Art, Virtual Reality

VR Watercolor Plein Air Painting: I Painted With My Eyes in VR and My Hands in IRL

Liz Edwards has been plein air painting in Fallout VR! It's so inspiring to see her — well — kill off a bunch of enemies in order to just sit quietly and paint in peace. I was super excited to see her take VR art to this next level! I coordinated some time to meet with her in VR (one where I wouldn't immediately die on the spot lol) so we could have a paint session together.

We met in a multi-player VR gallery and settled into one of Danny Bittman's paintings. I chose a view where I sat in Danny's painting while looking out into the VR gallery space. 

Instead of digitally painting with Photoshop, I wanted to try traditional painting while in VR. 

Materials needed:

  • VR Headset (I used HTC Vive)
  • VR-ready desktop computer
  • Steam & SteamVR
  • A VR environment or place to go to.
    BONUS if you go to a place with multi-player, then you can plein air with friends!
  • OVRdrop
  • Your medium / weapon of choice. Mine was traditional watercolors, which included:
    • water cup
    • Schmincke watercolor paints
    • Pencil for sketching
    • Brush
    • Pen for any additional inking


The Setup:

This is a really odd thing. I'll try my best to describe it lol

You will look  really  cool...

You will look really cool...

  1. Get all your VR stuff running
  2. Load up the environment you'd like to sit in. 
  3. Take off your VR headset.
  4. Launch OVRdrop
  5. Set the OVRdrop setting to display your Vive camera
  6. Set up your physical painting space with paints, paper, water in front of you. In the event of your water spilling (loool), make sure it doesn't knock onto any electrical stuff!!
  7. Put back on your headset.
  8. Adjust your OVRdrop window so it's a 'window' positioned where your paints are. 
  9. Notice how your hand-eye coordination will be a little bit off.
  10. Attempt to paint.
  11. Question why you are even doing this. Like, really. Why. 
  12. Contemplate the state of humanity while you are in a machine.
  13. Continue and finish painting without destroying your eye balls.


Things I learned from watercoloring while in VR:

  • It’s HELLA weird to notice when your hand-eye coordination is off. In this case, it was my EYES (the Vive camera) placement that was off! It’s really uncanny. 

  • It’s also a very strange feeling to be painting with my hands as seen through a monitor. It felt like this:

Cross-dimensional arm magic! ✨

Cross-dimensional arm magic! ✨

  • The saturation + vividness of the Vive camera was really off. There would have been very little chance of getting the exact colors right. 
  • It’s REALLY a strange idea that things were CLEARER and CRISPER in the VR space than IRL. SEEING the real life thru a blurred filter was really odd. My eyes were definitely happier to ‘rest’ in the VR space than staring thru the pixelated display of IRL.
  • This would be a VERY interesting exercise in getting rough design ideas down. It would be challenging (and probably HORRIBLE for your eyes) to try to do a lot of detailing. This would be a great exercise in value-grouping, learning how to paint loose to get the idea down. 


How might this be used?

Well, Liz Edwards has been going into Fallout 4 and plein air painting with OVRdrop>Photoshop. I think she may have painted in Google Earth as well. (The OVRdrop window would be wayyy clearer with Photoshop, rather than showing the out-facing Vive camera like I used.) 

Using Photoshop, artists could hop onto into Google Earth VR, sit at the top of the Eiffel Tower, and get a pretty realistic understanding of the perspective from up there. Or maybe sit on the Seine River, looking up at Notre Dame. 

With “VR+Traditional Plein Air Painting” (I mean, what do I even call this? Trans-dimensional painting? Multi-reality painting??!), perhaps when the camera and resolution get better (Vive Pro?) it’ll lend itself to some more interesting paintings. There is still the absence of real LIGHT as it affects color and shadows as in nature. But perhaps this and the Photoshop method can lend itself to blocking in roughs. At the very least, it allows the artist to *feel* the environment, mass, form, and depth in a 3D space. 


My First "Multi-reality"(??) painting! 

I'll likely try a few more experiments! Here's my first VR plein air watercolor piece, and the full video of me and Liz discussing the weirdness of all this in the full youtube vid:

Pretty strange, huh?

Pretty strange, huh?

Thanks to Colin Northway and the MOR team; to Danny Bittman for letting us plein air in your piece!; to Anand Duncan for letting us plein air in your absolutely gorgeous VR dresses!; and Liz Edwards for being a splendid paint buddy!