Auckland retiree tries art in virtual reality, after a lifetime designing on paper video

BEVAN READ/stuff

Trisha Downie escapes her home without leaving her lounge through the magic of virtual reality.

Plugged into virtual reality, retiree Trisha Downie believed her life-sized 3D creation so real she might trip over it.

"I'm petrified I'm going to fall over or break it, because it seems to be a piece of glass – but it isn't, it's just space."

The septuagenarian, who lives at the Metlifecare Retirement Village in east Auckland's Highland Park, has spent a lifetime designing garments, art and sails with pencil and paper.

Downie took to virtual reality like a moth to the flame, creating a tangle of vibrant paint strokes.
BEVAN READ / STUFF

Downie took to virtual reality like a moth to the flame, creating a tangle of vibrant paint strokes.

She was thrilled to test Google Tilt Brush – a progressive design tool – through Metlifecare's partnership with Unitec's Mind Lab.

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Before she could dive in, sensors were set up around the edges of her living room, to define her virtual field of motion and stop her walking into walls. 

Downie said the intuitive VR technology had the potential for pure design.
BEVAN READ / STUFF

Downie said the intuitive VR technology had the potential for pure design.

Then, with the addition of the VR googles and controllers, the room was transformed into a seemingly limitless blank space, blanketed by a starry night sky.

Wasting no time, the 75-year-old pulled a giant red ribbon out of the ground and arced it before plunging it back down to the ground.

Soon, Downie had a mind field of shoulder-height water lilies.

Then came a free-style.

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"I have done swirls of multi-colours in iridescence, lovely bright clear colours, pinks and blues and greens and golds . . . and a big splosh of yellow," she said.

"I love this, it's absolutely wonderful."

Downie said walking through her floating creation presented an interesting sensation.

"It's unbelievable that I can walk into the inside of it and still create . . . It seems to be seven layers that I'm creating, as if they are all one layer upon the other."

Downie dropped out of school at 15 and took an apprenticeship as a dressmaker in a fashion boutique. 

Her specialty was designing evening wear on paper, and stitching up ball gowns for herself and friends.

"I liked to draw something and find out how to make it work."

She then moved on to sail-making, quilting and spent her later life making artwork, which included "burning copper with gas torches.

"I get bored so I like to try new things and working with different media and textures and inks."

But a after a life-time designing with pencil and paper, she said the intuitive VR technology had potential for pure design.

"I'm not thinking about what I'm trying to design, I'm just playing, and I think that's where design comes from – you have to play and see what works. 

"I would have been a wonderful tool to have if I had been taught to use it from the beginning."

 - Stuff

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