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