Monday, November 16, 2009

Creative conversations

Greetings again!

I was talking to my dear friend, Miss Breezy Carver, about a commission gone wrong last week. She suggested perhaps I should tell the world at large what it's like being a creative genius in SL. All right maybe not genius, but at least brilliantly talented, awesomely modest digital seamstress. No? Well, let us speak about design then, and what it takes to bring a gown to life in Second Life.

I am going into my third year of designing in Second Life. I started out with a hunger to make gowns that didn't look like overturned Tupperware bowls that flapped in the wind. Omar the Tent maker would have been proud of some the very ghastly things I saw in the summer of 2007. Add to that blingy stilettos, and it made me cringe. Try as I might, I could not find virtual clothing that suited my own personal style and taste. So I set out to make my own.

My very first gown was called, 'Dark Fires'. It was made with a full perm skirt and freebie textures. Even then I tended towards strong, contrasting colors in the warm hues. The skirt texture was a glass texture, and in using it, I felt the first sharp pull of what it meant to be a creator in SL.

My personal real life background includes over 30 years of sewing experience, as well as all the little skills that go with that. Bead work, embroidery, needlepoint, painting on fabrics, making costumes, and more. I have made Ren faire and Halloween costumes for family and friends, as well as strangers who emailed me measurements! The upshot of that is I know how all kinds of cloth moves and flows in the real world.

Then I found SL. The first year was spent learning the skills needed to make gowns. I wanted my gowns to move like real cloth, not flapping in the 'wind' or standing stiffly. Then there was the matter of design. It's not just a matter of slapping pretty textures on prims. I once heard another person say she'd spent the weekend making 200 gowns. That is not a typo. The gowns were all the same, but with different textures. That to me is not designing gowns. That is a desperate attempt to wring lindens from folks with no sense of style. She no longer sells gowns or anything else, having moved on out of SL. This is not a get rich quick way to make money.

But back to how to do what I do. I went to every building class I could find. Out of the two or three hundred classes I've done over the years, only about six were clothing. But what I was learning to do was manipulate prims. Making a house or a set of furniture or a necklace all teach different things. So I did that, and made gowns. Mostly my gowns were made in appearance and were what I still call slider clothing. That's because of the slider you use to move the lengths around. I finally made my own skirts, first with looprez, then on my own. It is all a matter of practice and focus. Oh and passion!

My skills grew, but I had one major stumbling block. I knew I would never reach the next level of design until I could make my own textures. Specifically, I needed to be able to make bodices, corsets, glitch skirts, and better textures for skirts. In short, I needed to be able to manufacture the textures to my standards.

I learned GIMP. It sucked. It took me three months to do the classes, which were a gift from my sister, Ghilayne. Did I mention it sucked? I had all these ideas in my head, but I couldn't get them from head to SL! Then I had a falling off the fence learning moment and suddenly GIMP made sense! I started making things! They were clumsy at first, then my sister gifted me with the second great gift. For Christmas she gave me a Wacom pad. Now if you don't know what that is, it is a pen tablet that hooks up to your computer. By using that I could do even more detailed work in GIMP on textures. I suddenly found out what I wanted to do in SL, reproduce historical gowns.

My first gown was inspired by Charles F. Worth. Here is the original gown, which took my breath away when I saw it the first time!

from that, came this:

That, from the moment I found the pictures and made the textures, until the product was boxed, the ad made, and everything set out, took about a week. I've had lots of practice since that first Worth gown, which came out a year ago this month. But it can still take up to a full week for a gown, depending on details and prim work that might be needed.

Now, let's return to dear Miss Breezy and the commission gone wrong. The lady I was to do the gown for asked for a dance hall girl's gown in pink with low cut bodice and under bust corset. Can do! I set a price for her, then told her I thought I could have it ready the next evening. Now usually I don't move that quickly on a commission, but this seemed simple enough. I spent several hours on the gown, finding the cloth textures, working up the main textures and then doing the prim work to complete the gown. In total there was about 8-9 hours into it. From that effort came this:

Lovely isn't it? She didn't want it. It wasn't deeply enough cut in the cleavage, it wasn't her style, but she did find the corset stunning and offered to buy that.

My temper flared, my blood pressure shot up, but I said nothing. Instead I just thanked her and closed out the IM. Then I started taking deep breaths to calm down. I had just spent 8 hours on a commission just to be told 'nah, not really my style, but I'll take the corset'. I try to cut people slack, they have no clue what's on my side of the screen, the work involved with making even the simplest textures. But it is thoughtless and rude to commission a gown and then not pay for it. I don't really care if it was her style or not. I had pointed out the gowns on the shop walls around us and asked her if she was sure she wished me to do a gown. This was when she first approached me about it. She said yes, she was sure. What she really wanted though was a copy of the gown she was wearing, but in pink. I'm convinced it was a man, playing a female, playing a lady of the evening in a Western sim. Why? Because her bosom was hanging out like a cow begging to be milked. What she wanted was a gown that had nothing between the hanging mounds of flesh on her chest. I did point out that the black lace on the gown is transparent, and that the cloth part edges the nipple, but it still wasn't what she wanted.

I'm ranting again, poor Breezy, she had to listen to me the first time! So did my sister, who just shook her head, patted my clenched fist, and pointed out that I could now sell the gown on the open market. That cheered me a little bit, but really after a while I just had to laugh and move on. The gown now sits on the open market, and I will make more in that line so that the dance hall girls of the Western sims have something to wear!

I am not the only designer this kind of commission fiasco has ever happened too, and it is because of things like that that most designers reach a point where they refuse any more commission work.

In conclusion, don't commission a gown and then not pay for it. Be aware that the person making that gown is doing some fairly serious work. Textures don't just fall off the internet and onto an avatar. There are many time consuming steps between point A and YOU.

If you want to do this kind of thing, if you want to be a clothing designer in SL, be prepared to practice, practice, practice. Again, textures do not just fall out of thin air. You must put time, effort, thought and WORK into designing good clothing in SL. To design magnificently detailed clothing, you really must work your tush off. There is no free ride, except for copybots and that ilk. I cannot infuse you with knowledge. I can only tell you my journey to this point in time has taken two years of long hours and obsessive attention to detail. I study clothing of the era, I've learned about designers like Worth, Redfern, Paquin, Lucille, Felix, and others. I've spent hours reading and researching, buying real books to add to a growing reference library on period fashions. I also try to stretch myself creatively. That might mean taking jaunts off into unexpected design directions, and only in that way can I find what makes me smile.

I am following my Bliss. Because of that my life has gone in unexpected directions on occasion. I hope that you, too, will find and follow your own Bliss. It is a very worthwhile journey, believe me!

Cordially yours,