Longtime readers of Women’s Voices may remember when Julia Kay was artist in residence at Women’s Voices for Change. She’s shared with us the course of her Daily Portrait Project, from its beginning to its end after three years, and we’ve followed her discovery of and role in the explosion of mobile art projects—including her new international phenomenon, The Julia Kay Portrait Party, in which artists draw each other on Flickr.com and in person around the world.

The last time we checked in with this important artist was when we posted a two-part interview in early 2011. But when we learned that Kay would be giving presentations at the Macworld conference in San Francisco, we asked for some photos—and realized that an update was seriously overdue.


Women’s Voices for Change last checked in with me in January of 2011, and I have to say I’ve had a lot of fun being an artist in the year since then. The most recent fun was this week, when a recent series of self-portraits suddenly jumped from the studio table to the easel to the wall. This change in support surface indicates a change in scale—from portraits you could easily hold in one hand to those that would take two hands to a  piece growing on the studio wall that is currently 5 x 4 feet . . . and probably heading for 10 feet tall.

Monumental self-portraiture is not the “right” direction for my work, since what fame I have comes from drawing on my iPad and starting a group that doesn’t allow self- portraits. It’s not the “right” direction because I’m thinking of downsizing to a smaller studio and because I generally have only 15-30 minutes to draw each day. It’s not the “right” direction if I think about it logically: but here I am, and darned excited about it!


In the last weekend in January, I had quite a bit of fun at Macworld demonstrating drawing on my iPad. Doing so is always the experience of drawing something small, even though you can sometimes print your iPad paintings quite large. The advantage of the iPad’s size is, of course, that you can take it with you, but that’s not the only benefit. When you draw on the iPad, there’s no brush to clean; you have unlimited undo and redo; there are millions of colors at your fingertips, as well as an incredible variety of apps available, ranging from unabashedly digital to emulations of oil paint, watercolor, pastel, charcoal, wood block printing, and so on. Plus, you can save each stage of a piece before you ruin it. (My list of iPad art app descriptions is here.)

Although I go back and forth between digital and traditional artmaking all the time, it may  have been the looser, more sweeping strokes I could make with my new Nomad Brush Stylus for the iPad that generated the impulse in my body to make even larger sweeping strokes across large sheets of paper with traditional brushes. It was Nomad that invited me to demonstrate at Macworld, so I was using the brush stylus all weekend. When I was first invited, I was skeptical, because I’ve tried many styluses and have always preferred drawing with my finger on touchscreens, but I love the brush and the way it sweeps almost without friction across the iPad’s surface, allowing for a much looser line and allowing me to draw without my body’s working so hard.

There were a number of artists from Julia Kay’s Portrait Party at Macworld, so we also had a mini meetup (above left), drawing each other while demonstrating drawing on the iPad to the public. JKPP is an international collaboration of more than 650 artists from more than 50 countries engaged in mutual portraiture. In less than two years we’ve made more than 20,000 portraits of each other in every imaginable medium, from iPads to oils to Etch-a-Sketch to cross-stitch. Although most of the portraits are made from photos we post of ourselves, next week we’re experimenting with drawing over Skype (at right, my impression of a Skype session with Erica), and we’ve had in-person meetups from San Francisco to Barcelona, from New York to London.

The European Tour

The fun of the mini-meetup at Macworld was an extension of the fun I had this fall when I took myself to Europe and attended a meetup of about a dozen of JKPP’s very active European members in Brussels, stopping to visit others in London and Paris. It was really a blast to meet the people I’d been drawing and painting and talking to online. Even with lots of photos, it’s hard to know which gestures and expressions are really typical of people—how they usually tilt their head, cross their legs, glance up or down. These are the things you can really absorb only by seeing someone over time, and in person. Even things that aren’t explicit in portraits, such as the timbre of someone’s voice, help you to know, and therefore portray them, better. And aside from the benefit for portraiture, it was great to come together as a community and share meals, studio space, a picnic in the park, a visit to a museum and wandering through the beautiful old city center, talking about art, community, portraits, and why Scotty hasn’t invented the transporter yet so we could do this more often.


Book Projects

The Daily Portrait Project

Before I headed to Europe, my partner and I worked on putting together a monograph of the first year of my Daily Portrait Project (DPP). Self-portraiture has always been and still is a recurring theme in my work. However, for the DPP, I focused completely on this theme and made a self-portrait every single day for three years. Celebrating the completion of this series was one of my impetuses to start the Portrait Party. Eventually there will be three volumes, one for each year. It was very satisfying to hold Volume I in my hands and page through week-by-week, seeing how the project changed over time—from working only from the mirror to using photographs to expanding from just the head to narratives when I was traveling in Southeast Asia. Every portrait from the first year is in the volume, which is available at blurb.com.


The Julia Kay Portrait Project

Speaking of books, JKPP has had several book projects, too. The project to put together a comprehensive book as a group has unfortunately been on a back burner for the last year, due to everyone’s busy-ness and the difficulty of trying to make decisions with such a large group. Meanwhile, three individual members have published books that include JKPP portraits. Jerry Waese‘s (above left) is a selection of his portraits from the first year of JKPP.  Jane Sherwood‘s (above right) is a selection of her portraits, some for JKPP and some of subjects outside the group.

Fortunately for JKPP, the third volume is a book put together by Martin and Alison Beek. It is not simply a monograph of Martin’s portraits for JKPP, but also tells the story of the party. It contains both photos of meetups and full portraits of Martin by other members of the group. It was my pleasure to write the introduction for this book, and doing that gave me the impetus to spend more time looking at and thinking about Martin’s extensive body of portraiture. I recommend it as the best overview of JKPP available in print.



Fun as writing is, it’s not as fun for me as drawing, so instead of ruminating more on the fun of last year, I’m heading back to the studio to work on Held Tegen Wil En Dank (a Dutch saying which roughly translates to ‘The hero who finds him/herself in this position without wanting it’).  This is my working title for the monumental self-portrait – which of course is a drawing of me creating the drawing – and wondering what’s going to happen next.

If you’re in Northern California next month, check out Julia’s presentation at the flagship San Francisco Apple Store on March 31 at 3 PM. She’ll showcase some of her images, and describe the process of making them (including which Apps she uses for which effects). Then write to us at WVFC, so we know what it felt like to be there.

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  • Tamar February 18, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    (And the larger self portraits intrigue me!)

  • Tamar February 18, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    A pleasure to read, thanks, Julia! JKPP is such an amazing phenomenon: a thriving community of artists, a virtual (and real-space) ongoing salon. It reminds me of everything I’ve read about the Impressionists ducking in and out of each other’s workspaces, feeding off each other’s techniques and creativity.

    BTW, you’ve inspired me to get Nomad Brush (well, not yet, but soon).

  • Claudia waters February 18, 2012 at 12:15 am

    Julia, Your work is truly inspirational to me. I love your art and I love that you have used it to create a community of amazing people and artists and aficionados. Thank you and I can’t wait to see you at the Apple Store. Thanks!!

  • Gila February 16, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    Another wonderful article ~ Julia continues to be an inspirational force!
    ~ thanks for keeping us up to date!