🎨AIP 81 I Learned Pixel Art For 30 Days

🎨AIP 81 I Learned Pixel Art For 30 Days

In 30 days of learning pixel art I went from drawing this:

To this:

Here’s the thing: I never saw myself as an artist.

Throughout childhood, I had the artistic skill of a fish trying to walk on land. It’s not like I didn’t try. My mom got me to take painting lessons from a neighborhood friend; the friend thought my caterpillar was a green stick. Meanwhile, I watched my twin brother’s artistic skills skyrocket as he drew awesome sketches of wolves and ninja cats.

But the bulk of my artistic shame came from one of my best friends: Seth.

Throughout high school, I sat next to Seth during studio art. I was jealous of Seth. This man was a drawing god. His doodles looked like masterpieces. And to make matters worse, he was infuriatingly humble.

Every time I made something, I would show it to him, and he would say, “Wow, that looks pretty dang good, Aidan.” It was not. Then, he would show something he made that looked like the Mona Lisa in comparison and say, “I wish I could make something actually good.”

It was frustrating as hell. While my brother, friends, and classmates continued to improve, I felt I'd always suck.

Until I came across a book by Ander Ericsson (2016) called Peak: The Science Of Expertise[^1].

Ericsson explains anyone can become an expert at something if they practice smart and hard enough, even if they’re an adult. He explains most adults don’t because they don’t practice with intent–with goals, focus, or feedback. In addition, they don’t push themselves out of their comfort zone. They stick to what they already know, stagnating or worse, regressing in ability over time.

The solution is purposeful practice.

Purposeful practice is defined as a specific and structured form of practice intended to improve performance. Purposeful practice has several characteristics you can understand through the the acronym F.I.G.H.T. Yes, I made the acronym, and no, I’m not a bloodthirsty killer, yet. That was a joke. Anyways, here’s the acronym:

  • Focus: the learner is intensely focused on the present activity opening them up to flow, the state in which we become completely absorbed in the present activity and lose consciousness of the self
  • Iteration: the learner has a means of seeing what they are doing right or wrong--ideally in a quick manner and changes their behavior using it
  • Goldilocks Zone: the learner stays inside of their Goldilocks zone, the zone in which something isn’t so hard it’s frustrating but isn’t so easy it’s boring
  • Heart: the learner has a plan for maintaining their motivation
  • Targets: the learner has intention for the goals of the practice session

After learning about purposeful practice, I was intrigued. So I created a challenge for myself. I would learn pixel art for 30 days an hour a day using purposeful practice. If by the end of the thirty days I could look at my art without feeling the need to projectile vomit, clearly there is something to the theory.

The rest of this article is my 30-day journey.

Day 1

On day one I sat in my dorm room, inspired, and outlined my learning plan using the Q.U.E.S.T. learning framework I share in my video, ​How Games Can 10x Our Learning In Real Life.​ Getting a rough outline of a learning journey you would like to take before starting is a great idea. As my boy Benjamin Franklin once said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”

I wrote the learning plan iin Spanish because I’m also learning Spanish for fun, but I translated it for you below:

Q - Question Your Goal:

You can think of this step as identifying why you are embarking on this learning endeavor.

Define what you want to learn concretely, why, and connect it to something you already care about, similar to choosing your quest in a game.

For my pixel art learning project, this looked like this:

I want to learn to draw intermediate-level pixel art for my content creation. Why? Because:

  • It will teach me more about meta-learning, particularly the value of purposeful practice.
  • I want more taste, spunk, pizazzz, in my content! I see Lawrence Yeo, Tim Urban, and more have drawings in their content and it’s one of the reasons I love consuming it so much. I want to do the same.
  • I want to have something I can do while bored.
  • I want to connect with two really good friends of mine who draw.

U - Uncover Gaps:

You can think of uncovering gaps as the "what" part of your learning map. In this step, you identify what you need to learn to achieve your goal.

This includes new knowledge, skills, habits, routines, environments, or tools—akin to understanding the terrain and challenges ahead in your quest. It doesn't matter if your list isn't perfect in this step. You can always change it later. The point is to get a rough pass now.

For my pixel art quest, this step looked like this.

Concepts

  • Shading
  • Color theory
  • Perspective
  • Composition

Facts:

  • Pixel Art styles
  • Software shortcuts

Skills:

  • Procreate

Routines:

  • Regular time to draw pixel art

Tools:

  • iPad Air

E - Explore Resources:

You can think of the next three steps including this one as identifying how you will embark on your learning endeavor.

In this step, you gather the best tools, resources, and allies for your journey—articles, books, courses, podcasts, videos, and mentors—mirroring the collection of gear and formation of alliances in preparation for a quest.

