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Shepard Fairey Talks About Creating TIME’s Person of the Year Cover

Shepard Fairey’s iconic designs require work by hand and digital rendering, so when faced with creating an image that must illustrate a body of unrest that has spent the year not only protesting on the streets, but online, he’s a perfect fit. 

As the artist behind our Person of the Year 2011 cover commemorating this year’s pick, The Protester, Fairey says his cover image is based on a composite of 26 different photographs of real protests from around the world. “These organic protest movements have arisen around the globe and a lot of it was fueled by social media, but it was a pervasive phenomenon,” he said. “It wasn’t one specific movement but general unrest. I wanted to look for ideas to represent that.” 

Fairey, who also created TIME’s Person of the Year cover for our Barack Obama selection in 2008 (based on his famous “Hope” poster), illustrated the cover by hand using the primary images as his reference, a selection of photos sent to him from TIME’s editors, and ripped heavily contrasted photos out of their prints to collage them before scanning them back into the computer. “I play around with different color combinations and different degrees of contrast of background material,” he said. “I’m always looking for the right push and pull between all the elements.” Like tone.

Though the protests themselves have been anything up light, Fairey didn’t want the image to feel menacing. “A lot of these people are not threatening,” he said. “A lot of them are just regular folks who feel dissatisfied.” Instead he wanted to create something that “meant business, but wasn’t scary.” He used a collage of scenes from the Arab Spring to Moscow to Occupy Wall Street as a backdrop, images he said shows the dramatic accumulation of these global protests rather than displaying them as isolated events. 

"It makes me proud of idealism and a willingness to stand up for your beliefs," said Fairey, who has been a vocal supporter of the Occupy movements this fall, visiting protests and creating art to fuel the movement. "There’s a fine line between people feeling threatened by rabble-rousers and people being inspired by those who stand up for a cause. I hope the cover conveys my idea that these are people around the world that are serious, but that they’re just people like everyone else."  

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