Mesh and Sculpts: the art of Claudia222 Jewell

Second Life has always offered a unique and immersive medium for art. Photography, machinima, painting, sculpture, performance art – these are just some of the uses to which it has been put. Most recently, the ability to import mesh objects has been added; and while many of us are looking at it in purely practical terms for content creation,others are already using as means of extending their artistry expression through a new medium.

Claudia222 Jewell

One such person in the latter category is Claudia222 Jewell. For her, mesh has presented itself as a new avenue of expression that can be combined with the platform’s other tools to create truly unique and evocative experiences.

Such is the unique scope and dept of Claudia’s art that it has been used by Linden Lab to demonstrate the capabilities of mesh in-world, with Charlar Linden using images of her work in his recent presentation at SLCC2011. More recently, she has been deservedly selected as an Invited Artist at BURN2, and is participating in an upcoming LEA event starting in mid-October.

I’ve been enchanted by Claudia’s work ever since I first encountered it in a wonderful video by Rockerfaerie; so I was very excited when she agreed to meet and talk about it with me. We did so at one of the test sandboxes on the Main grid as she took a break from working on a part of her display for BURN2. I started by asking her about her background – was she an artist by profession or training?

“Not exactly,” she replied with a smile, “I’ve worked in advertising graphic design, but my art – drawing and painting – is self-taught. I’ve spent most of my life finding ways to make a living through the process of creativity; I’ve always known where my qualities lie, and so I’ve focused on visual arts.”  She went on to explain that what particularly fascinated her was the use of light and shade in images to create a 3D effect. “I always tried to create a 3 dimensional aspect to my art and over time I became aware that I wanted to learn more about 3D art.”

Curiosity

Nibbling a flower

So was it the 3D element of Second Life that attracted her to the platform? Surprisingly, no it wasn’t – it was simple curiosity!

“I came to have a look, but didn’t stay long. I didn’t know you could build then – and I didn’t have a good computer then for rendering.” She sounded a little shy as she added, “And I’m not much of a chatterer, I think, so I left.”

In fact, it was two years before Claudia returned to Second Life; by then – in 2010 – she had a more powerful computer and one of her friends had told her about the opportunities for creative self-expression in Second Life – and sandboxes.

“I still feel attached to sandboxes,” she stated, indicating the sim around us. “I can’t leave them – the freedom to rez, maybe! They’re great places to learn [about] creativity. I love [the fact] that anyone can learn in here and experiment a little.”

Once back SL, she started experimenting with sculpties, seeing how they could be used to create items of art. Even so, her initial experiences weren’t always pleasant.

“I was copybotted,” she explained without any of the anger one might expect from someone having suffered so. “My work was handed out full-perm to new members of a styling group.”

Did she take any action?

“No, the person responsible was already banned by the time I found out; but I must say, it was kinda good for me in the end. I left for the Beta grid and learned about mesh.”

It’s a philosophical point of view to take where copybotting is concerned, and not something everyone might agree with. Claudia, however, is also pragmatic. “I think we need to understand that some will always be happier to find ways to steal than to learn how to make things in the first place. I hope I can help some people understand that creating something for yourself gives a better feeling than stealing from others.”

Discovery

Once on the Beta grid she discovered mesh, “It was very exciting for me. At first I thought all of the uploads were made by people in SL; I remember I was terribly impressed – until I asked around and found out a lot of it was online  material that people had found for free or bought! But some were doing their own thing – and I knew that perhaps this was the freedom I was maybe missing by working with sculpties.”

I asked her about how she feels about the way in which Linden Lab have implemented mesh support on the grid.

“I was a little shocked about the fact that size matters for mesh,” she immediately replied. “Prim Equivalency. I was very upset at first; not so much for the plain PE; just that size matters so much. I did various tests  to try to understand it and noticed some weird behaviour, that PE would jump when resizing an object. I was sure that it would be calculated on the geometric values, but it isn’t that straightforward. But it has encouraged me to work harder to find ways to keep the geometrics down. I hope we will all learn more about mesh and the ways it’s calculated.”

Mesh robin

And learn Claudia certainly has. Her works are some of the most unique sculptures I’ve come across in Second Life, and I’m not alone in thinking this.

