Genesis of Quote Portraits

Sometime in 2020, I began saving quotes of the game app Cryptograms from notable writers, philosophers, activists, and others that resonated. In this game, one decodes encrypted messages. My kind of fun.

Soon, I started a portraits project based on these quotes: Quote Portraits. I flailed a bit for quite a while. The problem was, of course, copyrights. Most images of these people are not in the public domain, therefore I cannot honestly use them, even as source material. And, purchasing the rights to art and photography is an expensive and time-consuming process for an image that may not even end up being necessary to the final product.

Enter artificial Intelligence (AI). Earlier this year (2022), Amy Martin sent me an article she found in which the artist/illustrator Clif Davis discusses his experiences with AI-based image-generating engines. This article, not an easy read, described the process and its ethical concerns.

That this process did not copy photographs, painting and other images from the internet, but instead generated original images based on pixel-sized information from the internet that met the descriptive phrase that I typed into it gave me an answer to my dilemma.

I began to experiment with the latent text-to-image diffusion model Stable Diffusion and, after a while, started to get the hang of it. Still, I generate five to ten images for every one that I think has potential. In some cases, more than one generated image has been included in the illustration.*

So, these AI-assisted illustrations are not entirely mine, but they are no one else’s either. I have altered the greater part of of these images in Photoshop, sometimes very significantly. However, some were just too right-on to mess with very much. I was looking for a slightly surreal, emotive energy to them, I think I hit that goal quite often. 

Hopefully, you get something from these illustrations and have your mind, heart, and soul stirred by the accompanying insights from human beings worth listening to (or laughing with).

— Scooter Smith


*Any legible text you find in these images is entirely mine. Also, this first series of images is designed to be seen on the internet only.