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Short Stories: Thumbprint Portrait

Jul 27, 2012

by cherylsorg handmade and vintage goods

Here at Etsy, we believe that the story behind an object is often just as fascinating as the object itself. Short Stories is our series dedicated to telling the tales behind extraordinary pieces found or created by Etsy sellers. 

Here’s Cheryl Sorg on her (truly) one-of-a-kind portraits.

The idea for the thumbprint portraits came via a meandering path. I’ve been creating drawings and forms using snippets of text for quite some time. For the first half dozen years or so, these drawings and forms were mostly massive, imposing works, incorporating entire books — Moby Dick, Homer’s Odyssey, Ovid’s Metamorphoses – and reaching crazy 8-foot, 11-foot, 15-foot proportions. Each took hundreds of hours of work.  A few years ago, I decided to start doing smaller, more free-wheeling “drawings,” and did one full of spirals and swirls created from the text of a few favorite Haruki Murakami stories. The forms brought to mind the arches, loops and whorls of fingerprints, and I started thinking: rather than sketching out forms reminiscent of fingerprint patterns, I should do actual fingerprints! So I inked my own thumbprints, blew them up and created several self-portraits.

As a book lover who has created work with texts and books for many years, those initial self-portraits were entirely text-based, using poetry, quotes, passages from literature and book titles. Since then, I’ve created several dozen portraits on commission, and with each new portrait something new works its way in. What started off strictly about words has grown into being about, well, life. They’ve become a comprehensive and all-encompassing collaboration. My subject provides a list of special, unique and important things they’d like incorporated into their thumbprint. People include favorite books and films, music, their travels, foods and recipes, words of wisdom, animals, bits about their astrological sign, their loved ones, hobbies, passions — you name it. I certainly do get to know quite a bit about them!

For each thumbprint, I spend many hours gathering images…probably fifteen hours or more. I pore through images online, copying covers of books, CD liner notes, maps and more. One thumbprint usually means the collection of 300 to 400 image files, which I then go through, re-size and crop in order to create the 1/3-inch thick snippets and strips I need to create their thumbprint’s pattern. It’s a pretty labor-intensive process — and what’s funny is that the part which probably seems the most tedious to someone else, is (for me) the fun part. The hours and hours I spend cutting those strips into teeny snippets and affixing them, bit by bit, on to vellum to create the giant 2-by-3 foot thumbprint portrait is akin to meditation for me. It’s through that process that I really get to sit with the story someone’s told me about themselves, edit the things I’ve gathered, decide on placement, color and composition, and truly create.

More Short Stories

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2 Featured Comments

  • decembermoondesign

    Doreen from decembermoondesign said 4 years ago Featured

    I can't decide what I like most - the idea, how well it's executed, or that each thumbprint is telling a story. It's all incredibly creative.

  • cherylsorg

    Cheryl Sorg from cherylsorg said 4 years ago Featured

    Thanks so much for all the lovely kind comments everyone! I really appreciate it. Hopefully I'll get the chance to collaborate with some of you one of these days!


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