Using both mesh and sculpties, she creates wonderful visual collages that combine fantasy with a touch of the surreal, bringing both together in evocative experience for the observer. Each of her pieces is alive with detail and subtlety. Little wonder, then that she has been selected to display at BURN2 and is part of a group of artists who will have their work displayed as a part of The Path, a Linden Endowment of the Arts event commencing on the 14th of October.

Enchanted World

Entering one of Claudia’s landscapes is like entering an enchanted world where dragons, naga and other exotic creatures mingle among fantastic plants and surreal backdrops. At Mesh Mellows, her works hover in the air, some on islands, some in the belly of a gigantic, human-faced fly – something you only realise when you zoom out to see. All of them are exquisite in their execution and the imagery throughout is eye-catching and impactful.

However, other than when looking at the huge fly and locating the other islands around it, I recommend you set your time of day to midnight. Claudia has retained her love of light and shadow, using the former to accentuate her work beautifully; something that can only truly be appreciated against the backdrop of night.

Given the central themes evident in her work, I asked Claudia if she is influenced by fantasy literature or images. She admitted she is, but also that, “Maybe it is [also] old German fairy tales; they have some very dark corners in there! I like that kind of  balance, and love mythology”. But it is also more than that, “I try not to plan too much, but I do like my work to be organic; like I’m making dreams a reality. Some people might be a little frightened by my things; Perhaps I have a different sense of beauty.

“I like to see things from a different perspective sometimes, let people experience the unfamiliar. It’s like eating Japanese food; we might not know what wasabi is and might feel intimidated by how hot it is, but it is the strong flavour that excites us and gets us addicted to sushi!”

Her analogy is certainly enticing – although I prefer to think of her sense of beauty as exotically appealing rather than different. The beauty in each piece is very evident, captivating one’s attention and drawing one in to it. The organic element also goes beyond the curve and flow of the shapes she uses, and the blending of light and colour. There is always something new to discover in each of her pieces each time you look – almost as if each is alive and changing.

Nor are all her creations static; at Mesh Mellows, you can ride a beautiful mesh dragon, which rezzes when you select SIT from the master version, and de-rezzes as soon as you stand up – an excellent way to fly to the other islands on display.

Against the setting sun – dragonrider!

Tools of the Trade

So what does she use to create her art?

“Zbrush and Blender,” she said in response to my question. “I create the textures in Photoshop while working on the object. Definition is very important to me, so I upload and apply the textures separately.”

Like most of us, she’s had to learn to use the software on her own – no easy task when it comes to Blender, as many (myself included) will testify. I asked her if she has any advice for those seeking to get a start with it. “Oh! I think there are some fantastic websites out there,” she paused a minute in contemplation then added, “Gaia Clary has made some very good tutorials at machinimatrix.org.”

Honour

Given it is just around the corner, I asked her about her selection for BURN2.

Work-in-progress: Claudia’s pieces for BURN2 (click to enlarge)

“That was such a surprise for me,” she replied, “I did apply for a parcel, but wasn’t lucky. So when I was told they wanted me as a guest artist I was very happy about it. It’s a fantastic honour.” She indicated the piece behind me, “This is the first part of the work; it’s a work in progress  I’ve just started because I was working every day in rl and travelling.”

For something that has just been started, the piece is already awe-inspiring in its complexity, and the detail is exquisite.

With both The Path and BURN 2 coming up, Claudia is certainly being kept busy; nor will the pressure let up. The Path will run for three months from the 14th October, and there is the chance she will have use of a full sim for three months from November, giving her the opportunity to create something even more mind-blowing than she’s achieved to date; a challenge she is already relishing.

Rites of Passage: a closer look

But for now, it is back to working with sculpties, although when I introduced her to the latest Mesh Development Viewer  – and particularly the new upload window floater – she was overjoyed and admitted she was missing working with mesh. After trying out the Viewer, she offered a suggestion for Charlar and the team to consider, “It would be maybe be good to have the window resizable – or the preview image!”

If you’re reading this, Charlar – and I know you’re a huge fan of Claudia’s work – how about it?

