Jeremy has been active in PixelJoint community events, such Pixelween, Secret Santa, ISO Collabs, Street Collab, or the Weekly Challenges for almost 15 years, to critical success, often placing in the Monthly Top lists.
On top of that, he has contributed some beautiful ranking icons to the site:
As such, Christoballs wanted to know more about Jeremy's process and philosophy in pixel art, and to contextualise his body of work. Here is a conversation compiled from conversations they have had together in 2021.
Christoballs: I'm very pleased to have you to talk a bit more about yourself and your pixel art! Even more so for me because we've been on PixelJoint for similar amounts of time - I believe you joined in 2008.
I've tried to find a bit more about you on the Internet, outside of the pixel art scene, and I have found very little - I'm guessing you're a private person, which makes me even more excited to know more about you.
What can you tell us about yourself?
Jeremy: Yeah, I prefer to keep online and real life separated as much as possible. My name is Jeremy, and I'm a 28-year-old from Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand.
I studied graphic design at university, and worked for a little while in a design agency. I currently work as a service designer in a government department. Basically, my job involves helping to implement policy in a way that meets the needs of the public, and redesigning existing services so they provide a better experience.
I've been into drawing and painting since I was little. Art has only ever been a hobby though, and it feels like I only ever have the time to do digital stuff these days.
C: Graphic design/service design make a lot of sense, now that you mention it! I can see that transpire in some of your gallery pieces, may it be with typography like your half-dithered letters, the way you have incorporated patterns in your work, like in your Wiser man piece or your Secret Santa 2017, or even colour, which I'd like to ask a few questions about later.
I forgot to mention this above, but I'd like to reiterate that you have been a committed member of PixelJoint, with quite a large collection of participation ribbons to Weekly Challenges, but more importantly, the PixelJoint community has enjoyed your work so much that you have ten Monthly Awards, and twenty five challenge entries that have got into pole position. It's amazing and commands respect.
J: Quantity over quality, my friend! Hahahaha
C: Haha, you jest, but I'm not the only one to believe that they have merit!
What would you say compelled you to make pixel art?
J: My family got a computer when I was around 7-8 years old. My most-used programme was MS Paint - I vividly remember drawing pokemon with the default palette, because I didn't know you could create new colours. I probably found out about 'pixel art' through Runescape fan forums – people would draw pixel art signatures in exchange for game currency. Jalonso always used to joke that this was how a bunch of pixel artists got started!
PJ was definitely the first pixel art site I knew about. I lurked for probably a couple of years before registering.
I think it was probably the fact I could use the only tool I had available (ie MS Paint) to create work in this medium that made me start, and keep doing it.
C: I see! MS Paint has been the gateway program to so many artists of today, but each of us has had a slightly different experience of it. And what you've said about sticking to the default palette will definitely crop up in a question later!
So what's the program you use nowadays for making pixel art? If I'm not mistaken, I remember you mentioning dotpict at some point, which is a mobile app.
But before we delve into desktop/mobile any further, I wanted to ask you about your traditional art practice - what media did you work in?
J: I mostly did painting in acrylics or gouache, plus a bit of printmaking. I've barely picked up a paintbrush in the last couple of years though. Outside of going to life drawing occasionally, I really don't do much in traditional media any more.
Photoshop is my go-to programme, just because I'm so familiar with it. I've also started to use Grafx2 a bit for specific things (like checking C64 restrictions). I've experimented a little with mobile apps, but I find they don't provide the level of control I want. I primarily do pixel art with a Wacom tablet, or my MacBook trackpad (can't recommend the latter).
C: I can see a bit of the painting and a bit of the printmaking in your pixel art, I've noticed that in other pixel artist's styles, too! That was one of the reasons why I wanted to ask.
I have to agree that I have not felt as comfortable with mobile apps, and I am somewhere between being horrified and awestruck by finding out that new pixel artists have been starting out this way.
And so I was wondering, to what extent would you say your traditional media practice has informed the way you make pixel art? Would you say what you've been doing in service design has shaped the way you make pixel art, in different regards? And if so, what would they be?
J: For me there's definitely a back-and-forth relationship between pixel art and other media. I think my aesthetic preferences (e.g. colour, subject matter, approach to rendering) are informed by traditional art – especially certain modernist painting moveements – a lot more than by game art, for example.
On the other hand, I can see the influence of pixel art concepts in some of my digital painting (such as using defined blocks of colour to describe form, or hue-shifting in a pixel artesque way).
There isn't much relevance between my design work and pixel art, outside of paying attention to the pixel-level detail!
C: That's really interesting - I did remark on how few pieces you had which were videogame related, as in game assets or games you worked on; that being said, as a former art student myself, I really enjoy seeing your references to Art History, such as with Damian Hirst's shark which you allude to in Cold Hirst, but also more recently Keith Haring, and La Raie Verte.
