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How Miami-Based Sktchy App Turns Everybody Into An Artist

What does an app born from the spirit of Miami look like?

It looks like Sktchy, a start up mobile app motivated by Sketchy Miami, a blog and series of parties spotted around town two years ago where the goal was to create a portrait of every person in Miami.

Sketchy Miami comes from a time when “a burgeoning artist community in Miami and the average Miami resident had very little interaction with that community,” said co-founder Jordan Melnick. He wondered, “how can we come up with a way to bridge that gap?”

The city of Miami and its residents were the initial inspiration and now the project is hoping to take on the whole digital world.

And “inspiration” is a word important to the team behind Sktchy the app, led by Melnick, who is also the co-founder and operator of the local blog Beached Miami. Inspiration is the word label for each photo on the app before a user renders it into a portrait.

After the popularity of Sketchy Miami parties and the subsequent online fervor, Melnick and his team decided they needed a more streamlined process for sharing this idea on a larger scale. A simple blog was too unwieldy in terms of time and presentation, and more complex coding seemed necessary. Uploading each picture and artist bio took too much time. 

Melnick muses about the process by relaying some questions that the team asked,  “what would the ideal website be for this project? Which led us from website to app. We started thinking, what should this thing be? What’s the right home for it? Essentially what we developed is a social network.”

How It Works 

It's simple. You post a picture of your face, and someone else on the app can choose to draw it. The portrait can be made through another drawing app on your phone, a piece of paper, or an arrangement of objects (including food, in some instances) to represent the original picture.

Just like with other social networks, you can follow other "artists" via the app. Everyone's called an artist, a feature Melnick sees as empowering.  If you think a rendering is good, you can “wow” the post (as opposed to "like" on Facebook).

2,000 people downloaded the app in its first week, and 600 have created original portraits. It's drawn artist far beyond South Florida -- artists from China, Italy, Russia. Artists range goes from professionals with gallery representation, to people just having fun. “Everybody has unexpressed creativity, and everybody has the ability to do this,” Melnick said. 

The project currently faces an uphill battle, as all startups do, in gaining attention. According to App Annie, a website that monitors app downloads and analytics, since it's launch, Sktchy has been near the bottom of the top 500 social media apps that Apple offers. And Sktchy is only available through Apple, not Samsung or other Android competitors, which have cornered a larger share of the digital market. 

Also, because the portraits are mostly done outside of the app, its easy to lose people's attention. Most apps are designed to keep you inside as long as possible. Sktchy consistently forces the user outside of the app, whether to a third party drawing app, or a pencil and paper. 

Portraits As Communication

“Every person by the age of 10 has drawn a portrait. I think it the most universally fascinating thing on the planet, the human face,” says Melnick.

Sktchy is product of the developing Miami arts milieu and the nascent startup scene, he says, and because of that, a sense of Miami is, “built into the design. Our colors are Miami colors, and that’s just a superficial way of paying homage to the fact that this wouldn’t exist without Miami.”

Of course users across the world will most likely not think of Miami purely because of the colors, but it's the inspirational seed from which the entire project grew. 

The app is available from the Apple Store here

Nathaniel Sandler is a contributing editor for the arts at WLRN. He is also the co-founder and Head Librarian of the Bookleggers Mobile Library, serving Miami with free books on a monthly basis at literary events throughout the city.
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