An idea about how to keep a visitor engaged longer on a client website lead to creating a painting on canvas - which turned into a series of paintings I call Word Portraits. Made up of thousands of letters, each image is created by words or phrases that mean something to the larger image that they help form. The idea of creating an image that employs the concept of visual closure is not new; Seurat had his dots, Close has his large grids and I have my letters.
It all started with Mona.
While working for an ad agency in Kansas City I was tasked with helping develop web strategies for our clients. One of the biggest challenges a web site has is how to engage visitors and keep them interested and on the site. The thinking at the time was that the longer they are on your site the more opportunity you have to engage them and convert them to buyers or at a minimum some level of brand enthusiast. With that idea I wondered how I could apply these ideas to a piece of artwork.
It began with a list of ways to engage viewers to spend more time in front of a painting, and evolved to include an idea of how I could also control their movement in front of the canvas. Words take time to read, but the words would have to have some meaning related to the image. They would also need to be interesting - so some surprises should be included - something to reward viewers who spend more time looking. And since the overall image uses the idea of visual closure (your mind processes an image without all of the details - in this case picturing the familiar image of the Mona Lisa although it is only made up of squares and letters) the viewer would have to physically move closer to the canvas to read the words. And then step back again to see the full image.
It took almost four years to complete Mona. The process of painting nearly three thousand squares and then filling them with hand painted letters is time consuming, but it also took place while we had three young children and I was working and traveling for business. Weekends and weeknights were where I found my opportunities to escape to my basement studio and paint. And once I finished Mona I knew I had an idea that I could build into a series.
As an attorney and sixteenth President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln was a man who knew the importance of using the right word, in the right way, at the right time. This acrylic on canvas image of Abraham Lincoln uses almost five thousand individually painted letters to recreate the image of the man in his own words - including the entire text of his Gettysburg Address.
Paul and John
One of the best know and most successful songwriting teams in history is that of Paul McCartney and John Lennon. Together they wrote nearly two hundred songs including All You Need Is Love, Hey Jude and Ticket To Ride. This original acrylic on canvas painting was a commissioned piece and is comprised of three thousand four hundred and fifty six hand painted letters that in include all the song titles that they wrote together for the Beatles as well as ones that they penned individually. It also includes other Beatle trivia including the other names that the band went by over the years and pen names used by Paul and John.
A demonym is a word used for people or the inhabitants of a place and Lady Liberty is full of them. All of them on the planet to be exact. Look closely and you'll see each country represented. You find French right next to Canadians; Slovenians between Samoans and Christmas Islanders; and Lichtensteiners, Welsh and Brazilians too. A few fictitious demonyms from literature and science fiction movies are hidden throughout. Lilliputians? Ferengi? Yep, those and more for those who look closely.
While he was known the world 'round as "The Man In Black", this painting contains black, white and multiple shades in-between. Before creating Johnny, I had painted one other black and white word portrait, Paul and John, and had forgotten the difficulty in painting with a monochromatic palette. It is much harder to get the shadows just right and to create the subtle changes in gradations without the squares turning into large areas of the same color. Johnny was a challenge. Like Abraham,Johnny is a portrait of a man in his own words, or in this case, a man in his own lyrics. Johnny is comprised of the complete set of lyrics from three of his best known hits: A Boy Named Sue, I Walk The Line and Folsom Prison Blues. Johnny was commissioned piece, however limited editions are available.
Many quotes are attributed to Andy Warhol. Perhaps the best known is some version of the following declaration: "In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes." His prescient comment was made years before the creation of the internet and before anyone had an inkling of what we now know as social media. Andy could have no way of knowing about the coming proliferation of reality tv shows in the 90's and introduction of social media channels like Twitter, YouTube and Instagram - vehicles that have given everyday people the opportunity to grab their moment in the limelight. They come from all walks of life. They are politicians, bungling thieves, bad drivers, vengeful spouses, reality tv contestants, people trapped in wells, taxidermists... they are everywhere and are bound together by a common connection - sometimes wanted, but most of the time not so much: they have had their fifteen minutes. I call them members of Andy's Army and their names are the ones used in this Word Portrait to pay tribute to Andy Warhol, his thoughts on fame and his iconic Campbell's Soup Can.
What can I say? I am a huge Chicago Cubs fan. I have been one since birth. I've ditched school to attend opening day, traveled hundreds of miles to attend a game and even spent a summer working as an usher at Wrigley Field. I knew someday that I wanted to created a painting of my beloved team and knew that the image I chose had to be something that represented the history of the team, the passion of the fans, the beauty of the friendly confines and the optimism we fans cling to knowing that next year will be our year. No other image captures that like one of Mr. Cub himself.
Ernie Banks played professional baseball for the Chicago Cubs from 1953 - 1971. In that time he was National League Rookie of the year runner up, an 11 time National League All-Star, two time MVP, took on the role of player-coach, and was a Gold Glove winner. Since his retirement he has had his number retired, became a goodwill ambassador for the team and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013 for his contribution to sports. Ernie passed away in 2015 but he will never be forgotten.
The words that create the image of Mr. Cub include the names of every manager in team history, Cy Young Award winners, MVP's, owners, Wrigley Field's address, distances to the outfield walls, retired numbers, announcers, playoff and world series years, broadcast announcers, lyrics to songs about the Cubs and much more.
I'll create just about any image you might like. This gallery is an assortment of creations. See something you like? Got an idea for something new? Let's talk and see if I can create it for you.