The 1000 Dot-to-Dot Book series
How a side project turned into an international best seller.
In 2010 I first started experimenting with dot-to-dot drawings.
5 years later I have published 4 books that have been translated into 13 languages and have sold over 400,000 copies around the world.
I’m often asked where the idea came from and there is no short answer to that question. It’s a culmination of years of experimentation, inspiration, hard work and luck.
In my day job as a graphic designer, I often don’t have the opportunity to be as creative as I would like to be. There are many things that get in the way, such as clients, budgets, time constraints, style guides — and opinions.
I have always been a huge advocate of side projects where most of those things don’t get in the way.
Over the years I have experimented with many ideas, but one theme seems to be recurring.
I’ve always loved the idea of using primitive techniques to create complex art. Dot-to-dot drawings are about as primitive as you get. We all know them from our childhood to be basic, flat outlines of things. The challenge that I set myself was to see if I could reinvent the idea and create something that had more artistic integrity.
The early experiments
Instead of just doing outlines to create an image, my approach was to use tone. An image is just areas of light and dark, and the contrast between those areas creates definition. With this principle, I created my first experiment.
The result wasn’t amazing, but it was enough to suggest to me that the concept was worth pursuing.
If you squint your eyes a bit, or look at it far away, it doesn’t look too bad.
It was also time consuming and hard to join all the dots, so I needed to think of ways to make that easier too.
Unemployed, sleeping on a friend’s couch and attempting a Guinness world record
In 2011 I moved to Melbourne from Auckland and needed a job. I was sleeping on a friend’s couch and would spend the day applying for jobs, cold calling and dropping my portfolio off at various offices.
It’s a stressful situation, so to take my mind off things, I needed a creative distraction. I decided to revisit my dot-to-dot experiments, but this time I wanted to take things to the extreme.
Is there a Guinness World Record for the most complex dot-to-dot drawing in the world? I couldn’t find one, so decided to set the bar myself.
It took about a week to create the artwork for a 6,239 dot drawing of the Mona Lisa. I roughly calculated that it would take me about 4 hours to complete the A0 sized print, but ended up taking about 9.
Once finished I sent off an application to the Guinness World Record committee. I did it as a bit of a joke and wasn’t surprised at all to learn that my application was not accepted.
“Unfortunately due to increasing proximity between dots, this record would at some point become either unbreakable or undistinguishable as a dot-to-dot drawing were people to continue breaking a record in this category. While we do not underestimate your achievement we are therefore unable to recognise it as a record.”
As another challenge for myself, I experimented with dot-to-dot drawings that start of as one thing, and turn into something else. It was an interesting concept to be able to control how an image was drawn and opened up the possibility of creating hidden images.
As another touch, I also finished off all my drawings with a dot-to-dot version of my signature. I sold these as limited edition prints on my website.
From side project to commissioned work
One of the most important things about having side projects is to document them and share them online. I try to update my personal site www.thomasmakesstuff.com as much as possible with new work. I documented all my dot-to-dot experiments there and started getting interesting emails from people.
In January 2012, I received an email out of nowhere from a commissioning publisher in London who was interested in creating a book of dot-to-dot drawings.
“We recently decided that we want to produce a large grown-up book of dot-to-dots. It would have a very cool cover, and some fabulous, intricate dot-to-dots inside. Obviously this appears to be one of your talents. Would you be interested in producing some material for a book?”
Needless to say, I was interested.
80,000 dots later, four books published
It’s been an amazing journey and I have been incredibly lucky for the opportunity. It’s also been a lot of work. It has taken many hours after work, during the weekends and even Christmas holidays to get the work done.
I have currently published 4 dot-to-dot books: Icons, Cities, Animals and Masterpieces. Each has 20 drawings to complete and each drawing consists of exactly 1000 dots.
Every single dot I have placed myself, and it takes about 8 hours to produce one portrait. Audiobooks and podcasts have been a saviour for my sanity during this time — to say it gets repititive is an understatement.
I check Instagram pretty much daily and search for #dottodot and #thomaspavitte. It’s a bit narcissistic, but I still get a big kick out of seeing photos of completed drawings that people from all over the world have created.