Against Pixel Art Formalism

[Begin faux-manifesto.]

Pixel art is for the pixels!

I don’t care for being formalistic about pixel art, of adhering to a limited palette or carefully anti-aliasing my lines by hand, of using all-or-nothing transparency (actually, I do the latter two more often than I’d like to admit). What matters is what I wish to do with the aesthetic of pixels – and what specifications I must meet for the graphics to work at all in the given platform. It is ridiculous to throw away perfectly good tools like brush effects, gradient tools, and overall image adjustments. Tedium is not artistically uplifting.

If the art is about pixels, it’s pixel art. It doesn’t matter how I make it.

I actually followed all the “rules” of pixel art to draw these. Oops. Then I used the adjust levels tool in Photoshop. Ha! I have overthrown the tyranny of aesthetic canon!

There! It’s not a manifesto unless you try to sound controversial in the first paragraph.

My inept mini-manifesto stems in part from a denial of things like PixelJoint‘s pixel-art rule of “no filters, paintbrushes, gradient fills, etc” because it happens to rule out almost all of the pixel art I’ve done. (Let it be said though that of course I respect that they can set their own rules in their own space and I see what they’re getting at by doing so – it is common for artists beginning to learn digital techniques to rather abuse the powers they’re given. But that’s part of learning, isn’t it?) Still, I see no reason to pain myself with archaic methods of pushing pixels so long as the output is the same – though of course it isn’t; the technique used to create an image can’t help but affect the character of the image. The point is, I don’t want new artists interested in working at a very low res scale to get some idea in their head about what they are or are not supposed to do. The only limit to what you should do is the actual limit of what you can do. (For art. Not other things.)

The aesthetic of Dungeons of Dredmor, to take a (non-)random example and move this on to a relevant topic, harkens to simpler times with pixel art style graphics, yes, but it is certainly not an altogether retro game. The first versions of Dredmor were drawn much more along the lines of traditional low-color pixel art, though I assure you that this was before I got my hands on the beast. The monster and player sprites still do adhere to a low-color aesthetic, understandably both because I don’t want to redraw all the monsters in a new style, though I did redraw almost everything else in the game, and because hand-shading consistently over many frames is a much-reduced chore if you use only 3 shades of any particular color.

Most of sprites in the game also, unfortunately, use an archaic sprite format for which I hold Nicholas entirely responsible and shall never forgive him for. Until I do. I really hate the editor it uses and avoid it as much as possible. He’s heard all my whining about this, of course. The next game is going to be filled with beautiful pngs. Maybe I’ll even paint the whole thing!

There’s not much to conclude from this rambling; I still enjoy low-res art, and having had to do a very high-res painting recently, have discovered how attuned my workflow has become toward low-res and pixel art. It’s all a lot of fun and I shall certainly continue to make pixel art and pixel art-like art with filters, paintbrushes, and gradient fills!

As for Dredmor this week, it’s the usual creamy madness.

PS. I should also mention, for its part, that I did post my portfolio to the Pixel Joint forums a while back and have found a lot of interest in freelance work through the site. It’s a good place. I just can’t post my pixel art there.

PPS. Speaking of people doing really cool things with pixel art, I am really jealous of the artistic experimentation that is going on with Superbrothers: Swords & Sworcery. Beautiful stuff. (Though I am amused by how much it aligns with hipster tropes of awkward-looking people, faded colors, and a love for woodland animals, particularly bears.)

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One Response to “Against Pixel Art Formalism”

  1. Pingback: Why do a job once when you can do it eight times in only eight times the time? « Artscum

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