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Flying Pixels (formerly the Virtual Painting Station):
Children's Museum/Interactive Installation

Design and Construction:
John Toenjes

John Toenjes
Rick Valentin
Rose Marschak


Visit the
Flying Pixels website
— where you can view all the current paintings from installation at the Orpheum Children's Museum in Champaign, IL. (opens a new window)


This movement activated painting installation tracks the painter’s spray can to create Abstract Expressionist style Action Paintings on a projected screen. Each color is associated with a different instrument in a bouncy multitrack music piece that plays as soon as the can is picked up. This motivates the painter to move freely and activate the body’s sense of artistic expression. When the painter is finished, he puts the can back in its holder. The music stops, and the program automatically stores the paintings for printing and for later viewing and download. By searching by date and time of painting, the image can be easily retrieved at the Flying Pixels website.

Virtual painting station
John Toenjes painting at the Krannert Art Museum.
Click for more pictures of the
Virtual Painting Station.

Installation inquiries:

The Virtual Painting Station is available for installation. Advantages of this installation are that the pictures can be hosted on your website, drawing traffic to it during and after the course of an installation. Also, local music students can get involved in producing the music tracks that are played by the Virtual Painting Station, further involving the community. I can also do workshops and lecture demonstra-tions with your community or students. Contact me to discuss installations or other related activities.

This installation was originally part of the When We Were Young exhibit, which began at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., and moved to the Krannert Art Museum in Champaign, IL. The exhibit closed, but the painting station was held over for three months due to its popularity. It has now become a permanent installation in the Orpheum Children’s Museum in Champaign, IL. At its opening it was swamped with excited children, all waiting to get their turn to paint. We did not track downloads of paintings from the website, but I spoke with one grandmother who brought her grandkids back to the installation periodically for some good fun. She told me she downloaded the paintings, framed them, and gave them for presents and hung them in the house to the children’s delight. You can see all of the paintings made during the first run of the Virtual Painting Station at http://www.kam.uiuc.edu/wwwy/ Make sure to enter a date between 10/30/07 and 2/22/08 in the search box, or just click on “Random Painting.” Paintings from the current installation can be found at the Flying Pixels website.

Technically, the VPS is made with game console buttons connected to a computer via a small MIDItron® circuit board that lives underneath the artist palette. The spray can contains an infrared light that is used to track its position, and a magnetic switch to turn on and off the music and the painting. The kiosk that the palette and spray can rest on contains the computer, projector, and music speakers. The projection is shown on a piece of white foam core on an easel. The palette-shaped game controls and easel projection surface give the sense of being in an artist’s atelier, yet the music and graffiti-like experience make it really fun for the kids. The installation can be augmented with additional display screens showing the painting in progress, and a slideshow of all the paintings created during the installation run. This installation has proven to be quite robust, with constant use and abuse heaped on it by children with no physical failures in 5 consecutive months.

Blog (not very active):
JT's Musings & Doings

John Toenjes

907 1/2 W Nevada St.
Urbana, IL 61801



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