Fashioning the Future With: Erin St. Blaine
Look at her stuff. Isn't it neat? Without inventor Erin St. Blaine's interview, our Maker & Shaker collection isn't complete. Indeed, you heard our siren song right! We have the fabulous wearable tech innovator, talented performer, and majestic mermaid — yep mermaid — Erin St. Blaine on the blog today!
Erin creates totally teched-out costumes featuring LEDs, 3D-printed parts, and awesome artistry. Not only that, but she also performs in them for all kinds of events. Erin's company Fire Pixie Entertainment, located in the San Francisco Bay Area, includes over twenty performers and specializes in LED, fire, mermaid, and variety performances. Fun fact: Erin is also a fire performer, herself!
Synchronized-swimming Swedish Fish! This interview intro is already pretty scorchin', but wait, there's more: Erin invented the first ever LED mermaid tail — made with 200+ programmable LEDs — that can be worn under water…or should we say under the sea. Erin even has her own mermaid alter-ego named Glimmer.
In addition to merfolk, Erin makes other fantastical wearable tech costumes including fairies, wasps, and more. Erin's work inspires girls to engage in STEAM by showing that technology combined with artistry can be both magical and accessible. Erin also works with Adafruit as an artist. You can check out her DIY tutorials here.
We were excited to ask Erin all about what inspires her love of mermaids, the complicated differences between producing fire shows versus light shows, what imaginative projects she's working on now, and more.
You're gonna want the works of Erin St. Blaine to be part of your world. Meet our new favorite mermaid!
When did you know you were an artist?
Not until pretty late in life. I’ve always been in creative professions, and I have a degree in Creative Arts, but I don’t think I’ve identified with the term 'artist' until recently. Musician, performer, costumer, entertainer, writer, designer — yes. Artist is a bit scarier.
What do you love most about putting the A in STEAM?
Inspiring people who think science is boring. I love making magical unicorn horns and mermaid accessories with tech, because it gets kids’ attention and captures their imagination. I feel like it’s my job to draw attention and interest to the STEAM world by making pretty shiny objects that really get people interested.
What first drew you to wearable technology?
I was making a living as a fire performer and wanted to develop a show that could be done indoors or in the off season. LED technology has made huge leaps in the past 10 years. When I first started, it was nearly impossible to create anything with the limited tools and tutorials available. Now, creating a glowing costumed LED dance light show is within reach of lots of people. It’s really exciting to be able to tell stories with lights.
What was the first wearable tech project you created?
I made the buttons on a pair of my boots light up, based on the FireWalker Sneakers project by Phil Burgess. It didn’t work very well, and the project certainly didn’t last, but it made me so incredibly happy!
Do you find making your own costumes empowering?
Definitely! Both for myself and for other people — I mean, I love how much costume inspiration I find in the community, and I absolutely love customizing every little thing so it’s exactly perfectly how I want it to be. I’m never quite happy with off-the-shelf costumes. I’m sure a lot of the details I put into my creations never get noticed by anyone but me, but …the details make me really happy. And I absolutely love meeting other costumers who make their own costumes as well and seeing people’s creativity come to life. A handmade costume is something to be proud of! I want to see more people taking the chance and creating what’s in their imagination.
How do you use 3D printing in your creations?
I most often use 3D printing for enclosures. There’s something satisfying about having a perfectly sized box for my electronics, with a perfectly sized hole for the cables. I guess it’s a bit OCD, but I just love when everything fits together nicely. I also use 3D printing for “hard” accessories like unicorn horns or seashells. And I’ve made necklace settings as well.
What inspired the Glimmer mermaid tail?
I was already a performing mermaid when I started getting excited about DIY electronics. I went to a mermaid convention and made light-up necklaces for all my pod-sisters, and we all wore them proudly around the convention and everyone loved them. The idea came to me at the convention and I couldn’t wait to get home and get started making the tail.
What do you enjoy most about having an alter-ego, Glimmer, who is a mermaid?
I love getting in character because I get to explore parts of my personality that normally don’t get to be in the forefront. Glimmer has a lot in common with me, but she’s got strengths that I (Erin) don’t feel I have — she’s incredibly brave in social situations and a great conversationalist, and when I’m not in character I’m much more of an introvert. It’s so fun to use an imaginary character I created to work on conquering my own fears and weaknesses.
Have you always been drawn to mermaids?
Who hasn’t? Mermaids are wonderful! Though as a little girl I was much more of a tomboy, into transformers and superheroes. I didn’t really identify with “girly” stuff until my late 20s.
How does technology play into your Fire Pixie shows?
Our LED shows use an extensive amount of tech that I built or helped invent. The light show is a really unique challenge. Trying to tell a story with dance and lights is surprisingly different than telling a story with dance and fire. People relate to the fire on a visceral level, and the lights are much more cerebral and thought-provoking. I spend a lot of time working on evoking as much emotion in the audience as possible with tight programming and choreography. I feel like I’ve succeeded a bit, but I still have a ways to go before I feel our light show engages an audience as well as our fire show does.
What about advice specifically for young artists who want to learn how to use technology in their creations?
Don’t be afraid to experiment! There are more and more classes out there, and more and more products that are aimed at young makers. It’s a very exciting, fast-growing field right now and things will change rapidly, but at the end of the day, just playing and experimenting and seeing what’s possible is the way to keep learning and keep having fun.
Do you have any upcoming costume or projects you can tell us a little about?
Right now, I’m working on a 9x4 foot chandelier, which is the physically largest thing I’ve ever made. It’s going to have around 550 LEDs and will be connected to the internet via WiFi. I’m writing animations that are weather-aware — thunderstorms or sunshine or sunsets will trigger different animations. It’s slow going but I think it’s going to turn out beautiful.
What are some of your hobbies you enjoy in your free time?
Since I’m really a professional crafter, every hobby I pick up seems to turn into part of my business! But I love traveling and scuba diving the most these days.
Who (modern day or historical) inspires you?
Limor Fried from Adafruit — she’s incredibly inspiring, and one of the smartest women I’ve met, with a big heart that’s absolutely in the right place.
Do you have any favorite fictional STEM, artist, and/or mermaid characters in books/movies/other art forms?
I love how mermaids are beginning to show up more and more in the media as they’re becoming more popular. It seems like every week I hear about another mermaid themed show or movie. I am loving riding this wave!
If you were a superhero, what would your go-to wearable tech device be?
Chromatophores: I want to be able to change the color and texture of my skin like an octopus or chameleon. I think that’s why I love LED wearables — I can change the color I’m presenting with a wave of my hand!
Want to know more about maker, innovator, and mermaid Erin St. Blaine? Follow her online: