A typical scene from James Gurney’s live streaming of a plein air painting session

Imagine watching a live painting demonstration in your home. New York painter James Gurney made this possible recently, thanks to technology. 

Gurney, who is a hero to many observational painters, painted in the parking lot of the Beekman Arms Hotel in Rhinebeck, New York, and live-streamed the video of the process through a service called ConcertWindow, which musicians have been using to stream concerts live. To prepare the video that was being captured by an iPad, Gurney used an app called Busk, which allowed the video to stream even when the WiFi signal (which was seeping out of the hotel) was relatively weak. It can work over a 4G cellphone network, in fact.

The painting Gurney was working on during the live streaming event

Artists may be less interested in the technical nuts and bolts of the job, and more interested in what the setup let Gurney do. With the help of his wife, he was able to address comments from viewers, take suggestions on camera angles, and offer a tip jar to help pay for the event. That’s all Gurney has done in the way of monetizing his web streaming, and he’s made as much as $500 in tips for one of his studio painting sessions. In other ConcertWindow scenarios, musicians have set up an entry fee when tips aren’t likely to generate enough to cover expenses.

Gurney says he wonders if it was the first streamed plein air painting event. “I’m pretty sure it was the first stream on a monetized platform of an outdoor painting using a public WiFi connection,” he asserts. The potential for this kind of demo is big. “If someone has a big following on social networks, the audience is potentially very large,” says Gurney. “We didn’t promote our plein air experiment at all, but we had 50 people watching anyway. We asked where they were watching from, and they said Switzerland, Ireland, and all over the U.S.A. There was even a bunch of fellow artists from Pixar, Lucasfilm, and Hallmark Cards stopping work to watch me do my high-wire act.”

Gurney continues, “I think it will become an important tool for artists, because it’s a great way to connect with collectors, students, and fellow artists. In this new digital economy, clients aren’t just interested in buying paintings; they’re interested in developing relationships with real artists, and being invited into the creative vortex.”

Gurney’s setup, with an iPad, which served as the camera, on a tripod mount

The artist says there were a few surprises, including the clatter of a metal pencil box falling, a few passersby, and some random motorcycles. And, of course, any mistakes would be immediately streamed to the world. Live, from New York: It’s James Gurney Live!

“It’s better than live TV because the audience is much more engaged,” he comments. “They’re witnesses and participants. What I liked best about this streaming interface is the interactivity, the risk, and the spontaneity. It was fun, but a little nerve-wracking because there was so much to think about. It helped that my wife, Jeanette, was handling the comments, because I had to concentrate, and we wanted to do the whole thing in an hour.”

Gurney checks his setup.

Gurney came away from the experience positively disposed toward the technology, but that’s not terribly surprising, given his overall positive attitude and his embrace of modern devices. He does have some advice, however. 

“The platform is totally free for artists to set up their pages and launch a show, and I recommend people give it a try if they have some experience with video,” says Gurney. “I’ve been shooting video of my own painting process for a few years now, as people can see with ‘Watercolor in the Wild,’ so I’m pretty accustomed to splitting my brain up that way. If people want to experiment with it, they can set up a secret test show and just have their friends watch it.”

Gurney plans on doing it again in the future. He says that readers who “follow” him via his ConcertWindow channel will be notified about the next event. 


  1. That was a pleasant surprise, thanks Steve. Google Alerts give me a message when my name was mentioned on the web. I know your fast but we just talked.
    It’s true, cleanliness is important to me, it’s the only way to be able to paint on an instants notice. Driving down a road and seeing a sunset you want to capture means your palette better be ready and your brushes clean as well as having a clean canvas. My acrylic palette is in a moisture proof flip top box, I put white paint on the cover and dip into the wet paint inside then mix the color on the top cover.

    The “end” page gives a link to the latest painting I’m working on.

  2. Really appreciate the latest info on traveling with oil paints. Always helpful and will be using your advice several times this year.
    Fortunately the Red Rock convention is within easy driving distance for me…
    Should be a great event.


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