Review: Vermillion

I’ll freely admit – over the creaking of my joints – that my stint in art college was a little over twenty-two years ago. Since then I’ve dabbled here and there with art, never truly rediscovering the flair I once had, but never letting forgetting what I learned. The same goes for today as it did when I was eighteen, oil paints are difficult to use and even tougher to master.

Enter VR app, Vermillion, a virtual studio designed to distil the craft of oil painting for… well, I’m unsure. The demographic of these types of app or game are hard to pin down; surely if you’re genuinely interested in oil painting, you could but a canvas and some oils and experiment? This goes doubly for this particular medium as oil paints are textured, something practically impossible to convey using motion controls, or any digital input.

Vermillion does a very good job of giving a bounty of tools to the user, each of which is highly customisable. There are plenty of brushes, for instance, and each of these can be manipulated to change grip or size of the brush stroke. Diving into the options allows the adjustment of sensitivity settings when pressing down onto the palette or canvas and everything in the studio can be moved to just the right place in order to feel comfortable.

When I first started I adjusted the canvas height, pulled the brush stand to a more reachable position, I could even pull down a screen to sit next to the canvas and show me a ‘how-to’ video. But as soon as I picked up the palette and chose a brush, the absence of any tactility caused me to create a bit of a mess. Light touches from my palette knife which, in real life, would pick up a trace of paint for delicate highlights, resulted here in a blob of paint being smeared unceremoniously.

The same went for switching out to the blending brushes which moved the paint around while only feathering the edges of the colour. I don’t want to damn the app, because with plenty of patience some success could be had, but it brings me back to why you’d choose this over painting in real life.

Oil paint, perhaps more so than acrylic, is a tactile paint. It smooshes when pushed, it bunches up when slathered on in thick dollops and each stroke has a knock on effect to the next. None of this is conveyed very well in Vermillion, despite all its wonderful options and brush choices. However, there’s still a lot missing. There are no stippling brushes, for example. Nor can you whack out the excess paint to dry brush.

Once the tutorial is over, the app suggests painting along with modern meme God of painting, Bob Ross. There he is, playing through YouTube next to the canvas, talking about happy little trees and funny skies. He suggested I dab the paint gently on the palette as we needed a sparing use of colour, yet my paint was laid down like it was cement. Switching brushes didn’t make much difference.

Oddly enough, painting and drawing apps work very well in VR, but only usually if they stick to big, broad effects or 3D work, creating any kind of finesse is incredibly tough to pull off. If you’ve got the time, Vermillion can work for larger abstract creations, but the detailed light touches are lost in translation.