While exploring resources for my pixel art journey, I found a free YouTube course on Pixel Art 101 by Pixel Pete, which seemed perfect for my needs. I knew going into my pixel art drawing I wanted to draw objects and characters for my content rather than backgrounds. So I emphasized those aspects of Pixel Pete's course. I excluded the lessons on drawing backgrounds (I'll admit the first week I drew backgrounds because they were the first lessons in the course, and I fell for taking them out of FOMO. That's why it's so important to have a goal coming into a learning endeavor).

S - Strategize Backwards:

This step is where you concretely set forth how you are going to embark on your learning endeavors by setting higher order goals all the way down to individual tasks and daily routines.

There's so so much research on how to set goals from S.M.A.R.T. goal setting all the way to not setting goals at all. It's up to you to find your own path. But I'll give you my favorite goal setting method. I got it from Ali Abdaal's Feel Good Productivity and it's called N.I.C.E goal setting[^2]. Isn't that nice?

N.I.C.E goals are:

  • Near-term: next few weeks or months
  • Input-based: emphasize the process of getting to a goal rather than the outcome
  • Controllable: you can influence them
  • Energizing: it get's you excited or at least purposeful to think about

So, for my pixel art project, my main N.I.C.E goal was:

  • Spend an hour a day practicing my pixel art drawing for the next thirty days by going through Pixel Pete's course material and culminating in creating something awesome (ended up being a logo for my gamification series on YouTube)

T - Tackle and Tweak:

The last step of Q.U.E.S.T. is to embark on your quest, ready to face challenges and adapt your strategies as needed. This step represents the action phase where you apply what you've planned and adjust based on feedback and results.

So that was my learning plan!

Once I was finished with that, I got myself a pixel art pack and installed it in Procreate. No, I’m not going to be making babies—I’m making art mom.

Then, I started taking the first lesson on shading from Pixel Pete’s beginner pixel art series on YouTube. As you can see there are over 66 videos.

So, how did I know which one to watch? They don’t have a logical flow.

The answer is I have my own learning project—to draw for my content. This gives me much more clarity over what to focus on going back to the F.I.G.H.T. acronym.

Regardless of my project though, I’m still starting with Pixel Pete’s beginner video on shading. According to Ericcson, when you’re first diving into a learning endeavor, it’s a good idea to learn the fundamentals of the craft[^1]. The fundamentals of pixel art are shading color theory, and perspective.

According to Scott Young’s (2024) book, ​Get Better At Anything​, one of the best ways to learn the fundamentals, especially at the beginning, is copying[^3]. People generally see copying like they do taxes, heinous. But according to Young, copying has been humanities cardinal way of teaching for thousands of years. Blacksmiths, artisans, artists and more were well known to take on apprenticeships to cultivate young blood. Children copy adults and other children to learn social dynamics and language.

You can’t innovate before you imitate.

So that’s exactly what I did. I went through the beginner shading video and essentially copied what Pixel Pete was doing. I drew some “boxes” and changed the vibrancy and hue. This is what they looked like:

Day 2

I learned how to do shading more in-depth. I moved from boxes to rounder things like gems. I was tempted to draw Minecraft diamonds but resisted:

The main thing I learned about shading was that you should lighten where there is a light source and darken where there isn’t. Duh. No shit. But I also learned something more insightful: when light hits the ground it can create highlights on the underside of an object where it’s normally more dark. Adding in these highlights can create a rounder feel to an object. So when drawing my diamonds, I outlined them with a bit of highlights as well as darkness:

I also learned that you should shade and highlight progressively. Don’t have all your highlights and shades look the same. Spice it up a bit.

I also learned to draw some rocks:

Day 3

I drew some furniture next to my rocks following one of Pixel Pete’s videos:

If you’re wondering what the grid design is it’s meant to help me draw in a 16x16 space. When getting into pixel art it’s generally a good idea to start small and slowly build your way to 32x32 and larger so you don’t overwhelm yourself. Remember, you want to stay in your goldilocks zone from the F.I.G.H.T. acronym.

I tried to be smart with my shading to make the furniture look like it had some highlights and shadows. Tell me, would you sleep in this bed or not? I’m just saying I would sleep on that bed.

Day 4

Today was the best day so far! I learned more than the other three combined.

By that I mean I learned about the power of procrastination. I'll be honest. I didn’t really do anything this day. I was having a friend over and visited another old friend with my parents for dinner, so I had zero time to do pixel art.

It’s important to admit that. Any goal you pursue won’t be perfect. You can’t win them all. But that doesn’t mean you should give up. If you were dieting and accidentally ate a Big Mac, would it make sense to say frick it and eat fast food the rest of the day? One failure doesn’t stop you from continuing.

Day 5

I practiced more rock-making and learned to make grass following another Pixel Pete video:

But hey, tell me some of that grass doesn’t look fine! This is the best damn pixel art grass I’ve ever made. Granted, it’s the only pixel art grass I’ve ever made, but that still has to mean something.