Talking of modernism and pixel clusters, there's been discussion in the pixel art community on "painterly pixels", and I find that your La Raie Verte piece somehow captures that - there's almost a mark-making approach to the piece, which evokes relief and nuance.
What would you call "painterly" pixel art? How does that fit in to your approach to pixel clusters?
J: I suppose you can think about 'painterly pixels' in two ways: (1) Literally emulating a traditional medium, which I tried to do in La Raie Verte (2) Applying a painterly sensibility to rendering in pixels.
The first was kind of gimmicky, honestly – since a big part of pixel art is disguising the restrictions you're working with, it was fun to see if I could emulate impasto brushstrokes in a few colours.
The second is a little more subjective – I'm really interested in the subtle shading and richness you can achieve within the same 'perceptual value' by varying hue and saturation, or creating a kind of tactical eye-burn by putting clashing colours together.
It's something you can see in impressionist or fauvist works that translates really well to digital media – I'd consider this to be 'painterly' (as if you're daubing clusters next to one another) in contrast to the clean, graphical approach that works well for sprites, or using dither to create smooth shading within a defined colour ramp.
It's fascinating to me how colours can behave differently in different contexts. For example, in the Frida portrait, I used small amounts of a pale purple (#eaaded) to bridge areas of the peach colour, or cool down the edges of certain clusters. The same purple looked awful when I tried to use it in larger quantities, or without the peach as an anchor.
C: Colour perception is fascinating: I think it's a wonderful thing that some pixel artists like Snake and tomic are colour blind, and how it's influenced the way they use colours and create palettes.
And this segues nicely into something else I wanted to ask you: what is it about the relationship between pixel art and palettes that you enjoy?
More selfishly, I also have a tendency to revert back to the same hueshifted grey/brown ramp + saturated red/blue when I'm left to my own devices – having colour choice taken away can be a helpful reminder to keep things fresh!
C: Yes, I also believe that restrictions, such as restricted palettes, can help with putting creativity/ingenuity at the forefront. I'm very fond of what you've done within C64 restrictions - your Water lillies piece is an exquisite example of that.
What I find really interesting is your association of palettes and portraits, with your Faces in palettes series, for instance. Could you tell us more about it? What is it about portraits that resonates with you, and more specifically pixel art portraits?
J: I've always been interested in portraits and portrait/figure painters, so I guess it felt natural to use them as a subject matter. Faces are fascinating because we know them so intimately – we can infer a face from a handful of pixels, but instinctively recognise when something looks slightly 'off' in a full-size portrait.
The faces in palettes series started because I wanted an excuse to use palettes that I'd saved over the years (including one of yours!), experimenting with colours you might not associate with portraits. Having a pre-set palette, a small canvas, and straightforward composition takes a lot of design decisions away, letting me focus on capturing likenesses and exploring different techniques.
They're also a tribute to people whose work is important to me in some way – I spend a dumb amount of time brainstorming the shortlist, and keep a 'scrapbook' photoshop file to note down the names and collate any nice palettes I come across.
Faces are an annoying mix of large, subtly curved areas (foreheads!) and small, complex planes (noses, lips), both of which are challenging with pixel art's finite resolution and limited colours. I find that controlled contrast and tidy clusters are really important for both.
With large planes, I don't bother trying for smooth gradients – instead, I like hiding transitions between shades by pixelling clusters in a buffer colour that's close in perceptual value to one side; say, a hueshifted and higher-saturation version of the shadow colour. The idea is that the shadow and buffer colour form a 'meta cluster' with subtle variation (i.e. it still looks like a single colour when you squint at it) – the shadow should still touch the midtone in some areas to create sharper definition, while in others the buffer makes the transition slightly smoother.
For noses and mouths, my biggest lesson has been not to overcomplicate things! It's easy to think that adding another shade will help, but it often creates more of a mess. With such limited real estate, you need to be deliberate about what you're trying to achieve with single pixels – are you trying to convey a change of hue? Or value? Or just anti-aliasing? It's generally more effective to focus on creating strong forms through contrast with fewer colours.
C: These are great!
J: Thanks! I figure once you start talking buffers and meta clusters you're gonna lose some people lol
C: Yeah, I think I might add a footnote or two about clusters/metaclusters, for those less in the know. Or turn it into a question, ha!
Here is a link to Helm's Ramblethread, on Pixelation:
Helm's Cluster Study thread:
Helm's New Cluster Study thread:
J: Most of the pics from Helm's Ramblethread are gone, hope someone saved them all
C: I think only the Ramblethread has a record on the Wayback Machine.
J: I haven't checked the internet archive, to be fair. Cure's tutorial also has a tight description: https://pixeljoint.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=11299&PID=139320#139320
C: One other thing I've noticed about your work, is that as well as making some references to Art History, you've made some nods to pixel art pieces, which arguably have historical significance in the pixel art scene - a recent example of this are the comparisons you could make between your Self Portrait, 2021, and cure's/Logan Tanner's Self Portrait at 28.
