Freelance Files — When I became a Mac geek

It was 1984. The Macintosh had been introduced by the now-famous Super Bowl commercial from Apple that January. As soon as they had them in a store, my lust for a Mac began. I collected the elaborate, gorgeously printed brochures. I nearly drooled on them in the showroom.

I couldn’t afford one. The price of a Mac and a printer plus a few hundred dollars could buy you a brand new Yugo.

It had been two years since I struck out on my own to become a freelance graphic designer/illustrator. When I saw the Mac, I knew it was the wave of the future, despite the fact that it didn’t even have a grayscale screen. There wasn’t a laser printer for it at the time, just a black and white dot matrix printer with blocky resolution only slightly better than an original Mario Bros. arcade game. But the promise was there. The computer used what approximated real typography on the screen. For a designer back then, that was HUGE. At the time, computers had screen type no better than you saw in the movie “War Games”: green letters on a black background. Black type on a nearly white background was so enticing. The photos in the brochures made the screens look like they had a pleasant bluish glow. It was the glow of the future. And I wanted to be a part of it.

©1990, Baby Blues Partnership

At that time, computers were so expensive, most small businesses couldn’t afford them. A company, CompuShare, was located a few miles away at a mall. They rented computers out—much less of a committment for such a newfangled contraption. I convinced them to let me use one of their new Mac computers. I was beginning to gain some notoriety as an illustrator in town. I would promote their store with the project I had in mind in exchange for letting me create it on a Mac. They went for it.

I had been an art director at one of the oldest ad agencies in Phoenix before going freelance, and now as a freelancer, I’d been on two sides of the work triangle. It gave me an idea. My idea was to use the most iconic image on the latest and greatest technology: The Mona Lisa on a Mac. The concept was esoteric. What if Leonardo da Vinci had freelanced for an ad agency?

It was a series of drawings, all of which had to be painstakingly created, mostly pixel by pixel, with a mouse the size and shape of a bar of Dial soap. I had a black and white transparency created of the Mona Lisa to the size of the screen. I taped it over the screen and proceeded, for each drawing, to click on each pixel to create the new drawing. Since the screen was “bitmap” back then, there were only two choices for each pixel: black or white. No grays.

Day after day I went into the store and taped my transparency on the screen and clicked and clicked and clicked the mouse until I’d created the six drawings of the Mona Lisa for the project.

When I was finished, I felt like it was a masterpiece on its own, mainly because I felt like it had taken about as long to create the drawings as it had taken to create the Sistene Chapel frescos (sorry to mix artists). And nearly as painful. I’m not sure which Michaelangelo would’ve hated more, lying on his back painting the ceiling or hunched over a mouse in front of a computer screen.

I submitted the piece to a local graphic arts journal, aptly titled State of the Arts, published by the Comminicating Arts Group of Arizona, and they published it as part of a 2-page spread.

Here it is in all its black and white dot-matrix glory. (Click the arrows to go through the slide show)

Images ©1984, Rick Kirkman

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