Lines and Colors art blog

The Virtual Paintout

The Virtual Paintout: Amsterdam, Phil Holt, Sharon Williamson, Carol Morgan, Bill GuffeyKentucky artist Bill Guffey has come up with a great idea for a Virtual Paintout, in which participants use Google Maps Street Views as the subjects for paintings in traditional media.

Guffey actually talked with the Google Maps team and received their approval to the idea of creating paintings from Google Maps Street Views and selling them. The only caveat is that if the original source photographic view is shown along with the painting, that credit be assigned for the photograph (Google logo and copyright visible in the photograph). There is no claim of restriction on the paintings themselves.

This addresses the issue with using photographs by others as source material for artists, in that photographs themselves can be works of art, and are copyrightable.

The issues there are somewhat murky, involving interpretation based on verisimilitude and the legal status of the source photograph. An interesting example of this is the controversy surrounding the use of an AP photo for Shepard Fairey’s “Hope” poster of Barack Obama, and the subsequent suit by the AP.

The OK by Google over use of their maps photography for paintings obviates the issue of permission in individual cases where paintings are made using traditional media (though I’m sure that digital manipulation of the source photographs to make a digital work is another issue entirely).

Guffey, who has been using Google Maps Street views in a series of this own paintings, such as his State Series, realized that this opened the door to a Virtual Paintout, using Google Maps views of a particular place as the theme to create a virtual version of a traditional paintout gathering.

This is in some ways similar to the themed group painting and blog posting projects like Karin Jurick’s Different Strokes from Different Folks, in which the source inspiration is a single photograph (see my posts on Different Strokes from Different Folks and Different Strokes from Different Folks Portrait Swap).

Previous Virtual Paintout locations included Baltimore and Seattle. The most recent completed Virtual Paintout location was Amsterdam, from which I’ve pulled a few examples at left (top to bottom: Phil Holt, Sharon Williamson, Carol Morgan, Bill Guffey).

The new, current Virtual Paintout location is Paris (ah, Paris!). This one starts now and runs to the end of May. The blog post provides a map and a link to the larger original map on Google. You would use the latter to access Street View.

If you haven’t used Google Street View before, prepare to be amazed. On the full size map, drag the small icon of a person from the upper left view control bar into the image to see a street view from that location. Mouse across the image to rotate the view or look up and down. Move the figure in the inset map to move the view, or click back on the minus sign in the upper left to pull back to map view.

Find a location you like, perhaps take a screenshot for further reference and start painting. (Are there any views in central Paris that are not potential views for a painting?) There are more complete instructions, including how to submit your painting to the Virtual Paintout blog, in the blog’s right hand column.

You can see more of Guffey’s own work, much of which has a painterly plein air feeling, even when painted from Street View photographs, on his blog and web site.



9 responses to “The Virtual Paintout”

  1. Funny, I was just using Street View the other day to draw Paris (along with Google Maps for an aerial view). It’s a constant source of visual reference and inspiration. Glad to see I’m not the only one.

    1. Thanks, Paolo. I wonder how many other artists are already doing this…

  2. This is extremely timely for me.
    I asked legal advice on this ‘source material vs. plagiarism’ subject this week!

    For a comic book project I’m using a lot of photo material as documentation.

    I found one photo so impressive that I used it quite literaly and asked the photographer if I could use it that way. I included the finished drawing in my request, specified that I would explicitely thank him in the book and give him a copy of the book and invite him at the presentation – to which he enthousiastically agreed.

    But I’m still worried about the photographs I used partially. The internet is a vast library of information, be it textual or visual. I contacted a (government funded and free!…but in Belgium:) ) legal advisor for artists and she said that “it depends” whether it’s plagiarism or not and that “every case is interpreted differently by courts” and that “intuition should give you a good clue as to how far you can go”.

    Intuition??? And she is a specialist!

    Sure, I’ll “cover my tracks” by using a different perspective or more windows in the background or (very typically) replace the people, the colors, the number of windows…
    (Doesn’t that last line sound criminal?)

    But what if I like that schadow line or that dog looking out of that window?
    There used to be a youtube clip where many sources of Moebius (Jean Giraud) where displayed next to the drawing and all of them where clearly single-source interpretations – often of old black-and-white stills from western movies. Did he ask permission for all of these? Currently that clip has been removed from youtube.

    I think that this topic, where google ‘opens the doors’ is eventually the way it will progress for the whole internet, but as I read on some other blog “if musicians cannot use the tiniest sample without permision, even if you distort it with loads of effects, so why would it be different for visual ‘samples’ that you distort by turning it into a painting?

  3. To be honest I always use Flickr to find pictures about other cities to paint. I think the quality is much better for a photo reference.

  4. Now that’s using your brain Bill Guffey. And it doesn’t intrude on rights of images – as it surely would with using Flickr. And thank you for the mention Charley. I do appreciate it.

  5. What fun! I love it!

  6. Thanks for the article Charley. Couldn’t have asked for anything better.

    Thanks Karen. Your site rocks.

  7. Thanks for the article Charley. This is a topic we often discuss in our studio. Thanks for including me – I just recently found it.

  8. Nice write up on the Virtual Paintout. I especially like the lead in photo. I really enjoy the Bill Guffey’s monthly projects and am currently working on a Paris painting. So far I used pics from the Google cameras, but this time I an thinking of using images from Panramio. These photos are from various people and may be infringement. But it seams unlikely any one would come after the user these photos.
    I am also a regular participant in Karin’s Different Strokes site.