Artistry to a Point
Mensan's massive illustration projects support STEM education, sexual abuse survivors, and other causes
Mensan artist David Ilan is trying to make a point — several points, actually. In some ways, Ilan is no different from other artists whose works distill larger themes into discrete subjects; their creations are microcosms for meaningful messages. What sets apart Ilan’s work is his embrace of the macro and micro.
From Los Angeles, he crafts in pointillism, a technique using tiny dots that form what appear to viewers as a single image. In Ilan’s work there is specific meaning in both the overall composition and each of the tiny marks that it comprises.
It’s easy to assign meaning to each of the dots in Ilan’s pointillism pieces because each one represents a person. The works of art are often created to promote a cause, such as the Special Olympics or survivors of sexual assault, for example. Among the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dots that compose an illustration, each one represents a participant in the project: someone who shared an idea or a story or a pledge to do something positive.
These days, Ilan is trying to make a point about the value of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. The canvas of his STEM Pointillism Project features a girl sitting on top of an oversized science book. On the book’s cover are leaves that appear to be sprouting off the page. Their fertilizer: learning students. Each dot in the portrait represents a student who has chosen a STEM area to explore. And with additional participation, the leafy vines continue to grow. At live events, students watch a presentation from a professional in a STEM field, witness their dot being placed on one of the leaves — each vine represents one of the STEM areas, and the kids’ dots are placed according to their subject interest — and they even get a lesson from Ilan on how to draw using only dots.
“Any kind of creative component enhances learning, but just knowing that there is now something where there used to be nothing, simply because you created it, is a powerful feeling that inspires confidence,” Ilan said. “The STEM Pointillism Project is designed to blend that feeling with an excitement for science, technology, engineering, and math.”
Ilan’s inspiration for the project came from a STEM presenter at Greater Los Angeles Area Mensa’s StaRGazing Regional Gathering in February 2017. (Dr. Jeffrey Rich presented on astrophysics research at Carnegie Observatories.)
Wishing he had been exposed more to those fields when he was young, Ilan got to thinking about his own two daughters and aspired to enhance their education and those of others. While excluding no one, the project places a special emphasis on females who continue to be underrepresented in STEM fields, based on college graduation rates in those areas.
Ilan’s first STEM Pointillism Portrait event took place at the Variety Boys & Girls Club in Los Angeles in November 2017 and featured a speaker from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The senior systems engineer enthralled students with a lesson on what it will take to travel to Mars. Ilan realizes the value of getting students interested in those areas of study early.
“I want to take advantage of that magical time before many students develop a negative feeling about math,” Ilan said, “or even just give them a positive feeling about how STEM can help them with a career they may want.”
But the dots are not just for the kids. Ilan is adamant about the project’s wide-open participation: “There are no restrictions on who can get a dot,” he said. Even several celebrities have endorsed his efforts, for the STEM illustration and others, earning dotted representation on his good-cause illustrations: Maya Angelou, Scarlett Johansson, Melissa McCarthy, J.K. Simmons, Danny DeVito, David Beckham, Nick Cannon, Diana Ross, George Lopez….
Ilan made inroads with these in-crowds two decades ago when a friend working on the set of Seinfeld shared with the cast some of his illustrations. Ilan ended up creating pointillism works for several of the cast members, and the entire cast posed for one. After that, celebrities began commissioning portraits for private use, and charities plied him for fundraising efforts. In August 2007, Ilan came up with the one-dot-equals-one-person approach to promoting causes, which he used to create works for charities such as Special Olympics Southern California, along with his own projects.
A little dot can make a big impact, Ilan is often surprised to find, in the life of the person it represents. “They often tell me how being a ‘dot-member’ has woven its way into their life story,” he said. “It’s strange but beautiful that people can have such a deep connection to my drawing, that because they are represented in the art, they feel more hope and strength. I feel honored to be a part of their lives, inspired by their experience, and driven to give them more.”
David began dabbling in pointillism when he was 15. An accelerated learner, he was simultaneously attending a private religious school and a local community college in San Fernando Valley. “I really love drawing using the pointillism technique because I get to use both sides of my brain,” he said. “Producing any kind of art naturally uses your creative side, but knowing where to put the dots in a pointillism drawing takes constant analysis because with every new dot the percentage of dots-to-white-space in an area changes. This is how shading is controlled and how figures start to look three-dimensional.”
Art and Mensa are staples of Ilan’s life, but his involvement in the latter came much later. Skeptical of his cognitive abilities, he waited until two years ago, in his 40s, to qualify for an organization about which he knew had something to do with people with high IQs but little else.
“I was totally unaware of the social aspects of being a member,” Ilan said. “I go to all the RGs and AGs that I can because not only do I make new friends, I get to see talks like the one that inspired me to start my STEM Pointillism project.”
Find out more about David Ilan’s projects and get your own dot at davidilan.com.
David is a pointillism artist in Los Angeles. His work ranges from celebrity commissions to global charitable projects. He is president of Drawing Hope International, a nonprofit organization that empowers people through art. His charitable projects reach millions of people in 180 countries. David was the recipient of a President’s Volunteer Service Award and the Mensa Foundation's Intellectual Benefits To Society Award. He is also the proud recipient of the Best Dad Award given to him by his two daughters.
Greater Los Angeles Area Mensa | Joined 2016