I recently had the honour to have an interview with Karen Kim to speak about my involvement with Shadowness.
Shadowness is an enigma of an art community. By name, it is a shadow-- something elusive and dark. And yet, the founding concept by which it thrives is light. It is a community which brings notoriety to artists through tools like Facebook Connect. The people who are usually "behind curtains" at other websites (the founder, the administrators, and the moderators) are on the forefront. And in today's interview, instead of feeding you with mythological histories, we aim to provide more light and insight into the site by interviewing its founder, /7Shadows , Meng To, himself. Perhaps, after this process, we will better understand what makes Shadowness such a paradox.
Tell us about yourself.
I'm a 29 year old self-taught graphic designer and photography-lover from Montreal. I've been designing user interfaces and coding Websites for over 12 years. I'm a very passionate guy, so everything that can lead to serious addiction has probably hit me in the past-- *Hints WoW*. That's one reason why Shadowness has had so many versions in the past, and why I never really got it as successful as I could have. My past self never had the discipline necessary to outweigh my addictions. Addiction in itself is not a negative thing, but without moderation, it can rapidly destabilize you, and before you know it, your sleeping patterns are off, you don't take the time to eat well and you feel completely dissatisfied about yourself. 2011 has been a real eye opener. This year, I really started to take control of my passion and stopped letting it run me. In a generation where a large population work at home, you got to deal with the distractions and embark on a healthy schedule where you sleep 8 hours, never nap and always let your motivations run high.
How did you come up with the name Shadowness?
About 15 years ago, during my Diablo and Starcraft days, I was known as "Shadow". My first email was "shadow_of_light at hotmail". The name stuck. I'm pretty embarrassed about it because it's not that elegant and my friends still make fun of me for it. But it just shows much I was into this concept of duality; light and darkness. Meng in Chinese means "moonlight". When I had to think of a domain name, I added "-ness" to "Shadow" to add a contrast to my former name and that was the start of Shadowness!
If you could have one super power, what would you choose, and why?
I would love to be able to fly or teleport. I mean, I hate any form of transportation: cars are nerve-wrecking and there are just too many of them, buses are annoying and slow, and airplanes are too complicated because of the connections, the need of extra transportation, the excruciating wait, and now the controversy over the human scanners. Technology should be here to make things more enjoyable and cheaper. Computers are a thousand times cheaper than that were 30 years ago, and Hell, a lot more enjoyable to use. Cars and planes are not-- they're getting worse.
Tell us a little about your life philosophies.
In this age of new technologies and ever changing lifestyles, there are a million choices in front of us, so one must adapt quickly. At this point and time in my life, it comes down to being healthy and being able to cope well with stress. I try to eat well and sleep well because it allows me to be at least 50% ready against all sorts of situations. Good mood leads to less stress. Discipline leads to more productivity. When you're in a good mood, you produce better and you feel more accomplished. I live each day to the fullest and I give my complete focus for every single activity during that day. That means when I wake up, I don't go straight to the computer, I go wash my face, do the dishes, prepare my cappuccino and enjoy the morning sunlight. No rush. When I'm done and completely awake, I'm ready to deal
with the hundred tasks I have when I get on my computer: Email, Shadowness, Facebook, etc... It's very important to be consistent and to take time off to enjoy the little things in life. I try to never let the weight build to a point of no return. It's been 8 months since I've launched Shadowness and I've been doing pretty much the same things every morning, lunch and diner. It sounds very boring, but it's absolutely not. Every day has been so different and interesting that I needed that thin layer of routines to keep myself coming back.
Has any movie/ book affected your life? How?
I love to learn. I watch documentaries on a regular basis about all sorts of topics: aliens, cooking, meditation, dreams, history, war, etc... I'm not a book person, but my friend /a
introduced me to Transcend, and boy, did it open my eyes. I've never been a theory type of person, and this book is all about applying the knowledge and turning you into a machine, literally. It's telling us that in 30 years, there will be computers so small that they will run in our bloodstream, doing the same functions as your cells of cleaning your body from cancers and diseases, but a thousand times better. I know it sounds crazy, but I've seen how computers have exponentially gotten smaller and cheaper in the past 30 years and they will continue to do so. Already, we are experimenting with a computer so small that it binds to your retina and it allows blind people to see patterns of light. How insane is that! Sure, it costs US $100,000 now, but in 20-30 years, that technology will be perfected and it will be accessible to everyone. This book gives you a wealth of information about how you should eat, sleep, meditate, exercise and check yourself. Ultimately, if you live long enough, technology will allow you to live forever! I've been reading about 2 pages a day for 6 months and I'm almost done!
