Skittles Pixel Portrait
Submitted by: Stephen Watson, at The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa
Lesson Plan: "Physical Pixel Portraits"
for ART 130: Design I (2D)
Use digital information as a map for physical objects. Create a self-portrait with 2,500 Skittle pieces (or other items) based on a digital photo of 2,500 pixels.
Use a computer-assisted art process to create a pointillism-like portrait.
Discover that good things can come from repetitive, tedious work.
Learn from their project that the whole is other than the sum of its parts (Gestalt Theory)
Learn that that arrangement directly affects design.
Materials and Tools:
Adobe Adobe Photoshop
Glue Sticks, Super Glue, or other glue that will firmly attach your pixel materials.
Skittles, Reese's Pieces, M&M's, or other items to use for the pixels in the picture.
A firm surface to adhere your material. Canvas Panels are one option.
Five to six class sessions, plus out-of-class work as needed.
Step One: Create A Source Image with a digital camera
1) Take a photo of yourself in natural light. Do not use the camera's flash.
2) In Photoshop, crop the image into a perfect square which includes only your face--just above the eyebrows to just below the mouth. The fixed aspect ratio should be 1 by 1.
3) Save this cropped image as firstnametemplate.jpg (With "firstname" being your first name)
4) "Use Legacy" should be ON. Go to the brightness/contrast settings. Select the highest contrast that reduces your image to four solid colored shapes - usually red, yellow, black, and white. Next, shift the brightness levels to the desired setting. Then apply the new contrast/brightness settings.
5) Save this image as a Photoshop document called firstname1.psd (With "firstname" your first name) and close it.
6) Reopen firstnametemplate.jpg and repeat step 4. Try a new brightness setting (such as very dark), and save this image as firstname2.psd and close it.
7) Reopen firstnametemplate.jpg and repeat step 4. This time, try a new brightness setting (such as very light), and save this image as firstname3.psd and close it.
8) Open firstname1.psd, and go to image size settings. Change the pixel dimensions to 50 by 50 pixels. Select the "apply" menu.
9) Zoom in to check and see if the image is still visually satisfactory. Save your work.
10) Resize firstname2.psd and firstname3.psd to 50 by 50 pixels and save them.
11) Compare the three pixelated images and choose your favorite.
12) Print out a color copy of your image at 6.25" x 6.25" (15.25 x 15.25 cm) with a 1cm border.
13) On some versions of Photoshop, if you zoom in enough, the white grid will appear around each pixel. This grid will make it easier to count pixels in areas of solid color. To print the image with the grid, take a screenshot (on Mac: command+shift+4 and then select the area) of the enlarged image, then open the screenshot in Photoshop and print it at 6.25" x 6.25".
Step Two: Choose Material
Choose material such as Skittles and M&M's in bulk Warehouse clubs such as Cosco and Sam's Club. Usually, the pieces should be geometric, and should have roughly the same width and height (such as a circle or a square). The material you choose must be available in at least three colors.
When choosing your art material, it is important to calculate the cost of the materials and figure out how much it will cost to fill in the entire portrait. You can easily do this by measuring the size of each object and figure out how many objects will fit within an inch (or some other measurement). You then multiply that times the total size of your portrait. You can then decide if you can afford more expensive material and how many you need to fill in the space.
Look at Skittles, for example:
Size: Skittles are about 3/8" (1 cm) in diameter: .375" (or 3/8) x 50 pixels = 18.75". Thus, if you use Skittles, your finished portrait will be 18.75" x 18.75" (47.63 x 47.63 cm).
Cost: To fill this size of paper, you will need 2,500 Skittles. If a small bag contains 40 Skittles, you will need to buy at least 63 bags. If a small bag of Skittles costs $.089, it will cost you at least $56.07 +tax.
Choose a material that is in your budget and is feasible for your project.
If your finances are tight, you may create your own pixel-material. For example, you could cut out several thousand pieces out of large colored sheets of Construction Paper. Plan for the extra time and labor needed to make your own pixel-material. Also, consider what additional materials and tools may be needed for a given material and how you will construct the final portrait.
Are your pixel pieces heavy enough that you need superglue to keep them in place? Will you need any pushpins? If so, how many? Will you be doing any painting?
Will you build your project on the floor? A wall? On a board?
If you choose a location or material that will cause your art to be a temporary installation, make sure you thoroughly document your finished portrait with a digital camera. Make every attempt to have your project last long enough for your teacher to see it and evaluate it. Ideally, the entire class will critique it while it is still in existence.
After buying your pixel material, use colored pencils to match the the pixel material as closely as possible. For example, if you use Skittles, make sure your colored pencil selection has colors close to the Skittles.
The purpose of this exercise is to make it easier to complete your final piece with less guesswork.
1) Print a paper filled with empty grids of 50 x 50 squares. You may print the grid on the left after clicking on it. Print it out as large as possible, preferably 7" or 8" (17.8 x 20.3 cm) square. A 50 x 50 grid can also be created in Microsoft Paint or found on Google Images.
2) Using colored pencils, begin filling in the squares to match the colors of your chosen pixel material. Though the printout below is red, yellow, brown, and orange, you may use any colors you wish that match your pixel material. It will probably be easier to arrange your colors based on value from light to dark. To be true to the portrait, it may be helpful to arrange colors based on value (lightness to darkness). Replace white (on the printout) with your lightest new color (on the drawing), and black (on the printout) with your darkest new color (on the drawing).
If you are using fewer colors, you can replace two primary colors with a secondary color. For example, red and yellow would then become orange. If you are adding additional colors, then you can add "in-between" colors such as light yellows, dark browns, blacks, etc. You can substitute colors if you don't have a good match with your colors. For example, the color white could be substituted with yellow. It is easier to correct an error with color on your grid drawing rather than the final translation.
To change a colored pencil pixel when it is not possible to color over it, color the pixels on a separate grid page, cut them out, and glue them over the top of the mis-colored pixel(s).
Step Four: Construct The Candy Pixel Portrait
You will now use the completed colored pencil grid drawing as a "map" to create your final pixel portrait. Be as precise as possible when working on the final portrait. Check your lines and measurements continually. When finished, thoroughly photograph your artwork in order to preserve it.
Student work by Victoria, mini M & M's on Foamboard
Student work by Joy, metallic star stickers on glass
Student work by Ariel, Post-it Notes
Students will be graded on the following:
Creativity of Material
Precision/ Cleanliness of Execution
Work Ethic/ Professionalism
Overall Effectiveness of Completed Portrait
Receptivity to Critique
Did your feelings change about your art creation while you were spending time on it?
Did you find that the repetitive work was relaxing or irritating?
Looking at your finished project, would you have done anything differently looking back in retrospect?