Pixel art is a style of digital art, which uses the limited resolution of monitors as stylistic device to create graphics by editing pixels with rasterization software, similar to mosaic. The concept of pixel art arose in the early 1970's, but was first used by Adele Goldberg and Robert Flega of Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in 1982. Depending on limited technology of that time, early pixel art graphics were simple black and white bitmaps, and simulated different gray tones by texturing. In parallel with the evolution of computer technology, pixel artists make use of higher screen resolutions and a palette of millions of colors.
The creation of an image usually starts with outlining the line art of the subject to be drawn, similar like drawing a sketch, and could be done free-handed or by tracing over a scanned picture. Finished line arts also often get shared among artists. What makes it a unique digital art form is it's focus on precision and perfection by placing deliberate each pixel.
Lines & Curves
Since pixel art is about precision, already the line art needs care to not end with a crooked image. Mastering line art starts with learning to draw simple lines and curves.
Pixeling straight lines is easily done be putting pixels side by side, either horizontal or vertical, at the angles of 0, 90, 180, 270 degrees. The next most significant is the diagonal line at angles of 45, 135, 225, 315 degrees, which is drawn by moving pixels one vertically and also one horizontally. Diagonal lines are often used to switch the style into a 1:1 isometric perspective, and has a slope of 1/1, or simply 1. Actually, a line can be drawn in any degree if the slope is known. The common isometric perspective uses an angle of 22.5 degree, or a slope of 1/2, which means for any vertically pixel move two pixels horizontally. To avoid drawing a jagged lines it is advisable to take care all pieces of the line have the same size and slope.
Curves are more difficult to plot, and quickly look shaky if not done precisely, especially on small sizes. Just a few misplaced pixels make them look jagged. Unfortunately the curve tools of a paint program may illustrate curves badly, and therefore are usually drawn by hand. For a smooth looking curve take care all pieces of the gradient have a consistent increase or decrease. The most complex basic shape are circles, and drawing them precisely needs special care to make them look neat, and every quarter must be symmetric. Especially plotting small circles need some extra care. A good exercise to learn drawing curves and circles is by drawing hand pixeled sine waves.
Dithering is known as a a technique which uses alternating color patterns to simulate another color shade. In the earlier days of pixel art this technique was used to bypass the limited range of color in the palette. Various patterns create different effects. Beside of the use for color shading, dithering is also used for giving a surface some texture.
Anti Aliasing is a technique to smooth out edges in pixel art.
- Pixel Joint - Pixel art community, blog, gallery.
- PixelPlaza - Pixel art community with many tutorials.
- Derek Yu - Pixel art tutorial by Derek Yu.
- Zoogle - Zoogles pixel art site with gallery tutorials and more.
- Sprite Art - Spriteart was a nice site, but closed. Tutorials can still be found here.
- Henk Nieborg - Homepage and archive of the incredible pixel artist Henk Nieborg.