Sabby Lighf (@TheSabbyLife) is a VR Artist and Live Performer whose artistic quest in traditional painting turned into self-seeking in virtual reality. Her VR tale begins sometime in 2018, a little after she saw a Tilt Brush commercial which led her to start exploring painting in a new medium.
As a determined, self-taught VR artist, she quickly realized that there were questions to answer about Tilt Brush as a VR creation app. She has created a self-brand over the past two years by inviting her audience to constantly provide feedback. This is also what she advises her ardent community of followers to make efforts toward.
One of Sabby’s more notable pieces is an immersive painting titled Da Vinci Paints the Mona Lisa (created in Tilt Brush), an artistic tribute to her favourite artist, Leonardo Da Vinci. The piece took her over 3 months to perfect. What is interesting is how much this early work paves her ideology - with VR performances and tutorial-making being a significant part of her art practice, collectively allowing her to be seen as an artist and as an active maker as she negotiates her mark-making. In her June 2020 interview with Thom Clancy, Sabby (as her avatar, ‘Popcorn’) shared how much being seen matters in an internet-savvy art scene. Early in any public-facing journey, it’s hard to know what having followers could do for your craft. In Sabby’s case, an audience has not simply been garnered for engagement but also for curbing curiousity.
“I am quite an explorer — very inquisitive, usually able to figure things out on my own... When I first tried using Tilt Brush I realized that I could use my traditional digital 3D art skills to work this medium. It’s such a new medium that everything felt like a discovery. So I figured that I would have to start experimenting”.
Sabby’s first VR experience was with Google Cardboard, after which she went on to try Samsung’s Gear VR. This became the headset which helped her assess the degrees of freedom she was wishful for. Her HTC Vive has been a loyal headset to her for a while now, with its 6DoF being a big factor.
In her workflow, she utilizes a wide array of VR software - starting with Tilt Brush, Gravity Sketch, AnimVR, Masterpiece VR, Neos VR, Logics and finally Mindshow. The combination of these software are also significant in pushing her virtual persona forward.
After she had ‘measured’ her workspace (plus scope) in Tilt Brush and experimented a bit with the brushes etc. - she felt all set to start sharing her work on her YouTube channel. So, while her performativity - in one sense - began with demystifying technicalities about Tilt Brush, it was soon channeled into live VR performances. Her YouTube videos have received 50,000+ views to date (she doubled her viewers and followers between when we interviewed her early in 2020 and today)! As the process of understanding the medium was heavily reliant on hits and misses she began to apply anatomy and colour-theory from prior knowledge, to improve her spatial skills in the new medium.
“I would start with an idea, or even just a feeling. I’d try to imagine what I want to create. Sometimes I’d sketch it out and other times I just jump right in and start creating it in Gravity Sketch or Tilt Brush. From there, as I’d be making my scene or my art piece, I’d think about if it is going to be a process recording or some sort of experience. Would it be a 3D piece, 2.5D piece, or a 2D piece? Or even what its purpose could be - were not necessarily always decisions at the very outset, for me.”
Tilt Brush has been key to Sabby's workflow - and this is a known fact among her followers thanks to her '365 days of Tilt Brush' project. When we asked her how this 365-Days-long project began, she told us how very early in her experience and understanding of VR she decided that her investment is towards a mastery of the medium. And so with every (deliberate) experiment, she was taking on challenges and learning the depth of each tool. By using all the brushes available, she could plan how she wanted to push her own boundaries. And with weekly themes to rely on, she had something new to create every single day of that week.
While there were instances when she just didn’t feel like putting on a headset and making art, she pushed herself and managed to make it through. There were even moments when her followers challenged her, freely suggesting that she try new themes.
A pro-tip she gave us about Tilt Brush is to “Unlock the scale! This lets you move around more easily, in a large environment. It’s just a command line in the config file - pretty easy to set up. Also, the ‘Disco Mode’ with the lighting is another hidden easter-egg in Tilt Brush that I recommend for people to try out.”
Lignes de Fleurs, her piece featured in the MoR came from a themed week called 'Line Work'. With a clear interest in the fine detail of flowers, the 2019 work reflects how Sabby has a keen understanding of botany, one that she wanted to broaden. “I just remembered a lot of details from biology class which I would notice in plants - I would notice things such as the iridescence on a flower petal. So I referenced that in the artwork”.
Sabby showed us her piece at the MoR and shared how the light shining on the coral pieces is her favourite little detail - a neat Tilt Brush brush trick helped her create this interesting illusion of light. The work has been quite well received, Sabby tells us, as she's been able to bring a wide number of people - across several events - to come and experience it in the museum.
To maintain an active role in the VR community - Sabby sets aside a part of her workday to answer questions and respond to DMs. A lot of these questions are how-did-you-do-that queries - “How did you get that effect? How did you use this brush?” - generally coming her way in reaction to something her followers saw and liked in an artwork. Making tutorials for such followers was the first way in which she reacted to these curiosities. Her traditional art skills seemed to come in handy as she has the right mix of languages to be able to explain how painting works while using VR art tools.
