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Show HN: Koonchi – Convert Photo to Hand-Painted Painting by Artists from India (koonchi.com)
275 points by OrganicQuote 69 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 115 comments

Interesting concept. Went to look and scrolled through the page to see the different styles/prices.

And then my entire view got blocked by some large wheel of fortune.

At that point, as with those email begging popups, I lose all attention, realize I have better stuff to do and click away.

https://apps.shopify.com/lucky-spin-wheel it costs 4 bucks a month...i don't know enough about lead generation to comment about whether it works but damn it's irritating. it's like when you goto a real world store and there is an upfront price and a price you get after haggling- except it's hidden behind RNG

Could you please share the story about how you started such a wonderful business? Specifically, I am curious of how did you go about lobbying artists and convincing them to get onboard? Are they local artists in your town or are you doing it remotely?

When we started accepting orders 3 months ago, we started with few local artists and couple artists from different cities in India. My faith in the project became stronger and stronger as we started to talk to artists one-on-one, almost everyone was stoked about the idea and our passion, and attention to details to the project. We ended up contacting several artists pan India, some strongly resonated with our idea and so it began... We are still in process of on boarding artists, and we are constantly looking for talent. My wife has a very keen eye in spotting talent, and she also has a degree in Fine Arts so her being a co-founder in this venture helps a lot.

Fun Fact that helped us break-through with most of the artists can choose their pricing, we don't ask them to stick to certain pricing, hence artists don't feel boxed. My biggest take-away has been to never let their (artists) creative spirits cause of a certain economics of the business. We are still learning, and will know more as we progress.

I don't think it's challenging to convince an artist, they'd be happy to do this work at these costs. Finding artists is a bigger problem, and I'd guess they solved it by knowing someone with ancestry from a painting-oriented village community.

Artists do recommend other artists. Most artists we come across is through artist recommendation.

Is there a reason artists in the area would not appreciate paid work?

If the pay was lower than their current work. Or the demands were much higher for similar/more pay.

I treasure a photo I had Instapainted of my wife and daughter (this definitely came from Xiamen). Glad to see you bringing joy to more people

Sounds a lot like instapainting.com, except artists come from India instead of China. Also sounds like the model works :) Best of luck!

I'm looking at InstaPainting, and their website claims:

And I can't find any mention of China.

Hi, we are artist and country agnostic now. We have artists from China, but also India and the rest of the world and have been ramping up USA artist signups recently. Of available artists (whether on our platform or elsewhere) Chinese ones are still the largest group of any country.

We display the country location of every artist profile on our site and heavily try to promote our US base.

The text on the website is misleadingly suggestive that all artists are in USA.

That's a special section featuring and highlighting USA artists, as you can order direct from artists on our site so you can pick and choose them. If you clicked through and selected them you would in fact be ordering from USA artists. It can be misleading if all you do is scan the home page, but we did not design it to be a bait-and-switch.

If you actually go through the purchase funnel it also gets re-iterated (you are prompted to choose where you want your artists from).

I can concur with OP, I'm certain instapainting had Chinese artists at some point of time. Maybe they found the higher costs of native artists to offset shipping costs from China and changed their model.

Yes there is a big blog about how they set it up with an artist city in China https://www.instapainting.com/blog/company/2015/10/28/how-to...

Absolutely. I remember going down this internet rabbit hole one day a few years ago. I remember feeling like it helped me better understand just how many people there are in China that a single city/area could be known for putting out artwork that we see in our chain retailers here in the USA.


I just made an order (to Glen Oaks, NY). One concern is that at checkout the picture I uploaded flipped sideways. Maybe consider a crop/rotate option for the picture once you choose picture size?

Just flip the painting sideways when you get it back.

Yes, we will take care of that, and thank you for your order :) We will reach out to you via email if the artist has any questions.

Super awesome, I had this idea as well but the hard part is in the execution! I'm rooting for your success!

Thank you so much! We are trying hard to bring as many talented artists as possible under one roof.

Loses out in both style and cost when compared to InstaPainting (where this is definitely derived from) but good effort, hope this improves livelihoods of Indian artists. What percentage of the share actually goes to them?

