I used to be able to draw fairly well. Next to reading books and writing stories, it was my favorite way to treat the chronic disease of ennui that plagued me throughout my formative years. My ability to draw things that existed in the world around me was average at best, but I was more drawn (sorry) to the myriad of objects and creatures that swirled around in my head. Many, I called or associated with demons, vile things that pulsed and slithered across sheets of notebook paper, their domains bordering the word oceans that were my class notes. By the time they occupied sheets of their own, techniques like highlighting and shading made them seem more real, although their monochromatic skin kept them in the realm of fantasy. I used a pencil exclusively, believing that introducing color to my creations would ruin them somehow. The pencil thus became a subconscious self-imposed limitation that, looking back, I think made each piece I drew better because conveying certain effects and features required more thought and inspired more creativity.

First Foray

It would then surprise no one to know that I have long been fascinated by pixel art and the games that use them. Pixel art has been periodically criticized as being overused, particularly in “indie” games, but that criticism’s about as valuable to developers and the industry as that directed toward the game engine in which a game is made (i.e. not at all, especially if it comes from people who have no desire to make their own games). The specific tools used should not matter if those tools are used well. They should only matter to consumers if and when that use inspires them to experiment with and explore their own ideas.

On that note, I thought GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) was as good an option as any for learning how to make pixel art. It helped that it was already on my computer. The impetus for actually doing so came rather recently in the form of a course taught by Michael Bridges, the instructor whose Blender course gave me some direction in creating the Amami black rabbit. I had always considered pixel art, like I did 3D modeling a year ago, daunting for various reasons, so I was confident that I now had the means to be able to change my perspective in relatively short order.

Initially, two restrictions were placed on created images: they had to be eight pixels in height and width and only use black and white. Then, the concepts of hue, saturation, and value were introduced, and the images progressed to grayscale. The use of color was last.

Rather than a bunch of unrelated icons, this initial set as well as most that followed were considered “visual stories,” each icon representing a word or set of words that together formed a coherent idea or adhered to a theme. This one was “Person Loves Bowling.”

While creating the grayscale set (“Man Walks Dog in Park”), I realized that if the images were placed side by side, they could form a single image as long as their backgrounds were the same color, so I exploited this in the creation of each by making a note of pixel placement and color in progressive images.

The color set (“Astronaut Travels in Rocket to Outer Space”) focused on using lighter shades in certain areas of the image to create the impression of light shining onto those areas. Although employed in the first, second, and fourth images, I think it’s more evident in the first and fourth than it is in the second. In the third image, which depicts the Earth, my intent was to create a gradient sort of effect that depicted the atmosphere’s distinct layers.

Fruits of My Labor

For this final set, I was given no direction other than to make 16 and to use what had been learned so far. I think it’s clear enough, but in case it isn’t, I spent more time on some of these than I did on others. It’s more difficult than it sounds to make 16 8×8 images that resemble real-world objects. I’m not using that an excuse for them taking two days (although I could), since I became interested in finding out just how much detail I could cram into 64 pixels. That’s how I ended up with the first image in the first row and the first and third images in the third row. For those unable to discern the objects represented in these images, I have courteously listed them below:

First Row

  • Aerial view of a step pyramid
  • Bananas
  • Baby Bottle
  • Cactus

Second Row

  • Candle
  • Diamond
  • Cover of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album
  • GameDev.TV logo

Third Row

  • Hamburger (grayscale)
  • Pencil
  • Final render of that rabbit project I mentioned – Fun fact: it was the first image I made in what would be this set.
  • The Eye of Sauron – I haven’t seen the movies and am only so far as book two of The Fellowship of the Ring as of this post, so I don’t actually know who he is yet or what the significance is of this giant flaming eye. I’ve read The Hobbit, though, so it’s not like I’m not trying to get familiar with Middle-earth.

Fourth Row

  • Screw – I’ve been on a Castlevania kick since the Netflix series debuted, and I started making pixel art just before finishing Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. I mention that only because I originally intended to make the Oak Stake from Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, but I discovered that the sprites in that game are 9 by 9 rather than 8 by 8, so I just used the stake as “inspiration.”
  • Scythe
  • Toothbrush and Toothpaste
  • Umbrella
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