Well! It’s been a fun couple of weeks so far.
The last time I posted here, roughly two weeks ago, I was just embarking on a quest to begin producing art, music, games, and other media for a living. I am happy to report that, after a few weeks of this, I am enthused, realistically optimistic, and making progress. Let’s review!
Back around the beginning of the month, my housemate lent me a drawing tablet. I had never really used one prior to this, so I was a bit skeptical that I’d get much use out of it, but I was eager to try it out anyway.
I got to work making a logo in a pixel art program called Pixen. I gathered up what little I knew about doing pixel art from some time spent making PICO 8 games, and did my best to come up with something that drew from some existing material (in this case, the light-grid heart that I had created on the Monome for the cover to my 2017 album, Coda) and tried to bring it into the pixel art medium. I ended up with this:
This is the basic logo I’m now currently using as branding on various different websites and platforms under my creative work alias. The background (just keeping with the theme of what inspired it) is supposed to be the lit and unlit keys of a Monome. I spent a particularly long time playing with different ways of doing shading to give it depth, and ended up doing quite a lot of simple dithering by hand. For the final touch, I freehand-drew the letters in b.trx and gave them an outline, which looks wonky enough to be unique while still being legible. Hurrah, a logo had appeared!
Next, I did a short series of scenes done in 16x16 and 32x32 after discovering a wonderful program called Aseprite (which I, and many folks I’ve spoken to, personally prefer somewhat over Pixen). For these, I didn’t do anything fancy, but kind of idly experimented with the program and the effects of various techniques. I was really happy with these; not because I thought they were technically impressive necessarily, but because it was refreshing to me that I could arbitrarily decide to draw something (space! a forest with some magical thing going on! a beach!) and just.. do it. So much of the skill of visual art seems to be figuring out how to draw the thing you want to draw. It’s a little bit like engineering, especially when you’re dealing with pixel art — the quantized units of color and light are like building blocks that you can arrange as you see fit.
I was feeling pretty good about all this, so I decided to ramp up the challenge a little bit: what if I tried to render a real-world object, instead of just imagining a landscape? I looked up a photograph of a telephone and got to work rendering it as realistically as I could in 64x64 pixels.
This was a really important point in this process for me, because that right there surprised me. I spent quite awhile drawing lines, adjusting them to get the perspective right, playing with shading and colors… and this time, I got more into using layers in Aseprite, which made it a little easier to do things like draw the handset resting on the telephone. In particular, I was really proud of the lighting and shadows. Oh, and the coiled telephone cord on the left — this was definitely one of those instances where I had to figure out how to engineer something that’s visually kind of complex (a coiled up cord dangling from a handset) and make it legible at this resolution. It mostly ended up being a kind of jostled tube filled with abbreviated lines of various shades, which I think worked out pretty well. I added enough chaos in there to make it believable. Damn.
At this point, I decided to check out a thing called Pixel Dailies. It’s a Twitter account that posts a prompt every day, and RTs people’s drawings and animations that they post to the tag. The prompt that day was “download”. I had just finished with the telephone rendering, and felt pretty good about myself. I figured I’d go for it.
I decided to give the telephone a background and some extra flourish. There would have to be a pink laser grid, and the AOL login sequence from way-back-when. I was turning the telephone into a reference to old-school dial-up internet, which felt about as close as I could come to doing something on-topic while also making use of what I had already made that day. I even animated the phone and login sequence, wanting to put some new skills that I had picked up in Aseprite to use.
Awesome. I can do animations now, I thought. Time to update a classic, then — I brought the logo heart over to Aseprite, and added a simple animation to the b.trx heart, making it just a little bit shinier and more dynamic. I proceeded to add this to the website I was building at the time, feeling rather proud of my newfound animation skills.
Following this, a new project idea came to mind: I could render all my music gear in pixel art! I clearly was able to produce pixel art renderings of physical objects, and animate them, so this seemed like an excellent exercise to embark on.
