Technology has been innovating the artistic process for centuries. In the 1840s, the invention of portable paint tubes replaced traditional paint storage methods—namely, a pig’s bladder sealed with string—effectively revolutionizing the painter’s plight. And in the 1900’s, serigraphy (more commonly known as silk-screening) was first developed. It was later adopted by fine artists, such as Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, and Peter Blake, in the 1950s and '60s.
More recently, Internet-enabled wearable gadgetry has evolved far past the point of FuelBands and FitBits and experimental wearables have even managed to transcend the niche market of the Silicon Valley. Today, innovations in wearable tech pose new and improved ways for artists all over the world to interact with their creative work.
Here are ten innovative wearables to push your creative expression to the next level.
Tilt Brush is a virtual reality application originally developed by Skillman & Hackett and available through Google VR. In conjunction with a VR headset, Tilt Brush re-inspires the painting medium by allowing users to create immersive, 3D art, using their physical space as the canvas. This mesmerizing tool, geared at painters, graphic designers, and other visual artists, was first released in 2016, but has since been updated to meet growing demand. This post published on Google Blog outlines the new and improved features of Tilt Brush, citing the addition of 12 new brushes, varying modes of difficulty, sound effects, a handy Pin Tool, and improved sketch editing as updates which will enhance the Tilt Brush experience.
Steadify, currently available for purchase through Kickstarter, is the world’s first wearable stabilizer for cameras, binoculars, and scopes. The product was first launched in July by German father-and-son duo Gert and Tobias Wagner. Geared towards globe-trotting photographers, Steadify poses a lightweight alternative to the traditional tripod without sacrificing functionality. The device weighs just over a pound, can be strapped around the user’s waist, and includes an aluminum mini monopod and a rubber-coated universal-mount fork, which serves as a steady and grip-friendly surface for the camera to rest on. When the stabilizer is needed, it can be extended using a single hand; when it’s not, the product is kept retracted by a strategically located magnet.
PIC has been dubbed the world’s first flexible lifestyle camera, boasting long-lasting battery life, (PIC supports 70 minutes of continuous shooting time), 16GB of memory, 1080p full HD resolution, a 135-degree wide angle lens, and water-resistant design. One defining trait of the PIC flexible camera is that it can be attached anywhere, from your vehicle to your pet to your backpack to your body. Photographers can use PIC to discover fresh angles and perspectives, or utilize its time-lapse feature to shoot B-roll, all at the touch of a single button.
Bare Conductive is a London-based startup and electronics brand best known for printed electronics products, easy-to-use development kits, and electrically conductive paint. Their electric paint can be used in lieu of traditional wiring and is non-toxic, solvent free, and water soluble. The paint can adhere to virtually any material, including wood, paper, glass, and fabric, making it possible to turn any surface into functioning circuitry. The Bare Conducive website also features tips and advice geared at DIY-ers on topics such as: how to use printed sensors, how to cover electric paint with a different color, and how to incorporate electric paint into graphics.
Orphe: Smart Footwear
Orphe: Smart Footwear was created by Japanese hardware startup no new folk studio Inc., and functions as both a customizable lighting system and a musical instrument/audio-visual controller. The hardware-packed soles of the Orphe smart shoe system effectively transform physical movement into art, employing advanced motion sensors, around 100 full-color LEDs, and a wireless module to create vivid imagery and sound. Once the wearer has recorded their movements, the light color, design, and motion can be edited through a compatible smartphone application.
ChroMorphous, developed by researchers at the University of Central Florida, is a first-of-its-kind eTextile that can be visually altered using a smartphone app. It works like so: ChroMorphous fibers contain small conductive micro-wires, which channel electrical current. When currents pass through the micro-wires, the color-and pattern-changing abilities are activated. The result is a revolutionary eTextile that can transform anywhere and anytime, transcending the capabilities of other color-changing textiles, which require sunlight or body heat to activate.
Neurocouture founder Nayana Malhotra first unveiled her high-tech, high-fashion wearable at VFiles’s show at New York Fashion Week in 2016. Her technology combines projection mapping, brainwave-reading EEG devices, and GIFs, to conceptualize the wearer’s mental state and portray it onto cloak-like parkas. For example, if the wearer reads as angry, the Neurocouture cloak could depict something like this, and if the wearer is experiencing feelings of love, the cloak might present something like this instead. Though the complex inner workings of Neurocouture make for a far cry from street fashion, this kind of technology stands to augment the traditional mediums of creative expression available to fashion designers.
While Neurocouture aims to reflect the wearer’s mind, AudRey is a garment which attempts to realize the wearer’s digital aura. As such, the smart garment—constructed using 3D printed fasteners and heat transferred vinyl on neoprene—connects to the wearer’s Instagram account and employs colors, comments, and likes from the respective account to generate a distinctive virtual texture, meant to represent the user’s digital presence. The virtual texture can then be viewed through Wearable Media’s AR app.
In 2012, a trio of Calgarians launched MakeFashion: a community dedicated to exploring the intersection of fashion and wearable tech. Since its inception, the MakeFashion community has aided in the development of over 250 wearable tech garments and showcased at over 60 international events. Last year, MakeFashion launched a project called StitchKit on Kickstarter, coining it “The Fashion Technology Kit for Everyone.” StitchKit contains all components necessary to transform a regular garment into wearable tech, including a custom Arduino-based board, which is lightweight and compact enough to withstand everything from a brisk walk down the runway to daily wear.
Kathleen McDermott is a Brooklyn-based new media artist working with custom, DIY wearable electronics. She is also the creator of Urban Amour: a collection of playful wearable electronic devices designed to investigate the relationship between technology and bodies in public spaces. In addition to creating unexpected garments equipped with uniquely practical and intuitive purposes, (see: The Personal Space Dress and The Social Escape Dress), Kathleen aims to foster a collaboration-friendly community via the Urban Amour blog. As such, she encourages visitors to replicate tutorials in her Project Library, create their own versions using her tutorials as a guideline, and share tutorials of their own.
Image courtesy StitchKit
Zakiya Kassam is a writer, editor, and all-around creative. She currently reports on décor, design, and technology for Canadian Home Trends Magazine, and her writing has also appeared in The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, and Ryerson Review of Journalism. You can find her on Twitter: @zakkassam.