A New Way to Sketch
It’s always been difficult for me to maintain a daily sketchbook for drawings. I am not exactly sure what the reason is, but I think part of it has to do with my psychological inability to be visually imaginative and create scenes in my head to transfer to paper. Usually, I am better at sketching things I am looking at in front of me that I can respond to in realtime, but I got tired of drawing people in public or coffee cups at cafes. It’s not easy for me to carry around an array of props and objects to make impromptu still lifes while on the go, and even if I did arrange props at a home studio, they would always end up feeling stale, so eventually I just gave up daily sketching altogether.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I have been finding VR an interesting in-between space where I feel safe to quickly create endless arrangements of objects. In my VR-studio, objects don’t feel stale, because they are lightweight and I can always easily change their scale, color, rotation and position, or instantly change the shape altogether. Additionally, since it is very easy to take in-VR screenshots, I not only create 3D “sketches” (as 3D models) but can also quickly make many 2D “sketches” (as screenshots) based on different angles of the VR scenes, similar to sketching an object from various angles in real life.
A sculptural sketch in Anyland made out of cake slices, inspired by ‘Nose (and detail)’ by Rachel Harrison
Sculptural sketches turned into 2D screenshots
With the addition of mobile-based AR that I’ve recently been using, I’ve been able to take these VR-studio objects (and other 3D scanned objects) out in public as well. When I’ve been inspired to sketch or create imagery, I’ve been able to quickly “materialize” the objects into AR and take screenshots as sketches on my smartphone. I put the AR objects on top of other random objects and surfaces around me, and I take endless screenshots as I find compositions that feel good to me.
Using AR versions of ice cream and cake slices as sketching material while I am out
A “page” from my “sketchbook” of AR sketches
All of a sudden, I have found myself with more sketches than I know what to do with, and it feels refreshing to look back at all my screenshots periodically and take the time to absorb them and see a visual language start to develop. As a painter, I’ve always been inspired by the visual foundations established by post-war abstraction which have led to the more recent trend of collage in contemporary painting seen in artists like Bruce Wilhelm, Keltie Ferris, Lauren Luloff and Zak Prekop. These painters break the depth, texture and color of the canvas in ways that are surprising and jarring but are also somehow harmonious in their dissonance. With my new sketchbook full of VR/AR imagery, I finally have enough source material to make my own collages. I have been editing the images digitally to play with color shifts, and then either collaging them digitally or printing them on paper and tearing them up to make physical collages.
Physical and digital collages made from my VR/AR sketches
I’m happy to be keeping a sketchbook again, especially since it is leading me to imagery that I feel confident in exploring and maturing further. Now that I am comfortable with this new process of making my sketches in VR and AR, I would love to find a web-based tool that lets me store all the images in a sketchbook-like fashion, so that I can flip through them easily:
Flipping through my AR/VR sketchbook
Try it yourself!
If you’d like to try your own AR smartphone-sketching, try visiting this page and using a HIRO marker to make a stack of red cake slices appear, or remix the page here to use your own 3D models!
A New Way to Sculpt
Since my new sketchbook has 3D models in addition to 2D images, I realized that I can use them to help me create physical sculptures and not just physical paintings. I recently discovered how to export the 3D
.obj models from Anyland into the
.fbx format that the Microsoft HoloLens supports, using a freely available app from Autodesk called FBX Converter. Once in the HoloLens, I can open my VR sculptural sketches in 3D Viewer Beta, which allows you to place, rotate and scale objects in a persistent AR scene.
One of the first things I did was place my VR sketches in a corner of my new barn studio. I wanted to see how they felt outside of the virtual world and in a physical space, continuing the experiments I began back in January while at Banff.
Rotating a sculpture created in VR in an AR setting
An enlarged sculpture in the barn
These AR sculptures feel different from my previous sculptural experiments with the HoloLens, back when I was using the clunky user interface of HoloStudio to create the sculpture from scratch in AR. Since these sculptures were created as sketches in VR, they were created using the convenient sculpting tools available in Anyland at a comfortable scale, so the sculptures have a more dynamic feeling to them. Seeing my VR sketches come to life in my studio has inspired me to try to materialize them into physical materials. Even though I don’t have any training in sculpture, I have been wondering if having an AR model with me in the studio would serve as a good object to ‘sculpt’ from, much like sketching or drawing from a still life. I recently tried a setup in my studio that looked like this:
Building a physical sculpture using an AR sketch as a model
Finished physical sculpture next to the AR model
Physical and augmented sculptures overlayed
I was surprised at how easily I was able to make a physical sculpture using the AR model as a guide. I found that my previous experience in drawing by sight was easily translated to this process; it almost felt like drawing in three dimensions. The process reminded me of a class at the New York Studio School called Sculpture Marathon, which I have always been interested in taking . In this case, however, I skipped over sculpting from real life objects like fruit or props and jumped straight to sculpting from an augmented reality object. The process was so fast and automatic that I found myself intuitively repurposing scrap materials I had around the studio like sponges, foam, plaster and plastic. I tried filming via the HoloLens while I was working, but when reviewing the footage later on I found that I was working too fast to capture anything appropriately.
