Painting on the phone

July 17, 2009
Robert Genn

Yesterday, Albert Root of Spokane, Washington, sent us some rather good 
examples of iPhone art. With an inexpensive application called "Brushes," some 
artists are busy making tiny paintings on their cell phone screens. So you can 
get an idea of what I'm talking about, we've put a short (two-minute) YouTube 
video at the top of our current clickback.

Other artists have asked if this sort of thing can be legitimate art. In a 
very short time, 40,000 of the apps have been sold. Some artists wonder if the 
mini-media might be a threat to traditional brush-and-paint. Like the 
innumerable effects possible with Photoshop, Modbook, Sketchbook Pro and other 
products, there are concerns.

Hey, aren't these just more creative tools in need of exploration? And like 
all media, won't they find their masters? Take Wisconsin painter Susan 
Murtaugh. She paints tiny ersatz oils of remarkable quality. Hers is an art 
that can be made in the corner of a dog-park in Green Bay and sent in a 
cloudless nanosecond to a villa in Italy. She also makes and sells prints. 
Leonardo would have been impressed.

Ever since the print revolution started in the 1800s, through the Kodak and 
photocopy reproductions, and the giclee and electronic transfer phenomenon, 
image procurement and distribution have mushroomed. At the same time, like 
the doomsayers at the advent of photography announcing the death of painting, 
one-of-a-kind art using traditional media continues to thrive as in no other 
period in history. 

Both the success and failure of digital-electronic art lie in its viral 
nature. Facile, mysterious and beautiful though it may be, some folks 
think it may become too ubiquitous to qualify as permanent art. By 
threatening rarity, art 'gone viral' clouds collectability. 

Everything was once a novelty. Only a few years ago I was speeding to the 
local cell phone store to put in my order for a rumoured phone with (like, 
wow!) a built-in camera. I wanted to be the first on the block. How "Ho-hum" 
now, eh? 

Best regards,


PS: "It took me a little while to get the hang of it but once I figured out my 
work flow it was almost like painting on canvas." (Susan Murtaugh)

Esoterica: You can begin with a blank canvas or an existing photo. Using 
fingers and thumbs, the app allows users to make use of various painting tools 
and brush sizes and pick up indicated colours using the eyedropper tool. The 
"pinching" gesture, a feature of iPhone, is used to zoom in for detailed work. 
There's an undo and redo function as well. It's tricky--and mighty difficult 
for some. But for those who excel, can gallery representation be far behind?