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The Phone Arts Collective Makes Art On The Go

Find out the tools of the Phone Arts trade straight from the artists themselves and launch your very own internet art career.

Image by Barnie Page.

PhoneArts.Net is an online collaborator network of likeminded creators who use mobile apps to update the way we see sketchbook culture. Two years in and nearly 300,000 Tumblr followers later, Phone Arts are staking their internet claim as an international visual punk supergroup that hangs out on their cell phones—no matter what their detractors may say. 

Born out of a desire to kill some time, founders Guillaume Hugon and Daniel Littlewood were swiftly joined by contributors Barnie Page, Michael Manning, Brian Metcalf, Bonjour Jean-Jacques, Antoine Aillot, Marcel Kaczmarek, Jeremiah Johnson and Mo Marie—all well-regarded internet artists in their own right. Collectively, the group contributes their own creations and also act as curators for the many submissions the site receives from other would-be iPhone Picassos and Basquiats. 


Image by Thomas Pregiato.

Unlike the attitude they may hold in regards to some of their other work, the core members are refreshingly laid back about the work they produce for Phone Arts and the instruments they use—and that mentality is of course the very reason they use these particular tools in the first place. Mobile apps are appealing precisely because they allow for a drawing style that’s in the moment, sketchy, and sincerely insincere. 

“It has always been a super casual thing, and that's kind of why it started,” explains Littlewood. “Phone Arts is something for those in-between times when you are doing something or going somewhere. We're not pressuring each other to do work, it's a passion project for all of us.” 

The Creators Project: What's the importance of a cell phone as a tool for contemporary art?
Hugon: A cell phone is just your mirror. It’s a totally different relationship to that of a computer or iPad. You are creating with something that you already communicate with, it’s your connection to the world.

Littlewood: Phone Arts is on the go—on the bus, the train, instead of wasting time looking at the back of someone’s head. It's about creating things really quickly because you have the tool in your hand already. Your cellphone is the downtime. To pull out an iPad doesn't seem like so much fun.


Image by Daniel Littlewood.

How does curation of such an effortless genre work?
Manning: Aesthetically we all have very different interests, but we're all trying to explore something new, especially in terms of technology. 'What’s the next thing we can do with this stupid little thing in our pockets?' What can we do creatively—parametrises, what can we do that they probably wouldn't expect us to?

Littlewood: I look for things that don't look so processed. I like to find things that look effortless, because that really speaks to spontaneous nature, making art while you can, while you have time to.

How do the art critics respond? What does the establishment think?
Page: Is there a narrative? For me, they've been sketches, doodling sketch type things. We've been accused of not being art and just a 5-year-old's messy drawing.

Manning: On an institutional level, no one has taken an interest, which suits me very well to be honest. We are followed by normal people. 

Droitcour: I think Phone Arts emerges in a dialogue with a tradition of digital art and digital painting that goes back to the 80s, though I personally associate it most closely with PaintFX, a collective of Photoshop painters who experimented with modelling volume and layering in software. 

What do you think categorizes these kinds of tool-specific arts collectives?
Droitcour: Art is about becoming an expert user, outsmarting the presets to use the software to make something original. But not too original—part of the appeal of Phone Arts is a rough similarity in the size and shape and palette of the images, and enjoying and observing the small differences among them. It keeps the tension between software control and user ingenuity in the foreground.

Will there be a day when mobile takes over the studio as the main place of work?
Littlewood: The way I work is to work in one app and then take it across into another app. The cell phone it becomes a space using different media.

Will there ever be another art show to match the internet?
Page: The discussions we've had about doing exhibitions in the future have very much been around how the work can be displayed. I'd love to curate a show myself, 'all this work and nowhere to go'—it's constrained to the internet, but the issue interests me.


Image by Michael Manning

What have been the game changing art app moments since the launch of Phone Arts?
Littlewood: I would say some of the more video based art apps, and a couple have come out that change the process of creating art—Green Screen Studio and Sonograph for example. With Sonograph you can basically paint with sound. Sound goes in to the microphone then it imprints images.

Hugon: It is all about experimenting with fingers on glass. I've been 3D printing from my iPhone. I create a model, send it to a 3D printer, then in my mailbox I get the finished piece. Only then do I physically touch what I made, only touching the sculpture after I've made it with my eyes, it's a reverse process to the traditional method.


Image by Barnie Page.

Digital is our reality. Is Phone Arts dependent on external tooling that isn't specifically creatively orientated? We are heading for cell phones on wristwatches, what then?
Littlewood: It might be a little difficult. But I don't think that will effect the idea of Phone Arts at all. 

If you want to get started making art on your phone yourself, Daniel Littlewood selects 10 of the best apps for art creation below. "Most of the images on PhoneArts.net are a combination of between three to six different applications," explains Littlewood. "Here's a list of some of the ones we use.”

Artstudio - Great for large sized compositions and layering

Sonograph - Spontaneous compositions using the mic as a brush

GreenScreen - Animations using any solid surface as a green screen

Face Melter - Interesting image distortion

Giffer - Creating animated gifs

Echograph - Creating cinema graphs

iTracer HD - Creating 3D images

Slit-Scan - Camera app for taking long distorted images

RGB Petri - Grow colours like you would bacteria

iPhone Camera - You really can't ask for a better app for snapping interesting textures and colours