Founder of Instapainting here! We were actually far from the first in this space as well (there were incumbents at the top of the Google search ranks from the mid to early 2000s).

As for Instapainting, when ordering and requesting an artist directly, our fee is 26%, unless the artist quotes lower than our base pricing in which case our fee is the difference.

We have artists from India too! http://instapainting.com/gallery/made-in-india https://www.instapainting.com/artists/sunny https://www.instapainting.com/artists/lavdeep

We put you in direct contact with the artist and you can view your artwork through our website and collaborate directly

This is a Show HN. I’m sure the poster would greatly appreciate feedback from someone with experience like yours, not an advertisement for your own service.

Of course! If they are reading this feel free to email me anytime (email in profile) for feedback or advice.

It looks like this is an MVP setup on shopify and is exactly how it should be started to test the waters. There's no reason not to start simply because Instapainting, etsy, or countless other sites exist already, but it does mean the grind is going to be long and hard (I've just been slowly iterating since 2014 and unbeknownst to me there were dozens of incumbents even back then) and unlikely to be VC-backed in this space. I've seen many come and go as most upstarts in this space find the revenue and profits unimpressive—this is honestly the biggest reason why most fail.

Getting press is generally hard because the idea isn't technically new, and people don't like to write about it as-is as it's too commercial.

SEO should be the main focus, as any such sites that don't rank on Google will quickly find ad-driven user acquisition costs to drive down the already thin margins too much.

I would also be prepared and iterate and implement a more robust tech based platform off this initial traction as quickly as possible. I honestly don't think there's much room in the space in the future for plain middlemen in this space between Instapainting and Etsy being available that enable direct artist participation. We look like we just forward orders over to artists but artists are basically running the show now on Instapainting, and we just try to surface the best performing ones.

Love the fact how helpful you are being in a post about a potential rival.

Woah there, that seems just a tad negative!

I didn't read this post as an advertisement - if anything, I was surprised by the humbleness of their post, which made clear that they were not the first with this idea, and that they take a very reasonable percentage.

How did it not sound like an advertisement? It was pretty matter of factly "WE DO THIS TOO BUY FROM US"

It was nothing of the sort - it was a reply to comments specifically about the InstaPainting service.

But implicit in that is that HN is not a market place nor a captive audience for you to advertise to either. It is common (and appreciated) that people post details of related services/products and their experiences creating/using them.

26%! wow! Looks like this field needs some competition.

26% is low. It's a buyer/middleman's market through and through.

The pricing is decided by the artist, and every style is owned by an individual artist. We add percentage of commission on the base artist pricing.

That's a good approach. I think it would be worth including that information on the FAQ page - transparency builds trust and such issues are more important in a global marketplace.

As an amateur painter myself it's nice to see this equitable approach which also leaves room for each artist to maintain an individual style. Well done!

I love this, good job.

I'm curious, does the purchase transfer the copyright to the buyer? Or does it remain with the artist?

Thank you! According to current copyright laws the buyer does not hold copyright to the artwork.

What does current law have to do with it? Works for hire are generally copyrighted by the hirer, and copyrights can be transferred by contract.

Just to add a bit of (useful) pedantry - what happens to copyright depends on the jurisdiction. In some (Norway, for instance) you can not fully transfer all rights, even if you want to. (This _is_ pedantry, as you can pretty much transfer any commercial rights - just about the only thing you can not transfer is the right to be named the creator of the work.

It's kind of true that you can't transfer all rights in the US, where while you can nominally transfer all rights, any such transfer can be reclaimed 35 or 40 years, with the required notice of he reclamation provided after 25 or 30 years.

IIRC/IANAL, in Germany you are allowed to transfer commercial use and declare any different name as the creator. But you can't transfer the copyright itself, so you will always stay in control.

The painting is also a derivative work.

I remember an old shark tank episode where kids would paint for you. Here it is: https://umano.com/


If you abuse HN like this we will ban your main account as well, so please don't.


You had me at "spin the wheel of discount".

