Friday, October 17, 2008

The 1,000th Postcard from Provence

Self portrait in my 50th year / Night painter
copyright Julian Merrow Smith

Congratulations to Julian Merrow Smith - today's the day of the 1,000th Postcard from Provence! I've got an interview with Julian in this blog post, but first let's recap on what's happened during the last 999 paintings.
Postcard from Provence is a daily diary in paintings by British artist Julian Merrow-Smith, following the changing seasons of his adopted home in the Vaucluse, in the South of France. His still life paintings are inspired by objets trouvés, pottery and seasonal produce from the local markets whilst many of his landscape paintings represent scenes within walking distance of his studio.
About Postcard from Provence
Field of sunflowers (1 August 2006)
15cm x 13cm, oil on card

copyright Julian Merrow Smith

You can see thumbnails of the first 999 paintings in the full archive (which being rather large may take a while to load!) or the last 60 in the archive. I've got Julian's permission to post a selection in this blog post today. If you click on them they'll take you to the original post and the comments.

Mirabelles (27 August, 2005)
oil on card

copyright Julian Merrow Smith

I've been getting a Postcard from Provence in my inbox most days since the autumn of 2005. A little bit of Provence now comes to London nearly every day - and about 3,000+ other homes around the world. Back at the beginning, Julian was pretty much posting every day like his inspiration Duane Keiser (A Painting A Day). Three and half years later he's still producing somewhere between 24-28 paintings a month.

Duane put his paintings for auction on ebay while Julian stuck to his fixed price of $100 and initially sold from his website via emails. The first offer to buy got the painting. Duane and Julian - and their sales - also captured the imagination of very many bloggers who also aspired to be daily painters and sparked the daily painting movement.

White Peach Half and Knife (22 July, 2005)
oil on card
copyright Julian Merrow Smith

Subsequently Julian switched to a dedicated auction system on his website (which I rather suspect is the envy of many a daily painting blogger) and is now able to sell his paintings for rather more money! Each work now sells to the highest bidder each (Provencal) night. He's also now producing limited edition prints of some of his works, signed and numbered by Julian.

One of the things I've particularly enjoyed about the Postcard from Provence experience is that it also introduced me to his wife Ruth's blog Meanwhile, here in France...... Her blog is a particular delight because Ruth takes photos the way I like taking photos and I also love her commentary on life with a painter as well as her descriptions of her own career as a professional cellist. In fact, in December 2006, she won my The “Tales from the Frontline” Mention in Despatches - my favourite blog by somebody who lives with an artist.

Chemin Tournant (2 February, 2007)
oil, 13cm x 16cm (Collection of Judith Kolata, Chicago)
copyright Julian Merrow Smith

Julian and Ruth are currently working on a book project about the story of Postcard from Provence.
As you may know, as a sort of side dish to accompany the book of Julian’s images we plan to put together in celebration of his thousandth painting, I am in the process of writing the story of Postcard from Provence. Of course, the story is about one man living at the bottom of a mountain in southern France with broadband, a cello-playing wife, some paint brushes and three cats. It is about the Internet, and about starting a daily practice (and, in some cases, as Duane Keiser inspired Julian, inspiring others to do the same). Naturally, it is about life in Provence.
Postcard from Provence - the book project
There's an opportunity for people to contribute in terms of what Postcard from Provence has meant for them - just click the link and read what Ruth is asking you to do. Julian tells me it won't be ready for a Christmas present this year but should be published sometime in 2009.

An oyster and a glass of wine (27 January 2006)
27cm x 22cm, Oil on Linen

copyright Julian Merrow Smith

Here are my celebrations of Julian's blog on this blog over the last three years I received a newsletter from him. He describes the project as an enormous success with the site now getting 1,000 visitors a day!!! All I know is his small paintings priced at $100 sell extremely quickly. And a quick glance through his galleries reveal an awful lot of red spots!

However the big news is that 'Postcard from Provence' is to be profiled in the home section of the New York Times on Thursday 23rd Feb.
White Tulips (30 January, 2007)
13cm x 19cm, oil on card

copyright Julian Merrow Smith
Happy Birthday Julian and congratulations on all that you and Ruth have achieved in the last two years - that oyster really did turn out to have a pearl!
Phew - at last - the announcement has been made and I am so relieved that I can finally come out from under the confidentiality of being a beta tester! Julian Merrow Smith has today announced three important changes to his extremely popular blog/website "Postcard from Provence"..........
Morning near Baumes de Venise (18th February 2008)
21cm x 12cm, oil on gessoed card

here's wishing a Very Happy 3rd Birthday to Julian Merrow Smith's Postcard from Provence which started on 16th February 2005. There are very few who have had as much success as Julian has had with daily paintings. It's still a blog which has much to teach people about why some people are good at producing a daily painting which sells.
17th February 2008: Who's made a mark this week?

Finally, here's my interview with Julian which I've had booked up ever since the third anniversary!

Q. How long has it taken to get to 1,000 paintings - a little more than 1000 days?

A. I started on 16th Feb 2005 and maths is not my thing so I'm not sure. It's at least 1,000 days - just not consecutively! I should hit 1,000 Postcards from Provence on Friday 17th October 2008. (I worked it out - it's actually been 1,339)

Two Dorades (22 February, 2007)
19cm x 14cm, (8" x 6") oil on card

copyright Julian Merrow Smith
February marks the second anniversary of 'Postcard from Provence'. In the two years since it's inception has received a quarter of a million visitors and nearly 2 million page views
Julian Merrow Smith 26th February 2007
Q. Most of the Postcards from Provence are of local views or still life. Which do you prefer painting and why?

