Using a palette knife, Classic Artist Oils, and a whole bunch of 5"x7" canvases, Bill Guffey set out on a journey in 2009 to create a series of paintings that captured scenes from every state. He finished fifty paintings -- 49 states plus one for Washington, D.C.; Hawaii was added later -- in just a little over two months and it's easy to identify which state each represents. That's because Guffey painted his scenes based on existing ones. But he didn't have to travel thousands of miles to do this; Guffey painted from the comfort of his home in Burkesville, Kentucky, using photographs captured by Google's Street View team.
Story continues after the gallery.
When the painting of Kentucky was finished -- he saved his home state for the end of the project -- Guffey wrote a blog post detailing his motivation. "I did this series to show what might be accomplished by using the technology that is available to us today." Artists, particularly amateur artists, may not have the means to travel around the entire country seeking inspiration for their work. Google's Street View, Guffey has shown, changed that by bringing the country to them; in that way, it's similar to the new Google Art Project, which allows anybody with an Internet connection to visit a handful of the world's most renowned art galleries.
"I'm hoping some good may come out of this series, that Google will allow, i.e. give permission, to artists working in traditional methods (no digitally altered art) to use Streetview [sic] as source for reference material," Guffey wrote. "This would open up an entire world for artists that are disabled and confined to their homes or facilities, or with restricted mobility." After finishing his series, Guffey reached out to Google, which gave permission to artists to use Street View as a reference for their original works without fear of copyright infringement.
The project was finished, Guffey had virtually visited every state in the United States. But, now armed with Google's permission, the artist continued working from Street View images, carving out a niche in the fine art world. Guffey has now completed "about 160 or so" paintings based on this technology, he told me through e-mail. Still, according to his website, Guffey begins most of his landscape paintings on location, "which gives [him] a feeling of connection to nature; and observing the image taking shape on the blank canvas is still an amazing experience of which I feel I'll never tire."
Today, Guffey oversees a monthly "paintout" with artists from all over the world. Using Google Street View, the artists can participate in the project regardless of their location. This month, Guffey and his team are using Romania as inspiration. "Bill's use of Street View, to inspire his paintings and to create a virtual community of artists, is a remarkable example that we hadn't imagined but are really excited to see," Google Street View product manager Stephen Chau has said.
The gallery below shows Guffey's painting method: