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    • I’ve been making pixel art for a couple years now, mainly focusing on athletes I admire or enjoy following, and celebrating them with pixel art or animations. This has included both current athletes, as well as those from past eras. It’s been a fun and rewarding project that lets me explore the culture of sports through the lens of the video games I grew up playing as a kid.

      One of my favorite athletes ever is Jackie Robinson. I’m not old enough to have seen him play, but I know how electrifying an athlete he was. His major league stats alone are incredible, especially given that he didn’t even join the majors until he was 28, which is considered “old” by today’s standards. This is especially incredible given the adversity he faced daily from his peers. He went to work every day, was called horrible things, was told he didn’t belong, and still managed to be one of the best of all time.

      I wanted to make something iconic that celebrated Jackie in pixels, which I figured wasn’t a combination that had been explored much, if at all. When I thought of Jackie, I thought of him stealing home, which is a rare and exciting feat in baseball, and something he did 19 times in his career.  Here is the composition I came up with.

      I’m going to share the process of creating this piece in the posts below.

    • The first thing I did was find a good trove of photo sources to work from. Thankfully, there are a lot of iconic photos of Jackie stealing home, a lot of which are from a similar angle, which is very helpful in creating a new composition that feels believable. Here are just a few examples.

    • Since I had a lot of great source material, I picked out some elements from different places and started to brainstorm new ways to arrange the pieces. This allowed me to create an entirely fictional, but believable composition. It took some trial and error, but after some moving, resizing, adjusting limb angles here and there, the right composition revealed itself.

      What I liked about this composition was the inverted V shape it created (demonstrated by the green lines), which focused the eye on home plate. It created a nice tension which left you wondering: is he safe?

      It also had an interesting way of pitting Jackie against everyone else in the scene: the opponent who is trying to tag him out, the teammate who is passive but judgmental, and the umpire who will determine his success or failure. In a way, these all kind of represent some of the cultural barriers Jackie was facing at the time, which might have something to do with why the scenes of him stealing home are so iconic.

    • Pixel Hall of Fame

      I’ll elaborate more on how to prepare a canvas for pixel art in a separate thread, but I set up this one at 384 x 256 pixels (256 is about the pixel density - on average - of a high fidelity NES or low fidelity SNES game).

      Now it was time to drop pixels! There are lot of programs you can use for this, but I use photoshop since it lets me manage/change colors very easily via layer effects.

      There aren’t any special tricks here, at least not that I use. It’s kind of a grind, but I just work on carving out the shapes with pixels, using the sketch I created as a visual guide, until the figures look complete. It takes many hours, which is why I like to keep the palette somewhat limited: maybe 2-4 colors for the uniform, 2-4 colors for skin tone, etc. Too many colors or layers can also dilute the sharpness of the pixel art and just make it look like a blurry or lo-res photo.

    • Pixel Hall of Fame

      With the figures done, it became obvious the background needed a lot of love to make this come together. I added texture by drawing a bunch of horizontal lines with my pixel brush and then sort of erratically erased away parts of them with my 1px eraser tool to create a random, gritty texture.

      I did that a couple times with a dark and light color for both the dirt and the grass to give it depth. Then I cheated a little bit by adding a radial gradient to the base layers to create a nice, but subtle vignette to further focus the eye in the center. Then I added the chalk lines and home plate, but it didn't quite feel done yet.

    • Pixel Hall of Fame

      The figures and the background didn’t quite feel connected. In order to ground them in the scene, I added in some shadows, dust, and dirt particles. I also softened the area where the dirt met the grass by erasing and adding pixels so it was no longer a sharp edge.

      At this point, it felt like all the pixels were in place, so I after some final adjustments to the colors, it was done!

      I really like this piece a lot. At the time, I was doing mostly pixel animations like this one, which is a whole different process, and even more time consuming, so this was a nice and refreshing departure from that. Now I do a lot more static compositions like this since they can be framed and put on the wall.

    • Currently this piece is on view as part of a group show at Naughton Gallery in Belfast. The show is called Ready? Ok! and features some amazing work by other great artists. It’s up until August 5th, so if you’re in the area, stop by and check it out!

    • Amazing!

      I really enjoyed learning about your process. Whatever skill it is that enables people to start with a white screen and add pixels to it until it's art is a skill I don't have, so seeing the steps you took from inspiration to final work is really cool for me.

      It's clear you've put a ton of time and effort into this. What was it that drew you to pixel art in the first place?

    • Thanks Ryan! I grew up on Nintendo and Sega, so that was an obvious place where my interest in pixel art started.

      I've also always wanted to make my own little worlds, whether it was through drawing or illustration, and so when I saw this video a few years back, I thought to myself, "hey, I could do that!" Pixel art seemed like a great outlet for this.

      So I tried it out and I haven't stopped since!

    • This is AMAZING!!! This conversation should be in some hall of fame. It's incredible that anyone can do this, especially with a photograph having so many details of wrinkles in the uniforms, etc. 😲

    • This truly is a work of art! What strikes me the most, when looking at this masterpiece, is the attention to detail to each and every pixel. In our design world we talk about this concept a lot, but it is a “proverbial pixel”, here it is an actual one.

      The process, the composition and the entire concept of your work speak volumes about your talent as an artist 👏

      Please share more of these visual delights 😉

    • Thanks Chris! It's definitely easy to get lost in the monotony of those little details, but it can also be kind of fun and meditative too. And the end result usually makes it worth the effort.

    • Thanks Vilen! Appreciate the kind words. Doing pixel art has definitely given me a new appreciation for each and every pixel in other design work. I'll definitely post more process write ups soon.

    You've been invited!