Day 6

Today was my best day of drawing yet! This time I’m not joking.

I was spending the day with my parents to watch the 2024 solar eclipse and had a ton of extra time to draw while we were waiting. So I returned to my Terraria video game addict days and drew a pick axe, sword, and hammer. I followed Pixel Pete's video on drawing weapons for inspiration.

I think they look pretty good.

As you can see I’m steadily increasing the challenge of what I’m drawing as I get better. I started with just shaded boxes and am now doing weapons from Terraria.

I was inspired, so I decided to start my first attempt at innovating rather than imitating.

I worked on drawing some food for one of my videos, ​the consumption box of death.​ I first started with the most important thing, peanut butter, naturally, and literally cause I drew Teddy natural peanut butter.

Then I drew the food of our ancestors, a banana. Next, I drew my brother's past addiction, chocolate. And finally, every gym goer's favorite thing to eat, drink, and sleep on: a meat stick.

I think I had the most fun with today’s drawing because I didn’t copy someone else’s pixel art. While imitation can be great for learning, you shouldn’t force yourself to do it all the time if you don’t feel like it.

I’m following one of the insights from ​Ali Abdaal’s Feel Good Productivity​. Make it so enjoyable you want to do it anyways[^2]. I’m making pixel art fun by not taking myself too seriously. I’m listening to music while drawing. I’m also doing it with others by showing my pixel art to my family and friends.

Day 7

I drew more food. Looking back, this probably wasn’t the greatest idea, considering I was on a cut while drawing it and pretty hungry. I mean, that burger especially.

Day 8

Drew more food. I have a problem.

I also watched some critique videos from Pixel Pete on other people's pixel art. Viewers send in their own pixel art, and he gives them advice on how to improve it.

I turned it into a game. For every piece sent in, I would pause the video and try to assess how to improve it myself. Then, I would watch Pixel Pete’s critique. I turned a passive process into a more active one. This gave me a lot of insight into how to make my pixel art better going back to the iterate step of purposeful practice.

Day 9

Drew more food. Again.

Day 10

Drew some more for one of my videos, The Consumption Box of Death, which was one of my big goals for my pixel art. I’m already working on some of the big goals I had when I started. This is awesome!

I made a box with a radioactive sign on it and than some food going into the box. If that makes no sense to you, don’t worry,

Day 11

I drew all the drawings for my consumption death box post! I haven’t finished revising it, but it feels amazing to have done this for my first post ever. Yipppeeeee. It was so much fun. The time flew by just like that.

Day 12

Okay, I got no drawing done today, but it’s a fair reason. So I was going to draw at night right? But then a date I had went really well.

Can you blame me? What did you want me to do, just tell her, “I’m sorry I know we are having a good time, but I need to draw for an hour so how about you come back in a jiffy, sound good?”

Day 13

Today, I decided to dive more into the course by Pixel Pete instead of just going off on my own.

I learned more about color pallating, hue shifting, and color theory. I thought it was really interesting so if you’ll indulge me let me tell you some principles about all of them.

Determining what colors to use comes with asking what experience you want people to have.

Generally, lighter, higher saturation colors make for a more playful, fun-loving look. Like Super Mario Bros.

Darker colors make for a darker, more serious scene like Hollow Knight.

Once you know the experience you want to give people, you can begin deciding which specific colors to use.

Different colors evoke different feelings as well importantly depending on the culture. All of the feelings I talk about below are from U.S. culture:

Red: heat, evil, anger, war.

Yellow: happiness and sunglight.

Green: energy, nature, poison.

Black: evil, death, power.

Blue: calm, purity, wisdom, cold.

Purple: power, wealth.

White: purity, good.

Once you know the colors you might like to use, it’s a good idea to think about how they might interact with each other. Don’t just blindly pick colors and combine them together. You might end up having a caterpillar get called a “green stick” like I did as a kid. Here are some of the standard color combinations.

Monochromatic: a game almost all in one color. It can be great if you’re going for a very specific mood.

Like in Hollow Knight, most of the game is grey, black, and blue, with a very dark, dreary theme.

Complementary Coloring: using colors opposite to each other on the color wheel will make the piece pop and explode in your face.

Splatoon is a great example:

Analogous colors are colors right next to each other on the color wheel. This makes for a nice, stable combination.

Ori And The Blind Forest is a great example. Notice how calming it looks:

Triadic color scheme: forms a triangle on the color wheel.

Here’s a drawing which shows it really well:

Tetratic color scheme: two complementary colors combinations next to each other on the color wheel.

Bet you didn’t think you would see this in a pixel art article, but it perfectly encapsulates the tetratic color scheme:

Day 14, 15, and 16

I spent each of these days trying to draw, drum drum drum, MYSELF! I’m definitely not an egoist I promise.

I wanted a recurring character representing me for my blog posts and got inspired after seeing Pixel Pete's self portrait video in his course.

