Americans spend quite a bit of money each year attempting to be artistic. The combined revenue of America’s two largest arts and crafts shops, Hobby Lobby and Joanne’s, came in at over $7 billion in 2018 alone. Some of those consumers are knitting, sewing and painting, while others are making incredibly elaborate structures out of popsicle sticks – but all of those billions of dollars were spent by two kinds of people: those looking for a creative outlet for themselves and parents who have been dragooned into helping with a school project.
Four years ago, Cupixel CEO Elad Katav was on the search to create something, and ventured forth to his local arts and crafts supplier. The COO at a software company at the time, he got the idea on vacation that he would teach himself to paint, because he’d heard it was a good way to relax. Plus, he was excited at the prospect of painting a portrait of his young son. So Katav watched some YouTube videos, got himself set up with a canvas and prepared to let the creativity flow through him.
And then he learned something important.
Painting can indeed be very relaxing – particularly for those who already know what they are doing and aren’t particularly concerned about what the end result will look like. It’s why art-related therapeutic practices have grown in prominence over the last decade or so. But if, like Katav, one is deeply concerned with getting the picture right and has limited knowledge (other than what can be gleaned from the technique of internet masters), trying to make art is far from relaxing.
A few days later, Katav’s maiden attempt at representational painting had been relocated to a trash can, and his mind was turning over a problem to be solved: how to unlock the benefits of art for the untrained and not naturally gifted.
“Art creation has so many benefits," Katav told Inc. "It relaxes the body. It relaxes the mind. It gives you an opportunity to be creative. Yet, it felt like this process was closed off to people like me."
But while Katav was not an artist, he did know software. He began considering how to create a technological crutch for the enthusiastic art creator who suffers from the small defect of not knowing how to make anything. The original 10-person team settled on leveraging augmented reality (AR) into an app that could help would-be creators to create.
They do that by matching the AR in the app with a $70 kit they began selling over the summer via the Home Shopping Network. The kit is sort of an “artist in a box” setup, which comes with custom canvases, pencils, paint, brushes and frames – everything customers need to create 9” x 9” pieces of artwork.
The customer can either upload a photo of their own or pick one from Cupixel's online gallery. The software then recreates the picture into a sketchable image. On the phone or tablet screen, the chosen image is divided into nine squares that correspond with the nine canvas tiles provided with the kit. By using the device’s camera, the artist can see the image they are creating laid out over the canvas, and can then follow the lines with pencils and brushes.
At the end of the experience, the paint puts the nine tiles together – and a masterpiece is born.
The works offered in the gallery come from 20 artists who include their work in the database. Each time their work is chosen, they are paid a royalty of an undisclosed amount.
Katav also noted that the startup is in the process of finalizing deals with two of the country’s biggest arts and crafts retailers, though their identities remain unknown. And while Cupixel is looking to expand its footprint, Katav’s firm has the same goal today as it did on the day he first realized that he wasn’t a good painter, but wanted to be.
“Art, for some reason, belongs to those who can,” he said. “We are on a mission to change that and to actually enable anyone, no matter what age, no matter what background, to create something astonishing that he chose, any type of art in any size, and hang it on the wall with pride.”