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A Portrait of Donald Knuth

A portrait of Donald Knuth in front of an abstract backdrop.

Title:A Portrait of Donald Knuth
Size:8" × 10" (~20 cm × 25 cm)
Media: Acrylic on Canvas Panel
Framed: Yes
Price:Private Commission

Donald Knuth is probably best known for his ongoing work, The Art of Computer Programming, and the creation of TeX (the Greek letters tau epsilon chi, pronounced "tech"), a digital typography system. During the time he was writing Volumes 1 - 3 of The Art of Computer Programming, Knuth became dissatisfied with the way the equations were being typeset in his books, so he spent 10 years inventing TeX to solve the problem. TeX is widely used in publishing today, and in 1999, The Art of Computer Programming volumes were honoured along with writings by Einstein and Mandelbrot (and many others) as one of the best scientific monographs of the century. For more information, check out the title link above.

To complete this artwork, I researched many images of Knuth as well as his personal homepage, and took into consideration much commentary from the individual that commissioned the painting. Knuth serves him as a role model, in his own words:

"Knuth serves as an inspiration to me as a computer scientist because he believes in doing things the Right Way. His principal fascination is making things elegant. In this world of Windows, AOL, and other crappy software, this painting of Knuth will smile down upon me while I am coding and remind me that programmers can produce beautiful things too."

While planning the artwork, I decided I liked the idea of a straightforward portrait best. I studied many pictures of him from various points in his life, and painted him as the composite image that formed in my head -- I did not really want to lock him into a certain age category by following any one photograph too closely. For the record, I am not sure if his eyes are actually blue, but the only coloured image I located where eye colour was distinguishable at all seemed to appear that way. Of course, I also wanted to incorporate some biographical information into the image, and I chose to include the logo for TeX, as well as the Greek lowercase delta, which you can read the explanation for here. I reproduced his Chinese name, which he includes in several places on his personal site, as faithfully as I could -- however I fear because of the tiny image and lack of detail (along with the fact that I don't know Chinese), there are probably some errors in my writing. For the background, I knew I wanted to do something that had to do with his pipe organ, a bit more personal contrast to the allusions to his computer science work. I decided to go with a slightly abstract pattern to represent the brassy pipes, which I also thought complimented the red Chinese lettering and black clothing very well. Overall we were both very satistfied with the piece, and I sincerely hope that Mr. Knuth sees it as the compliment we both intended it to be.

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