I've been talking a long break from pixel art, but I wanted to make a new avatar on Pixel Joint
where I put all my pixel art. This time I've made a tanuki (raccoon-dog). The real life animal is not actually related to raccoons, and don't really have striped tails, but it's common enough in art to draw them looking very close to a raccoon. Obviously I'm not attempting a realistic rendition of either. ^_^
This is the final version above, with exactly 6 colors when you count transparency.
Here's the steps I took making this-
To start with, I drew a rough sketch of my idea. At this stage it doesn't really matter how messy it is, and is technically not "pixel art" because there's no consideration for individual pixels and instead the lines are being drawn by clicking and dragging. The subcategory of digital art known as "pixel art" requires that the image be built at a pixel level, with individual pixels each playing a role in the overall image.
Next I cleaned it up. Mainly I was removing stray pixels from lines and straightening/smoothing them out a bit.
The dark part of his face makes him look like a little bandit. I tried out a few different eye designs at this stage. This is something that really defines pixel art, when changing a single pixel actually has a visual impact on the final product. In this case, just by changing one or two pixels on the eyes the expression and mood changed completely.
I decided a didn't like the way he looked like he was just floating in space, so I temporarily added a baseline and aligned all the legs with that, while also adding the back leg as a dark shadow under him. The tail was also rounded a little more.
Shadows do a lot for giving an object a sense of form, even though at this point it's still just a 2 color drawing. An important thing for all forms of art is to think of differences in tone, or how light or dark something is, as blocks or masses of tone. Try to minimize how many tones are used. While this applies to all art, in pixel art the conservation of colors (every difference in color being counted as an additional color) is another defining aspect. The colors are purposefully chosen just as the pixels are purposefully placed.
Here I've filled in all that white space with a single color, as well as changing the the eyes to something cuter and more friendly. For the color, I placed all that on a separate layer in Photoshop and selected the option to lock transparency. I was then able to quickly select different colors, press the hot keys to fill the entire layer with that color (but only affecting the pixels that already had something on them because the transparency was locked), and see what color I liked the most.
After trying out different colors I settled on a lighter and less intense red for the body, replaced the pure black with a very dark blue, and filled in the previously pure white eyes with a very pale yellow.
This is the point where I started to do anti-aliasing, also known as AA. This is basically the act of placing pixels of intermediate color along the edge of something to smooth it out. It's something that's normally automatically done for you by the computer in digital art, but in pixel art we do it by hand. This is another defining aspect of pixel art. We're taking something out of the hands of the computer and putting it back into the hands of the artist, so that it can be done purposefully, consciously, and cleanly. I've scaled up the image above from 64x64 to 256x256 so you can more easily see the AA that I'm (almost) done with at this stage.
This is the final palette, not counting transparency. In pixel art every single unique color is counted as a separate color. Even the slightest change in a color, no matter what the change is, creates a new unique color. When talking about tone above I mentioned the conservation of color. This means that in pixel art you would ideally achieve a result using the lowest number of colors necessary. Transparency is counted as a "color" because the computer itself understands it to be so.
Here's the final version, once again. I made the legs a little less round at the bottoms, detached and reattached the tail a little higher up, finished smoothing the curve of the tail, and finished the AA.
Now I'm ready to make this my new avatar. ^_^