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Brandon native turns bar codes into works of art
by Rod Carter

Scott Blake stands in front of the portrait of Elvis he created out of bar codes.

A Brandon native is using bar codes found on products everywhere to create unique works of art.

Scott Blake, who graduated from Brandon High School in 1995, decided one day to take those Universal Product Codes and turn them into art.

"There's lots of scanning. I could do that all day long," said Blake, 33.

Blake, who lives in Omaha, Neb., began his bar code art in 1998. His first portrait was of Jesus. It was 50 by 50 inches and consisted of 10,000 barcodes. A year later, he refined it and paired down the codes to 7,776.

Blake has created about 30 portraits using bar codes from items that relate to each person he focuses on. He subjects include Oprah Winfrey, Madonna, Marilyn Monroe and Warren Buffet.

One of his latest works is of Elvis Presley, made up of 2,400 bar codes.

"It's all the bar codes from Elvis CDs," he said. "I go on the Internet and use sites like Amazon and Google and I type in the word 'Elvis,' and it gives all that UPC data for free."

Traditionally, UPCs are a way to automatically identify products and collect data.

The bar code can be traced to two student inventors at Drexel Institute of Technology in 1949, according to GS1 US, the nonprofit organization that administers the UPCs. But the codes weren't used commercially until 1974, when the first scanner was installed at an Ohio supermarket and Wrigley's gum was the first product to have a code.

Barcodes are now being used for much more than ringing up products at the cash register. They are on a lot more items, even work badges.

Blake's decision to use bar codes is more than just aesthetic. If you scan each bar code on Elvis' face, it plays a song or a clip from

Scott Blake uses a bar code reader attatched to a laptop computer to read the bar codes on his portrait of Elvis. The bar codes that make up Elvis' face trigger Elvis songs when scanned. 

"When the scanner beeps, it validates me," Blake said. "I feel like, yeah, it actually works."

Before Blake began bar code art, he worked for a company that produced animation for two major films, "Flubber" and "Spawn."

Now he creates everything from bar code T-shirts to flip books and mugs. Although he didn't give specifics, he said the bulk of his earnings come from those novelty items.

Artist Scott Blake also uses barcodes to create images for T-shirts, coffee mugs and other items. 

His major works can take months to complete. The Elvis portrait, for example, took about six months to write the code and then place and save everything where he wanted on his computer, his canvas. He does the portraits using the computer program Photoshop.

"I'm a classically trained artist. I took drawing classes and I painted still life of bowls of fruit," Blake said. "But nowadays, I feel like artists, we're using computers to make art and I think people that like art are going to appreciate the code that I write instead of how well I can handle a pencil."

Blake plans to continue his bar code career, scanning his way, he hopes, to the top of the art world. "This is my legacy for sure."

Posted on TBO Website, June 3, 2010
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