I was surprised that they didn't say "only 1 left at this price!" and have a chatbot pop up to say "click here to buy my book on dark patterns!"

I went looking through the code to see if the "wheel of discount" always gives a discount (it should, of course), but couldn't find it. There is a lot of Javascript on that website. So it goes, I guess.

That's Numberwang! Let's spin the board!

I'm sure there's a market for this. But I'm not in it.

If I want to buy a painting, I'm looking for technique, style, color usage, materials usage, ability to craft a message and convey a mood. The individual artist and their story matters to me. A facsimile of a digital photo is probably not what I'm looking for.

I almost bought something from them but was met (at the very end of the whole process) with a huge standard shipment fee even though the FAQ said the shipment is free. Apparently there's a minimum amount that you have to pay to qualify for the free shipment

It says clearly in the FAQs that free shipping is only in India and for orders above Rs. 15000.

Well they just added it after my email. Didn't say that before

Our apologies if you felt that it was misrepresented in our FAQs. Right now reliable world-wide shipping from India is 10x more expensive for us compared to shipping within India. So we cannot afford to offer free shipping for international customers, unless we increase product price which would be unfair for our Indian customers.

I wonder how much is the share the painters get..

All the difficulty in art is in the selling, so commissions are high.

Usually something barely above subsistence...

Usually? Most painters never even hit "subsistence".

That's true, I have a couple of painter friends, and they all have second jobs to make ends meet.

That's the future ladies and gentlemen. Creating AI algorithms that can mimic human creativity and sell them as art. Image what can be achieved in the next few years, art will be like the organic foods. It may have the stamp on the package but many farmers are cheating. (especially in Eastern Europe)

Interesting! On that note, is there a service like this to request drawings not from photos? Maybe with early sketch phases to suss out the specifics before committing to the final iteration?

I've got some work i've been wanting to commission, but i'm not sure on where best to find an artist

Depends on the domain, but I had luck with Fiverr for converting rough drawings to renders.

Got any examples?

I initially thought this was a deep learning style transfer project for quite a while. What a surprise!

In the end, maybe not that different.

My earlier comment met with some resistance, so let me try to get some more downvotes by stating my objections once again and more comprehensively.

I should say I have nothing against the premise of the business - if it provides livelihood to traditional craftspeople (or just talented artists of any kind) more power to you.

However, you are not making it easy for me to believe that you have the artist's best interests in mind. Let me count the reasons why:

1. Not a single individual artist or craftsperson is mentioned anywhere on the site. I don't know about you, but when I hear the term "artist," I think of an individual with a specific way of looking at the world. Absolutely every Indian artist and craftsperson I know has a desire to see their individuality recognized. You claim to be sourcing artists but you don't recognize their personhood anywhere. That's rather strange don't you think? It's possible that during the portraiture itself a bond is established between the representer and the representee but that's not the case on your site. It's an easily added feature if you're serious.

[EDIT] - as another commenter pointed out, there's a byline for each artist so what I said above is flawed. I still think you would be better off highlighting the artist's vision in more detail. For example, did artist X make the portrait in style Y - Suprio for Ballpoint Magic for example? If so, why aren't the portraits signed? Why choose to anonymize them at every stage? Otherwise it looks as if you are choosing to stroke the vanity of a western/affluent Indian audience.

2. Every Indian state and linguistic community has artistic traditions. Madhubani is different from Company painting is different from Mughal paintings. None of these traditions are even mentioned. In fact, there's no evidence that any Indian aesthetic tradition matters at all. Instead, what you have are generic categories - "the vision lure" - without connection to artistic traditions of any culture.

3. Then there's the origin story - "the idea was hatched when so and so were sipping coffee and discussing the works of Raja Ravi Verma in the historical city of Udaipur." At the very least that suggests an intimate connection between Raja Ravi Varma and Udaipur, especially if you aren't Indian. Except that RRV lived out his life in Kerala, far away from Udaipur and from a very different artistic and cultural milieu. If you had started the story with Tantric paintings [1] that are still produced anonymously in Rajasthan (just like your artists) I would have taken notice.

