cover image by 8PXL
Preamble (skip if you just wanna see art)
I am in the process of making a simple web app which shows a different pixel art landscape depending on a few environmental factors at a user set location (e.g. Berlin), such as time of day, weather, season, and so on. It's just a simple wall paper, screensaver or general background for whatever application you might need one for.
During the process of looking for pixel art for it, I fell down the rabbit hole of pixel art online in a massive way. Before launching the web app (it's not quite ready yet) I thought I would share my excitement with finding so many beautiful artworks by such talented artists.
Another reason to do this is because I do not have permission to use most of the artworks in the web app (I'll talk about the intellectual property / copyright aspect in detail later) but sharing a sample of them in a review and share setting is fine.
Come with me on a deep dive survey of the very best pixel art out there on the online ...
Brief overview of the journey (and your journey too, though you didn't know it)
Skip below this part if you just want to get the awesome artworks!
I got the idea for the web app from two app for Android, Pixelwave wallpapers and Smart Wallpaper. The first is a collection of pixel art cropped to phone portrait aspect, the second is an app that allows you to set the wallpaper to change based on environmental factors, among other kinds of triggers. So basically my idea is just a web version of putting these together.
I do however have a few additional requirements on the pixel art style to use. Since it's a background mainly influenced by the weather I thought that landscapes and cityscapes show this best, with a good level of quality, no recognizable characters, not character focused (background focused), and importantly must have visible pixelation. This means it's firmly in the so-called "8 bit" style, blocky.
I started by searching using generic terms and was confronted with walls and walls of different websites all offering the same basic sets of images. I collected lots of them and soon had a set of about 75 I liked. I coded the basic web app and everything was looking good.
The thought of releasing the app without giving attribution to the artists didn't sit right with me. I half thought that since they were so widely available who cares, but no - I decided to at least look to see if I could find them and link back to their work, maybe give a donation.
The Pixel wave Wallpapers app doesn't attribute artists, simply showing 8-BIT STORIES as the artist. They make this statement in the "ABOUT ARTISTS" section of ABOUT.
Most of wallpapers found on public websites, if you are original creator of any wallpaper on your name is not mentioned with wallpaper or if you have an issue with me sharing your wallpaper please contract me through mail. Once I have received your message and determined you are the proper owner of this content I will have it removed, thanks. ** Special thanks to 8-BIT STORIES **
A shoot first and ask questions later / easier to ask for forgiveness approach. I considered the same but as I said, it didn't sit right.
Google reverse image search to the rescue
Whatever you think of big G, that reverse image look up is pretty cool. With it I was able to unravel the story of many of the artworks.
Here's a typical example, an untitled animation artwork by Jonathan Rawlings, a great artist.
There are pages of results to lots of different sites, mainly wallpaper offerings, music mixes, Pinterest, Tumblr and other spammy websites.
Google reverse image search results, pg 3
We have to look until the 9th page to see his original copy on the website.
Google reverse image search results, pg 9
Incidentally, the DeviantArt link at the bottom is someone using the animation unattributed on their profile, but not claiming it as their own (which I haven't actually seen happening on my travels).
Now I know that I am probably just adding to the noise by referencing it, and I understand that Google don't necessarily rank by original and central (do they even aspire to?) but it just goes to show you how a work can travel. I estimate that less than 1% of uses of these pixel art artworks even attempt to attribute, and half the time it is just a link to where they got it, not the original author.
I'm curious about how the artists feel about this and I hope to get the chance to ask some in the future. Perhaps they don't care. But I know that some probably will, as having painstakingly found many of them I see they do not permit reuse, at least to the strength of their unenforced request.
To attempt to honor them as much as possible, any artist that does not explicitly give reuse permission will be shown as screenshots of their work in context of the website it appears on.
Behold - The Best Pixel Artists of The Net!™️
If you have ever searched around for original contemporary pixel artists, you've definitely seen work by some of these artists. Although remember, I am only interested in land/cityscapes, so more character centred works are not featured.
