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Real World Pixel Art: A Retro Obsession!

Why do we love Pixel Art? Probably the nostalgia. Seeing those serrated edges takes us back to time and place in the past, before video games got all 3D and rounded and...."shooty." The limited medium, of taking images and re-appraising them as chunky, colorful squares, is a video game mainstay. One that was borne of functionality, but is now an aesthetic choice we make. We see "8-Bit style" everywhere, reimagining the world upon a 32x32 (or 64x64) grid. And for those of us born after this golden age of pixel-centric video game creations? No big deal! The style is just as appealing now as it's ever been. With summer coming just around the corner, here's a few hands on crafts you can use to recreate that wonderful aesthetic effect using real world tools and materials!

Perler Beads (AKA "Melty Beads")

While their official title is "Perler Beads" this product's nickname indicates just how they work: plastic beads are fitted and arranged onto a pegboard, and once in place, they're ironed on a low setting to melt the plastic and fuse the individual beads together. Once everything has cooled, a unique image is left in its place to be made into a keychain, paperweight or whatever the creator chooses! Ultimately, we love this kinesthetic take on pixel art and (when done under proper supervision) teaches great lessons in patience and composition as you fit the beads to the peg board! Perler beads can be purchased at virtually any craft store or department store in the Wal-Mart/Target variety.


SIMBRIX (website) work in a similar fashion to Perler Beads with one key distinction: They connect by snapping together instead of fusion. Therefore, they sidestep the use for a dangerous iron and can even be rearranged and disassembled for further use! Simbrix are a somewhat new creation but can be purchased on Amazon (as they ship from the UK). They're great fun and easy to use and provide limitless creativity since they can be reassembled!

Post-It Pixels

Colorful post it notes make a good pixel art stand-in for rendering your images BIG and BOLD on walls or windows. Plus, since the Post-It namesake is one of minimum stickiness, they can be repositioned to create animations! (P.S. We have totally done this in a STEAMPunks camp--video below!). Post-It Pixel activities make for fun group art as well as an inventive take on a bygone aesthetic. Show off your pixel skills from any available surface!

Cross stitching

Textiles may seem an unlikely avenue for pixel art, but only for the unimaginative! Just take a look at that little gator on your Lacoste polo. PIXEL ART! While cross stitching is certainly a skill in its own right, with helpful guides (for which there are plenty!) one can render bookmarks, table cloths or whatever else with some patience and engineering!

Pixel/Sprite Apps

Those really wanting that digital component to their Pixel Art creation will find myriad apps in the App Store for their various devices. These programs vary in their specific bells and whistles but usually stake their claim by offering export options, onion skin options (for animations) and drawing interfaces of various complexity. The specific sprite program for you will depend on your preferences, but some of our favorites for Tablets are Sprite Something and Pixcel. Making pixel art can still feel analog if you do it on a tablet and use a stylus to recreate that pen n' paper feeling!

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