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13 thoughts on “Mesh and Sculpts: the art of Claudia222 Jewell

  1. Ayesha Askham

    I’d be lying if I didn’t say how impressed with Claudia’s work I am. This use of Mesh together with sculpted prims is the most persuasive argument for the deployment of Mesh to the SL grid that I’ve seen so far. Mesh clothes? I believe the current “in” phrase is “Meh!”, but this sort of creative Artwork is wonderful, and does not leave me as unmoved. One can argue about the kakk-handed implementation of the software to support Mesh on the SL grid, and the inherent unfairness of the costs of the significant hardware upgrade required to visualise it, but for those who can work in that medium it is clearly a whole new playground. It is just a shame that to allow such creative folk to express themselves, so many others have had their chosen means of expression ruined.

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    1. Inara Pey Post author

      Claudia’s work is completely amazing; Given her birds come in with a Land Impact (PE) of 3, and that they could well end up being a 2 with sculpties, it’s testament to what can be achieved with care and attention when creating mesh models.

      Clothing is currently an issue – as Max Graff can well atest; but there are signes from the Mesh User Group that LL are working to address the issue, and we may well see it resolved in the coming months.

      I’m not sure that I entirely agree with the “unfairness” of costs – although I do find myself sitting in the middle of the road when it comes to this. On the one hand, I can broadly understand the technical aspects of what is going on. Up until now we’ve see sculpts and complex prims and tortured prims simply given a comparable “cost” as the humble cube prim (i.e. 1-for-1), whereas in reality they “cost” (especially the Viewer / client computer); so on a tehcnical level, LL could be said to be levelling the playing field.

      The flip side of this is, of course, that we’re all so used to usig prims and sculpts, etc. with the basic prim count system, that we don’t actually care about the technical “reality” of things. The result is, whether we accept it or not – it is seen as some deeper conspiracy on the part of Linden Lab. The fact that a 50-sculpt creation could well be putting people’s graphics systems under some strain in order to download and render (that sculpts do require more resources can be seen in the time it takes for them to “pop up” on your screen in their proper shape), and that strain is potentially greater on the rendering computer than had the same object been created as a mesh object, is niether here nor there for the majority of us: we simply see the sculpts count as 50 prims, whereas the mesh object could count as 50 – or could equally count as 75, 90 or 150. Similarly, the potential knock-on effects of the mesh object (reduction in rendering time, reduction in lag, etc., everyone experiences when in rendering range of the object, are also ignored.

      I’ve gone out on a limb and stated this several times in the past – but I also don’t think that in certain markets, mesh need have any significantly higher impact than prims/sculpts currently do. Take vehicles as an example. Several care makers in SL tend to provide 2 copies of their vehicles. One is a highly-detailed static model costing perhaps 100-150 prims, that is purely for display purposes. They alo proive a “low-detail” model of under 32 prims that one can drive. 100+ prims is a huge prim count simply for a static model – yet some are willing to sacrifice it. With mesh, they won’t have to. It’s perfectly feasible to have a highly-detailed car that can be both driven and displayed. Houses are much the same. Where’s the difference in having a prim / sculpt house costing 200 prims and a mesh house with far greater detail at an equivalent cost? Or, as is entirely possible, a mesh house that is of greater detail and “costs” less?

      This is not to say that mesh is necessarily the great saviour of Second Life – there are issues around it. The nature of SL being what it is means that there is kludge element as to how LL have implemented mesh, and this will continue the bite them. LL also haven’t helped themselves in the manner in which mesh support has been rolled out. To return to clothing: those wanting mesh capabilities on the grid (and remember, it has been users who have been demanding it as much as LL trying to implement it) have waited well over 2 years to see it arrive. Would another 2-3 months wait really have hurt things in order to ensure the initial release included a basic parametric deformer to aid people in fitting clothes? Not really. Linden Lab have also, as usual, been exceedingly weak when it has come to communicating the relative strengths and weaknesses of mesh objects in SL – indeed, clearly communicating what “mesh” actually is (this and other blogs tend to have many comments along the lines of “OK, I don’t understand, what is this “mesh” stuff?”).

