Riding The Pixelart Wave: Current Trends In Creative Expression

Pixel art has its origins in the earliest days of computer graphics and video games. The limitations of hardware in the 1970s and 1980s meant that computer graphics could only be rendered at very low resolutions. Artists embraced these limitations and used “pixels” as a medium for creative expression. Some key developments in the history of pixel art include:

The earliest known example of pixel art is from the 1976 game Maze War, developed for the Call-Data CDC Cyber mainframe computer. The simple 3D first-person perspective maze games used pixelated graphics out of necessity.

The popular Space Invaders arcade game, released in 1978, used pixelated enemy aliens and pixel explosions. It helped to popularize the aesthetic of pixel art.

The Nintendo Entertainment System, released in 1983, featured many early pixel art classics like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid. The NES limitations to 8×8 pixel characters and 16×16 pixel backgrounds drove creativity.

As technology progressed, dedicated pixel artists kept honing their craft, choosing to use pixel art for the unique aesthetic it provides. The Internet enabled pixel art communities to share their creations and techniques.

Today pixel art remains popular for indie and retro-style video games. The art form has also expanded into areas like digital illustrations, Pixel Art animations, virtual galleries, and more.

Nostalgia Factor

Pixel art has seen a resurgence in recent years largely due to its ability to tap into nostalgia. The lo-fi pixelated aesthetic is reminiscent of retro video games and pop culture from the 80s and 90s. As this article points out, pixel art was born out of necessity – the technical limitations of early gaming systems forced developers to be economical with design. But those limitations produced a signature visual style that many find charming today. Pixel art evokes a feeling of nostalgia for a simpler time when games didn’t strive for photorealism. It represents childhood and a shared pop culture experience for generations that grew up playing 8-bit and 16-bit games. This nostalgic factor is a major reason pixel art has seen renewed interest and popularity.


Pixel art’s simplicity makes it highly accessible for beginners to get started. As Andrea Skeries discusses in their article on Accessible Pixel Art Web App, pixel art can be created easily using just a mouse, keyboard, and touch devices. The constrained canvas and limited color palette allows even novice artists to jump right in. There’s no need for expensive art supplies or an extensive background in art to start creating pixel art. The grid-based format provides helpful structure, making pixel art more approachable than freeform digital or traditional art.

For those looking to dip their toes into pixel art, starting simple is key. As one Medium article points out, beginning with basic shapes, low resolutions, and limited colors allows new artists to get comfortable with the pixelated style. Pixel art’s accessibility means a wider, more diverse audience can participate in artistic creation and join online pixel art communities.

Popularity on Social Media

In recent years, pixel art has seen a major surge in popularity on social media. Platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok have become hotbeds for pixel artists to share their creations and connect with fellow enthusiasts.

A simple hashtag search on any major social network will uncover thousands of pixel art posts. On Instagram alone, the #pixelart hashtag has over 5 million posts at the time of writing (Kodrick). Other popular hashtags like #pixelartgame and #lowpoly have hundreds of thousands of posts.

Many prominent pixel artists have amassed huge followings on social media. For instance, the artist Pixel Jeff has over 50,000 followers on Instagram. Social platforms allow pixel art creators to easily share WIPs (works-in-progress), take commissions, and ultimately monetize their work.

The shareable, bite-sized nature of pixel art makes it a perfect fit for social media. Brief animations and clever pop culture references tend to be especially popular. Social platforms have been pivotal in pixel art’s revival, allowing creators to find inspiration and community.

Prominence in Indie Games

Pixel art has become a staple of indie game development over the past decade. Many indie developers choose pixel art for their games due to its nostalgic appeal, relatively low barrier to entry, and active pixel art communities. According to an article on RetroNuke, “It seems like pixel art is a popular element among indie games. The choice to use pixel art makes sense when you consider the small team sizes and limited budgets many indie developers are working with.”

Pixel art harkens back to the early days of gaming, evoking nostalgia for classic consoles and games. As one Reddit user commented, “I think pixel art in indie games kind of plays off people’s nostalgia for games they grew up with as kids.” This nostalgic factor gives pixel art indie games a built-in appeal for older gamers who fondly remember the 8-bit and 16-bit eras.

Additionally, pixel art is relatively easy and affordable to produce compared to high-resolution 3D art. With limited funding and small team sizes, many indie studios simply can’t afford the assets and expertise required for AAA-quality art. As a Quora user noted, “Pixel art is a fast, efficient, and skill-appropriate art style for small teams to work with.” Given the constraints indies work under, pixel art allows them to fully realize their creative visions.

