Fine Art and Minecraft

If you aren’t into gaming at all and don’t have kids, you might have never heard of Minecraft but more than likely, at this stage you know what it is. Actually either situation is grand, because I’m going to share with you the way I utilize Minecraft as an artist (and as a disabled artist at that!) and following along requires no previous experience with the game. Very often video games are dismissed as a massive waste of time, energy and intellect, played by isolated people with no social life or skills. I’ve rarely found this to be the case and in fact, with some games, like Minecraft, I’ve found the exact opposite.

So, without further ado – there’s this game called Minecraft. It’s like virtual legos in that the majority of the world functions with blocks. Then there are tools, foods and a few decorative items and farming materials, etc.

The beauty of Minecraft is that you are literally only limited by your own imagination. As a gamer and an artist, it satisfies a lot of my interests. As a disabled person, it facilitates the ability to be endlessly creative while I am in too much pain to make or do anything “in real life”.

Recently I found a group on Facebook called Gaming Mommies (Website here!) and joined their Minecraft server with my daughter and husband. While many servers (and online communities in general) can be plagued by jerks who enjoy stealing and ruining things, the Gaming Mommies (GM from now on) server is chalk full of kind, considerate, generous, fun and hilarious people who make up a wonderful community where I’ve made a bunch of new friendships.

I found an island for my own personal base, which my daughter and husband joined me on, and set up shop. I have a massive house, a farming section at the back end of the island and a massive underground project going on as well. Here’s the front of the island with my house, and my wee farming set up:

I spend a good chunk of my time, when stuck on the couch (and sometimes just for pure enjoyment!) collaborating with people, helping people, surprising people with in game gifts like excellent tools or armor or fun builds or working on projects solo.

Shortly after I joined the server, two things happened. The first was a long time member of the server, a 22 year old lad, died of cancer. I won’t post his name for privacy sake, but you can read about him on the GM website. The group was devastated and while his health was going down hill almost the entire server marked their homes and transport points with jack o’lanterns, which he loved, as an act of solidarity and statement of love. Losing him devastated so many and the Facebook group was flooded with memorials, screen shots of fun memories in game with him and stories of how he impacted them. No one part of that group, no matter for how long (days for me) could see the out pouring of grief and memories and not be moved. I ached for my new friends.

The second thing that happened, was I met some women who call themselves the “Crazy Map Ladies”. They make artwork using in game maps (which I will explain in a minute) and sell it in a Gallery they built in our community market.

Here’s the first pieces I saw from them – seasonal trees 🙂2015-07-29_13.33.12
(And yes, the server is that involved 🙂 We have a community area based around our “Command Tower”, a town set up with shops and houses for show, a functional Market for trading and buying materials, and our own bases further out for our own individual work. There’s also holiday centers and fun gaming areas, mazes, entertaining builds and pixel art areas. So wonderful!) 

After seeing what the Crazy Map Ladies (CML from now on) achieved with creating art on maps, I immediately sent a message to them asking if I could join their group and create maps with them. They conferred and agreed and off I went 🙂

So, how does this work? Well, in game you use various materials to create a physical blank map. The whole entire landscape in a Minecraft world is divided up into a grid that you do not see, but when you open a blank map it becomes set to that specific 128 block by 128 block section of the world. It is a top down view of the area, with different blocks in game being represented by different colors on the map.

Here’s a screen shot so you can see what I mean


The greens are trees and grass, the browns are bridges and paths, the greys are walls, etc. It’s not overly detailed, but it’s representative enough to help you navigate in game. You can also map your area and hang it on the wall as a picture.

Players of Minecraft figured out that if you terraform (change the landscape – in this case flattening it out) the land and lay down  specific colors via colored wool blocks or carpets, you can create pictures. So in the picture above, with the seasonal trees, each tree is two maps and each map is 128×128 blocks of flat land with colored wool laid down so that when you view the map, you actually see a picture, instead of the landscape. So you literally turn the flat ground into a giant picture that registers on the map in your hand. There’s more pictures to follow that help explain 🙂

First here is a video from GMs CML Dani, that can help make it clear what I am trying to explain. You also get to see our gallery and working area as well, and it fully shows you the sheer scale we work on:

The first project we worked on when I joined the CML group was LOVE by Robert Indiana.


Each letter was going to be a separate map, placed in a 2 map x 2 map formation to recreate the piece on peoples walls of their own builds.

Here’s a picture of a finished letter and in the back ground you can see the flat green and red used to make the picture.


The tiny white tear drop is where I am physically standing in relation to the map laid out on the ground! Essentially each square of carpet or block used for color is 1 pixel of a picture.

