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Nella Last Pixel Portrait

ยท 4 min read

A community portrait of Nella Last, Housewife 49 in Barrow Library made from 25,000 ration token stickers (Up for Arts Cumbria/Cumbria Library Service).

Pixel Portraitsโ€‹

The basic idea of pixel portraits is to create an image made up using lots of squares. Like a paint by numbers but with a grid of squares to paint - or in this case stickers.


Nella Last was a housewife from Barrow who wrote a diary through the Second World War for the Mass Observation Archive . As the archive was anonymous she was referred to as Housewife 49. Her diary was published as "Nella Last's War: The Second World War Diaries of Housewife 49". As the BBC put it : "Her record of events offers a unique insight into one woman's war - on the Home Front."

Project outlineโ€‹

After our first community pixel portraits in Kendal Library we wanted to take things up a notch. So we went bigger, used a lot more colours and created custom ration token sticker designs.

The set up:โ€‹

The original photo of Nella tidied up a bit to remove the background.

We made a web app create the image, work out the stickers and to generate all the files we needed.

Windows File Explorer turned out to be a surprising handy way to check sheet numbers!

All the ration token files in explorer.

We found (carefully) removing the sticker surrounds sped up the sticking process.

Dot uses all the sticker sheet cast off to make an impromptu artwork.

We created packs for the primary school kids so they had just the stickers they needed. Took us late into the night, but proved to be worth it.

The fully assembled board was too tall to fit in our lounge!

Constructing the board in the library. It needed to be in three sections to fit in our car.

The event:โ€‹

Here I'm suggesting the primary school group aim for neatness rather than speed!

The school kids did a great job sorting themselves out for stickers.

Neil popped in on his lunch break to complete a sheet.

Caroline Robertson helped out during her Radio Cumbria Broadcast from the event.

We had a lovely mix of people at the event throughout the day.

It turned out brilliantly:โ€‹

Missing a few eggs here!

And for your close up Nella.

Jennie relaxing after a job well done.

Chris relaxing less elegantly!

Project Notes:โ€‹

  • Created a program to split the image into coloured blocks. [I'm going to write up creating the program as a separate project - sometime!]
  • We decided to go for 11x11 A5 (actually slightly smaller than A5 to keep the block square.
  • We went for the smallest stickers our local printer (Fingerprints ( could do 12mm x 12mm.
  • We used 30 different colours each with a different ration token name (e.g. EGGS, HAM, LARD etc) although we ran out of small words so had to use 2X as a prefix to finish the list (e.g. 2X HAM).
  • Each person was given a card to fill in with token names marked where they needed to put stickers.
  • Once they completed a card they went to stick it on a giant board we'd set up with the card numbers written on.