Moving too fast to capture photos
In addition to copying the AR model in physical materials, I also found myself trying to take pictures of the surprising moments that are usually lost to the fast artistic process. At one point, I tried to cut a bar of soap in half and discovered that soap doesn’t cut cleanly but instead splinters into beautiful shards. This is usually the kind of moment that I try to remember later on as a potentially useful technique for a future artwork, but which can sometimes get lost in the mess of a studio practice. With AR headsets, it seems like there is a possibility to capture those moments in the moment, and then immediately continue working without having to disrupt the creative flow.
I was really happy with the resulting physical sculpture, especially because it felt somehow aligned with the collages I had been creating in 2D:
Various views of a sculpture created with an AR model as a guide
Now that I have adopted sketching in Anyland as part of my studio practice, I am excited to bring those sketches to life by using them as AR models to sculpt from in my physical art studio. Even though these first few studies are small in scale, they give me ideas for what materials may work at a larger scale. Next, I would like to buy much larger blocks of foam so that I can try making larger sculptures, mimicking the life-size scales that I’ve been experimenting with in VR.
A New Way to Assemble
I am constantly trying to figure out who my sculptural inspirations are as I add more sculpture-making to my art practice. Some abstract sculptors I like are Phyllida Barlow, Jessica Stockholder, Helen Marten and Rachel Harrison (mentioned earlier in this post). A similarity between all of these artists’ works is a seemingly random arrangement of forms, colors and materials to create a whole. It is a type of collaging that also involves the weight, shape and angles of the materials to create assemblages in the round that fit together not just visually, but also physically. While I have been able to play with similar ideas in VR with Anyland, I eventually found myself wanting to collage those sculptures with other 3D models I had been making outside of Anyland. Using the same HoloLens software that I used to sculpt from AR models, I’ve been experimenting with collaging my growing collection of 3D models in AR:
Assembling an AR sculpture out of 3D models created using Anyland and photogrammetry
Assembled AR sculpture photos
These early sculptural collage experiments feel like they are on the right track for my studio practice, and they feel better to me out in the real world than they do in Anyland. Assembling them in AR lets me use my physical intuitions in a way that working VR doesn’t really allow. I can walk around them, feel their scale, feel their presence in a room and begin to gauge their “surrealness” and emotional affect on my body. Already, I’m finding that I want to combine these 3D models with real life objects as well, which would let me expand the visual and conceptual vocabulary of the cake slices and ice cream cones that I am bringing together. I am interested in collaging techniques both in 2D and in 3D because of the way they let you create meaning out of disparate elements. Here at eleVR, we love collaging anything from software tools to artistic techniques to ideas and disciplines. For my sculptures, I am interested in how different objects and symbols interact and create meaning from proximity. For a first shot at this, I brought in objects from around my home: a plant, a table, a box and a teddy bear:
Large-scale, mixed-reality assembling in AR with a cake slice, ice cream cone, table, plant, teddy bear and box
It feels amazing, and almost like a “physical” privilege, to be able to easily move these objects around as I find what feels good. Without having to worry about the technical details of how the objects will stick together or stand up without falling over, I am able to just move, rotate and scale them on a whim. This quick way of working lets me quickly come up with arrangements that feel fresh to me. They feel very similar to the experimental still lifes that I have blogged about before, except this time it is at a much larger scale. Since I am not limited by using a smartphone as the viewing window, I can freely walk around the sculpture and work more directly with the objects.
Mixed-reality sculpture prototypes
Immediately after making these initial sculptural collages, both the purely-AR ones and the mixed physical+AR ones, I imagined using them as models to sculpt from in foam. I can picture myself using the following workflow:
- Create many 3D model sketches in Anyland or with photogrammetry
- Using the HoloLens, arrange them in real space, combined with other real objects
- Use the arranged AR objects as models to sculpt from in foam
- Eventually replace the AR objects with the foam ones?
I’d love to materialize some of these sculptures completely in physical materials so that I can coat them in paper mache or plaster, and then paint freely on them with spray or acrylic paint. I should have been able to make these kinds of sculptures before, but I had never been able to make arrangements that felt right to me; it was either taking too long, or I felt too precious about the materials and objects. With AR, I am finding the arrangements quickly, not having to be precious about materials, and it feels like I’ve finally overcome the obstacle to making the sculptures I’d like.
I am really looking forward to making more of these soon, and hopefully at this large scale!
Synergies in Art Practices
These recent experiments in sketching, sculpting and assembling have been inspired by many of the experiments that M has been doing in their own studio. They’ve also been augmenting their studio practice in cool ways with VR, AR, green screen techniques, and more. Hopefully they can share more of those experiments with you soon, but for now, here is a sneak peek!…
I look forward to seeing how our art practices continue to evolve!