Suppose I went to a cafe in Stockholm, discussed the "da Vinci code" with a friend and decided to start a business in Italian greeting cards made for cut rates by unknown artists in Neapolitan neighborhoods (in between assignments for the 'ndrangheta, if you want to add some mystery to the whole process)- in what way would that be beneficial to European art?

[1] http://sigliopress.com/book/tantra-song/

All our paintings are shipped with artist signature on it. Also a brief about the artist is mentioned in the description.

We don’t sell traditional Indian paintings, so don’t know why should we mention the connection at all between traditional Indian arts and our paintings just because the company and artists are from India.

I agree it's not very prominent, but there are brief profiles of individual artists on the page for a specific product.

Missing option for charcoal.

This looks phenomenal, I'll be placing an order later today. Congratulations to you and your team, I hope this succeeds past your expectations :)

thank you so much! :)

I like the name. Koonchi means painting brush which were used in India in the olden days.

It really saddens me that there's a market for this. Especially knowing from personal experience the prices real art goes for in a traditional market (hint: borderline offensive). Marketers will keep underlining the shiny bits ("artists set their prices"), but in the end the business is farming, not art.

I’m not sure there’s anything intrinsically bad about this kind of service. I asked a friend who does graphics for NPR and the New Yorker whether she feels any attachment to her pieces, and she said it’s just work in the end. Not all software is just made to be beautiful either; for many of us here software is just work too.

I have a feeling art prices (particularly contemporary art) are inflated in part due to their being Veblen goods (high prices make it attractive), or otherwise a vehicle for value retention like diamonds and gold; see price differences between forgeries and the real thing.

And of course, we all know Adolf Hitler was rejected for art school and took a different job instead, and the world might be a better place if this service existed back then.

Sorry, but I'm not following you. Nothing you said after the first sentence proves your point, as I see it.

> I’m not sure there’s anything intrinsically bad about this kind of service

These services of course provide some value: they are easy to find/stumble on, they free customers of excessive choice, allowing them to not be actively interested in art and collapsing everything to simple "choose your style" option, they free customers of direct communications with artists, they arbitrage prices between different geographical markets.

On the other hand, these services compete with traditional artists, they devalue regular artworks in the minds of common potential customers AND further reinforce the thinning of the line between art and prints one buys in a furniture store.

I've just understood that I should have been more clear. I meant "borderline offensive" to artists (dirt cheap), of course.

plot twist: it's a cluster of servers running deep dream

I just assumed that was what it was and only realised it wasn’t from this comment.

We don't use deep dream, but a CNN to power our Instant Preview Tool: http://instapainting.com/assets

I don't understand. Your website is instapainting, which is different from the one posted. Why are you fielding questions on their behalf and linking to your site?

Because their site is relevant to the question asked?

how so? it's specifically asking the poster about a process. Then some other service is telling them about their own process while advertising their site, which is also a direct competitor to theirs.

The OP was joking about the plot twist but as it turns out we actually did the plot twist! We released one of the first free to try deep-learning powered photo to painting service shortly after the paper was published in 2015: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10162121. The initial version was a general one that took 1 day to train each image uploaded, and worked on arbitrary images.

That being said I think your belief somehow these comments shouldn't be used to promote competitors—at the expense of hiding potentially relevant comments from the community—is misguided. Ultimately HN, and even Show HN, are here to serve the interests of the community first—not the poster. I personally always appreciate when reading "launch HN" when someone summarizes the competitive landscape because this information helps me, the community member, and so that HN doesn't simply become a PR channel for every startup. It would make sense if this were an actual advertisement (say, on Facebook) that you'd get rid of comments mentioning competitors, but this isn't an ad platform, and I think mentioning competitors contributes to the discussion around what is being launched. Comments and discussion should benefit the community first, and not the poster of the story.

You have misunderstood. I don't have a problem with regards to you saying something like, "I represent Instapainting, which is a competitor and we used CNNs..."

Your response to this particular thread made it seem like you were somehow connected to the OP and if one didn't read the link properly and distinguish it, might just seem like the OP is linking to their product's version of CNN powered paintings.

