<<In 1997, Julian Merrow-Smith lost his job at London’s LumiÃ¨re cinema. An art-school graduate, he bought a ticket to the south of France and began painting for a living. By 2004, he was making “about enough to survive on”. Then he came across a US artist, Duane Keiser, who was doing a painting a day: small oils, mainly still lifes, posted and sold on the internet.
“I thought: hmm, there’s a living to be made here,” says Merrow-Smith, a chirpy voice on the line from his studio near the village of BÃ©doin in Provence. So he set up a website and began painting postcards: perfect little 4in x 6in oil-on-gesso pictures of, say, vegetables from his garden or fruit from the market, and luminous, ever-changing ProvenÃ§al landscapes. “What was important, at bottom, was that they reflect this place,” he says.
The first two sold instantly, for his fixed price of $100. Within a few months he was selling most days. Then in 2006 the New York Times found him. “That night I sold everything I’d ever painted, most of it more than once,” he says. “It was crazy. For weeks I had 500 people wanting to buy every postcard. I spent my days organising credit-card refunds.”
So now his site, shiftinglight.com, hosts an auction, each work selling to the highest bidder at 10pm each night, generally for between $150 and $650. “I have 3,000 subscribers to my mailing list, and a few real collectors,” Merrow-Smith says. “There are people with 25 or 30 of my works, and people who buy one a year.”
On Friday, he will paint his 1,000th Postcard from Provence. Each takes up to three hours, “depending on how much wine I’ve drunk the night before”. Some weeks, he concedes, “I’m throwing things at the wall in frustration. But then people tell me it’s the only email they actually look forward to getting. I’m making a living, but I’m also spreading a little joy. It is satisfying.” >>