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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

ART FOR ART'S SAKE

Or, Artemis for art's sake. An education in life drawing, in immersive real time...

When the students arrived to take Nylon Pinkney's inaugural life drawing class last week, they found the live model they were supposed to sketch had gone AWOL. Artemis Fate had come to draw with them, but when the model didn't show, the sleek catwoman with ebony skin stripped her clothes off, tossed them into inventory, and struck a pose on the stage herself.

In a life drawing class, art students bring their easels and their drawing implements, assemble around a small stage or platform, on which a model (usually nude) holds a pose, while the students try to capture the nuances of the human form. After some time, students usually get to go around and have a look at their classmates' sketches, and maybe the teacher has a few comments to offer, too. A Second Life drawing class is more or less the same thing, except for the digital upload that has to happen in the middle.

"The goal of these art classes is to bring art back into Second Life, like it used to be," teacher Judy Brodie explains to me. The studio where she teaches levitates on the snowy slopes of Cottonwood, a casual-funky place with couches and divans, so hipster art aficionados can lounge about while they watch the life sketches progress. "Plus Second Life needs more classes that are not just newb classes," she adds, referring to the introductory building/scripting tutorials, for new users.

The class itself was put together by Nylon, but Judy is filling in for her, this session. (Ms. Pinkney's Internet connection fritzed up at the worst possible moment, but Judy had volunteered to help out, a few days earlier.) "This is mostly for those who have been doing art for awhile but we have beginner classes also," says Judy. Herself an art student in real life, she now teaches very basic drawing skills to SL students with no previous experience ("I just train people to stop using stick figures"), so they can graduate into Nylon's more advanced classes.

Displaying their work on the gallery easels involves a new application of basic Second Life technology. Using whatever medium they prefer, students draw the live model offline, then convert the image to a digital file, and upload that in-world, right onto an available blank canvas in Nylon's studio. During the first session, one student uses a stylus hooked up to Photoshop, but most of them draw right from pencil and paper, scanning the finished product (or in one case, taking a photo of it with a digital camera.)

Once uploaded, it's there in Second Life for everyone in the studio to see.

Hensonian Pennyfeather laughs, peering at his own efforts. "Not bad for someone who never draws, but boy is mine full of flaws."

"Never discourage a flaw," Judy says, over his shoulder.

"You've encouraged me to draw, and I never draw," Pennyfeather says to her, grateful. "I'm acutally surprised that I got what I did out of it."

A few easels over, Baron Grayson is down on his sketch, too. "For art I always took classes like pottery because I like to work with my hands. But drawing..." he trails off, shuddering.

"I'm starting a beginner art class every Sunday starting May 1st," Judy tells me. "Then I'll give them over to Nylon in two months."

The original inspiration for Nylon Pinkney's in-world life drawing class came, she tells me later, from a 2D web-based version of the technology. "I use to go to a website forum where they posted pictures and you drew your own interpretation of the image," she says. "It was very cool, a lot of diverse artists and a lot of professional artists too, participated... The posters gave advice and criticism to each other and as a result, I think it helped me become a better artist." Largely on the strength of that, she's been able to carve out a semi-professional career for herself, "[L]ike making flyers for local bands and illustrations for websites and stuff, or online programs, anything to keep me busy. I mostly just draw for myself, but sometimes I get paid, which is awesome."

So she was looking for a similar learning/teaching experience in Second Life, but the closest she could find was an event called Art Ambush. "[W]hat basically happened was they give you one or two words and you come up with a drawing based on that in 30 minutes or so," says Nylon. "Usually the themes were simple like, 'cat and car', or 'pizza'. The majority of people who go to this event are furries, who basically all draw in anime style. Not that there's anything wrong with anime or furries, but it's not exactly my kind of crowd." Partnering up with her friend Toast Bard, Freestyle Art was launched.

Since holding a customized pose in Second Life is just a matter of taking it from your inventory and pressing Play, Artemis Fate was able to be both model and artist-- her own elegant, fine-lined sketch is depicted in the screenshot above right. But if self-portraits came easy to her, posing nude in-world had its own unique challenges.

"I usually don't mind running around nude [in SL]," she tells me, "but this feels slightly weird."

"How come?" I ask.

"Not sure," Artemis says. "Guess it's with the realization of the fact that I know people are looking, whereas that's a matter of debate otherwise." It's not because her avatar has any resemblance to her offline self ("not at all"), but for subtler reasons.

"I have a pretty surprising connection to the avatar," says Artemis Fate. "It's more of an extension of my psychological being then just an AV. It's pretty subconsciously ingrained, I don't even know if I could tell you."

I'd be the first to acknowledge that: trying to explain the odd relation of avatar to self is hard to put across in words. Then again, maybe it'd be better if an artist drew it out, instead.

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Comments

This is great. I wanted to attend but missed it! Art is such a natural model...

Posted by: Torley at Apr 26, 2005 2:59:16 AM

Dang, if I had known I got to see Artemis naked I would have taken the class too! Nice tail!

Posted by: Urizenus Sklar at Apr 26, 2005 9:45:10 AM

Hehe it was a little weird, especially when Judy started talking about "observing her shapes" but it was fun to see the pictures done of me and what people focused on.

Kudos for Munch and Toast for their lovely renditions of me too :P

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