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    • In the spring of 2017, I had the opportunity to submit some artwork to a fundraiser put on at Ironworks, a rock climbing gym in Berkeley, CA. My friend Michael was working for Sufferfest Beer, one of the vendors for the event, and also knew the manager of the gym, so he proposed to use some of my artwork for the silent auction. Thanks to him, I was able to participate.

      The fundraiser was for the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation, named after one of the best alpinists of his time, and best friend of fellow climber Conrad Anker. Lowe was killed in an avalanche in 1999 at age 40. Among one of the many focuses of the foundation is the goal of teaching safe climbing techniques to sherpas in remote regions of Nepal.


      The Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation (ALCF) is dedicated to preserving Alex Lowe's legacy by providing direction and financial support to sustainable, community-based humanitarian programs designed to help the people who live in remote regions of the world. This foundation carries on Alex's spirit of adventure.

      At the event, Conrad Anker would be joined by Alex Honnold to discuss the foundation’s mission, do a Q and A, and raise money via a silent auction. I was lucky enough to contribute two pixel art pieces, one of each of the athletes, each printed on metal. They would be autographed by the athletes and then sold in the silent auction with all proceeds going to the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation.

      Here are the pieces I created. I'm going to walk through my process in the following posts.

    • I’ll start with how I made Conrad’s piece, and then talk about Alex’s after that. I had just seen the film Meru, and wanted to capture Conrad balanced high on one of the sheer faces of that mountain. If you haven’t seen Meru, watch it! It’s stunning.

      I found this photograph online after some googling. It was perfect. I presume this photo was taken by the amazing Jimmy Chin, who was one of the climbers featured in the film and also the one who shot/filmed the ascent.

    • Next, I needed to carve out Conrad from the photo. I layered different shapes on top of the photo, gradually adding detail as I went, until it finally had a resemblance to him. Areas that were a little challenging given the limitations of pixels were the ropes, and the head/face, which took a little work to get just right.

    • It was time to get to work on the hard part, the rocks. This was a particularly challenging task since there are many ways one could approach this with pixel art. One could just do a stepped gradient, which probably would have been easiest, but would have been a little lacking in detail. I wanted to try and capture every contour of the surface of the rock so I decided to a combination of pixel dithering and line work. This took a long time, maybe 10-20 hours, although I didn't keep track. Every single pixel was manipulated to get it right.

      It was an interesting experiment, and some pixel art purists out there might think it looks a little too harsh, but I like the way it captured the texture and grittiness of the rock face.

      Then I added a little snow.

    • Finally, I did some adjustment to the coloring, added a little depth to the snow, and then some mountains in the background to finish it off.

      I took some liberties with the coloring to add drama and make certain things pop. The rock face, for instance, is a lot warmer and red than the source photograph. At a certain point, I stopped worrying about that, and just focused on what worked for the piece. After all, it's pixel art. It can be a little fantastical.

    • Next I embarked on the Alex Honnold pixel art. I followed a similar process in that I wanted to find an iconic image or pose of him to put into pixels. Once again, I found a photo by the amazing Jimmy Chin to work from. It was featured on the cover of Alex’s book “Alone on the Wall.” It shows him free soloing (no ropes) the route Heaven, which is 3,000 feet above the Yosemite valley floor.

    • Next, I tackled the rock face. I wasn’t really keeping track, but as with the other piece, this took somewhere between 10-20 hours. Each pixel was put in place one by one. Getting the colors right was also a challenge.

      I wasn't trying to match the photograph really. I wanted it to look like rock, but primarily wanted to bring in some colors to interact with the blue sky in an interesting way. I’m not even I’m super happy with how it ended up, but I had to stop somewhere!

    • Conrad and Alex were nice enough to sign multiple copies at the event. One pair went toward the silent auction, another I selfishly kept for myself, and a third I gifted to my friend Michael for setting up the opportunity. A fourth and final pair I gifted to each athlete, giving Conrad and Alex each pixel art of themselves.

      They promptly decided (on their own) to autograph their copies and then trade with each other. This way they each had signed versions of the other athlete to take home. I don’t know what they ended up doing with their copies but I like to think they still have them!