I hear you and I agree with you. HN shouldn't be a PR channel for your startup and the community benefits from talking about the competitive landscape. Your other comments about your margins and business model were quite insightful to me.

However having said that, it does feel like you are hijacking this thread. You have linked to your own website multiple times, advertised your own competing Indian artist services, and you are even answering questions that were posed to the OP. That, in my opinion, is a step too far. Your thoughts on "Community First" come across as a tad hypocritical as you seem to be doing plenty of PR for your own service. This may have not been your intention but that is what it is coming across as.

> You have linked to your own website multiple times, advertised your own competing Indian artist services, and you are even answering questions that were posed to the OP

Yes I did answer a question technically posed to Koonchi, though they also directly mentioned Instapainting in the comment. In other areas I replied when Instapainting was mentioned and/or to clarify some outdated facts such as that there are also Indian artists on our platform that compete with Koonchi (someone implied we only had Chinese artists).

I'm not saying that HN shouldn't be used for PR, or promoting your own business (in fact it should be and is what show HN is for), but this channel isn't a PR channel exclusively for a single startup.

As for this direct thread, it doesn't seem like Koonchi provides deep-learning powered photo to painting services, which is something we do provide and why I felt it was relevant to the discussion of the commenter.

I can see why it looks like hijacking, especially the wording of some of the other commenters (who are unaffiliated with me or Instapainting) that commented and inserted "ads" for Instapainting well before I even woke up in the day. But I tried to only add to what was already there, because I'm also running a business after all.

As you may have noted already I've posted about Instapainting on HN many times before as well, and have always gotten other competitors mentioning their businesses in the comments, and I have never nor would ever question them on why they are "advertising" their businesses on my thread—because it's not actually "my" thread. I hope that offers a perspective window into why I responded or joined the discussion. I've been doing this for about 5 years now and also part of the HN community since pre-2011. It would just feel a bit odd for me to stay silent when a near identical business launches and for me to not offer any feedback.

Tell us more... Is this for previews of the artist assigned you? Or something else?

It’s for a preview for select styles that we have pre-trained models for. If you like it the artist is given the style image to paint it for you.

It’s a gimmick but often the results are not bad. Plus a lot of people always ask for an “instant preview” and this is the best we can currently do.

I was thinking the same thing - Style Transfer GAN's

hahah, I came here to say that!!

I was thinking the same thing, I wonder if it's a combination. Like maybe they do have people hand drawing things and they are using that to train a NN of some kind so eventually it's all CG images.


People get the painting they want, artists get to get paid for painting, and the business makes their money by connecting those sides. This doesn't detract in the slightest from other artists pursuing their own efforts, and making their own creations.

You may want to brush up on your art history.

Or - making human art more accessible to everyone


really would have thought you'd be above comments like that

People have been selling photo to painting schemes for decades. There's a mini-industry where you send in a photo and get back a paint by number kit. That predates computers. Etsy has a whole category for photo to painting shops.

There's a reason we have the expression "starving artist." Most people don't really want to pay for art.

If this is a means to monetize their skill so they can survive, it's understandable they would jump on it.

I'm a writer. Similar problem. I earn money working for a service where I get paid relatively little to write the kinds of website content that gets decried on HN as having ruined the internet. HN members expect high quality content on the front page on a regular basis and also uses ad blockers, posts ways to get around pay walls, etc.

Some of my original content occasionally hits the front page of HN. In January, I had a piece get 60k page views and 300+ comments. It didn't make me one thing dime. It took me about two weeks to write it.

I haven't done a follow up piece on the parenting site in question. Instead, I'm writing more stuff for pay that HN members decry as ruining the internet.

The world gets what it is willing to pay for. And then it says ugly things about people taking the money, like artists should prefer starvation to doing this thing we will pay them for when the reality is most of them can't find another way to pay their bills.


I get that maybe you'd prefer the artists were producing one type of art, but why would it make you sick that they're producing a different type?

These paintings have zero artistic value because they have no authentic connection to the person who paints them. Practicing a traditional craft is a form of self-expression and connection with one's heritage (even if the products are for export). These pictures are just kitsch.

