If you’ve ever been so enthralled by a painting that you wish you could live inside its every brush stroke, you’re in luck. Today’s creators are pushing the boundaries of traditional artistic mediums, allowing fans to explore fantastical scenes via virtual reality art.

The VR world represents a blank canvas for illustrators, painters, architects, and other artists who want to bring new dimension to their creations. In fact, VR’s potential is practically limitless—it can take the form of a street art mural, 3D sculpture, Fashion Week catwalk, or Broadway set. And as headset sales continue to climb, it’s clear the trend isn’t going anywhere.

So, how is virtual reality changing the future of art—and how can you dabble in this exciting new discipline? Here’s a primer for getting started.

What Is Virtual Reality Art?

Virtual reality lets users explore simulated experiences in a three-dimensional, computer-generated environment. It’s interactive, so users’ actions can change the scenery around them. Think of it as a “choose your own adventure” book for the 21st century.

Today, demand for VR is soaring. Virtual reality plays are on the rise, and museums and galleries are releasing entire exhibits in VR. The medium is a prime example of the blending worlds of traditional media—like film, books, or illustrations—and digital experiences. Case in point: Recently, IBM teased a demo for a Sword Art Online VR game that’s based off an anime series of the same title. The announcement generated considerable buzz online.

Like other forms of digital art, VR is ever-evolving and multifaceted. The broad category encompasses a range of creative executions—everything from simple interactive videos to 360-degree spherical panoramas to museum-quality exhibitions.

There are many ways to begin dabbling in VR art, as well as a plethora of tools to help you bring your creative vision to life. The platform(s) you choose to pursue will depend on your overall project goals. While you can create whimsical VR paintings with Tilt Brush, you can get into complex concepts like designing 3D polygonic objects with programs like Blender. You can even go behind the scenes and learn how to code your own VR experiences.

For artists seeking to get more granular with specific models or character design, there’s Adobe Dimension, which is software for creating photorealistic 3D images. SketchUp, Unreal Engine, and Gravity Sketch are other platforms for making 3D renderings, animations, and games.

Amazing Examples of VR Art

Whether you’re looking to create a 3D masterpiece, immersive scene, or interactive walkthrough of an architectural marvel, below are a few examples showcasing projects you can pursue under the umbrella of VR art.

night illustrated
Skillshare instructor Collin Leix demonstrates how to play around with different lines using the VR painting platform Tilt Brush.
Leix plays with texture, dimension, scale, and storytelling in 3D.
Skillshare instructor David Miller pulls up an example of a VR piece on display on Poly, a 3D model sharing service.
3D model
Skillshare instructor Adam Zollinger walks through how to create 3D models in Twinmotion.
house panorama
Skillshare instructor Chris Converse leads viewers through the process of creating customized spherical panoramas.
shark illustration
Skillshare instructor Taylor Ackerman’s illustration gives users a 360-degree view of an underwater scene.

How Do I Create a Virtual Reality Art Piece?

The answer to that question will depend on your vision. Are you interested in designing an otherworldly scene? An avatar for a video game? A VR exhibit users can view on YouTube? Narrowing down which executions call to you will determine how you go about honing your VR design skills.

While the possibilities can seem overwhelming, the below step-by-step guide can help you get started.

Step 1: Buy the Necessary Hardware 

VR headset
Source: Unsplash, @sorkin
There are dozens of hardware options for experimenting with virtual reality. 

First things first: You’ll need to invest in some hardware to get a feel for the medium’s capabilities. You may consider buying a headset like the Oculus Quest 2, Sony PlayStation VR, or HTC Vive Cosmos, which are three popular options on the market today.

If you’re not ready to make the expensive commitment to a full-fledged VR set, you can still get your feet wet with budget options like Art Vision VR smartphone glasses. Devices like the Art + Vision virtual reality headset let you pop your phone into a built-in cradle in order to watch 3D videos and explore VR apps. Google Cardboard is another budget option that offers similar features. (Note that you won’t be able to access most VR games with these pared-down headsets, but you can still explore 360-degree photos or VR videos on YouTube.)

There’s no shortage of user reviews of the various headsets online, so do some research to figure out the best tool for your specific needs. In an Art Vision virtual reality headset review, for instance, it’s clear that while the device allows you to access 3D-compatible media, it lacks an interaction button and may require additional purchases—like a Bluetooth controller—for an optimal experience. 

Step 2: Get Acquainted With the VR User Experience

using VR
Source:  Unsplash, @stella_jacob
A woman feels out her surroundings in virtual reality. 

Not only does spending time in VR environments help you wrap your head around the user experience, but it may also spark ideas about the creative endeavors you’ll want to pursue. Getting oriented in VR also means learning how to use it safely. You’ll want to ensure you have a dedicated space that’s free from obstacles before you strap on your headset. It may also be prudent to keep sessions limited to 20-30 minutes until you know how your body will react to being in virtual reality.

Step 3: Download or Purchase the Software That Fits Your Artistic Vision

surreal artwork
“Photoshop Classes By Fred” on Skillshare creates surreal and beautiful artworks in Adobe Photoshop.

Here’s some good news: Many of the aforementioned tools for creating virtual reality art are free or offer freemium versions. Blender, for instance, is an open-source application for 3D modeling, animation, and rendering. SketchUp, another 3D design tool, also offers a free version, as does Unreal Engine, which many designers use for creating video games and immersive experiences.

Other apps and design tools are relatively affordable. Tilt Brush for Oculus Rift, for example, currently costs $19.99. And although Google, which purchased the platform in 2015, has announced that it is halting further development of the app, Tilt Brush will still exist in an open-source format available on Github moving forward.

Step 4: Begin Experimenting With 3D Design

3D robot
Skillshare instructor Anass Cherkaoui demonstrates how to fine-tune a model of a robot in Blender.

In the same way that 2D art requires mastering the basics—edges, lines, angles, perspective, shadows, highlights, etc.—there’s a learning curve to 3D design. Depending on your specific projects and goals, you’ll want to spend some time learning how to manipulate 3D lighting, how to simulate textures in 3D, how to work with virtual 3D sculpture, and other ways to bring your VR scenery to life. 

Step 5: Take Your Masterpieces to the Next Level

VR usage
Source: Unsplash, @barbarazandoval
Virtual reality allows artists to turn mundane scenes into magical destinations.

If your initial experiments with VR art don’t turn out as hoped, don’t despair. As with any artistic pursuit, practice makes perfect. Advanced platforms to consider after you’ve mastered the basics include Quill for animation and illustration, as well as Unbound Alpha and Oculus Medium for making 3D sculptures. You may even find yourself drawn to other mixed reality artforms like augmented reality (AR).

With some patience and a little help from knowledgeable Skillshare instructors, you can discover the thrill of bringing your art off the page, canvas, and 2D-screen—and into the virtual world.

Learn How to Make Virtual Reality Art!

Make VR Paintings Using Tilt Brush

Written by:

Stephanie Walden