Even before the anime and manga hype broke out in the West, even before sushi became a standard in European and American cities, Japan had already produced an absolute export hit: video games. Whether it was Nintendo's Mario Bros. or Sega's Sonic The Hedgehog : whoever was at home in the late 80s and early 90s at home on a console, it is very likely that pixels from Japan flickered across the screen.
But wait a minute, pixels? What is that actually?
A pixel refers to a single pixel that can be displayed on a screen. In
early years of video game history, these pixels were also recognizable individually due to technical and it was an artistic and technical challenge to create a game situation with these few pixels. The original Mario, for example, was only 16 pixels high and 12 pixels wide - and still you could
his mustache, his dungarees and his every move. A true feat!
Nowadays, of course, modern HD or even 4K screens are capable of very different resolutions, and individual pixels are not and individual pixels are no longer visible to the naked eye. The design of game graphics with individual pixels could therefore safely be a thing of the past. But the opposite is the case: in recent years, there has been a true renaissance of so-called "pixel art", both in video games, in graphic design, but also as an art form in its own right.
Similar to black-and-white photography, a new language of form has emerged from technical limitations. A language that has taken on a life of its own and is constantly evolving between nostalgia and innovation.
We found this mixture of tradition and modernity to be emblematic for MYCONBINI, so we were more than happy when uprising Pixel Artist Instant.Onion created one of his famous artworks for us. We didn't want to miss the chance and interviewed him directly about his thoughts on Pixel Art and of course, Japan:
1. Hi Nelson, how was your day? Tell us what's on your table at the moment.
Hey guys! My day is going well, the weather is warming up and I’ve been spending more time outdoors again! Currently, I’m working on a couple freelance projects, one of them being a pixel art short film. I’m really excited to finish it this month! I’ve also been working on new print and apparel designs for this year!
2. How is your connection with Japan? What fascinates you?
My first time visiting Japan was two years ago and I really enjoyed my time there. What fascinates me is the little things that make up the city; the vending machines, trains, street signs, and plants just to name a few. A lot of small pops of colour are scattered everywhere, and it makes the city feel alive and very lived in. I love wandering around through back alleys and finding something interesting or unexpected.
3. What makes pixel art so special in your opinion?
Pixel art can contain a certain type of nostalgia because of its origins in video games. These past couple years especially, I’ve been seeing a modern revival of pixel art where artists would use it as an art style rather than a computational constraint. Pixel art can come in so many different forms now; beautiful landscapes, character sprites, limited colour palettes. They break the traditional norms of what pixel art was, and it’s constantly evolving with our technology as well.
4. When did you start with pixel art and what advice would you give to beginners?
I started making pixel art around 3-4 years ago in my last year of art school. During that time, I worked on a group project with classmates with varying styles; we decided pixel art could be the art style that ties all of our work together. It was like making a game together! My advice for beginners is to just dive into it! Pixel art is one of the more accessible styles to work in and the learning curve is really low. Start by finding out who or what you are inspired by and how those inspirations can translate to your artwork.
5. Which other artists do you admire? Have you got a personal Japanese hero?
When it comes to pixel art, I’d say my first inspiration must’ve been @waneella, @mrvalenberg and @butterberrycafe. These people made me realize the many possibilities pixel art has. If I was to name a japanese hero, it would be @BARD713. They passed away last year and they were a huge inspiration to me and the art community. Their illustrations have beautiful linework and spectacular compositions.
6. What was your idea behind the MYCONBINI artwork?
My idea was to highlight the everyday experience passing by a storefront. I wanted to illustrate a place grounded in Berlin, somewhere I live nearby and can visit anytime for a snack!
7. What's your favorite Conbini item?
My favourite item must be the sencha green tea, I love strong tasting teas that have a refreshing taste!
Thank you so much Nelson!
Find more about him here:
Introduction written by guest author Malte Weingart