Marilyn made from circles and just 5 colours

Querkles: Colour-By-Numbers Reinvented

The follow-up book to the 1000 dot-to-dot series

After having good success with my first book series, The 1000-Dot-to-Dot Book, the challenge was to find another childhood classic to add a twist to.

The answer was right in front of me, and the concept came from another side project.

The Inspiration

As a graphic designer I noticed what seemed to be a trend emerging with logo design. It goes back to the times when logos weren’t constructed on computer, but with compasses, rulers, pencils and mathematics.

Top: Of course Apple has one of the most precisely built and elegant logos. Below: The Twitter logo consists of just 13 circles.

Instead of just showing the finished logo, designers would take the time to carefully show all the geometry that went in to make it. Circles seemed to be the shape of choice and often had some deep connection to the Fibonacci Sequence or Golden Ratio.

I appreciate the beauty and skill of that goes into this, but to be honest, I find it all a bit unnecessary.

Anyway, I was interested enough in this trend to see if it could be used in things other than logos. The challenge I set myself was to see if these circle construction lines could be used to form the blueprint of more complex images.


In 2010 I created a personal project called 2,423 Circles. It was an illustration of a scene from one of my favourite movies — Bladerunner — and consisted of, you guessed it, 2,423 circles.

One by one, I started drawing circles over an image from Bladerunner. Then, once it looked like there were enough, I started filling them all in.

A small section of the finished piece that shows Harrison Ford eating some noodles.

On their own, the circles looked completely chaotic, but once coloured in, the image came to life. I especially liked the close up details that had a very abstract feel.

I’ve had it sitting on my website for years now. I really liked the result, but considered it to be a one off project and didn’t really think of taking it further.

But to my luck, the publishers that I worked with on the Dot-to-dot series stumbled across it and saw potential:

Them: “Would you consider doing a book of circle pictures to colour in? Again, I think iconic portraits would be great. It could be the next big success!”
Me: “The circles idea is definitely worth pursuing — I’ve always liked the idea. It’s going to need a bit more experimenting to see how it can work, but I’m keen to give it a go.”

Problems and Solutions

Normally paint/colour by number kits come with all you need to create the artwork.

The first thought I had was to do with the practicalities of a colour-by-numbers. Normally they come with a set of colours whether it be paint, pencils or pens.

This book was to be just a book — and left to the purchaser to colour in how they like.

Looking at my original Bladerunner illustration, it was made from hundreds of different colours. Obviously, not everyone has access to a huge range of colours. The palette had to be simple, but how simple I didn’t know yet.

To work all these things out, I found the best thing to do, was just to make a start.

I found a reference of Jack Nicholson from the movie, The Shining to experiment with. I decided that 5 seemed to be a good number to limit the colour palette to and 58 circles later I had finished my first prototype.

Like my first dot-to-dot experiment, the result wasn’t anything amazing, but there was enough there to suggest that there was potential in the concept.

More circles = more detail

58 circles gave me a decent result, and 5 colours seemed to work pretty well. I wanted to achieve more detail, so the obvious solution was to draw more circles.

It was also time for me to physically colour one in to test the practicalities of that. Up to this point I had only experimented with colouring them in on computer.

Art was always one of my favourite subjects in school, and I remember learning about technique of cross-hatching.

Definition of cross-hatch in English:

(In drawing or graphics) shade (an area) with intersecting sets of parallel lines:the region is defined by diagonal cross-hatching

It’s pretty simple to do and meant that all people would need is one or two pens and they would only have to create 5 different tones of black.

1 = The darkest shade, 5 = the lightest shade.

I created the art for three more samples and tested them over a couple of nights.

George, Mona and Jack — an unlikely trio — only Mona would appear in the final book.

It took me about an hour to colour each one in and I didn’t have any trouble at all with the cross-hatching technique.

I was very rough with it as well. Up close I could clearly see many imperfections, but looking at them further back, the tones even out, the circles fade away and it looks like a piece of sketched art.

The final result

With everything worked out, it was again long hours after work, and weekends to get all the art finished for two books. There are two books out now, one featuring portraits of famous iconic people and the other with famous works of art.

This illustration of Elvis is made from 660 circles and is coloured in using just 5 shades of black.

I am especially fond of the result because of the freedom that people will have to colour in the drawings however they like.

Personally, I prefer the black and white versions, but if people want to use colour, they are completely free to create their own colour combinations. Colour works best if you order them in tonal order. #1 Should always be the darkest colour and #5 should always be the lightest.

An alternate colour theme ordered in colour values with #1 being the darkest colour and #5 the lightest.
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