It's just a meaningless intrusion of random jpgs into the lives of the people who make them.

"These paintings have zero artistic value" is quite an harsh judgement, especially when defining the "artistic value" is so subjective.

It's not like commissioned painting is a new thing, and it yielded some masterpieces. Bringing it to a broader audience can be beneficial for artists themselves.

I remember seeing an interview of an African artist who was telling the journalist that before she gained some fame in her country she was living in quite a precarious financial situation. I think there's definitely some merit to such a service if it might help some artists in similar situations, as by solidifying a source of income, they could then devote themselves to paint things they really want to paint.

Are you upset that the artists just get a jpeg where some of the artistic choice has already been made (like posing and lighting)? Or do you disagree with portraiture in general as an art form?

Does it follow then, that the bulk of Michealangelo's work had "no artistic value" because they were kitsch commissioned works by the church?

OK, I'll make an effort to explain myself, even though I can see that I'm on to a loser with this line of argument.

We need to forget for a moment that artists today cannot match the old masters. But what they still have in common (with the artists of a few hundred years ago) is that when they make art, they are interpreting something in the world. This interpretation is personal, and it involves insight into the thing that's being represented. Painting from a photograph is, broadly speaking, imitation, not interpretation (although plenty of serious artists use photos as a tool for documenting a scene).

Michelangelo, as you probably know, had a lot of discretion in how he posed and represented the figures in his paintings. He wasn't just taking a predetermined image and rendering it in a personal style. Because of the extent to which he could use his own discernment in deciding how to represent the subjects of the painting, he could express his own attitude to the subject (which was universal, at least in terms of his world) in a meaningful way.

Basically, the idea of a mail-order JPG->painting scheme seems completely dumb to me, because there is nothing special about physical paintings per se. They're only special when an artist is given a chance to make them special by using their own creative judgment and knowledge of the subject they are depicting. If that's not an option, a photo is perfectly good.

Nobody seems to have bothered to write a critique of Instapainting, presumably because all this is common knowledge.

A commission from the Catholic Church during the Renaissance and a commission from a present-day random overseas person might be different things.

In the past, patrons were generally well-known or well-established in a way that would have made them meaningful to the artist before the work even began.

On the other hand, maybe "random overseas person" actually is meaningful as a category, if not as an individual.

It's hard to think about.

EDIT: It would be interesting to learn how the artists feel about this type of work after a few years of pursuing it.

Did you consider that the income earned affords them the means to pursue more "authentic" (according to you) projects as well?

Sounds like a win-win to me.

Hey thank you for the insight, but if you happen to have travelled across India you would know that India is diverse at its very core and there are no clusters (in this case a village) that is working towards a industrialized approach to its art or handicrafts, our strength still lies in its human essence. And so to answer the question the artists are as diverse as they come.

I agree in principal. But I believe you also have to consider that most of these artists are probably not doing well financially, so, this may provide them with an alternate revenue stream which may in turn help them pursue their craft more.


Koonchi is different enough from coochie that this is silly.

the world existed before American English. Also the sound is more like "coon-cheee", not like what sounds in your dirty mind.

Of course, but isn't this marketed to a US audience? You won't name a Hindi product "chut" either. It's common sense.

you know the hindi word for vacation is - chutti.

This is sophomoric funny only if you read it in Roman script.

And it's a classic, hilarious joke repeated among Indian schoolchildren. What's your point?

Well, there you have it. “Coochie” is mainly funny among American schoolchildren. And I doubt that this site is targeting schoolchildren as potential customers.

I'm a native American english speaker and the thought of 'coochie' did not even cross my mind.

luminati 69 days ago [flagged]

Are you some instapainting shill? I get suspicious when some random dude seems to comment extensively on a Show HN posting.

This breaks the site guidelines. Please review them: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

I have more context / thoughts about Indian startups as I can consume and interact with their products easier than I can do with American startups. Not shilling and these are my genuine thoughts -- I guess I'm too wary, but I always be doubly careful of avoiding connotations in product names.

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