Jimi Hendrix Lyric Portrait – By The Aural Retentive

Way back in my teen days, probably early teens, my Mom took me to downtown Ann Arbor. She took me to a shop in a little “mall” like area that was a sort of an old time alley setup. This shop had lots of crafts and hats and games and puzzles and books, a typical near campus shop I guess. I remember this particular shop though for 2 distinct reasons.

1. The Sherlock Holmes hat.


I was fascinated with this hat. I knew I would be taking a risk wearing it anywhere, and in the end though I believe my mom offered to buy it for me (she indulged me in such things, thanks Mom) I didn’t end up with it, although I seem to recall leaving and then going back a second time after we had left and agonizing some more over it before eventually deciding not to get it.

2. Word Portraits.

They had some very artistic portraits of famous faces, like Einstein and Gandhi which were made with words. The lines of the faces were made out of various widths of text. The text was famous quotes, or formulas or things related to the person in the portrait. Up close it looked like a jumbled mess of words, but at a distance the words were more like lines and you could see the face come to life out of the chaos of the text and it became more light and shadow. They were very cool. They really made an impression on me.

Many many years later, on a lazy afternoon they popped into my head again. I thought to myself… I could do that. What followed was a very aggravating few hours of miserable failures. I didn’t produce anything and I realized those posters were a LOT of work for whomever did them. Not only did they transform a picture of the person represented into a basically black and white outline, then they painstakingly converted the lines to text, varying the widths and directions to simulate the lines. It was an eye opener to be sure.

Still many many years later again. Another lazy day and I was looking at a picture of Jimi Hendrix on a flyer for a movie that had played downtown Madison somewhere. The picture was on red paper, and the picture of Hendrix was very distinct, but in pure black and white zones. As I looked at it I had a vision of all the black areas filled with Hendrix lyrics. So not really the lines as text, but the shadows and black space filled and the white areas blank.

I taped the flyer to the window, then traced the outlines of the dark areas with a pencil and ended up with a template. Then I took my pencil and looked up Handrix lyrics and started filling the areas in. It was a very organic process, sometimes the lines followed the contour, other times going across areas to create little patches. Then the next song’s lyrics would fill that spot. When I finished I looked at it and was kind of disappointed. There was no way this blob was going to look anything like what I wanted. It looked up close like the text of a book threw up. I was of course super critical of my handwriting and I even had a few misspellings. I set the paper up against a book and walked across the room and looked from about 10 feet away.

Whoa! It worked! The picture at a distance looked just like I wanted it to. Up close you could read the lyrics, and at a distance you could discern the picture pretty well. Success! It took hours to do. I decided I would give my creation to the only other person in the world I knew would appreciate it. The only other person I knew that liked Hendrix like I did. Dalton. It was displayed proudly in his room for years. It did eventually get lost in the shuffle somewhere, somehow, but it represented Jimi to the end.

A few weeks ago, the thought of that picture was in my head. I didn’t have the picture from the flyer anymore, though I think Dalton may have it (might have to check on that) but I did come across another picture that I though might work well.


So, I printed it as big as would fit on 8 1/ x 11 and taped it to the window at home. Then I traced the dark areas with really light pencil lines, then broke out a fine point Sharpie. This picture would be probably twice the area to cover with lyrics as my first go at it. I started with the eyes and mouth area. I figured if I was gonna screw it up that would be the area and I could throw in the towel and walk away without too much time lost. Again, up close it looks a mess. Pencil lines show too.

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After I completed the inner face and down the neck I took a look from a distance. Hey. Not bad.

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Then I started working the afro. That was the fun part actually. It appealed to my organization and puzzle-like tendencies. Sort of like when you finish the last round on the lawn with the mower. All lines complete! The filling in was very organic again. In the afro I wasn’t following any contour, so I made some sections going across, some down, some following the text from previous fills, it was whatever I felt like. No real pattern.

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Almost done…

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Another look at it from across the room revealed that this version was pretty good! It came out very cool if I must say so myself. It took about 2 hours all told. Not bad. I erased the light pencil lines and got a document frame and displayed it on the mantle for a bit.

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Then it came to work to watch over me daily.

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I found a young Bob Marley picture that would make a good second word portrait. Similar to the Bob Marley Birthday Bash poster I have at my desk.

Better get another Sharpie.

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