(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.)

No 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.

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). 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 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.

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  • Julia Kay October 3, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    Thank-you Lash & Anna.
    @Lash, do check back in and let us know if there’s someplace we can view your new iPhone art. There’s a very active community on flickr.com, and if you join some of the iPhone art groups you’ll find many people happy to share tips on using the different Apps. There’s also an excellent series by a master art teacher in the New York Times on Fridays on learning to draw (in any media). It’s available online, so check it out.
    @Anna, I agree with you – for me it may be the most versatile (and expensive) pencil in my toolkit, but it’s basically just another pencil. i’d also love to see some of your work, and same recommendation about flickr.
    You both may also want to join (all these recommendations are free!) the International Association of Mobile Digital Artists (http://iamda.org) and check out the MobileArtCon in NYC later this month (http://mobilartcon.com)

  • Anna October 3, 2010 at 10:55 am

    I’ve only just started drawing on the iphone and I love it. There’s something wonderfully tactile about drawing with your finger and it means I can draw any where any time without getting all my stuff out. I don’t see it as an alternative to traditional drawing but as well as …

  • Lash LaRue October 1, 2010 at 10:57 am

    Thanks for posting this article, Julia; I will now try to follow up; I have always wanted to draw more, and maybe this will inspire me to use my iPhone to learn.

  • Julia Kay April 18, 2010 at 10:48 pm

    @Karen – I don’t personally know anyone else drawing on a droid, but there is a great international community of artists drawing on iPhones/iPod Touchs/iPads that can be found on flickr. There are also many groups on flickr for digital art in general, and I suppose there might be groups for drawing on the droid. I’d check it out at flickr.com – a basic account is free and if you have a yahoo address you can log in with that.

    If you go to my flickr photostream (http://www.flickr.com/photos/juliakay/), then click on my profile, then click on ‘see more’ under the list of groups, you can skim the full list of groups I’m a member of to get some idea. Group themes range from all digital to specific Apps on specific devices. I also have alot of digital art in my photostream in general.

    I think the two most common ‘paintlike’ programs for drawing/painting on full computers are Painter, now owned by Corel, and ArtRage. I believe there are mac and pc versions of both. I’ve used them both but vastly prefer drawing with my finger on my iPod Touch.

    Have fun – let me know if there’s somewhere online I can check out your work!

  • Karen April 18, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    I am very excited to have found this post on Blogher. I have just gotten a Droid and i have not been able to find much in the way of (serious) digital drawing on the net besides that of David Hockney. I love the few portraits of your that I’ve seen. The apps I’ve used are not that sophisticated, or maybe it’s just me and my lack of practice. I’ve taken my phone to the figure drawing group and it’s fun to do short warm-up poses. Do you use any drawing programs on the computer? Can you recommend any?

  • Bob Lynch March 3, 2010 at 1:26 am

    Good article and of special interest for us late comers to the medium who missed out on the early days. Lovely pictures too.

  • Susan Murtaugh February 15, 2010 at 8:54 am

    Great article and also Great Art… Julia, I’ve been a fan of yours since I started using brushes just over a year ago. You’ve put into words what many of us feel about our mobil studios. Thank you, and keep the good work coming.

  • mary dargis January 26, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    Julia, This is a great article! Thank you for leading me to this website also, it’s interesting!

  • Ann Koo January 23, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    I am genuinely surprised to see how expressive Julia’s works on her iPhone appear. And her enthusiasm for it is very palpable.

  • Julia Kay January 22, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    Thank you everybody for your thoughts and comments, and for taking the time to read my essay!
    @Penelope – There are also many note-taking and note-organizing apps, though it’s better for short thoughts than long ones.

  • david friedheim January 20, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    Fantastic. Just fantastic. The pictures themselves, the number of pictures on line, and the experimentation shown in the pictures. Add the ability to be articulate verbally and it is all fantastic.

  • Penelope Przekop January 20, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    This was quite an interesting article. Believe it or not, I don’t yet have an iPod. I usually have to jot my ideas down in a notebook or on any little scrap of paper I can find at the bottom on my purse when I’m out and about. I guess that’s becoming the old fashioned way now. I didn’t realize that there were so may iPod apps available for artists. I am certainly going to check this out. Thanks!

  • Amira Alvarez January 20, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    I love how the medium can change to allow you more flexibility. Beautiful!

  • Theta Michele January 20, 2010 at 9:45 am

    Hi Julia! Your writing is as clear as the emotions in your images. I always enjoy your work, and the vibrancy with which you engage in both your artistry and the art community. Cheers!

  • Annette Schmidt January 19, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    I love this article!!

  • Lenka January 19, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    This was so much fun to read!!

  • Zahava Sherez January 19, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    I love Julia’s portraits she has been posting of FaceBook for a while now. Reading this article it all came together for me. Julia not only is a great artist when she works in her studio, purposely planning a new piece of art, but she lives it 24/7 making every minute of her life count as an opportunity to draw or paint another piece. The world has become Julia’s studio. So very fascinating! Thanks, Julia

  • Steve Skaar January 19, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    Great article. I’m a fan!