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Make Cool Stuff: Pixel Arts and Crafts

What was the first piece of fine art that left a lasting impression with you?

For me, it was a painting I saw at the Saint Louis Art Museum, while on a marching band field trip: Port-en-Bessin: The Outer Harbor, by pointillist Georges Seurat.

I was absolutely mesmerized by the detail; an entire painting made up of thousands of tiny, perfectly shaped dots. As a fidgety fourteen-year-old, the patience and forethought astounded me, and pixel-based art has had a place in my heart ever since.

What do I mean by pixel art? Take a look at the detail from another of Seurat’s paintings, Parade de Cirque:

Crafty Building Block
Wikipedia tells me that the term “pixel art” applies specifically to a type of digital graphics editing, but I’m going to use the term more broadly here, to refer to any type of image built with dots, blocks, or Xs to build a larger image. In addition to providing the foundation for my favorite style of painting – pointillism – pixel art is the cornerstone of many crafts, especially the fiber arts. Needlepoint, cross-stitch, and knitted images are made up of thousands of stitches on a grid, just as the image on your computer monitor is made up of thousands of blocks on a grid.

You need not be limited by traditional craft materials like paint and yarn to make up a pixelated image. Have you considered using Jell-O shots?

Visit Andrew Salomone’s website for more pictures of Bill Cosby rendered in Jell-O:


How about dice?

“DIE” Frederick McSwain Installation Time Lapse from Stephen Dirkes on Vimeo via Make.


You don’t have to get as detailed as Georges Seurat or Frederick McSwain to render recognizable images. With fewer than 300 blocks, we have the portrait of a friend to nerds everywhere:

Follow this link for the full crocheted blanket project on Instructables by user Russm313.


I have a vague memory from one of the earliest Nerdist podcasts of Jonah talking about a Tom Servo he made out of Post-It notes. He’s not the only one to explore this medium:

Video by Bang-Yao Liu

Drafting Your Own Project

Here are some very basic steps for putting together your own pixel-based project.

  1. Determine what image you want to render.
  2. Determine your medium, whether it is dice, Post-Its, quilting, etc. (Steps 1&2 are interchangeable.)
  3. Sketch out your image on a grid.
    a. If you are drawing the image yourself, using simple graph paper may be the easiest.
    b. Excel is a good tool to use as well. Set your column widths and row heights to form a perfect square (12 x 12, for example). When you print, check the “print gridlines” check box.
    c. If you have a digital image or photo you want to pixelate, run it through an image-editing program like Photoshop or Gimp. In Gimp, go to Filters –> Blur –> Pixelate. This will make your image appear blocky. Play with the resolution until you get the level of detail you’re seeking. (For better step-by-step tutorials and videos, go to your favorite search engine and search “pixelate image in Gimp” or “pixelate image in Photoshop.”)
  4. Use your printed grid as your guide for executing your project in your chosen medium.
I used this concept to make a quilt for my brother Tom a couple of years ago. I had only basic quilting skills (I know how to sew in straight lines), and so a pixelated image was perfect. Tom is an outdoorsy kind of guy, so I found an image of a tree (I believe I used the logo of a real estate company) and reduced the resolution in Gimp. Here’s the end result:

If you’ve made your own pixel-icious project, drop a link in the comments below. Personally, I’d love to see a portrait of our favorite nerds made out of Nerds candy.

Mindy loves to make stuff, but even more, she loves encouraging other people to make cool stuff! If you’ve made something particularly awesome, send her a link via Twitter @HolaMindy or over on her blog.

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  1. J says:

    I think the word you’re looking for is “mosaic”. That may be why your Wikipedia search came up with unsatisfactory results.

  2. @Jenny – Wow! Thanks a bunch for that link! The stuff on there is fantastic!

    Thanks for sharing photos of your work too; I love seeing the cool stuff other people have made. I just learned needlepoint and cross-stitch earlier this year. The best patterns all seem to be stuff online; the shops nearby only carry old lady patterns.

  3. Jenny says:

    For anyone into nerdy cross-stitch, is an amazing site. I made this for my boyfriend’s birthday using a pattern I found in the forums:

  4. Brian E. says:

    Hard to say what the 1st one was but the one that left the biggest impression is easily Michaelangelo’s David in Florence.