Press Release - Five Years Later

Little did I know when I started a small project 5 years ago that it would take me around the world to exotic destinations with a variety of artists, some that don’t speak my native language. That last part should have been a hindrance for someone like me. A country boy living in south central Kentucky, with only a knowledge of English; and I even have trouble with a limited southern vocabulary most of the time.

But this project of traveling and painting, creating artwork from some of the most beautiful places on earth, is a bit different than it may seem on the surface. This incredible travelogue was accomplished by traveling virtually through the use of  a technology that Google unveiled back in 2007, called Google Street View. A short definition of Street View would be in order here so that the reader can understand exactly how these artists have used the technology to help them create their drawings and paintings.

Google Street View was first introduced to the public in May of 2007. Since that time the quality of the images has increased tremendously, to now include many areas with images in high definition. The process used to obtain the navigable Street View is the use of multiple cameras on top of vehicles, large trikes, other small modes of transportation, and backpacks. The cameras, grouped together on a central mast and pointed outward in all directions, snap photos continuously, which are then stitched together to create one seamless, viewable photograph that one can walk through with the use of arrow keys or on-screen navigation. The viewer can look up and down and turn in a 360 degree circle, moving along streets, roads, and trails.

I’ve always liked maps and the thought of traveling to far away places, and was lucky enough in my early twenties to be able to travel in person. I envy those that get to explore for a living, or have the ability to do so for leisure, but I am perfectly content with my life as a husband, father, and artist. For with my life as it is I experience things unique to those positions. So while part of the world cried foul regarding the burgeoning technology called Street View, complaining of privacy concerns and big brother, I reveled in the fact that I could now begin to travel the world virtually from the comfort of my own home. Soon this turned to curiosity as I discovered the back streets and alleys that a tourist normally doesn’t see, or at the least, shy away from. 

It was one of those locations that first ignited a desire to use the image as a reference for a painting. Traveling through New York City I happened upon a Chinese Restaurant, took a screenshot of it, opened it in Photoshop, cropped it, and put it on my monitor to use as a reference. As a landscape artist for the most part, I like to at least start a painting on location, if not finish it there. So the use of a reference photo on my computer screen was not the normal artistic process I was comfortable with. But the difference was that I felt I had “found” that spot as I would have if walking along the street in person, easel and paintbox in tow. I felt an excitement, as if I had discovered something new that nobody else had thought of or tried. I’m sure others had in fact used Street View for the same purpose, but to me it felt good, exciting, and innovative.

As more Street View locations were released to the public I began to travel more, virtually. Looking forward to each new location that Google chose to give to the public. I created more paintings. I soon had an idea for a series. I would travel to each state in the U.S. and create a small palette knife painting of a scene of my choosing. Most of the pictures were not of tourist attractions or well known views of cities, but were instead of simple houses, houses that are homes to real people. I painted pastoral scenes where crops grow and cattle feed. I painted back alleys, and the gritty scenes that don’t show up on postcards.

After I started this, what I called the Street View State Series, I began to get worried about that pesky copyright symbol that seemed to be everywhere on the screen. I am not a wealthy man, and the last thing I would need in my life would be a consortium of corporate attorneys coming down on me for copyright infringement. So I got in touch with the good folks on the Maps Team and the Legal Department at the Google Corporation to discuss my project, my art, and the future of art with Street View. What came out of these discussions was that Google gave artists permission to use Street View as a reference for creating paintings and drawings without fear of copyright infringement. Now I was off to the races.

I completed my series, which eventually sold to an employee at Google, all 50 paintings, and set my sights on what I would do next with the ability to use this new technology. Not long after I finished the series I decided that other artists might like to do the same thing I was doing. So I created a small project called the Virtual Paintout.

The Virtual Paintout is a monthly project in which I choose a location that has been photographed by the Google Maps Team and released through Street View. I then post this location on a blog and a Facebook page. From there artists from around the world head to the destination of the month. They find a scene that inspires them, create their art, send me a photo of the artwork, and I then post to both websites, with a link to the location they used as a reference, and also to the artist’s blog or website if they have one. 

The first Virtual Paintout was February 2009, in Baltimore, with a total of 6 participants including myself. Since the first VPO the project has grown in the number of participants and available locations. The largest number of participants for one month was 143 for the Canary Islands. The project has been averaging around between 75 to 100 participants recently. As of this writing, after almost five years of  monthly projects, we have had over 3,900 pieces of art submitted from hundreds of different artists.

The goal of the project has always been the same; to give artists an opportunity to gather together virtually, and paint or draw in the same area. I have felt that one of the most interesting aspects of the project is to see the variety of subjects chosen by the participating artists. I try to choose an area with a diversity of subjects; i.e. landscapes, seascapes, urban scenes, farm scenes, etc.

Some of the locations participating artists have traveled to through the project include, Amsterdam, Iceland, Paris, Nova Scotia, Canary Islands, Hong Kong, Cape Town , New Orleans, Croatia, Tasmania, and Manhattan. 58 so far with  upcoming February 2014 being the 61st, and the 5th anniversary of the project.

The idea has now garnered worldwide attention in the media, with TV and Radio interviews, and many written articles, both in print and online. I’ve had television interviews with ABC News, PBS Kentucky, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. A couple of Radio Interviews in the United Kingdom. On one day there were feature stories in Britain’s largest newspapers, The Telegraph, The Sun, and the Daily Mail. Numerous other newspaper and magazine articles are listed on my website. You can go to my website to view a clickable list of the press links regarding the use of Google Street View and art. (All links for this article can be found at the end of the text.)

One of the more important aspects of the project, which has yet to garner the attention I believe that it should, is that the disabled artist community could be using this technology for their benefit. I thrive for painting outdoors, en plein air, but know that there are many artists that do not have the ability to do that. With the advent of this technology, not only do these mobility-challenged individuals have an opportunity to travel the world virtually, but to also connect with other like-minded artists. 

I am available to conduct workshops combining my techniques with this technology. In the workshop, I can take your group through each step of the process, from their first glance at Street View, through to the completion of their work of art.

Contact information:

Bill Guffey
P.O. Box 785
Burkesville, KY 42717

email: bnguffey[at]windstream.net

270-406-0189






Here are some samples of the artwork that has been submitted over the past 5 years.

 Luis E. Aparicio
New Zealand

Luis E. Aparicio
Iceland

Michelle Brown
Chile

Carolee S. Clark
Vilnius

William Cook
St. Petersburg

Nicola Dalbenzio
Thailand

Erik Van Elven
Prince Edward Island

Phil Holt
Croatia

Pedro Martin
Isle of Man

Suzanne Queen
Iceland

Murilo Romeiro
Jersey

David Savellano
Bulgaria

Yevgenia Watts
Arles

Al Woodford
Valpariaso

Bill Guffey
Croatia
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