Big Astronauts from Little Astronauts


astronaut drawingClick for larger view

This is a picture of a 4 ft x 4 ft pastel rendering I spent the last four days making. I started with a 100 x 100 pixel square digital photograph (shown below) then copied each pixel, row by row. That's 10,000 chalk-marks, baby!

I got interested in converting digital images to handmade media last spring when I used small digital photos of myself and Jeff (80x60px) as the basis for counted cross-stitched portraits (I'll post an article on those one day). Each pixel in the image became an "X" in the stitched portrait.

Apparently, the digital-to-analog bug is not out of my system yet. I've been craving to try it on a larger scale and with juicier materials than needle and thread. I didn't have any paint around, but I did have a set of chalk pastels that my father gave me when I was a teenager. This astronaut is mostly a "proof-of-concept" experiment.

The steps in making it are roughly as follows.

1. I photographed a toy astronaut figure that was about the size of a toy soldier using my digital camera.

2. In Photoshop, I reduced the image to a somewhat manageable 100 pixels square. I also re-mapped the color palette to match the 24 pastel colors in my set. (I had scanned the pastel set earlier to make a custom color palette that could be forced on images.) The resulting image is shown here at actual size:

original image size

3. I printed out a larger version of this image so that the pixels were clearly visible. This served as a map for the final rendering.

4. Next, I began the painstaking (did someone say compulsive?) procedure of drawing a little chalk square to match each pixel, row by row, until I had completely rendered the image. This scan shows the pastel detail at slightly smaller than actual size.

pastel square detail

Because each pastel square is so much larger than a pixel, the final piece ended up being quite large (maybe the largest artwork I've ever made). This photo gives an idea of the scale.

drawing in room

I'm interested in the role that Photoshop has in the process. The anti-aliasing and bizarre dithering make the image very obviously computer-generated. Photoshop is like a collaborator.

But what excites me is that the result is clearly a handmade object. Even if I try with all my perfectionist might, the final won't be perfect; rows are uneven, pixels are skipped. The human hand is apparent. I also enjoy the way in which the medium becomes highlighted: like the paper texture through the chalk, and one day, how paints ooze together.

I'm not done with this concept yet. There are other media to try (maybe watercolor next) and other image types to explore (landscapes and flower close-ups might be interesting). So stay tuned.

Gosh, I hope I don't get a job!