      I’m not sure I entire agree on the “significant hardware upgrade” people require. While SL does have a significant hardware specification, that’s not down to the introduction of mesh; Ghosty Kipps has blogged on his experiences using Henri’s Cool VL Viewer on a 7-year old Pentium 4 1Gb RAM and an nVidia 7300 graphics cared – and he reports mesh renders “really well” on his system.

      Mesh will force changes as to how we see and do things, I don’t deny that. It also has the potential to improve the overall user experience. Again, LL could help here be doing more to educate people about it, as mentioned above. At the end of the day, however, the fact remains that if the majority don’t like seeing what they are seeing in terms of “unfair” Land Impact, etc., – then the chances are they are not going to engage with it and will continue to prefer prims, and it’ll remain a niche market element. And LL certainly isn’t stupid enough to end the in-world creative capabilities inherent in Second Life. Removing things like sculpts from the grid isn’t really an option – they’d end up breaking far too much content. Even trying to be more open and honest about the “real” cost of using sculpties is going to meet with a backlash – although I rather suspect this will be the route they take going forward, even through people will interpret it as being “unfair” and a sign there is a conspiracy going on.

      In this regard, LL are caught between a rock and hard place. But then, had they given more thought to things back when preparing the way for sculpts – or at least when solid plans for the introduction of mesh were being drawn up, they could have perpahps laid better foundations and been more atuned to ensuring that mesh wasn’t so much a “there’s goo news and there’s bad news” situation as it seems to be right now. Particualrly as people will always tend to focus on the bad.

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  2. Thunda Masala

    Technicalities aside, it is fun to talk to Claudia222Jewell, if you can get her to chat. After a long persistent ‘pokings’, I have been successful a little. She is a master craftsperson in her field. Can’t wait to see her build for Burn2.

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    1. Inara Pey Post author

      I have to say I found Claudia a delight to chat with :). She easily supplied enough for me to write a couple of articles on her work and on SL / mesh in general! I really appreciated and enjoyed the time she gave me, and the opportunty to visit her pieces at Jass as well as having a further reason to drool my away around Mesh Mellows :).

      The BURN2 work is stunning even as a work-in-progress; the finished item is going to be amazing. I’m also looking forwrd to seeing LEA’s The Path next month, and could be camped out at her sim from November, should that come to fruition. I just hope that by then I’ve bent my head around machinima and filming in-world!

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  3. Ayesha Askham

    Inara, you misunderstand me. What I was referring to was the cost in Real World hard cash of the equipment necessary both to render and to create Mesh objects in SL. I do think that forcing existing users to upgrade way beyond what they might reasonably be expected to do over time is a losing strategy on Linden Lab’s part.
    The quality of the product (notwithstanding clothes) is undoubted.

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    1. Inara Pey Post author

      I’m sorry, I still don’t agree.

      As far as rendering mesh is concerned – again, see my comments re: Ghosty Kips and low-end systems. Mesh shouldn’t make any real impact on SL’s hardware specification beyond what we already have (and indeed it hasn’t, according the system requirements page) – so I don’t get your argument that it is “forcing” people to upgrade to render mesh objects.

      Similarly, if you have a computer capable of running SL – you more than likely have a computer capable of creating mesh objects. Where’s the increased costs? Software *might* be considered an issue – if you only look at the likes of Maya and other high-end tools, but the fact is, most creators are using Blender; there is also Wing3D – both of which are free. And Blender’s low-end and “good” specs are broadly equitable to those of Second Life.

      Again, my PC is 4+ years old now. It’s not the latest spec CPU-wise (Q6600), although it is a quad core, admittedly. My graphics card is also not in the upper reaches of nVidia’s pantheon, being a GE9800 GT, itself a 3-year old card itself largely modelled on the older GE8800 GT. I run Blender perfectly well on this system. Admittedly, I had the graphics card upgraded last year – but not because of SL: the fan on the original 8600 card started making the most excruciatingly horrible noise inside the computer & was diagnosed as being on its deathbed.

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        1. Inara Pey Post author

          I think the only major hardware issue people have WRT things is that Viewer 2.x+ requires sse2 support, so in that regard, many older systems are hamstrung when it comes to things – possibly moreso now the Phoenix non-SSE2 option is officially coming to an end. However, this has always been the case with Viewer 2, and mesh has been built on that requirement, rather than creating it.

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