Ben Day, dot-maker, was a real person


From a Hotrod comic book, 1950s, printed with Benday dots

When I was researching for my next book (A Brilliant History of Color in Art, to be published by the Getty in November) I looked into the Benday dots that Roy Lichtenstein made famous. And I learned that Benday was a real person. Benjamin Day. So I imagined a comic book sequence telling the story of his invention. Obviously you’ll have to imagine it too, as I can’t draw. Though if anyone wants to mock it up that would be cool.

FRAME ONE and TWO, BEN DAY as a kid – done in the black and white style of an 1850s news engraving drawing

(1852: A boy of about 14 is hunched over a desk. Behind him is an open door, where

Proprietor: Benjamin Henry Day.

is written in appropriate lettering. You can see his father in the next room, obviously the editor, but with a compositor’s magnifying glass…

“Dad. Black and white’s so last century. Isn’t there a way we could get some color into the paper?”

“I’m not made of money, Ben. You’d have to make it really cheap.”

NEXT FRAME, almost the same but the door’s closed… The boy’s scribbling now and thinking to himself

“Now… if I just combined three plates of dots…”FRAME THREE: It’s 1879 and he’s around 41… this one is in color as if the Ben Day process is being used.

He’s in the printing room, talking to someone out of shot…

“See. You just lay these magenta, cyan and yellow plates over each other, and do little dots if you want it pale and big dots if it’s darker. You can even overlap them… to make green or purple… or flesh…”

“You know Mr Day, I think it might just work.”


Lichtenstein Drowning Girl, MOMA New York, with the artist’s special take on Benday dots.

FRAME FOUR:  1930s, SCHOOLROOM: this one is using the pulp comic book technique

A boy has his head in a comic book. He’s not paying any attention to the class about the history of art and printing (as shown on a blackboard). The teacher is trying to attract his attention. “Lichtenstein. Ray Lichtenstein. Put that comic down or you won’t come to anything.”

FRAME FIVE and SIX: done like Lichtenstein paintings..

1957 Lichtenstein is grown up now. We see him like a portrait, looking pensive. Behind him are panels of his own painting. In thought dots: “The thing is… I really want to explore what makes one thing art and another thing not art. What if I used a technique that was once really cheap, and make it really expensive? What if I used those old Benday dots from comics?”

Next frame:

A pulp comic frame of front page news (or a news agent stall)…

Lichtenstein Ben-Day dot painting

Sells for $$$$$Millions


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s