So I went all out. I underestimated how difficult it would be. The face. Oh my god the face shape was agony.

Day 17

I needed to make a recipe for my backcountry cooking class out of nowhere which sucked an hour of my time at night and leaving no time for drawing. But hey, I got to eat peanut butter pasta because of it so it was worth it. Just goes to show sometimes you don't see these things coming.

Day 18

Speaking of peanut butter, I drew myself holding a jar of peanut butter with light radiating off of it. I think it looks epic. This one was WAY easier than drawing myself the first time:

It’s incredible how re-using your old art can speed things up. I was already 80% done.

Day 19 And 20

I am trying and failing to draw who the girl I’m dating right now. Perhaps I’ll be able to say girlfriend next post, cross your fingers. Shameless aside: why are women so much harder to draw than men lol? Boobs are hard to draw in pixel art. Plus, you feel kind of dirty drawing them.

Day 21

I was feeling pretty tired today after hanging out with my mom and a friend booking plane tickets for my summer.

So I did some easy stuff. Just made some more Terraria looking weapons and watched some pixel art critique videos from Pixel Pete to learn more about pixel art.

Day 22

I was low energy again today.

So I spent most of my drawing time today watching more critique videos by Pixel Pete on people’s art submissions. Just goes to show sometimes you have to adapt to how you are feeling in the moment.

Day 23 And 24

I got inspired to draw some Knights Radiant from my favorite series The Stormlight Archives after I began reading it again in Spanish.

It was epic! I got a lot of progress done in the two hours or so I was drawing. The Knights Radiant came out way better than I was expecting. I added a glow and shardblade and then gave him some friends by simply using the hue change feature to make them different colors.

Honestly if you told me I would be able to draw something like 24 days in when I started doing pixel art I would have gone insane. I can’t believe the power of purposeful practice.

Day 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, And 30

For the last six days of my pixel art journey, I thought I would do something epic. An encapsulation of my 30 days of progress.

So I decided to create a logo for my gamification series on YouTube and my blog, Level Up League. I created it to use a ton of different video game aesthetics in the same design. So It might look messy, but at least it will showcase my pizzazzz.

I think having this sort of mega project to work on for the last part of my thirty days was highly motivating. For any learning endeavor I recommend having an awesome goal you can work towards to motivate you through harder times.

A Reflection On My Journey

And that’s my 30 day pixel art journey!

I can’t believe I got this far in 30 days of drawing pixel art. If you had told me I would be able to draw the things I do now at the beginning of the challenge, I would have slapped you. I’m sure Seth would be proud of them.

What’s next for my pixel art? Honestly, I had so much fun I think I’m going to extend the challenge to 60 days. I wonder what awesome stuff I can make by then! I’m also going to create more “I Learned X” videos to encapsulate my journey to learning something. This is some of the most fun I have ever had making a video and everyone who helped revise this article said it was one of the most fun to read as well.

If there is one thing you get from this article, purposeful practice works. You can improve at any skill if you practice smart enough. You just have to make sure you practice with goals, feedback, focus, and step outside of your comfort zone.

Where do I recommend you start? The beginning of any learning journey comes with identifying what you want to learn in the first place and than creating a map. If you have no idea what you want to learn, I recommend checking out my article Before You Learn Anything, Don’t Start Learning.

References

[^1]: Anders, E. (2016). Peak: Secrets From The New Science of Expertise. Mariner Books. https://amzn.to/3QRO4kb

[^2]: Abdaal, A. (2024). Feel Good Productivity: How To Do More Of What Matters To You. Celadon Books. https://amzn.to/44Les55

[^3]: Young, S. H., (2024) Get Better At Anything: 12 Maxims For Mastery. Harper Business. https://amzn.to/3QMrwRV

Got questions? Hit "reply"! I read every email (yeah people are surprised!) 🤗 Thanks for reading!

Cheers, 🥜

Aidan

Aidan Helfant 👋Say hion Twitter, My Podcast, orYouTube

Thank you for being part of the journey!🎊 Whenever you're ready there are three ways I can help you:

​The Art Of Linked Reading:​ This course helps people who struggle to understand, connect, remember, apply, and smartly share insights from non-fiction books learn to do so with linked notetaking apps like Obsidian, Tana, Logseq, and more.

​Obsidian University​: a pre-made Obsidian vault, templates, and video course helping you level up your notetaking and studying, fall in love with learning, and get good grades in less time so you have time for other parts of college.

⭐You can also ​share this newsletter​ here.


If you would like to update your email settings, choose from the options below:

  1. ​Unsubscribe​ from just Aidan's Infinite Play.
  2. ​Unsubscribe​ from all future mailings. This will make me sad. But hey... I get it. You're busy. Just know that once you click this link you won't receive any more emails from me.
  3. ​Update your profile​ here.