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Lincoln artist Tom Meyers experiments with turning the small into the spectacular.

Using hundreds of 4-inch-square tiles, Meyers enlists the help of bystanders to replicate a photograph into a large-scale "mega portrait."

It works like this: Each person randomly pulls an individual tile from a tin that corresponds to a specific area on the canvas. From there, the participants use a pencil to replicate the tile in its corresponding spot on the canvas, slowly filling in the grid until all 216 squares are completed.

"It's oriented toward anybody — children, non-artists, people artists like to call 'normals,'" Meyers said. "That's one of the points of it."

Meyers is one of 110 artists participating in this year's Lincoln Arts Festival. The festival, which started Saturday and continues Sunday, has been around 19 years, but this is the first year it's being held downtown. The festival was beginning to outgrow its longtime location at SouthPointe Pavilions, so the Lincoln Arts Council decided to relocate it to Tower Square at 13th and P streets.

"It's exciting to be downtown," festival director Troy Gagner said. "We learn as we do this, and 18 years from now, I think people will be amazed with what they see."

This is the third time Meyers has attempted a mega portrait. He came up with the idea while working as the artist-in-residence at The Cornhusker Marriott. He also worked on a large-scale portrait of singer Lizzo during Omaha's annual MAHA Music Festival last month.

"She said, 'God Bless You' and gave me a big, strong Lizzo hug," he said. "It was great."

 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 

Lizzo signed our Mega Portrait. #MAHA11

A post shared by Tom Meyers (@tmeyersart) on Aug 18, 2019 at 2:32pm PDT

Initially, Meyers thought of doing portraits of some of Lincoln's most recognizable names, but decided to go a different route.

"When I first started thinking of someone to do at the hotel, I was thinking Scott Frost or Tom Osborne or someone," Meyers said. "But then I said, 'Well, wait a minute, let's honor or elevate somebody else."

The portrait for this weekend's festival is of Nebraska Native artist Angel de Cora Dietz. De Cora Dietz was an accomplished painter, illustrator, educator and Native rights advocate before World War I.

Bladen resident Karla Kral filled in one of the hundreds of tiles needed to complete the portrait Saturday. She said she's been an artist her entire life, and the idea of crowd-sourcing a portrait like Meyers does is exciting.

"I love the participation. Everyone has an artist in them, whether they think they do or not," she said.

Relying on passersby to complete a portrait may seem worrying, but Kral said it's what makes the portrait unique.

"It isn't going to be picture-perfect, and that's what makes it great."

Meyers enjoys handing down some of the knowledge he's gained from his 20 years of practicing art professionally, but that doesn't mean there haven't been times where people have taken the "crowd-sourced" aspect of the project a little too far.

"I remember one woman, she might have been drunk, came to the hotel and she, right in the middle of where an eye was supposed to be, blackened the whole square and kind of laid on top of the rest of it and kind of smeared it," Meyers said.

Luckily, he had an eraser.

All in all, Meyers said he enjoys the the communal aspect of creating each portrait.

"I like it," he said. "I think it's teaching something."

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Reach the writer at njohnson@journalstar.com or 402-473-7214.

On Twitter @noahjohnson1996

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