Chinese Scholars Garden

Moon Gate frames the Tang Dynasty style mansion of the Chinese Scholar's Garden on Qoheleth in Second LifeI keep meaning to post about this project that I did last summer in Second Life. Here it is finally.

My friend Grath Helgerud asked me to build a Chinese Scholar’s Garden for him in Second Life, after seeing an exhibit about these intriguing gardens at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Without knowing anything at all about what that meant, I accepted the challenge. As I began to research the style, I uncovered a vast new universe of thought that drew me in more deeply as I worked. This is not Chinoiserie — European impressions of China — this is authentic China, a world that fascinates me by being so “other”.

Chinese Scholar’s Gardens are an art form that flourished in China from the 10th-18th centuries. Creating one of these gardens was a favored leisure pursuit of the scholar class, a way to create a spiritual retreat from the pressures of professional life. Complex design principles produced a spiritual retreat within interior courtyards of the scholar’s home.  Waterways are surrounded by carefully arranged rock gardens, trees and plants that all have poetic meaning, forming meticulously composed vistas. Pathways lead one on a journey, drawing you into it more and more deeply, offering interesting views and perspectives at each turn, framed by pavilions, halls, gates and windows.

Song Dynasty style tea house in the Chinese Scholar's Garden on Qoheleth in Second LifeThis was a challenging project because it required me to think in a completely different way. In the Western world we are more accustomed to a house surrounded by a park-like garden; this is a garden surrounded by a house. Architecture and sculpture are important elements; a Chinese garden is “built” as an abstraction and stylization of nature. It wouldn’t do to simply scatter some nice plants and trees around. Mathematical proportions must be precise; plants, rocks and structures have specific meanings and must be selected and placed just so. The end result is an immersion experience that takes you on a journey. Following the asymmetrical garden path, you encounter a variety of spatial connections as you pass from one section to another, being presented with new and pleasing views at every turn.

Everything in the garden has significance; there is meaning attached to every plant, every rock, every shape. It was more than simply a calm place for painting, poetry, calligraphy, study and music. To build a garden, a scholar had to understand fengshui, botany, hydraulics, philosophy, history, literature, poetry and architecture. The garden was considered a measure of his knowledge as well as a showcase of his aesthetic taste.

Meditating at the Water Pavilion in the Chinese Scholar's Garden on Qoheleth in Second LifeI had no such knowledge, of course. I was very fortunate to discover the work of the fabulously talented Ryusho Ort, who immediately impressed me with the beauty, technical virtuosity and authenticity of his Chinese buildings. We started with his Dragon and Phoenix Hall in the Ming dynasty style, and added others in Song and Tang dynasty styles. Ryu coached me along the way, and helped us create a very pleasing retreat.

Even the plantings were a challenge, since the design requires very specific types of plants and trees, not all of which are readily available in Second Life. It took quite awhile to find good quality flowering plum trees, peonies, and grasses. Bamboo, banana and lotus were a little easier, but I never did find the right type of orchid, or the quintessential Taihu rocks.

I was happy, though, to be able to find an excellent family of Mandarin Ducks and multicolored Koi to grace the ponds.

Naturally, spending time in the Chinese Garden required the proper attire! I am pictured here wearing Nicky Ree’s magnificent Phoenix Gown.

You can see the entire set of 16 photos on my Flickr page.

To learn more about Chinese Scholar’s Gardens, I recommend the Wikipedia page as well as this video as a good starting place. The Missouri Botanical Garden has another nice introduction on their website. On the Asian Historical Architecture website you can take in-depth photo tours of some of the famous gardens of Suzhou, China such as the Humble Administrator’s Garden, Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty, and the Master-of-Nets Garden.

Click here to visit this Chinese Scholar’s Garden in Second Life. Grath has since added a few non-Chinese items, but there are still plenty of places to sit and relax, cuddle or slow dance. It’s a great place to visit for contemplation, meditation or relaxation — just like the originals were.

Top Quality Creators Who License for Other Grids

In my last post I discussed new opportunities for Opensimulator builders to obtain high-quality textures and sculpts from SL artists who are willing to license their products for Opensimulator virtual worlds.

In this post, I’d like to applaud some of the cooperating artists. Below I have listed some of Second Life’s top creators of high-end textures and/or sculpts who offer “other grid” licenses. I encourage you to support these artists by buying their products, so that they will be encouraged to continue to support OpenSim builders and help us improve the quality of our life here.

Note that in some cases, their products are sold only in SL or on the SL Marketplace, so you would need a Second Life account to receive delivery of the product or to contact the artist. Even if you are not currently active in Second Life, you might consider keeping an account there just for this purpose. One of my friends thinks of it like this: he lives in the suburbs, and occasionally visits the big city for a shopping trip!


Please suggest any other premium content creators you’ve worked with who license for Opensimulator.

Studio Skye – Alex Bader. Alex has just started making his outstanding textures available for download from his website. No Second Life account needed.