As for style, it is interesting how much it changes if you were a traditional artist in a past life. “It’s gonna be different in each medium, right? The ideas can still be the same, but the style adapts itself to changing tools”. Sabby developed one specific style that can be considered unique in the way that it was her followers who took note of it - it’s been called the ‘Stained Glass’ style. An Instagram follower has been credited for naming this style, as she came to develop it in Tilt Brush across several works that she was sharing online. She also likes to use the Splatter Brush a fair bit. Sabby’s hope is that everyone creating in VR continues to expand their skills, as the tools keep being redesigned and evolve with you. When we asked about emerging VR art styles, she waived the concept of styles as a fleeting and temporary notion. She likes to privilege experimentation, an openness to keep on restyling, and like that constantly mature. She believes the same about her own style - that it keeps on advancing. With the plethora of new brushes to work with, plus the launch of up and coming apps - there’s plenty of room for play.
“A lot of things in the beginning with VR art was trial and error for me” - and would be for anyone getting into this medium. As there are still only so many VR artists, Sabby believes that, “they’re kind of like experts already. Each of them, even within their own bandwidth, is actively discovering and applying their own style and knowledge - making marks and waves that don’t necessarily compare on an even plane.”
Not long ago, we got in touch with some members from the VRArtLive Community to get a sneak peek into the 2020 Daily Art Challenge, which began in January 2020. The VRA Community has been in place since Sabby decided to take her experience from her 365 Days Tilt Brush Challenge forward by bringing more creators on board with herself. As a Community Leader and Director, Sabby works alongside her team on the VRArtLive Discord where @AntiVi, @ReVerseButcher, @ZandyXR, @chromasnare, @Grrlrighter, @Willowmoon come together to curate events, exhibitions and talks. In all their pursuits the VRArtLive team hopes to remain approachable as guides to all levels of newcomers - to maintain the philosophy that everyone is welcome. The idea behind the 2020 Daily Art Challenge is that every participant gets to choose a VR art app and a level of commitment - deciding to create artwork every single day for either a week, a month, or all of 2020. “We are calling it ‘Year of VR Art’ and it’s been really exciting!” said Sabby.
In Sabby's assessment - the community and its growth has made some initial lines easier for artists to cross - especially the fabled and feared ‘art technique line’ - as creators are able to find ways to move their old art around, and do new things with it in VR. Like Sabby was drawn to Tilt Brush as a painter, she finds that other artists with prior experience in other mediums are able to figure out their translated niche eventually.
The main focus of the VRArtLive community, Sabby tells us, is to do things and ‘be live’ with it. Essentially composed of a generation of artists who aren’t shy about sharing, the community maintains a clear focus on learning and growing together. Members share live performances and/or create content for the web and discuss their workflow, findings, and challenges. “If you are in the community you get a lot of attention from me. It is very close to my heart - to share what I am learning and bring it along with me. I think this will strengthen the industry.” This community is able to be social through long-term projects, conversation threads, and resource pools where they’re always boosting each other and focusing on timely creation of VR art.
“Everyone there is very happy to be a part of the VRArtLive Community, as far as I know. My team comes up with ideas, we get onto social media, organize events, and get people involved.”
On the subject of future plans, Sabby shared how she has been working on some business ideas outside of her role as a pioneer in the VR art industry. Art is her hobby-turned-career and she wishes to keep things in balance while scaling her audience. Her recent clients include Audi, Google, Vrscout, Disney, Pixar, and Lucasfilm (Microsoft).
“I advise people interested in transitioning to VR to do their research, do their own experimentation and stay at it everyday. VR will for sure take over every aspect of life, and we might as well be a part of that future as creators!”
Sabby lists all her creative roles today on her website and in her YouTube description - with recent gigs and experiences as an Animator, Designer, Community Leader, VR Content Producer, and Creative Director - summing up her well-rounded expertise. Sabby is a first generation VR painter whose creator arc has been compounded by the effort she has put into creating her profile, while also exhibiting an overall auto-didactic approach towards learning.
Lastly, an event by the VRArtLive Community from as recent as last week is worth noting - The Galactic Safari (followed by an encore event of the same name). And this, we hope, brings us as up-to-date as possible on the VR adventures of The Sabby Life.
The readiness for emerging tech is certainly an oomph factor for Sabby and her contemporaries, as they belong in an ocular-centric media culture where eyeballs serve as headcount. Art, like everything deemed ‘current’ today, is made more relevant if it unravels itself live for viewers who also want to be witnesses. And the boldness with which VR art is being produced is telling; of the fact that there are whole tribes, ready and impelled, to draw out how one could exit known reality.
This interview is part of the MOR Artist Spotlight series, which features creators using VR as an artistic tool or medium of expression. You can also view a spatial version of this interview in the Museum of Other Realities.