The prominence of pixel art in the indie scene has led to thriving communities of pixel artists sharing resources, tutorials, assets, and feedback. For indie developers, these communities lower the barriers to entry and provide support needed to implement pixel art successfully. Overall, pixel art allows indie games to tap into nostalgia, work within tight budgets, and leverage a robust creative community.

Creating Pixel Art Communities

Pixel art communities have formed online, bringing together pixel artists from around the world. Sites like Lospec, Reddit, Pixonomicon, and DeviantArt host active forums and groups devoted to pixel art. These provide places for pixel artists to share their work, give and receive feedback, collaborate on projects, and socialize. For example, the Reddit community r/PixelArt has over 430,000 members discussing pixel art topics, trends, tutorials, and more. Discord servers like Lospec also connect pixel artists through chat and streaming. These online communities nurture creativity, inspiration, and growth within the pixel art world. They showcase diverse art styles, guide beginners, and bring visibility to the medium. Overall, by uniting geographically disparate artists, online pixel art groups have strengthened the form and spawned a thriving, engaged community.

Monetization Opportunities

Pixel art has become a lucrative creative outlet for many artists to make money. With the rising popularity of pixel art, there is growing demand for custom commissions and pre-made assets that can be sold. According to Toolify, some of the main ways artists are monetizing pixel art skills include:

Selling custom pixel art commissions – Artists can promote commission services and create custom art, characters, animations, etc. based on client requests. The highly customizable and personalized nature makes commissions a popular monetization method.

Selling pre-made pixel art assets – Artists can create assets like character sprites, environment tiles, icons, decorations, etc. and sell them via marketplaces. This allows buyers to quickly purchase ready-made art for their projects.

Pixel artist TalB started earning income through pixel art commissions in 2013, becoming his main source of income for RPG Maker projects as described on his website. The demand for quality pixel art across many mediums provides diverse options for artists to sell their work.

Pixel Art in Mainstream Media

Pixel art has become increasingly prevalent in mainstream media like movies, TV shows, and music videos. Some of the most prominent examples include the music video for Old Town Road by Lil Nas X, which featured pixel art animation of the rapper. The popular animated sitcom South Park also utilizes a simple pixel art style for its characters and backgrounds. In movies, the 2018 film Ready Player One directed by Steven Spielberg contained various pixel art characters and environments as part of the fictional virtual world called the OASIS.

One of the most recent and prominent examples of pixel art in popular culture is undoubtedly the Nyan Cat. This little cat, almost entirely composed of pixels, became a viral internet meme sensation back in 2011. Pop singer Charli XCX also recently released a music video featuring a pixel art avatar performing the song. Pixel art has become a way for media creators to tap into nostalgia and create easily recognizable, meme-worthy characters.

Advancements in Technology

Pixel art has benefited greatly from advancements in digital art tools and techniques. Modern pixel artists have access to sophisticated software like Aseprite, Pyxel Edit and GraphicsGale specifically designed for creating and editing pixel art. These specialized programs provide features like layers, palettes, dithering, and animations to streamline the pixel art creation process.

New techniques like anti-aliasing and gradient dithering also help artists push the limits of what can be achieved within the pixel art medium. Anti-aliasing smooths jagged edges by blending pixels, while dithering uses patterns of light and dark pixels to simulate shading or textures. These methods allow for more refined and detailed pixel art without increasing resolution.

As digital screens and displays advance to higher resolutions, artists can work with larger “virtual canvases” while still maintaining a pixellated look. The evolution of technology has undoubtedly fueled innovation in pixel art.

The Future of Pixel Art

Pixel art has cemented itself as an iconic and nostalgic art form, but where does it go from here? With the rise of AI art generation, some wonder if pixel art will fade into irrelevance. However, most experts predict pixel art will continue to thrive in the years to come.

As Lux, an expert pixel artist, writes on their blog Pixel Parmesan, “AI won’t replace artists, it will inspire them” (https://pixelparmesan.com/ai-and-the-future-of-pixel-art/). Lux believes AI art generation will push pixel artists to expand their creativity in new directions, leading to innovative new styles and techniques. Rather than replacing human creativity, AI will enhance it.

Additionally, the accessible and nostalgic nature of pixel art gives it staying power. As an art form anyone can learn without extensive artistic training, it provides a creative outlet many will continue to embrace. And as pixel art calls back to the early days of gaming, that retro style will always be appealing.

While new technologies arise, pixel art has proven its ability to adapt and evolve. With its uniquely expressive style and role in gaming culture, pixel art will likely maintain a devoted following of creators and fans well into the future.