Air Painting! A Revolutionary New Way to Paint


Self-portrait, air paint, first portrait ever created from life with air painting, 11/29/2012

Painting in the Air…Literally

Imagine painting in the air, literally… That is now a reality. Since 2012 I have been experimenting with, and helped shape, cutting-edge prototype air painting technologies, working closely with different hardware and software developers. One of the technologies I have explored is the amazingly powerful combination of the revolutionary new Leap Motion Controller, the world’s most accurate 3-D motion-control technology that accurately maps the movement of your hands and fingers in three dimensional space, and Corel Painter Freestyle, a simplified Leap Motion-enabled version of the phenomenal paint program Corel Painter that I have been using for over twenty years.

See the Epson video of me air painting at the SIGGRAPH conference, Anaheim, CA; the Vimeo video featured on the Leap Motion blog; my air painting presentation at the ideaCity conference, Toronto; plus the BBC article.

More recently I have been exploring air painting with other software such as Leap Motion-enabled Ethereal on the Mac platform; with a custom prototype using Kinect technology; and with the Leap Motion combined with the Oculus Rift for VR 3D air painting.



Paradigm Shift

In January 2007 I was a speaker at Macworld and had the pleasure of sitting in the hall when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone. I see the introduction of the Leap Motion control of computers as an equally significant paradigm-shift in the way we interact with our devices. Just as kids now take touch screens for granted, in a few years they will also take motion gesture control for granted. Painting in the air has a quality of magic… a cross between being a magician, a dancer and a symphony conductor! I am reminded of Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” This certainly fits the bill!


Portrait of Lisa, air painted from life and then printed out on canvas, San Francisco, 3/24/2013. Music: “Valse Sans Nom” by Trio Garufa.

What struck me as I painted the portrait of Lisa and also the still life, both shown above and both created 100% using only movement and gesture of my hands in the air, was (1) the level of fine control of the quality of line I was able to achieve using movement in the z axis, equalling or even surpassing the level of pressure control I have using a pressure-sensitive Wacom pen tablet, and (2) how much I liked the quality of marks I made through motion in the air, and how there was a playfulness and looseness to the line quality that was different to the type of marks I would make either using a Wacom pen-tablet or traditional physical media.

On Wednesday, July 24, I gave a presentation on air painting at the world’s largest conference devoted to computer graphics, SIGGRAPH. I also presented air painting in the SIGGRAPH Studio

The Background to Air Painting with
Leap Motion and Corel Painter

I became aware of Leap Motion in May 2012 and immediately saw the potential for a new way to paint. That same day I contacted both the Corel Painter team and Leap Motion, introduced them to each other and subsequently worked closely with both companies to help shape the resulting Painter product powered by motion gesture input from the Leap Motion device. I am a named inventor on Corel’s pending patent application for controlling color selection using gestures in a vision system. In March I demonstrated painting in the air with Corel Painter Freestyle and Leap Motion in the Leap Motion Experience tent at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Media Conference, Austin, Texas, where Leap Motion officially launched their product.


Demonstrating air painting in the Leap Motion Experience, plus air painting in the air, literally, at 30,000′ on a Southwest airline plane coming back from SXSW (the first ever air painting at that altitude).


While demonstrating at SXSW I was asked if painting in the air is tiring on my arms. I painted for three full days, each day for about five or six hours, and had no problems with arm fatigue. It was my legs that got tired standing for that long! I positioned the Leap Motion controller device low enough that my arms and hands remained most of the time in what I refer to as “dance position”, that is a comfortable position with a slight bend in the elbows. Here are a few links related to the SXSW air painting demonstration:

Press Release from Corel published in ImagineFX magazine

Forbes video from SXSW

Vine video taken at SXSW by Steve Garfield

Instagram photo taken at SXSW by Steve Garfield

Article in the Verge

More About Corel Painter Freestyle

Corel Painter Freestyle allows you to easily select brushes, textures, commands and choose hue, value and saturation, to know where your cursor is in hover mode and to finely control your entry through the painting plane, all through hand movement and gesture. I can even save my files, clear the canvas and finely control the brush stroke quality, size, opacity and movement, and then be able to easily choose from 24 million colours, all with movement in the air and without touching anything. It takes a little practice to get used to, but once you do get the hang of it and sense of where the 3D painting zone is in space, it is absolutely brilliant as well as fun.

The Very First Air Paintings

The self-portrait you see at the top of this page was created on November 29th, 2012, and is, to my knowledge, the first painting from life ever created with 100% air painting. I was using early prototypes of both the Leap Motion controller and a Leap-enabled version of Corel Painter. A few days after this self-portrait I created the first ever air painting portrait of another subject from life:


Portrait of Chris, air paint, 12/1/2012


  1. Henk Dawson
    April 19, 2013

    Wow, wow, and wow!! This is magic. Congrats Jeremy you keep aiming higher and higher and pulling it off like no other. I can’t wait to get my hands on this in 3 dimensions 🙂

  2. henkdawson
    April 20, 2013


    This is sheer magic, unrestricted creativity, letting the juices flow through the air and finding their way on the canvas. What a discovery you have made to completely set the artist free. You are truly the master of creative freedom.

    I am mesmerized,

  3. Bobbo Goldberg
    May 30, 2013

    Can you set it up so moving the brush (or finger) forward, toward the screen, can modulate opacity, line width, etc?

  4. Sally Armstrong
    May 30, 2013

    This is so exciting! The way you like to dance I can just picture you air painting and dancing. Thank you so much for finding this wonderful new way to paint.

  5. Brett Turner
    May 31, 2013

    You, the folks at Painter, are crazy cool. Art for me is exploration and you Jeremy have it in a way that makes my soul shine. Keep it up brother.

  6. Barbara Ayres
    May 31, 2013

    Jeremy, I’m never surprised at what you do. You are so talented, so creative and so willing to share your knowledge and skill with others. Beautiful picture. Can;t wait to
    see what you’re going to do next. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Rich
    June 1, 2013

    … I don’t know… It looks like a lot of trouble or maybe I should say it appears to be awkward. but then, I’ve never tried it personally and before I tried Corel Painter, (first time was in 2004), I thought that looked awkward in the way i was not looking at my brush when i would use it, (I don’t have a Cintiq).

    But of course, that concern was quickly dashed when I got my Intuos.
    Still, there’s something about this that doesn’t ‘feel’ natural. Maybe that’s it… There’s no actual contact.

    Jeremy, like all top-talent artists, can make that look deceptively easy. But then, it’s the person who has no idea what a ‘limit’ is, let alone their own, that are always the ones at the top.

    • Jeremy Sutton
      June 3, 2013

      Hi Rich,

      Thanks for your comment! I would say it is akin to learning a musical instrument. The beginning stages do feel awkward and the results rudimentary, but as you get the feel of it and attain control of the tools, everything falls into place. And as with any instrument, gradually you can be immersed in the art and not worry about the technology. Just takes time and practice…



  8. tim moore
    June 1, 2013

    I just had visions of a symphony of painters..attached to a conductor’s baton and the bow’s on the string section of a symphony…

    • Jeremy Sutton
      June 3, 2013

      …and the multiple paintings projected on overlapping screens in the air…

  9. Donna Sellers
    June 3, 2013

    So very exciting! I hope to hear more about it at your Wednesday web session.


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