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Dot’s right, it’s a halftone portrait.

Halftone portrait of William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody. Portrait is made of over 5,500 hand-painted dots. By Tom McKay of Pie in the Kisser Studio.
Animated GIF traces the process of creating halftone portrait of William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody.  By Tom McKay of Pie in the Kisser Studio.

Halftone Portrait of “Buffalo Bill” Cody

When I was a kid I wondered how photographs reproduced in newspapers were made. The images were (and still are) made up of thousands of dots of ink of varying sizes. When viewed from a normal reading distance the dots merge to create light and dark areas in the photographs. These printed images are called halftones. Nowadays the preparation of halftones is done effortlessly with computers. When I began my career as a newspaper graphic artist 30 years ago halftones were created with a photomechanical process involving a large photostat camera and a halftone screen. In my childhood I tried creating halftones with nothing more than paper, pencil and a ruler. The results were never very good.


In late 2015, I decided to revisit the process of creating a halftone by hand. Working at a large scale — 48 inches tall by 44.25 inches wide — it soon became apparent that this piece is as much about pattern recognition as it is a likeness of an icon of the American West.


It is amazing how the brain adds detail when viewing this piece from a distance. Up close you see an array of dots that subsequently become dents in the hat and the whites of the eyes when you step back.


I worked four to eight hours a day for nearly five months on this painting. The smallest dot is approximately 1/16 of an inch in diameter; the largest is about 3/4 of an inch. In all there are over 5,500 hand-painted dots.


Status: This piece is available. Please contact us if you have a wall large enough to display this painting.

The finished painting in its new frame

The process of painting Bill took five months

A detail of William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody halftone portrait. Hand-painted black dots on a white field. By Tom McKay of Pie in the Kisser Studio

Detail of Buffalo Bill