J: I'm not sure my self portrait was a reference, as much as it was me trying to steal a bunch of technique from cure's one while I was pixelling it!
I tend to be more of a lurker than a poster, and go through websites' archives kind of obsessively. Even within the past 15 years or so, it's fascinating to see how the definition of good practice has shifted (and imo improved) – I'd put a lot of this down to the big brains at Pixelation back in the day, who took the medium seriously and tried to unpack what makes something 'pixel art' in an era where hardware no longer forces certain aesthetics. Gradients, glows and other automatic tools still sit outside my personal definition of pixel art, but it's been nice to see people push PJ's boundaries, which probably were overly restrictive.
Internet history is crazy short – the top pieces in PJ's hall of fame when we joined in '08 definitely formed a kind of untouchable canon for me, even though they were only posted a couple of years beforehand. It's weird to think work that was submitted in, like, 2015 may have the same role for others. Along similar lines, I had a tiny bit of input into cure's pixel art tutorial, which was posted more than 10(!) years ago and seems to have informed a whole generation of artists by now.
C: It's true that defining what is pixel art is is an ongoing discussion: I think the late 00's and beginning 10's has indeed been the time when questions about pixel art as its own medium have been posed, and some tentative definitions have had an ongoing influence.
If I remember correctly, Hapiel made a survey recently, asking PJ members where they started learning pixel art, and which tools they used - the youngest generation of artists have been mostly inspired by pixel art Youtubers like Brandon James Greer or MortMort, or saint11/Pedro Medeiros's numerous tutorials.
Which leads to my next question: according to you, what is the pixel art scene like now?
J: It seems to be thriving! I came to twitter and discord pretty late – it's lovely to see how many new artists there are, and the cross-pollination between people who would have been from very different scenes in the age of forums.
I do slightly worry about the ephemeral nature of these newer platforms though – it feels like you lose some of the ability to keep an enduring record of important events or useful resources.
C: I have also been a late newcomer to Twitter and Discord, and I didn't realise just how many pixel art communities there were and how many people were making pixel art!
Touching on the ephemeral nature of these services, I have witnessed the very quick rise and fall of some servers, and it does feel a lot more... fluid? As you say, it's this idea of cross-pollination and porosity between communities and platforms.
What would PixelJoint's relevance be today, and what do you think of Lospec's pitch?
J: PixelJoint is still the centre of my pixel art universe. I backed the Lospec kickstarter, and appreciate that skeddles is kinda trying to create a middle ground between the old and new platforms. The fact it was backed so quickly can only be a good sign!
C: I think the fact Lospec is not limited to pixel art, but covers a broader scope of low resolution media, means that it would surprise me if it were to "replace" PJ.
What do you think makes PixelJoint special today, and keeps you coming back to the site?
J: It's the first place I ever posted my work, and it's still the first place I return to from a pixel art hiatus. The fact it's been the pixel art gallery (at least in the English-speaking world) for so long also makes it an important record for the medium as a whole. On a personal level, it reminds me of my own development as a pixel artist too.
C: I've been impressed with PixelJoint's staying power, too.
If I've understood correctly, you attach some importance to archiving, to recording - could you tell us more about it?
It's interesting that you mention this, because there has been a site called the Pixel Art Historical Society, which aimed to keep track of pixel art and pixel artists.
And another project in the same vein are the Masters of Pixel Art books.
J: I think I'm just a history nerd! Since pixel art's origins are tied so closely to the development of early computers, it seems like it'd be a shame not to keep record of its current state for the benefit of future pixel artists.
On a micro level, I place a lot of value in understanding the process behind a specific work (I'm trying to get better at keeping WIP stages myself...), as well as the development of an artist's overall practice.
I think any piece of art needs to be considered in its context, as the synthesis of a wonderful network of influences, reactions and iteration!
(I don't think I've seen the Pixel Art Historical Society - will check it out!)
C: Those are some good points! It's a lot easier nowadays to record/stream our workflow, and to share it with others. I think it's also a lot easier to find resources and to learn than it has been in the past, which has allowed a lot of pixel artists to make swift progress.
On the topic of early computers, you've made Commodore 64 pieces, such as the aforementioned Golden egg and Cold Hirst pieces: beyond adhering to a limited palette, what do you get out of making pixel art which is grounded to hardware limitations?
J: C64 graphics have such a specific look, and the additional hardware limitations (most obviously wide pixels) are a big part of that. I feel like I keep talking about liking the challenge of difficult palettes and other restrictions – maybe I just have a masochistic streak?
Aside from the novelty of applying generic technical skills in a different way, there's just something I really enjoy about using limited tools and materials to hide those same limitations.
C: There may be a masochistic streak there, and it seems to be a common trait among some pixel artists! I think there is something about the restriction of using pixels to draw that attracts pixel artists to other constraints. Anyway, I want to thank you for the conversation and bring the interview to a close. Please check out Jeremy's gallery, and thank you for reading!