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Pixels Beyond Screens: The Evolution of Pixel Art from Gaming to Contemporary Artworks.

As non-artists, when we first hear the phrase “Pixel Art”, our mind quickly goes towards a Roblox-esque digital art drawn on Drawing tablets by techno genius artists. At least that is what I imagined it to be till I came across a very peculiar reel on my Instagram earlier this month that showcased pixel art on paper. On its technicality, Pixel Art uses tiny, square-shaped components known as pixels that are used to produce images in computer graphic design. Artists evoke retro aesthetics with constrained colour palettes and deliberate pixel arrangement. Early video games popularised this pixelated aesthetic, which has persisted as a distinctive and nostalgic form of visual expression. But with its recent re-emergence, artists have now found ways to draw easy pixel art on paper. The following article gives a brief history of the origins of Pixel Art and its modern concept.

Satoru Gojo - Jujutsu Kaisen (Anime) Pixel Art Patterns | Pix art, Anime pixel art, Pixel art pattern
Anime Pixel Art. Courtesy: Pinterest

Widewalls describe pixel art as a “Counted-thread embroidery meets Pointillism within a virtual reality of a computer”. The word Pixel in itself originates from “picture + element”. It originated in the time of digital technology and the era of early video game consoles like Space Invaders.  

The limitations of low-resolution graphics in the 1970s led to the emergence of pixel art in the first video games. In order to maximise the limited processing power available, designers carefully positioned pixels to create abstracted yet recognisable symbols, such as spacecraft and characters. Although art was created by computers in the 1960s, pixel art’s uniqueness as a purposeful pixel placement technique didn’t fully emerge until later. Pixels were once seen as barriers rather than as a kind of art. The style of video games from the 1980s affected pixel art in the present and the future as technology developed. Pixel art gained popularity as a medium for expression thanks in large part to the demoscene movement of the late 1980s, especially in Europe, where artists created and disseminated their works across multiple platforms.

MARIO BROS | Pixel art, Easy pixel art, Pixel art pattern
Mario Pixel Art. Courtesy: Pinterest

Games like Super Nintendo and Atari ST witnessed enhanced colour depth and improved graphics in the ensuing decade. As the internet grew, pixel artists uploaded their creations online, which gave rise to the custom avatars known as “pixel dolls,” which became particularly well-liked by teenage girls in the late 1990s. Pixel art reached a turning point in the 2000s and became a universally recognised art genre. Influential English-speaking online communities that promoted discussion on the nature of pixel art were Pixelation and Pixel Joint. These venues contributed to a unique paradigm by emphasising skill development and criticism. The defining characteristics of pixel art, like its limited colour palette and online cooperation, were discussed. A standout development among pixel art circles was the thriving of pixel doll communities. Pixel art was abandoned in favour of 3D graphics in the gaming business, which prompted independent artists to support it as a stand-alone medium.

Sonic the Hedgehog by supersonic3225 on deviantART | Grille pixel art, Pixel art minecraft, Coloriage pixel art
Sonic Pixel Art. Courtesy: Pinterest

The 2010s saw a sharp increase in the popularity of pixel art due to the popularity of classic pixel art games like Fez, Stardew Valley, and Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP. Social media sites like Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and DeviantArt were essential in growing the pixel art groups. The demoscene had a comeback, as pixel art made its way into popular culture. Examples of this can be seen in everything from pixelated Simpsons cartoons to Invader’s urban pixel art mosaics. Pixel art was used in more contexts than just video games; it was also used in music videos and museum exhibits, demonstrating its impact on several artistic mediums.

Pixel art game scene with character, life bar and mana, tree, cloud, house vector background for 8bit game 9877958 Vector Art at Vecteezy
Pixel Art Game Scene. Courtesy: Vecteezy

Retro pixel art is still in vogue in the 2020s, defying forecasts that it would fade. The COVID-19 epidemic and the emergence of NFTs were significant factors since artists discovered NFTs as a new source of revenue. There is, however, scepticism, citing fraud and environmental problems. Pixel art communities were impacted by social media shifts, which saw them switch from forums like Pixelation to sites like Discord. Driven by nostalgia and a desire for a unique narrative with modern themes, pixel graphics flourish in game releases and contemporary art.

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