Graphics New artist in need of some targeted direction


Hey everyone!
I am an aspiring game designer and trying to learn pixel art. I've been reading up on all of the different beginner guides as well as watching tutorials on youtube. I've tried my hand at some pixel art and I definitely need some direction considering what I'm trying to achieve.

Regardless of the advice in any of the guides It feels like I'm lacking some basic fundamentals of art/drawing/painting. My figures, landscapes and structures look distorted and disproportionate, as if it was drawn by a 4 year old. I went and got a sketchbook and have started watching basic drawing videos and am currently doing the courses on Drawabox.

The main concern I have has to do with the direction of my training because I don't want to spend years heading in a direction that doesn't take me to my end goal. All of the pixel art tutorials I've watched wants me to practice making things in a 16x16 canvas which I understand the idea because it wants me to get used to pixel placement. Although all the art I aspire to make seems to have environments made on a massive canvas with sprites that have at least 32x32 to 64x64 sprite characters/objects. I understand this is all just an aspect of style, similarly games like Superbrothers Sword and Sorcery and Celeste are just hyper-stylized. I want to make sure I'm learning and training/practicing on the right areas of art to get to my end goal. And if that means doing lots of tiny sprites on a 16x16 canvas, then so be it, but how do I transition from that too the style im going for?

I left some photos to reference the style I would like to eventually achieve. Some of the images are from HLD and others are from an up coming game called Undungeon.

I'm thinking I need to practice drawing and digital painting/concept art to get to where I want to be but any input or advice to point me in the right direction and avoid wasted efforts would be much appreciated! =]
(An example of wasted efforts would be spending years practicing anime when you actually want to learn realism. Of course Anime and Realism are obviously different and parts of them could be carried over but when it comes to pixel art most of the tutorials and guides are very general and broad in scope when there are many different sizes and styles in the genre.)




A good starting point is this:

And of course taking a regular look at submitted pixel art over at pixel joint or whatever helps.

Avoid YouTube tutorials, the density of information is much lesser than a well-written article and/or browsing pixel art yourself.

There is no way around learning something, it will take years. It's just how humans work, be it physics, math, history or arts.

Working with low res helps in understanding what information to preserve/discard, which is a crucial skill to carry over to larger canvases.

Finally, sometimes behind a good pixel artist lies a good painter/sketcher. Working with low res helps mask anatomy/sketching deficiencies but as res goes up they start showing up. You don't have to be a master artist to create passable pixel art (although it helps). Find a initial style that produces a decent result based on your existing weaknesses then work in parallel on improving them.

Nothing is earned without pain. Nothing. Good luck.


There's a simple answer, which amends @vdweller answer: learn to draw reasonably well.

Get a good book on how colour and light works, and a book about drawing in perspective. And anatomy. If you want to animate your work, get a good book on animation as well. Get a good book on pixel art fundamentals.

There are no shortcuts. Acquire reasonable foundational drawings skills and good pixel art will flow naturally from that.

Anyway, some curated suggestions:
  • Pixel Logic - A Guide to Pixel Art
  • Color and Light - A Guide for the Realist Painter
  • The Fantasy Artist's Figure Drawing Bible (surprisingly handy for pixel art as well)
  • The Animation Survival Kit updated edition
Books on colouring comics may be useful as well when dealing with various styles in pixel art
  • Hi-Fi Color for Comics
As for good books on drawing: too many to list here. Aside from a good book on classical drawing technique, I would recommend books on drawing stylized comic art as well - perhaps even put a focus on the latter for stylized pixel art.

Preston Blair's classic book and newer edition Advanced Animation include to-the-point and excellent drawing exercises.

Learning a 3d app like Blender can be very helpful in setting up lighting mockups for study - even for pixel art in my experience.

And no one is stopping you to learn all of this simultaneously, step by step applying your newly learning techniques to small projects while you learn - practice as much as you can with various techniques and subjects.

Have fun learning this stuff!


šŸ§ *penguin noises*
GMC Elder
Here's my practical 5 cents:
  • Stick to 16x16 grid size, reduced palette stuff until you feel comfortable pixelling. The smaller the resolution, the more you can leave to the player's imagination, and there's plenty of reference materials for this size since it was ubiquituous for technical reasons during the 8-bit and 16-bit era.
  • For the same reason, NES limitations help: 3 colors per sprite, that's it. Limitations breed creativity, and limitations this harsh makes it much easier to pick palettes and avoid overtweaking insignificant details.
  • Work a lot on palette creation and color theory. The right colors help considerably. Use few colors and use them well, instead of manually drawing ugly plasticky gradients 1 pixel at a time. Factors like making foreground elements stick out from background decorative junk are much more important in games than in other fields.
  • Don't use paintings as reference, use art from games with a similar style. Pixelart techniques in particular can only be appreciated when you can zoom in and study individual pixels (example: hinting at a rounded shape with a series of dots on the surface of something)
  • Animated sprites are much harder than static background objects, but the #1 takeaway to animations is "focus on good keyframes". It's usually okay visually to just have the start and end pose of each animation (and make them look cool!) and then just make an intermediate frame that changes moving limbs into smears.


I think the main idea is to learn the fundamentals via 16x16 sprites. Although I would highly recommend learning the fundamentals via hand whether on paper or with a drawing tablet like what you seem to be doing right now, learning via 16x16 or 32x32 sprites is fine enough, as it's small enough to easily reiterate, as well as animate, but it's mostly big enough to get what it's trying to be. When you do have the fundamentals mostly nailed down, canvas size shouldn't matter that much, it'll just be about how much time you're spending, as larger sprites take up more time.

Something I think is good to keep in mind is that each person learns things slightly different from others, so some conventional style may not work as well for you, so don't feel too bad that you're not learning well atm, or if it happens in the future, keep trying new things. With that in mind, one thing that helped me personally is focusing on one big concept at a time, whether it be anatomy, perspective, or color. I focused on each of those subjects one at a time, and while I'm still not at professional level yet, I would say it's at the very least competent.

I also believe you need a strong reason that you personally believe in to keep growing and improving, otherwise you may spiral out of control when it comes to losing motivation. While everyone loses motivation sometimes, it's easier to keep your head up when you personally believe in your ability to grow and make great things in the future.

I hope I helped at least a little, I wish you the best of luck!