I’ve been spending many hours today and yesterday playing Javel-ein and reading about pixel art. Javel-ein’s creator clued me into a 16-color palette he used to create the graphics resources for the game. Created by someone at pixeljoint.com named Dawnbringer, it opened my eyes to something I hadn’t given much thought to in my pixel art dabbling to date.
In my pixel art method that I’ve been developing, I have not expended much effort at all in choosing colors. My method has been to use the absolute smallest number of colors as possible. To pick the color, I simply pick “the color” — I don’t give consideration to the context, the lighting conditions I want to simulate, or anything else. To draw the Hulk, I said to myself, “The Hulk is green, pick a green that looks like Hulk Green” so I did that, and then I was done.
I don’t pretend at all that my pixel art method is the best. It is merely a method, and one that I’m able to work in quickly, and achieve results that I find acceptable. I deliberately do not concern myself so much with quality, but with speed. I reason that speed serves me best because with speed, I can iterate more quickly, and iterating will give me the experience that in time will yield an improvement in quality. Also, because I do everything in my games, I have to ration my time and distribute it between designing the game, programming, doing graphics, sound effects, testing, etc. So I don’t have a lot of time, and therefore speed is all the more important. But because my time goes to other things, I haven’t iterated as much as I thought I would.
My pixel art method is very primitive and newbie feeling, but I try to use that as a strength. But that’s not to say that understanding color and using it more effectively would not be very valuable. So far my approach to drawing has been more like a very young child than an artist. I take the fewest number of colors possible, use them iconically to represent the subject with what “everyone knows” is the right color — the sky is blue, grass is green, the sun is yellow, no surprises. For standalone subjects, and for the specific style I’m going for, this works. But when I integrate standalone subjects into a composition, if I want it to look cohesive, and minimalist, I need to give more thought to how I select colors.
Seeing the results in Javel-ein from what a well-chosen palette of 16 colors can make possible, I became very interested in using the palette in the color picker more. Until now, I’ve always just picked something in the RGB color wheel that looked right, but from now on I’ll be giving more thought to my palette ahead of time.
As well, I spent a few hours and created a few palettes for Paint.NET so I can select from a collection of pre-defined, general purpose palettes. I have Dawnbringer’s 16- and 32-color palettes, and several that I made for simulating the NES, Atari 2600, and Gameboy. I plan to try to use these for a while, to see how I can adapt to a constraint of a pre-defined palette of so few colors, and what that will teach me as a pixel artist.
From my reading, I know that there is a lot to creating a good palette, and I’m not yet experienced enough to do so, but I now know enough to start trying. It’s encouraging to read that even well-regarded, accomplished pixel artists struggle with selecting just the right colors for their palettes, and that it is not just me because I’m “not really an artist”. This is something I can learn, and get better with, and I just have to work at it.
In the course of learning, I need to keep a notebook for ideas and references. I figure sharing it publicly will only help to improve the quality of what I find. I don’t really have much original to say on the subject yet, so this is mostly a dump of links to interesting articles, discussion threads, and resources.
Pixel art communities
Pixel art tools
There’s a ton of them. I primarily use Paint.NET so far, but there are many others I’ve yet to try. I’m too lazy right now to put hyperlinks for all of them here, but you can find them by google.
Some very interesting forum threads on the philosophy and method of building up a palette.
I’ll add more to this as my reading continues.