Primmersive Designworks / E&D Engineering – Eryn Republic, Texture Engineer. Excellent, hyper-realistic textures, emphasis on postmodern, dystopian, industrial. Custom design available. Contact them for licensing info.  (Second Life account required to receive delivery)

TRU Textures Ltd. – LillyBeth Filth (Elizabeth Gallagher) Extensive selection of quality textures available for download from website. No Second Life account needed.

Anthonys Republic. High quality sculpts. Choose between one-time license covering all products, or pay as you go. (Second Life account required to receive delivery)

Twisted Thorn Textures – Nighty Goodspeed. Only a small selection available on Marketplace; see SL in-world store for much more. Choose between one-time other-grid license covering all products, or pay as you go. (Second Life account required to receive delivery)

Door and Texture Store – VonGklugelstein Alter. Really useful materials for creating buildings. Contact VonGklugelstein Alter in SL for licensing info.  (Second Life account required to receive delivery)

Panther 3D – Adaarye Shikami. Some textures available in SL at Twisted Thorn. Contact Adaarye Shikami for licensing info.  (Second Life account required to receive delivery)

Jubjubs Stuff – Jubjub Forder. Several highly useful sculpts. Contact Jubjub Forder for licensing info.  (Second Life account required to receive delivery)

Svo Michalak. Very nice sculpts of useful landscaping, food, tools and assorted other objects. He told me once that other-grid licensing is assumed for all his products however I would suggest that you contact him yourself to make sure.  (Second Life account required to receive delivery)

FUD – Happyholly Grigges. Some good trees and other items. Contact Happyholly Grigges for licensing info. (Second Life account required to receive delivery)

CFD Cloud Factory Designs – Areku Shirakawa. Furniture sculpts. Contact Areku Shirakawa for licensing info. (Second Life account required to receive delivery)

FLECHA – Flecha Warwillow. Contact Flecha Warwillow for licensing info.  (Second Life account required to receive delivery)

S.Town Sculpties – CrashOV Uladstron. Contact CrashOV Uladstron for licensing info.   (Second Life account required to receive delivery)

Please suggest any other premium content creators you’ve worked with who license for Opensimulator.

Bringing High End Textures to Opensim

The fact that everything is free in many Opensimulator grids may feel like a refreshing change for those who came from Second Life, where capitalism reigns. No money! No economy! Content creators freely share what they make. Take everything you want – it’s free!

On the other hand, it also presents a challenge for builders, especially those for whom quality is important. Most suppliers of high-end building materials in Second Life – textures and sculpts especially – are professional graphic artists who make a living at content creation. Not many of them are willing to provide materials for use in Opensim. They are, understandably, reluctant to give their livelihood away in a grid where they can’t easily be reimbursed. Without their supplies, quality materials are not plentiful.

Thus, Opensim builders typically have been faced with difficult choices. We can try to rely on whatever freebies are available here, which can be hit or miss. A few builders, sadly, simply steal materials. Others do their best to learn to make their own original textures, sculpts, scripts and animations, and while that’s probably the best solution, the learning curve can be extremely overwhelming.

However, there is another option. As OpenSim based grids like OSgrid grow in popularity, more and more creators of high-end building materials are willing to license their textures and sculpts for use on other grids, not just the commercial grids like Second Life, Avination or Inworldz. If you want the best quality, and if you are willing to pay a few pennies for it, you now have a lot more options.

We would like to thank these pioneering content creators for their willingness to support OSgrid builders. In my next post, I list their names and URLs. I hope that all OSgrid builders who value quality will support their businesses, as they support us by enriching our world.

We want to encourage high-end content creators to continue providing great textures and sculpts for use in Opensimulator. Support goes both ways. If we expect them to support us, we must be willing to return the favor – by buying their products, and also by treating them with respect:

  • PLEASE respect licensing agreements. If the license says you don’t have permission to export building materials to other grids, don’t do it, no matter how much you want the item.
  • It is NEVER okay to give away purchased textures. It is okay to share things you made with the textures, but not the textures themselves. Do not pass textures to friends. Do not share textures.
  • When you use a purchased texture, do not give out your creation with full permissions. Make it no-transfer or no-copy. If you need to make something that is both copy and transfer, use only building materials whose creator clearly intended them to be freely shared.
  • If you have permission to export a texture to Opensim, do not re-import the texture into Second Life. This is the main transgression that stops most content creators from supporting Opensim. Also, if you make something in Opensim using a purchased texture or sculpt map, and import that item into Second Life. replace the texture or sculpt with the purchased version that shows the original artist as the creator.

If you don’t respect licensing agreements, you are only hurting yourself. Every time you use a texture or sculpt without permission, you make it less likely that high-quality textures and sculpts will continue to be available for to Opensim. Maybe you don’t want them; but when you don’t respect licensing agreements, you help to close off the supply to other builders who do want them. So please respect your fellow builders as well as the content creators whose work enriches our virtual world.