I decided to render one of the most indispensable pieces of gear that I own: the Elektron Digitakt. I started out making some buttons, trying hard to maintain some fidelity to the shapes of the source material while in a lower resolution. This turned out well, and being able to make a few button shapes that I could copy and paste several times made it feel like this was going to go quickly. I was wrong.
As it turns out, drawing really small text is really challenging and time consuming. I persevered, though, and an hour or so later had accomplished the feat of drawing the number “16” (and all preceding above-zero integers, as is necessary ) in 4 pixels by 4 pixels. Once I had accomplished this, I drew the remainder of the device, coming up with an interesting way to simulate text that was too small to actually draw (mostly via strategic use of squiggles), and figuring out how to add some bevels to the box to make it look a little more believable.
Animating, individually, a bunch of those numbers (and other keys on the device) in different colors would require some more tedious work, breaking out the different colors into layers and animating them appearing and disappearing. I brought up a real pattern that I had programmed into my own Digitakt, and modeled the animation after what one of the sequences of notes that I had recorded into it looked like. After a few more hours of work, the Digitakt was finally animated.
This was a huge accomplishment. All of a sudden, I had gone from not being a person who makes pixel art to being a person who… makes pixel art. I had clearly just done it. I decided to make a drawing of a real thing that I own and care about, and then I animated it. That’s kind of a big deal. It felt really good.
I didn’t stop there. I did a similar thing for my Elektron Octatrack:
This time, I decided to imitate the boot-up animation that the device does when you turn it on. I think I got pretty close.
But wait! What’s this?
Oh hey. The UI designer for the Digitakt and Digitone had some nice things to say about the Digitakt animation. Not bad, me. People seemed to be enjoying these. I even got a request!
This past weekend, a friend of mine came over to hang out, check out our house, and do pixel art with me. We decided to both do our own renditions of the Teenage Engineering OP-1. Here’s mine:
This was done in a higher level of detail than the previous two, which really helped with drawing the icons. I didn’t bother trying to get all the text, though; some of the keys have both a number and an icon, and it’s just too much to represent in the space allotted. I decided that removing detail was preferable to trying to cram everything in. I think it turned out lovely. (It’s currently waiting to be animated, whenever I get around to it.)
I’d say it’s been pretty well received.
Most recently, I attempted something totally new: character art. I’ve always been really intimidated by drawing humanoids, faces, hands, limbs, animals, organic things, etc. — this has been a thing I know I want to get better at, but have had a hard time approaching. I decided to do a pixel portrait of a character that an artist friend of mine had previously helped me design, named Coda (different from the album, but the namesake of such regardless):
It’s not perfect, but… it’s a lot more than I expected out of myself at this stage of things. I think it looks cute and stylized. And, naturally, knowing me, the aesthetic is on point. It was heavily referenced, but I certainly put my own spin on the design. Though, I’ll definitely say that this is significantly harder than making a rectangular synthesizer with lots of straight lines. I’ve got a lot to learn, still.
What else? Well, um, hm. I worked on a bunch of music stuff, including some work on a remix for a friend, some original music, and a video recording, using a tripod that I bought in order to ease the video-making process (mostly for doing things like this):
A lot of this stuff so far is either me just continuing to do what I was already doing — I’ve been working on music somewhat consistently for the past year and a half — or me just experimenting and wanting to expand my repertoire. I really wanna do more performance videos, but I want to find an interesting way to shoot (and edit?) them that makes them appealing to watch, like some of my favorite YouTube channels do.
I also cleaned my roo- er, offic- er… studio… and a handful of other administrative or housekeeping tasks. I worked on my Trello. I established accounts on social media platforms and signed up for music distribution services (hi DistroKid!). I’m planning… things. Oh yeah, and I’m getting ready to do Ludum Dare 41, because I like the idea of pushing myself to complete a game in a short period of time along with a bunch of other people. Maybe that’s what my next post will be about!
Anyway. A LOT HAS HAPPENED! More ahead! Stay tuned :)