Pixel perfect

Pixel perfect

Pixel perfect is a software design term that signals everything is crisp and clean looking up to the last pixel. In pre-retina, pre-vectorised web design days of raster images we took a great of effort to make our buttons friendly for the biggest and smallest screens out there. Nowadays interface design is quickly solved with CSS code, but back in the old days, I've trained my eyes to see a wonky button corner in a second, and ended up wearing reading glasses as a result.

Looking at my canvas as a grid comes to me naturally now, but this predates even my design career. When I was around 7 years old, my mother taught me to cross-stitch, and I've  in counting my stitches with all the joy of a nerdy kid.

When it came to doing these two portraits, the idea came floating to my mind as if it was always there. I knew how to do it, but I wasn't sure where did the inspiration come from. It took finishing the first one for me to finally remember: Chuck Close!

I've admired Chuck Close work for some years now, first drawn to his hyperrealistic work and then completely floored by his personal story and how his health ultimately got him into the grid-made paintings. His trippy approach to each "pixel" gives a wonderful water-like effect, depending on what distance you watch it from.

Another thing I've always loved are the the enormous Queen Elizabeth II collages that welcome you at the Gatwick airport Arrivals. They are made out of various photographs which reveal themselves to you as you approach the wall.

Peter Buechler is an artist who combines the pixelated areas with representational ones, depicting a "censured" painting where we have to imagine what's behind the distortion.

I've tested the technique first in watercolor, then started the first one, my own portrait with little hope it would be any good. Since I was traveling in Toronto at the time, I went a purchased a pack of 24 Prismacolor crayons and vaguely started playing with the photograph I had in mind. Since I didn't have my Photoshop in the iPad I took with me, I had to find a way to reduce the image into a limited color GIF or something similar.

Again, cross-stitching came to mind and I delighted to discover several apps for making your own pattern. I turned the image into a grid of 45x45 color fields, and erased the extra as my paper was an A3. I made a grid of 27x41 field of 1cm squares, and numbered them. I did the same for my photo on the iPad and started colouring.

I've quickly realised painting number by number is tasking, and corrected that in my next attempt, where I marked the top columns by alphabet. Later I discovered Chuck Close did the same thing for his drawings. My second drawing was less than successful in watercolor, as I was impatient and didn't work square by square but rather made large swaths of same color areas, which distracted from the overall quality of the grid-based work.

I've corrected this in my third one, where I used the same flat brush for all the fields, and enjoyed slowly building up the tones and richness on my watercolour palette. I definitely enjoy doing this with a wet medium, since filling up a square is both faster and more controlled in tone.

This experiment gave me the push to try out other two techniques I did this Summer: cross-stitch on canvas and a pixellated mosaic.


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