Yes, doing this is a LOT of work 🙂

Here’s the finished piece on the wall in my own storage area:


It’s a bit far away, sorry, but that’s the finished product. 2×2 maps, one map for each letter, creating the finished piece.

So, onto the point of this post. Aside from this being a way I love to spend time creating art with women I thoroughly enjoy, we recently worked on a piece that had a big impact on me.

The owner of GM, Torimili (Tonya), asked us if we could use a character portrait of the lad who passed away, to create an art map portrait of him, to hang in the memorial library the server members had built.

Here’s the stunning library that the server members came together to create to honor their passed friend:

2015-09-09_10.57.48 2015-09-09_11.06.37It’s literally one of the most stunning builds I have ever seen in person in Minecraft. Amazing job.

Here’s the character portrait she was referring to that she wanted us to turn into a portrait physically in the game:

Now the challenge with this map, aside from the emotional impact, is that the colors are so complex and we have a very limited color palette to work from in game. It would literally be our most challenging map we’d ever done, with the CMLs who had been part of the group longer than I have, having done Starry Night by Van Gogh (which you can see in the youtube video above).

The first thing we had to do was figure out just how extensively our palette could stretch. That meant moving past wool and trying out a myriad of other blocks in game, to see if they would show up on maps as new, original colors we hadn’t known about. Multiple blocks actually show up the same color on maps, so this was a matter of trial and error. The CML women ran around mining, borrowing and grinding (gamer speak for gathering) for more materials to do a test palette in preparation for the memorial portrait, while the administrators of the server pitched in with items we just couldn’t effectively mine in such a short amount of time.

Here’s what we eventually achieved:


We ended up discovering several new colors, but the palette is still extremely limited. However, the level at which you place a block matters to coloring, so if you “step” blocks beside each other, one higher than the previous, and then the next one higher again, etc, you can achieve shades of the base color, which adds approximately 3 shades  to every color on the palette depending if you step the blocks north to south or south to north.

After this project was finished we created a finalized color palette reference map for future projects that includes basic shading and here’s what it looks like:


That is the full extent of possible colors we can use when creating an art map. We made it over another map for fun lol.

Color theory has always been the thing I struggle most with as an artist. In fact I often use my thread sculptures as experimental ways to understand color theory better by using a myriad of different colors I normally wouldn’t to achieve realistic coloring.

Here’s one of my thread sculptures which uses 16 different colors, as an example:


Visually I can only pick out maybe 8 colors there, but I am learning how color matching and contrasting colors can be used to create realistic work. Creating this memorial portrait for the servers lost friend really pushed and tested my abilities with color theory and understanding.

Normally we create maps flat, with minimal stepping, but the detail in the memorial map meant we had to really get creative in order to achieve the amount of detail in the original picture.

Our mapping area actually ended up looking like this, instead of a flat blocked in field like you can see in Danis’ youtube video above. In the distance you can see our color palette test map as well!:


Looks like a mess, hey? But when you hold up a map? This is what you see:


Success! Wild, hey? I get so excited by the whole process.

It really makes you think differently in terms of 3D, shading and color theory.

As an artist it has actually pushed me forward with color theory immensely. I am not even sure I can explain in words, how. As a disabled artist doing this in Minecraft allows me to build large scale complex things without hurting or exhausting myself. I absolutely use it as a tool to inform my own physical real life art now.

I find it satisfying to be able to build large scale things – something I physically cannot do in real life anymore. We are often asked for commissions and between this and my building abilities in general in the game, I am often busy with collaboration or arting and have even built a new house for a new player. I feel useful without pain, I am socializing without increasing my pain, I can be generous in ways I can’t anymore in real life and I am unlimited in game by my real life limits.

It’s wonderful.

I have also made friendships I will cherish for the rest of my life. The idea that the socializing in gaming communities isn’t real or valid is such a negative and short sighted way to look at things. When I see the impact the lad who passed away had on the server, I know for a fact that he changed those peoples lives for the better. I know for a fact that what we do matters to peoples happiness and enjoyment during their days. I know we support each other, laugh together, work together, cooperate together, compete with each other and enhance each others days and weeks. And our kids are involved too!

The memorial portrait in particular really affected me. Some of the people closest to the lad who passed couldn’t work on the library or memorial projects because the loss they felt as his best friends on the server was too great. I didn’t know him because he was too sick to be online before he passed away, but helping create the library and the memorial portrait was a tangible thing I could do to support my new friends in their grief.

It really meant a lot to me to be able to do. It’s something I would be limited from doing for real life friends (but I have other ways to support them) but look what I could be a part of accomplishing in game!

Minecraft, friendships, art and disability. Who knew? Hopefully more people now 🙂

Take care!

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