people you can trust and rely on, and always have a backup plan.

In regards to participating myself, they can be hectic and strenuous, but worth the outcome. You wake up early and get ready before the sunrise because it’s the perfect hour over the location. Sometimes it’s waiting for a little weather to pass. You’re jumping, sweating, holding uncomfortable poses (because usually the more exaggerated the pose feels, the better it is on camera), all to get that one good shot that encompasses both the detail of your costume, and the essence of the character.

Some advice I have for those interested in trying to get photos they love of their costumes and have a good experience: Get to know your photographer, bring someone with you you can trust, prep yourself by practicing poses and expressions of your character daily, have your own ideas of what kind of shots you would like and be able to communicate them, whether it be through pictures or verbal. Don’t rely solely on the photographer, because a lot of the magic comes through in communication between the cosplayer and the photographer, and of course a well thought out location. Also don’t forget snacks, water, a small bag for makeup touch-up and cosplay malfunctions, and maybe a tiny portable fan.

Now if you’re just looking for shoots to participate in, I usually will scout out cosplay groups in my area, or convention groups on Facebook, and many times photographers will post that they would like to shoot or get some practice shooting. I will ask, see their work on their pages, and then schedule a shoot from there.

There are many photography/model groups that do big, themed shoots, so that’s a great way to keep a lookout for something you might be interested in. And if you don’t see the thing you’re interested in, take the initiative and plan it yourself! Reach out to people, try to give incentive through the uniqueness and thorough planning of the shoot, and make the experience easy.

Would you give us a hint as to what cosplays you have planned for the rest of 2019?

For 2019: One half of my list is a little nostalgic, a quarter of it is heroic, and the other quarter of the list is original, is the best way I can put it!

@hectorchevantes_photography

If readers wanted to support your cosplay and content creation, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Follow me at @nyvednaproductions on Instagram and Nyvedna Productions on Facebook. Honestly, I would love donations to  Ko-fi.com/nyvedna as it helps a lot with purchasing of materials and allowing me to focus on cosplay as a priority. Especially with having such detailed work, I would love to show more progress photos, tutorials, and have more interesting photo shoots. I have plenty of ideas, but sometimes funding is a thing.

Are there any upcoming Nyvedna Productions projects you’d like to tease or highlight?

For now, Marvel Wars is the gist of it! But I will definitely announce if something exciting is in the works as soon as I am able.

What are your future plans/goals for the business?

Other than continuing my personal shoots, I wouldn’t be against more initiatives like Marvel Wars. Maybe something a little different next time.

In regards to selling, definitely more cosplay-focused fabrics. Especially for those characters that are popular but take a lot of time. I would love to get into the raised detail fabric business one day, but I’ll save that as a long term goal. Maybe T-shirts even?

However, I am interested in more charity work, and would like to find ways to continue that initiative as I complete my education. Using cosplay as a way to encourage researching, planning, and time management for young people, I think, is something I would really enjoy teaching.

Photo of Devyn Coleman as Dora Milaje with spear, Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center.