365 Days of Pixels

At the beginning of 2017, I tasked myself with a small side project to complete a single work of pixel art every day.

I've always been fascinated by the simplicity of pixel art, but every time I've attempted to learn it - I would dream too big, spend too much time struggling, and lose interest because I never made much progress. I started this project to break me out of that vicious cycle. I needed to set some realistic restrictions/rules that would force me to fail quickly, learn from my mistakes, and then hopefully recover just as fast as I fail.

The restrictions were quite simple. First, no matter what, I required to complete one piece of pixel art a day. Even if it was rushed and I wasn't fully satisfied, it had to be saved and uploaded to the collection. Second, each canvas must be exactly 32px-by-32px resolution. No more, no less. These two restrictions forced me limit my scope, accept imperfection, and keep moving forward. This was a big challenge for me, but having these restrictions setup ahead of time made the project that much easier to accomplish and learn from.

In addition to these restrictions, I think a big part of my continued success with this project is just how creative, positive, and welcoming the pixel art community is. Everyone is so eager to share their work and to help others succeed, and as a whole the community feels as if they are all working together toward a combined goal of self-improvement. It's incredibly refreshing and inspiring.

This couldn't have happened at a better time for me. Lately, I have been incredibly disillusioned by the state of the web development community. There's just too much negativity and politics swirling around that I often find myself hesitant to even contribute. It's something I've been struggling with all year, and I hope it will take a turn for the better moving into 2018.

Having pixel art as an outlet has done a lot to help me relax and focus on something that is free from negativity, rules, and judgement. I can just focus on being creative and having fun.

As of today, I have completed my 365th work of pixel art. You can see all of my work throughout the year at my Pixel 365 site. I'll admit that I definitely had to rush through some of them - which may or may not be obvious. However, given the circumstances, I'm very proud of the work I've done over the last year.

Upon returning to some pieces that I struggled with and had to rush through, I find them much more satisfying now - even with their mistakes. The whole process of letting go and forcing myself to move on has helped me immensely, not only with pixel art, but as a basic practice when working through any creative project.

I've learned that letting go is sometimes the best course of action when you're learning. It allows you to track your progress - to measure your growth. Expecting too much out of yourself when you're learning will quite literally knock the wind out of you entirely and prevent you from ever succeeding.

Repetition, failure, and letting go are the only way that we become better at any task. But, unfortunately, so many of us pridefully refuse to accept defeat. We compare ourselves to the success of others, without fully understanding the struggles they went through to get where they are today.

In the end, this project has taught me so much about pixel art, but it has also taught me a lot about failure, learning, and progress. All of which are equally important when beginning a challenging endeavor. The trick is to not let failure beat you up, enjoy and appreciate what you are learning, and measure your progress regularly to remind yourself how much you have grown.

As I wrap this up, I thought I'd share some of advice that I've learned along the way.

  1. Follow Fellow Pixel Artists
    This was unbelievably valuable to keep me motivated and pushing me to try new things. There is a thriving pixel art community on Twitter, some of my favorites include: @Saint11, @Slynrd, @FrancisCoulombe @LumpyTouch, @talecrafter, and @Zedotagger. Pinterest is another great source of inspiration as it will allow you to pin pixel art you enjoy and it will then it will regularly provide you with additional suggestions based on the pixel art that you've collected.

  2. Applications / Tools
    My personal tool of choice is Aseprite. It offers a fantastic feature set paired with a clean pixel art interface that is a real pleasure to use. Another popular alternative is Pyxel Edit. Finding the right tool for the job is very important, so make sure you try different applications to find the one that works best for you.

  3. Shading / Lighting
    Occasionally, I would struggle when adding lighting/highlights to a piece. Working through these struggles, I found that it's sometimes helpful to add the shadows instead of the light. Your miles may very with this, as it could just be some strange quirk with my brain.🤔

  4. Keep Moving Forward
    No matter how much time I put into it, there were still days that I questioned myself and more importantly my progress. This may happen to you, just know that it is noise and to keep going. Looking back on it, when I pushed myself through those challenging feelings, I ended up with some of my most satisfying work.