Welcome to Pixel Art’s PE week! Firstly, I’d like to begin by discussing where we are in the Pixel Art community, where we came from and where we might head in the future.
Why discuss the definition of Pixel Art?
Why is it so important to discuss the definition of Pixel Art? It becomes important not only when it comes time to update the category’s description for the sake of organisation and clarity, but also when confusion and misconceptions become increasingly common among those in the community itself. As Pixel Art grew from being primarily used for old computer and gaming systems, that could not handle much data and therefore not too many colours per palette, into something used with more contemporary technologies like Photoshop and MSPaint, Pixel Art itself was bound to reflect those changes. This change has become apparent in new styles, new techniques and questions around the need for the “old rules” of past Pixel Art traditions.
The “old rules” of Pixel Art may be varied and they or may not be outdated, but there is no disputing that to the follow them takes creativity and talent, and they are the reason that it became a unique art medium that stood out on it’s own from others. Does this mean we should push aside the newer forms, those that don’t conform to “the old rules”?
I personally, would argue that there is always a place for art of all kinds, and within that, change over time, new styles and new techniques. Questioning the way things have always been done is something that should always be welcomed in a growing community of artistic growth and talent. Who’s to say where that line is between too many colours and just the right amount, especially when there is no immediate need to restrict the use of colours for the sake of file sizes? Who can decide what tools are ok and what tools are not? There are stunning pieces that do not “conform” to the old ways, and new techniques can be seen affecting whole communities of artists as they increase in popularity.
Is it still Pixel Art?
But how will we know when something is no longer Pixel Art? What marks the difference between general Digital Art, in which everything is still essentially made of pixels, and the Pixel Art category itself? What about those who mix their techniques evenly, does this make it a Mixed Media piece? It was with this interesting set of questions and comparisons that we started discussions with the community to find out how we see ourselves now, as Pixel Artists. What tools and techniques should or should not be used, what limitations are there, if any, and how will we make that important distinction of what is Digital and what is specifically Pixel?
Although there are far too many brilliant responses to the discussion, here are a few that I thought provoked interesting discussion about the definition of Pixel Art and possibly where it may go in the future:
“DA's category system gives a very simple definition of Pixel Art that I am not sure covers it entirely or is helpful to beginners. The current definition reads: "Pixel art drawing, using only the pencil tool, hand laying individual pixels one at a time, under high magnification." So, how do you define pixel art?
The other thing is that I find colour count becomes an issue, especially when older pixel artists meet newer less established ones. So how many colours do you think is too many? Should colour count be given as high a priority as it is? - ^Lyricanna”
1. How do you define pixel art?
“Uhm, what others have said. The careful arranging of solid pixels and colours. Absolutely no blurring, "soft" or semi-transparent brushes. Layer effects like Multiply, Overlay I think are cheating too, but... is it really about the methods or the final appearance?” - *BronzeHalo
“I am very new to pixel stuff and taking a style back to old school is what I think defined pixel art, but with what people are doing now with cool new pixel styles, as long as I can see the pixels its pixel art.” - ~SteelJoe
“Pixel art is done with what's referred to as the 'pencil' tool. You can use tools like 'fill bucket' or the pen tool to start your lines, but it needs to be up to the artist where each pixel ends up. If you do all of your lines with the pen tool or simply sketch with the pencil tool and dont clean your lines up by hand then its more of an oekaki type drawing than pixel art. -Any- use of things like the paintbrush, doge, burn, or any automatic effects the program can create renders the piece no longer pixelled. It may have pixel elements still at that point but it -does not- belong in the Pixel Gallery really. (using doge + burn is like drawing on paper and then adding effects in photoshop. It's no longer 'traditional' work and wouldn't belong in that category would it?(not sure))” - =firstfear
“- When drawing, you have control over each pixel that is placed. That means you have not used any tool which creates a color without your knowledge, such as the brush or gradient tool in Photoshop. You are choosing every color, even when doing anti-aliasing.
I would say there are exceptions though, and it depends on what you are drawing it for. I believe the reason pixel art exists is because there are many platform limitations that need low file size, while still being able to maintain nice looking images with animation. But pixel art has many different uses now which don't have these limitations.” - =staticwind
“There are many definitions on pixel art, but in all cases the most basic principle always appy: the artist picks every colour and litterly creates an image pixel by pixel. The 'grey area' and 'foggy definitions' start when all the tech talk comes in and you zoom in on all the different kinds of pixel art (such as dolling, spriting, old school retro gaming graphics etc. etc.). Some hard core pixel artists envy dithering, use minimal AA, only work with transparent backgrounds and restrict the amount of colours. But do they always create better pixel art? It's all about taste and personal preferences.” - *TheoVision
