Creativity Bytes: A Brief Guide To Pixel Art

<p>Read this and sound like an expert. Well, sort of.</p>

Here’s a quick reference guide that will seek to explain the trends, terms, and movements of the brave new media world of art and technology. So you can skim, digest, and be a pseudo-expert next time you’re cornered at a Speed Show exhibition in your local cybercafe. Because, hey, life is short and art long. This week: Pixel art.

So, what is pixel art?
It’s art that uses the elemental square of digital imaging, the pixel, as a visual aesthetic. Images can be produced using a raster graphics editor, but it also includes re-purposed graphics from old school video games along with new video games made with a chunky aesthetic. It also includes images produced to look like they’ve been through an 8-bit filter, like “demakes,” which take a modern shiny high-resolution piece of culture and give it a pixel makeover.

Where did it come from?
The word pixel is derived from the term “picture element,” which was first used to describe the dots of a television way back in 1926. The limited resolutions of early video games made Mario and Zelda look blocky by necessity, but once those nursed on these types of games grew up, and hordes of younger audiences played them on emulators, the aesthetic of the dot became something to celebrate rather than scoff at. And so artists began using this computerised digit as something to craft with. A great introduction to pixel art is Simon Cottee’s fantastic short documentary Pixel, featuring an interview with game designer Jason Rohrer, who uses this crude unit as a representational abstract form. Explaining its appeal, Rohrer quotes comic artist Scott McCloud who remarked that the more specific you draw something, the less likely people are to identify with it. Also, lest we forget, crochet was the original pixel art.

This week you're really digging…
Pixel art collective eBoy’s rasterized, lovingly detailed Pixorama series (detail from Tokyo beset by a rampaging daikaijū above) and Joe Brumm and Pete Kilroy’s (aka Studio Joho) short film Dan The Man (below), a story about what happens after the princess gets rescued.

Nano talk
What’s so different between the dot of a pixel and the dot of a paint brush in Georges Seurat’s Pointillism? Sure, one is digital, but the uncomplicated geometric form is just another representational technique, no? Even the Smithsonian is recognizing the cultural significance of the art form The Art of Video Games exhibition planned for next year at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. And they’re crowdsourcing entries in some kind of Pixel Art Idol competition, asking people to vote for their top 80 games.

Describe yourself as…
Picasso’s raster period.

Pixel, dot, digital, lo-res, nostalgia, retro, 8-bit, bold.

Jude Buffum’s pixelated Walt from The Big Lebowski

Difficulty level

Age range
40 × 40 pixels.

Rage against the sheen.

To recap: Give it 20 years and the abstract simplicity of limited animation will be taught in your art history class.

Next week: Sound art