Making Portraits

Making these portraits was a very long process. This was one of those ideas that had been in my head for a very long time, but I knew it needed a new technique rather than being handmade from wood. I felt ready to try something new, and having things cut on a waterjet had always fascinated me. More than anything it was the precision that drew me. I knew I could never be satisfied making these portraits by hand. So I started finding out what it would take, and again my learning curve became steep.

One thing was the technical aspect of bringing it to life, another was making it look good on the computer. I did countless tests to see what would look good. How many lines? How many grades of thickness? What is the best way to make a smooth gradient? After making gradual progress, and getting better results on different images, I took the step of getting the subject I wanted.

I took the pictures myself, around 100 or more, sometimes as much as 300 for each portrait, to get the perfect look. I usually find that for the first 50 shots the person is still a little stiff and unsure. When I get up to about 70 pictures they relax more and forget that they are posing. It’s usually then I find what I’m looking for. And what I’m looking for is a kind of dream-state. I’m after the look of a person being comfortable, confident, innocent and natural in some kind of magical blend. This is of course after my own views, and others may see different things. But for me it was important that there be as little posing as possible, so I tried to make the subject unaware of the camera.

So I told them to close their eyes, not smile and try to relax. Of course they were listening to my instructions, but like I said, after 80 pictures or so they would relax enough to find that dream-state I was looking for.

Even though the actual cutting is by machine, every move it makes is from a decision I took. And these photographs are not put through some filter. I adjust every line and curve from scratch. With the amount of lines and grades of thickness, there are more than 2200 points where a decision has to be made. It’s a very time-consuming process. But it’s the only way to get what I want.

After getting it machine cut, there are many stages before I can call myself finished. There is a lot of sanding, even between every line, and then there is stud welding, an acid wash, to coats of primer, wet-sanding, and then to or three coats of paint. Plus there is also a few waiting periods in there until I can finally put the two pieces together, the front and back, to a finished portrait. The black grid hovers above the background, creating a beautiful shadow effect, which makes the whole thing come to life.

As an artist you constantly try to make real the things that are in your head. Most of the time, if not all of the time, the result is not quite as magic as you envisioned. But in this case, I found the magic.