I'm not going to say too much about each artists as there are a lot, and only show a few examples of their work. If you like it please check out their other stuff, you seriously will not be disappointed. Many, if not most artists have animated work which you'll need to go to their pages to see.
8PXL (visit on Tumblr)is my top favorite, making landscapes that are reminiscent of paintings by the great vibrant painters, such as Monet. The artist also very kindly allows reuse except for commercial uses.
I'm going to show a few more because they're off the damn chain.
This is from their large collection which will make of the first cohort used in the web app.
Waneella (tumblr here) is one of the most stylish pixel artists of the urban futuristic / cyberpunk look. As noted in this article in Retronator magazine, much of the style is reminiscent of the Superbrothers: Sword and Sorcery game (which is really worth checking out too btw).
In terms of influence you see this artist everywhere.
Khaled, known mainly as kldpxl (tumblr here) is one of the artists who's work I saw everywhere and found it really hard to find. But once I found it so many of the pieces I was looking to attribute were found. His pieces are typical of a kind of minimal simplicity that can sum up a feeling of a place immediately. Some of the next few artists are of this type too but kldpxl is a master of the style.
Most of the artists here are contemporary artists, who are generally people under the age of 30 or so. Mark Ferrari (website) is however of much deeper vintage. He is an original artist of the previous generation and has worked on games artwork since 1987. He does not seem to have been active since 2013.
I came across many of his pieces and it actually took quite a while to track down his website as a result of how far and wide they have proliferated. I doubt that many know the original artist at all for this stuff, but there's something in each of his works that is more special than generic game imagery, as you'll see if you spend a few moments gazing.
Note that I relaxed my criteria for pixelated-ness for his body of work as it's so striking and almost there in terms of blocks.
Toyoi Yuuta AKA 1041uuu
Toyoi Yuuta (tumblr) is an artist specializing in showing the beauty of mundane moments of every day life in her native urban Japan. She has been featured by Fast Company and the Japan Times. Her chosen name online is 1041uuu and her work is loved by those who like the more sophisticated side of kawii.
She does plenty of soft cityscapes too, which is what I love in particular.
Unusually for a super high quality artist, it seems kirokaze only has a DeviantArt account, here, not that it matters. Their work has a more dense and finished feel than many of the other artists in this genre. The animations are really very good and simple so the works feel like animated posters.
EDIT --- I hadn't realized Retronator Magazine did a feature on kirokaze, it's a nice and more in depth exploration of their work.
Another heavy hitter, closer to Waneella than the others, also focusing largely on cyberpunk, and even more so. valenberg is an expert animator and skews towards the darker side, techno horror that recently was brought back to life in TV series Stranger Things.
Geography of Robots is a collection of games, interactive fiction, and other experiments that explore the hidden geographies, conspiracies, folklore, and environmental histories of the Deep South.
The work of this project is interesting because it mixes the natural with the urban, as the wetlands meet the docks and shores of cities. There are a broad range of influences, from the more subtle soft pixel palettes to hard and glitchy neon lights. And of course, when nature takes over urban areas in the form of floods.
Note that the mix of styles does slightly concern me that they're not all original works but I think they have a team of artists. If anyone can correct me please do.
This wraps up part 1
In part 2 I will come back with even more amazing artists of the pixel variety, all of whom spend at least some of their time doing landscapes.
I have come to realize that pixel art landscapes encapsulate everything that speaks to me artistically in the visual medium. They are evocative of the games we used to play but the aesthetic goes beyond that, especially with these contemporary artists, and into a new way to express old ideas.
After the days and days I spent researching this project so far (and I'm not even done) I have found my spirits completely lifted as I walk around and see. When I observe the world around me I look at it with the same eye I have developed for these artworks and I see even more beauty in the world. Isn't that what great art is supposed to do?