From 0 to Randi in three minutes

By Phil Plait | April 17, 2009 10:30 am

This is nifty: artist John Helvin draws Randi in this time-lapse video:

Wow! Very nicely done.

The drawing is part of an exhibit of portraits of magicians that will go on display later this year. Helvin mentioned that he’ll be making a book of these portraits later this year as well. Randi’s birthday is in August, so I can hope the timing will be just right…


Comments (11)

  1. tjm220
  2. Todd W.

    OT: Phil, there was an item in the news for Boston last night/today about 4 Northeastern students who have suspected cases of mumps. According the White Coat Notes (, all four were up to date on their vaccinations. My prediction is that the pro-disease folks will use this as an example to say “See, vaccines don’t work, so why bother?”

  3. That’s absolutely cool. Drawing gray/white haired people is so much harder than dark haired ones. I tried that at that time (high school) and i wasn’t too bad – but only portraits with dark hair. It’s also nice to see how Helvin starts and how he constructs the sketch from the inside to the outside. I always started with the outlines, maybe that’s why i never was that good… ūüėČ

  4. I find it interesting how he starts with one eye and works on it in considerable detail before moving on to anything else. As a person who doesn’t really draw, I would want to sketch out where all the major components go first. I would be afraid to make such a commitment to the first eye for fear of making the second eye too close or far or mess up the proportion of some other part and have to start over. This guy seems unconcerned, as if maybe he knows what he’s doing. How about that?

  5. theinquisitor

    Bloody hell, is he doing that with a Biro? That’s amazing!

  6. @PsyberDave,

    As a person who is transitioning from a person who draws a little (badly) to a person who draws a little (better), I can tell you that the approach you mentioned is actually pretty mainstream. “Blocking in” is a popular approach achieving correct proportionality in landscapes.

    I myself do it sometimes, but sometimes (especially w/ people) I prefer to replicate proportionality by relation to a single area. This is useful (but not absolutley necessary) if you want to create an image where the viewer is drawn to one part in particular. The advice I get from most artists(lest you think I’m speaking from my own expertise) is, do whatever works for you.

  7. Nemo

    The technique portrayed in the video is utterly bizarre. I have the feeling it’s a type of “magic trick” in itself.

  8. Timm

    Very unusual technique indeed, if this was posted on Fark the masses would shout “Fake!”. The time lapse nature certainly would allow a projected image to be followed in between frames……

  9. What impressed me was that I could already tell it was Randi by the time he’d finished the first eye. I don’t know if that says something about the artist, Randi, or both. ūüėČ

  10. Lars

    Timm: My thoughts exactly. I don’t trust the technique … There’s something sketchy about it.

  11. Parsnip

    Timm writes in his comment “The time lapse nature certainly would allow a projected image to be followed in between frames‚Ķ‚Ķ”
    Take a look at his sketch of Pete Firman on YouTube; he has a watch in the top left corner of the scene. You can see that there is barely one second between each photograph. Also, one of the YouTubers left two comments saying that he/she saw Helvin drawing portraits in the same way at an art convention. My uncle, an art teacher, says that some artists who have experience as a street artist use such methods to quickly hold the attention of those watching; its a sort of performance thing. Give them some good detail in one area, show some skill, expand outwards, and when the likeness becomes obvious start to block in. I’ve watched all the videos, using pause a lot, and Helvin does do that. The low resolution makes it difficult to see at times but it is there.


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