How to draw Pixel Art - The Traditional Way

You can find multiple courses on Lydia, udemy and other teaching/learning resource sites. This is not really a tutorial but shall show you another way of making pixel art.

Pixel Art

Isn't everything that made on a computer Pixel Art? If you have that question in your mind, you are not far away from the fact that yest, it is. However, when many refer to Pixel Art, they are referring some form of image where you can see the individual pixel chunks and looks low resolution rather than the high-resolution like your selfie pictures. Hence the selfie pictures are digital images not Pixel Art.

How did it begin

It began with the early days of computing where much of the graphics involved ASCII art. Your character could have looked like an @ and it could shoot arrows that looked like < and > and had to escape the falling rocks that were represented by *'s.

There were some other characters in the Character set that were not these ASCII characters. On the ZX Spectrum or the Commodore C=64, there were characters that allowed one to create graphics. Where the screen was 32x24 characters (ZX Spectrum), these block characters provided essentially a screen with 64x48 bits resolution. Each character was 8x8 and you could also use Plot to draw pixels on the screen that was 256x192 pixels. Games on these computers did not have the luxury of highly detailed sprites and most of the sprites were about 16x16 and later went on to around 16x24. Even with such resolutions and limitations there were some amazing games that one could swear by.

Making Pixel Art

On the Spectrum there were some Characters called UDG (User Defined Graphics) these were 8x8 characters but were the ones that you could set the graphics for and use them like any other characters. You could also redefine the font/character to provide more characters than just the couple of UDG. Developers or rather hobbyists started to learn to draw their characters and objects in this 8x8 grid. There were quite a few utilities that allowed for creating and saving these UDGs.

Common Techniques

In the times when computers had a maximum memory of 48K and limited colours, little to no mouse support, it was not as if there was Photoshop or other utilities. While some larger development houses that worked with multiple platforms (yes in those times developers would have the ZX Spectrum, Commodore, Amstrad, Amiga, Atari and the PC to support) had their own programs to create sprites and graphics. For the rest it was to their own devices.

I had found one that worked best for me. The graphics were created on the computer using a grid like structure, so why not try to draw the same on a Graph Book (a book that has grid like lines). While some Math books are 9mm or 5mm, Graph books have finer lines mainly for plotting graphs associated with experimental data. I found that the graph paper/book was a very interesting format. If you draw lightly on there, you can go back and fill in the blocks where the line crossed the block and soon you will have the pixelized version of your drawing.

Here's a picture from one of the books I found from about 25 years ago. It is a drawing of Batman crashing through the skylight (taken from one of the Detective Comics). I had a really wonderful collection (a story for another time, in short most of it is gone due to shifting houses and living overseas from my parents).

Here is another animation drawing the same on a computer.


It is a matter of convenience that we now have Photoshop like tools, scanners and other tools for vector art, etc. Some of these vector art and pixel art tools can also use filters to render pseudo Pixel Art. However in my opinion, the best Pixel Art is one that is hand crafted, while you might see no difference on high resolution screens, to the artist it is about the placement of the pixel that makes all the difference.

There is a large community that still creates pixel art and many of them use computer programs, some might scan the drawing and then pixellate it on the computer. Whatever works best for you. I'll leave you with some sprites that were made (not by me) for the ZX Spectrum, the inset is the actual size of the graphic, which might be hardly visible on a PC or a high resolution mobile device.


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