Artist Draws 250 Celebrity Sketches, Each One In Under 20 Minutes

The collection will be on display at Voltage Coffee and Art in Cambridge through the month of August.

Image via Aaron Dana

Image via Aaron Dana

Last year, while waiting to hear back from an art designer about his drawing concepts for a freelance project with an online publication, Aaron Dana needed to find a way to calm his nerves and take his mind off of things.

“I had manic energy, and I didn’t want to sit still. I wanted something to keep me going while waiting for the actual job to come through,” said the Boston-based freelance illustrator and graphic artist. “I jumped on Twitter and started asking people, ‘hey, throw me some ideas for portraits and I’ll draw them as fast as I can.’”

What Dana didn’t know would happen was that his spur-of-the-moment request would turn into a full-fledged project of its own, leading to the creation of hundreds of small portraits of celebrities and other notable faces as part of a gallery exhibit in Cambridge.

On Friday, Dana will officially unveil “20 Minutes or Less” at Voltage Coffee and Art, which features 250 of the best ink-and-pencil drawings that spawned from the impromptu portrait concept, each one whipped together over the course of a year as he sat down and furiously raced against the clock to accurately capture the profiles.

Using nothing but small squares of white paper, a mechanical pencil, and a black-ink pen, the requests that Dana took on the first night he started the project quickly grew as more and more people tossed ideas his way.

“It just became this really interactive thing with family and friends and followers,” Dana said. “The collection of different [celebrities] representing the show is eclectic to say the least, and the fact that suggestions came from other people is what’s kind of neat about it.”

Based on feedback from both social media and those close to him, Dana has drawn everyone from Bruce Campbell, of Evil Dead fame, to Meryl Streep, Mr. T, Beyonce, Rodney Dangerfield, Biz Markie, and Ice Cube, the latter of which is one of his personal favorites.

Doing the quick math, Dana estimates he spent around 200 hours drawing 400 portraits, averaging roughly 17 minutes spent on each one. He said he often would complete three in an hour, depending on the day and his schedule.

“They are enjoyable to do and I think it’s a nice exercise. It loosens you up and there are certain things it allows you to let go of,” he said.

After reaching an agreement with the people that run Voltage’s art space at the café, Dana went to work stringing up a selection of the piles of mini-portraits that he compiled since the project first started.

Although he admits not every single drawing is perfect, and he couldn’t include each one in the display, Dana said the ones that did make the cut, which are up for sale, are a testament to both his style of work, as well as the motivation behind the whole thing.

“It was all about the interaction with people and the crazy speed and quick deadlines, and how fast I was able to move my hand and what I was able to do with the lines on paper,” he said. “That they are recognizable people is something that will make them enjoyable to look at, but the idea of making something perfect isn’t really a factor here. Learning to let go of the little things that don’t matter and concentrate on what’s important from a craft perspective is really the fun thing.”

Below is a quick video of Dana hard at work on one of his portraits. The video was created to promote his new gallery: