Artist finds inspiration in Google Maps

Bill Guffey
Artist Bill Guffey's paintings are inspired by images he finds using Google Maps Street View. Recently, he painted the Angwin Vineyards in Angwin, Calif.

Nearly every day, Bill Guffey, an artist based in Burkesville, Kentucky, spends time painting picturesque scenes from the streets of London, Florence, and New York.

How he travels there, couldn't be simpler. With the click of a computer mouse, Guffey is transported to these international destinations within seconds using Google Maps Street View.

The program, launched in 2007, provides panoramic views of public streets and landmarks in about a dozen countries in North America, Europe, and Asia. While most people use Google Maps for directions, Guffey uses them as a muse.

Guffey's rural studio is 30 minutes from the closest Wal-Mart, and he hasn't been to 99 percent of the places he's painted, he tells ABC News.

But when he boots up his computer, the whole world is at his fingertips. His oil paintings are inspired by the 360-degree horizontal and 290-degree vertical panoramic Google Maps Street View images he can see on his computer screen.

"I live in a very rural area," Guffey, a graphic artist for the Cumberland County News, told ABC News. "Here, I can go out and I can paint cows all day, barns all day … With Street View, I can find things I normally wouldn't see here."

Now, he can travel to about a dozen countries and peer into the lively streets of Paris or marvel at Rome's magnificent architecture from afar, for example. Tonight, he says that he is thinking about traveling to France, maybe Monte Carlo, Monaco, to paint.

A painter finds his muse 

Guffey wasn't always a painter. When his wife kept asking about buying a painting for one of the walls of their home, he decided to create one himself. So, off he went to purchase some brushes and paint at the hardware store. Now, he's painted more than 350 paintings and counting, and he doesn't intend to stop. In the future, he dreams of painting fulltime.

Currently, Guffey's portfolio includes 100 images inspired by Google Maps street view. In April, he finished painting images from each of the 50 states, subbing in Washington DC for Hawaii, which is not yet available on Google Maps (You can view his paintings here). Last week, Guffey painted a few scenes from Eastport, Maine. This week, his blog displays paintings of Angwin Vineyards in Angwin, Calif., and the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, Colo.

His artwork is available at a local gallery in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and on his website. So far, he says he has sold around 30 to 40 pieces, and some of them have sold for up to $1,500, according to ABC News.

What does Google think? 

Since he began using Google Street View to create his artwork, Google Maps has been supportive of Guffey's creative approach and use of the program.

"When we were creating Street View, we were excited about all the everyday uses, like looking for parking or planning trips," Stephen Chau, product manager for Google Street View, told ABC News. "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. It's been amazing to see the possibilities that have opened up as Street View has been brought to more places around the world."

Virtual Paintouts

To encourage other painters to use Google Maps, he hosts monthly "Virtual Paintouts," and asks artists to paint a particular area of the world using Google Maps Street View. Guffey says that around 20-25 artists have joined him in painting the world from the comfort of their computers. This month, artists are asked to paint scenes from London using Google Maps Street View. Guffey says he hopes that disabled artists will be able "to use this technology to paint the world from their own living room and from the facility where they may be living."

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