A year in the life...

Portrait of George
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 - Portrait of George - Techno-Impressionist Museum - Techno-Impressionism - art - beautiful - photo photography picture - by Tony Karp

The portrait of Washington on the $1 bill is probably the best-known picture of our first president. As such, it represents a real challenge for an artist to do something interesting with it. This is one of my attempts to that end.

We start with a $1 bill. For an artist working with limited funds, this makes George very approachable. The first step is to go through all of your dollars and find the one with just the right amount of wear and tear. You can count your money while you're at it.

Then we scan it into the computer. (I bought my first scanner almost 15 years ago. It was limited to 300 DPI and cost about $1300. Today you can get a scanner for this sort of work for under $100.) Since we're only going to scan a small portion, you can work at a higher DPI and still get a reasonably-sized file.

Once you have this close-up image, you can see the difference between engraving (used for images on money) and etching (used by artists to make pictures). Both processes use a metal plate with lines cut into it to hold the ink. But engraving follows strict rules as to how these lines are made. If you look at the picture of George on a $1 bill using a magnifying glass, you will see that the individual dashes that make up the lines and tones follow the curved lines of the image. It is these short, dashed lines that we will play with.

The next step is to take out the tone and color of the paper, leaving a high-contrast black and white image. After that, the image is converted to PostScript where the image is translated to mathematical curves, filled with a color, rather than just the pixels produced by the scanner. So far, everything is fairly straightforward.

Now we get to the fun part. Since the picture now consists of lines and curves, they can be tweaked to make them more interesting. Picture each object as a blob of chocolate syrup. You can touch it with a toothpick and drag it this way and that to create a new shape. The trick here is to stop right at the border of "interesting" and "messy."

But it looks drab in black and white. A little color is needed, and that's just what it gets. I surrounded each of the black shapes with a thin red outline. You can't see the actual red outlines, but you can see their effect on the final image.

Since I always have at least a dollar at hand, and since George is willing to pose for free, we'll probably see more pictures of him in future journal entries.

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