What is your preferred art style?
I've learned so much about the different art styles on Shadowness within the past few months thanks to the excellent artists on the site who were more than keen to explain their thought process. This knowledge really allowed me to be more appreciative of the nuances behind every art style. I've especially learned a lot about Vector, Traditional Art and Street Photography. It was also refreshing to see how Graphic Design has evolved since I first started doing it a decade ago. It is my preferred art style since I am more comfortable at judging it and finding the subtleties that make or break a piece of that genre.
What is your vision for Shadowness?
I want to create a place that encompasses both artistic excellence and individual growth. I want artists to feel completely comfortable within that tight-knit environment and inspire each other to create and excel. There is nothing more encouraging to an artist who has poured his or her heart and soul into a piece than to receive that genuine extra care and recognition from others they know about and respect. I want to give that and more. It's far too easy to just say "good work" and far too complicated to write a 2 pages critique to all the 50 or more deserving artists that post daily on the site, I came to a balance of writing about 50 comments daily that includes about 2 lines of simple, honest remarks about specific likes and dislikes. Sometimes, there will be questions and extra thoughts that really make the comment more unique and personalized. It's like a love letter to the artist. Shadowness is very personal and that's why we allow customizations on the site and we extend the artists' network to Facebook. A lot of artists use Facebook to promote their work and to connect with friends and coworkers, and we love to be able to expand their network.
How has Shadowness evolved over the years?
At the end of last year, I've started to recode the site from scratch. We've had 8 versions prior to this one, the last one being almost deserted. On a lucky day, there were about 30 comments made on the site. Since the beginning of the open beta launched in January, Shadowness has grown exponentially and the long-time users all came to witness the complete redesign. The responses were mind-blowing. It has never been this positive in the past. Users absolutely loved that I revived the EXP feature and the customizations to the dark translucent user interface. Even better, they loved the focus on quality Art and how personal it felt because each and everyone was greeted by the staff and myself. There weren't a ton of people during the beta, so I could handle the welcoming.
Today, we host nearly 10,000 comments and welcome 60 new artists each day, 20 of which join through Facebook. About 70,000 pages are viewed compared to 2,000 views before the beta. We haven't just grown by the quantity but also by the quality. If you look at the stream of artworks on the site, you will not only notice quality artworks but a large variety of art styles being showcased and awarded. We don't just stop on-site, we also promote our artists on Facebook, Abduzeedo, Tumblr, VisualizeUs, DeviantArt and soon PSDTuts+. That network is expanding.
As soon as you join Shadowness, you are personally greeted by our Staff, Mods and sometimes even myself. We're so quick with the comments that sometimes people think that it's all automated. But no, there's a human behind every comment, critique, selection and promotion. And we do that because we genuinely want to make sure that all our artists enjoy the same experience that we first had. We do what we can within our capacity. As we grow, we will need extra pair of hands.
Shadowness is very young. Therefore it is very flexible, welcoming and receptive to new ideas and criticism. We're not young in our history, but as we learn to meet the enormous expectations of tomorrow. We want to grow with our artists. Only recently, we started to organize contests with real cash prizes pulled from our own pockets to give back to the community. We've just started to put together a team of art experts and supportive moderators to help strengthen the foundation that we started and be able to make everyone feel right at home. Shadowness is a home for artists by artists.
Dare to reach out your hand into the darkness, to pull another hand into the light. ~Norman B. Rice
Shadowness's objective is simple: to provide clarity and light to one of the most obscure fields-- art. The art field is one of extreme risk, because there is no definite guidelines for what makes art successful. It depends on creativity, which, by its very nature, cannot be clearly defined by a set of rules. Creativity is, after all, the invention of something new. Creating guidelines for something new and artistic is like predicting a natural catastrophe. The art and the artists are the Shadow, and Meng and Shadowness is, paradoxically, the light through which order is brought to the chaos of art.