A. I like the still life's because I can control the insects!

Q. Many artists who've started daily paintings say they think they've benefited from working on a smaller scale. Did you find it easy to start with - and what, if anything, do you now get out of it as a painter?

Still Life with apple and goat's cheese (12 October 2008)
19.5cm x 12cm (7¾"x4¼"), oil on gessoed card

copyright Julian Merrow Smith

A. It's enormously beneficial just working everyday, it's nice to be able to work through a problem in 2 hours rather than a couple of days. I think it was easier then, I'm probably more aware of the possibility of failure now, but I'm also working through things more. I'm more aware on a painting-by-painting basis what I'm trying to achieve.

How do you strike a balance in allocating time between the small works and working on a larger scale?

A. I do a little bit of larger work, portrait commissions and probably a couple of bigger paintings a month but I have concentrated very much on building up this project at the expense of bigger work. I will at some point slow down the project or even stop but not until it gets tired of me or I get tired of it. (Larger paintings are also announced via Postcards from Provence - you can see one below)

Still life with garlic bulbs, pear, cheese and Chateau Rayas (28 December, 2005)
55 x 33 cm. oil on Linen

copyright Julian Merrow Smith

Q. Turning to the sales side of things, how long did it take before the fierce competition to get a postcard started?

A. There was a pretty keen sense of competition from summer/autumn of 2005. I remember having to refund double purchases a few times. I kind of got disappointed if a painting didn't sell immediately but once the NYTimes article came out I had to change the system otherwise I would have paid more in chargebacks than I earned from each painting! This is when I discovered the joys of pre-authorization so I could accept payments but only bank the one that (I decided) won.

Green lane

13cm x 16cm, oil on gessoed card

copyright Julian Merrow Smith

Q. You and Duane have sold your works in different ways. How has your auction system worked for you?

A. The auction system on my website started in February 2007. I ran two systems side by side while I tested it. I let about 100 friends and collecters (friends first then collectors) try it out in its beta phase then we publicised it to everyone when it all seemed to work okay. (Register to bid)

Chillies on a String

14 x 16 cm , oil on card

copyright Julian Merrow Smith

Q. I found it fascinating that significant numbers of Duane's paintings went to a few people who were building a collection of his work. Has it been the same for you - do you have collectors of the 'postcards paintings'?

A. Yes, there are quite a lot of people with 10-20 paintings. Then there are those that just try and get one a year.

Before we put the auction system in place, I had to limit people from owning too many otherwise it would have been unfair and people who were on 'dial up' would never have got to own a painting. You should see some of the stories that have come to light since! Ruth is going to document it all in the book.

Q. Which artists have influenced your development as a painter?

A. Wow that would be a long list!

I devour painters and styles. Pprobably the most heavily thumbed books are by Euan Uglow, Lucian Freud, Avigdor Arikha, Corot, Monet, Chardin, and any figurative catalogue I can get my hands on .

Still Life with Yellow Tomato and Balsamic Vinegar
(2 April, 2007)
25cm x 25cm (10"x10"), oil on linen
copyright Julian Merrow Smith

I also love finding obscure painters from the last century and surfing for interesting painters on the net.

Q. How has your studio progressed in the last three years and when do you think you'll get it finished? ;)

A. I'd have to start a 'studio a day' project, it's the only way I finish things!

Q. I'm really enjoying the notes you're now including with each painting. What made you start?

A. Well the response to Ruth's email (about the book project) has been pretty amazing - one sometimes feels like you're just sending this stuff out into the ether but I'm not. It's actually going out to real people and many of them find the email very important in their daily lives. So I guess I know that people want to know more plus I also like the idea that the email is different, more personal than the web site.

Midsummer Meadow (22 June, 2007)
17cm x 13cm, oil on gessoed card

copyright Julian Merrow Smith

Q. What's been the worst thing that happened while producing 1,000 paintings and what has been the best?

A. The worst thing was definitely the day the mailman mailing list which Dean had set up for me starting sending out emails even though it was not set to do so and I had decided not to use it. People thought they were being spammed and I lost 300 subscribers, it's taken a year to get it back up to 3000. (Julian no longer uses Mailman - see my post Which is the best e-mail newsletter software?)

The best was the day of the New York Times article in February 2006. I still had forty paintings from the first year unsold and then it went bananas. Ruth and I were putting up red dots faster than we could type and keeping track of the emails and purchases was quite a feat. I sold everything that I had hanging around in the studio in two crazy hours.

Q. How are you planning to celebrate 1,000 paintings?

A. Oh we'll find a way but as my first painting was an oyster......

(16 February, 2005)
12cm x 14cm, oil on card
copyright Julian Merrow Smith

The comment on this painting reads
janet wrote:
I just spent an hour looking at your amazing paintings. No wonder you sell everything!


  1. I have vicariously "lived" in Provence through my inbox, along with all the others. What an informative and inspiring interview with an artist that I constantly study -- plus the links! Great stuff, K.

  2. Thank you Katherine for this fulsome and generous celebration of Julians 1000th painting which, of course, is now up. As you can imagine it was a slightly nervous morning! And thank you too for mentioning my book project. I am getting such beautiful tales come in from all over the world, with weird and wonderful connections with object, place, profession, dreams... and every one of them is a joy. I have another couple of days here in Lille, playing Figaro in the evenings so, if you're reading this, keep them coming please! The more the merrier!

  3. What an excellent interview you've got here. Very inspirational indeed. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Thanks Ruth. I can see that this book is going to have a very large pre-publication order list when it starts getting near to publication.

    Maybe you could have a new blog dedicated to the book and tease us all with instalments? :)

  5. What a great accomplishment for Julian! I've loved his work for a couple of years now. Especially his landscape and the "Night Portrait" is one of my all time favorite "genius" works of art.


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