(Many observant WVFC readers are already fans of Julia Kay, who first told us of her Daily Portrait Project a year ago and this fall shared vivid memories of many Septembers. Since then, one of her portraits was in a Chicago show featured in the New York Times, and she keeps discovering new meanings of the word “portrait.” We’re thrilled that Julia has now agreed to check in with us once a month with a new selection from her project, chosen just for WVFC, and to let us know what new directions continue to grow out of her process. — Ed.)

Julia Kay's self-portrait as a vividly colored figure in Roland Petersen's painting Wedding Feast with Five FiguresNo one paid any attention while I made January 5′s self-portrait (left), even though I was standing right in front of Roland Petersen’s “The Wedding Feast With Five Figures” (right) at the Juicy Paint exhibition at the San Jose Museum of Art. No one paid any attention because there were no paints, no brushes, no dropcloth.

I drew it with my finger on my iPod Touch using Inspire, one of dozens of drawing and painting apps (programs) for the iPhone and iPod Touch. No one paid attention because there’s nothing unusual these days about someone staring intently at a small electronic device.

When my partner first gave me an iPod Touch — essentially, a small computer like the Apple iPhone but without the phone — the device had no drawing programs. Back then, there were no independently developed programs at all, no commercials saying “There’s an app [application] for that.”

It didn’t matter: I mostly wanted to be able to have my portfolio in my pocket. When someone asked, “What kind of art do you make?” rather than inviting them to my studio or Website to see my work, or trying to explain the variety of media and subjects I’ve encompassed over time, I could answer the question with pictures. I was so thrilled that I immediately made a self-portrait in watercolor holding my iPod Touch, with the Touch displaying my portfolio.

Julia Kay's first self-portrait drawn on her iPod Touch.Julia Kay's self-portrait made partly on her iPod and partly with watercolors.But when the first drawing app, No. 2 , was launched in 2008, I downloaded it immediately and made my first such drawing, “iTouch” (left), despite it being an extremely limited program with a clunky interface, in which you could only make a thin black line on a white background. Since color wasn’t available, I printed it onto art paper and painted over it in watercolors to make “Worrying About My Friends” (right).

Since then, dozens more drawing and painting programs have been developed, with improved interfaces and constantly updated features. Some are general purpose, and some have a very specific capability such as drawing with type or making paint splatters a la Jackson Pollack. Many have their own groups online, mostly on the flickr.com photo Website, where users of their programs share the art they are making.

Although I’ve long had a presence on the Internet (my first Website loaded in 1998, I’ve had a blog since 2007), I had only used the Flickr photo Website to share my travel photos from abroad. With the impetus of seeing how other people were drawing on similar devices, I started uploading my Daily Portrait Project pieces, both those done on my iPod Touch and those in traditional media. It turned out there’s a fantastic community of artists out there, and soon I was following the work of artists all around the world, from China to France, Portugal to Italy, USA to Canada. I became engaged in conversations about color, media, narrative, process—in short, all aspects of making art.

I found compelling work that was like mine, and work that I loved although it was not like mine at all. One of the people whose work I started to follow was Jerry Waese, a Canadian artist who draws dynamic and engaging pictures of – traffic (see image at left). Julia Kay's drawing of Jerry Waese's drawing of street traffic.Omnibuses and taxies veer across intersections, pedestrians flow together and apart, bicycles and motorbikes converge, and skies are criss-crossed with electric lines for trams, towering traffic lights and leering street posts. All this and more is to be found in his drawings. Traffic, never a subject that interested me, was suddenly fascinating. Since Waese draws in traditional (non-digital) media, there’s always the potential of something lost in the process of scanning and uploading, in the space between the actual drawings and their digital representations.

When I discovered, quite by accident, that Waese had several pieces in a group show in San Jose, about an hour from where I live in San Francisco, I decided to drive down and see the show. It was fun to hold Waese’s actual drawings in my hands, and to wander the compact downtown of San Jose afterward, visiting galleries and museums.

And that’s how I ended up at Petersen’s “Wedding” at the San Jose Museum of Art’s Juicy Paint show, where I made another drawing on my iPod Touch (full size below). Standing in front of Petersen’s painting, I was able to imagine myself in the scene and make what I imagined real. It was far easier than I ever could have done before while standing in a museum, all thanks to having an entire, full-color art studio at my fingertips, an art studio that did not attract the attention of the other visitors or the security guards.

Julia Kay's self-portrait as a vividly colored figure in Roland Petersen's painting Wedding Feast with Five Figures


Julia Kay’s Daily Portrait Project is now heading toward its third anniversary, and Julia hasn’t yet missed a single day. The series of self-portraits can be viewed in its entirety at http://studiojuliakay.com/portraitproject. A broad overview of her work can be seen on her website at http://studiojuliakay.com, and her most recent work, portraits and non-portraits alike can be seen in her flickr photostream.