Self Initiated (ING Discerning eye prize)

For this self initiated brief I wanted to experiment with creating traditional art in the style of digital pixel art. This idea came to me after being inspired by a photo I saw on Instagram that was liked by several pixel artists that I follow.


As such the first thing that I wanted to do was find as many instances of this having been done to see how I can try to improve upon it. Another style that I considered was these abstract works though this is something I may save for a later project.

The first thing that I decided to experiment with was both the size of pixels and media that I should use to create the artwork. However I needed an image to work from that would be the same for each image so that it would be a fair comparison. As such I decided to take a small sample of the pixel art self portrait that I had done previously for the catalogue and from this image produce 2 different sized images with each material. I initially started by creating a 100×100 grid to do this on, however after getting half way through constructing the grid I realised that it would be far too impractical to work at this scale, as such I practised on a 16×24 pixel image instead. The 2 sizes that I made these images were 5mm and 15mm pixels.   The processes that I tried were coloured pencil, pro markers, water colours, acrylic and oils. An early problem that I encountered was that when working on large areas of a single colour it isn’t distinguishable as pixel art. From this I had the idea to use cut out squares of foam to print the designs onto the paper. I tried this with acrylics and oils. Out of the two the oils looked best and overall I think it looked very visually interesting. I especially like how much it looks like pixel art since each square resembles a pixel. However a problem with this is that it is both time consuming and also difficult to keep the lines in a straight line, which eventually ruins the illusion of pixel art. As a result I decided that I would, for the final image, paint the design thickly onto a grid with oil paint and afterwords use a square piece of foam to put in the square impressions, providing the best of both worlds.

Now that I knew how I was going to do it I had to consider what the subject matter should be. After having acquired my new pixel at program, marmoset hexels, I decided that I would draw a sketch a range of ideas from a royalty free image website so that afterwards I could use my new program to shrink them down to a small pixel rate and see what sort of image still looks good at a low pixel rate. As such I drew 4 images each from the categories of  people, pets, birds, buildings, landscapes, and vehicles. After sketching them out I used watercolours to paint them in high contrast vibrant colours to give me the best chance at an effective pixel art image. I then took all of the images and put them into the program to see what they looked like shrank down to 10×10, 25×25 and 50×50 pixels. My results showed me that 10×10 was too low to be able to clearly see what the image is and would make it look very abstract. 50×50 on the other hand is too large for pixel art as it simply looks like a blurry picture, additionally it would likely take too long to complete as it would be 2500 pixels on the image. As such looking to aim for 25×25 pixels seems like the obvious choice as it sits comfortably between the two.

Looking at which designs worked well at 25×25 pixels the images that I think look most interesting are hands. This is also a subject that interests me and that I want to improve upon. As such I drew some more hands from royalty free stock images and after getting the hand shape down, added my own embellishments to add visual interest to the images. I was ready to progress with one of these when I saw my girlfriend holding a PlayStation controller and thought that both it makes an interesting image but also plays into the aesthetic of pixel art as pixel art originated from gaming. As such I took a few photos of her holding the controller from different angles and drew them out. After experimenting with different colours I chose my favourite image and uploaded it to my ipad. However I quickly realised that the composition worked a lot better upside down and thus flipped the image 180′. From here I started drawing out the image on my ipad on a 25×25 pixel grid however I  realised that this was too low of a pixel rate for an image with small buttons and as a result increased the size to 35×35 pixels. After drawing out most of the image I decided to change the Ps4 controller into a Ps2 controller as I find it much more visually interesting. Additionally the older controller brings back the retro feeling that accompanies the pixel art aesthetic. I used my own old Ps2 controller as reference.

After having completed an image that I was proud of I decided to recreate it in my book with watercolours as a text of concept. Working on 1 cm squares I had to cut the image lengthwise in my test but it still served to demonstrate that the idea would work. A problem with the watercolours is that they weren’t as visually distinct from each other as i’d want though it still worked well enough to convince me that it would look good in oils.


Using an A2 piece of paper that would fit a 35×35 grid I started out by painting in the black areas as this step requires no mixing of paint, helps guide the rest of the sections and will be a good indicator of whether it is successful or not. After this worked I was happy to go ahead and gradually add each colour one at a time. Using a square foam to create the square impression for each painted grid square. One issue that I didn’t consider was that as I was painting quite heavily as I wanted a very textured look, this mean that the paint took over a day for each colour to dry. Meaning that if I wanted to paint a light colour adjacent to a black square and didn’t want to risk it mixing I would have t wait a few days. This meant that the whole piece took me roughly a week to produce. Another issue that I ran into was trying to keep each colour within the lines and not painting over other squares, as such I decided that the best way to solve this problem is to simply not worry about it too much during and simply touch it up at the end. Another problem that I am unsure what to do with at this point is the unwanted brushstrokes on the outside of the canvas due to mistakes and whether I should leave them, cut them out or paint over them.

I am very pleased with how it turned out as it was almost exactly how I imagined it. Although I do with that some of the lines were neater and straighter, though this would have taken considerably longer to ensure perfect paint control. I also found it very difficult using oils as I am used to acrylics and don’t like how long oils take to dry and how difficult it is to control the consistency, however these are things that I will learn with practice. I think it would be very interesting to take this project further, with a higher pixel rate to see how a more complex image would look. I think this could look interesting at the exhibition to contrast against all the digital work.

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