2. How many colours do you think is too many?
“No limit. Unless there's an actual restriction (game sprites etc), if someone wants to use 1000 colours, then cool, as long as they're still following the basic rules of pixel art. But I find it a bit more interesting when someone manages with fewer, to see how they still managed a smooth effect, via careful dithering etc.” - *BronzeHalo
“Too many for what exactly? EXTREMELY high colour counts can certainly indicate that the piece may not truely have been pixelled, but it may also simply show that the person either is choosing not to, or doesnt know how to ramp their palettes. Colour count shouldn't really matter too too much. If the piece has ..say...200+ colours and isn't that LARGE of a piece..then it's probably not truely pixelled. Some sort of non pixel tool was probably involved for the program to be automatically creating all of those uneeded colours. However if the colour count is like..60 or something then its highly possible its still pixelled, but the person hasn't honed down on how to reduce the number of colours they need to use. “ - =firstfear
“-The maximum number of colors a .gif will accept is 256. I would not be able to individually pick out that many colors for one sprite. But say I wanted to combine many sprites I made into one image? If it has a lot of colors, it's still pixel art, as long as you picked them out that way. Personally, I believe pixel art will look best with a limited color palette. But it is more important to focus on the actual colors you pick first, and then the quantity. If you want to animate your pixel art though, you will have to limit the colors just because of the complexity. It's hard to redraw every color frame by frame, and nearly impossible to keep track of too many. But again, it depends on what you're animating. Say the background or a part of the character that isn't being animated has many colors, but the actual animation has only 10 colors. That would be ok to animate, yet still have a high color count when finished. Also some games will take less time to load if you have less colors, but It will depend on your platform limitations. Most platforms can handle 256 colors fine.
Another important limitation specifically on deviantart are icons. When I create icons, I can't have more than 13 frames in the animation or 34 colors in the icon, or it will exceed deviantart's icon limit of 15kb. If you want to add more frames you have to limit the colors, if you want to add more colors you have to limit the frames.” - =staticwind
3. Should colour count be given as high a priority as it is?
“Hell no. I'm sick of people who go around other pixellers, criticising for using too many colours. I've had some really rude comments on multiple sites, about colour counts... don't see why limits are still "expected", with our modern technology.” - *BronzeHalo
“This depends again on what's being asked exactly. In regards to what is considered pixel art in general or even good pixel art? No not necessarily. For learning how to be a professional Pixel artist in the gaming industry? Yes at that point you'd want to learn ..but I don't think it's *needed* to be considered per say in regards to Deviantart's Gallery for Pixels.” - =firstfear
“Hell no. I like restricted palettes and I think I have learned a lot by trying to reduce my count but I also like going crazy and using as many colours as I want. People don't have to like it but I'm not going to change to please them. Ultimately, we shouldn't get too caught up with definitions. If we start restricting and narrowing the "rules" then we start excluding and alienating people. That's not a good way to go about things.” - ~SmiteTheeWithApples
“I think the picking and using of colours is very fundamental in pixel art as you want to control every aspect - on a pixel level so to say. So, it's definitly important as colour use also shows skill and expertise. On the other hand: I've seen a lot of damn crappy pixel art with less colours and some beautifull pixel art with lots of colours... In the end pixel art is art: something that should inspire and that you should enjoy, and not over-analyze or treat like a science.” - *TheoVision
If you would like to read more of the responses, you can find the journal itself here.
As you can see already, there is a great variety of ideas and opinions voiced here, and even more on the journal itself. What we now need to begin to consider, is where will go as a category in the future? It’s certainly a young art form when compared to things like traditional oil paintings, and look at the kind of changes that have occurred in that medium alone throughout it’s history. We can certainly expect to see change for this category too.
Where do we go from here?
So far, I have identified some important goals in the future of the category that I aim to work towards as best I can in my time as CV:
1. The need for clarity and understanding – People need to be able to understand the definition so that there is less confusion and confrontation about what is and what is not Pixel Art. This also includes the need for more education in the possible techniques that can be used, both traditional and contemporary. Most importantly, this also means a way of finding the line between where something is Digital Art or Mixed Media rather than Pixel Art – this is not to devalue them as artworks, but rather to put them in the place where they will be recognized and exposed to their maximum potential.
2. The need for acceptance and creativity – The art form needs room to grow, without losing touch with it’s origins, and without losing respect for things that made it what it was when it began. This means a need to bring traditional and contemporary forms together in a way that both can exist as respected and understood in their own rights
3. The need to promote the category and art form to the wider community – it has become clear that there can be a great many misconceptions formed when people are unfamiliar with an art type, which could include anything newer, like Stamps, Icons etc, and the only way to help people appreciate and respect the category is to promote it and educate people about what it is that we do! It can be a pretty quiet category sometimes, and I think we have plenty of potential to grow, not only artistically but also community wise.
As you can see, as a newer medium, and one that is developing with the changes in technology, we have a lot of work to do to bring out the best of what it can be here on deviantArt. I welcome all those from the Pixel Community and beyond to discuss the ideas and opinions brought up here, keeping in mind that there are no simple solutions and that it may take time for these changes to come about effectively. We can all play our part in developing and promoting the medium of Pixel Art, and it's an exciting time to be a Pixel Artist, to witness and be a part of pushing a medium's boundaries as it develops.