Art media

Jubilee Pixel Art –

Forget the low-res Mario of the 16-bit era, or early renders of Pokemon from the earliest chapters of this 25-year-old franchise. Today, pixel art (dotto kei in Japanese), the essential indie video gameshas gone far beyond gaming. Thanks to Tumblr and its more successful cousins, Instagram and Twitter, pixel art is a very legitimate genre for digital artists.

One of these pixel enthusiasts is an artist based in the Pacific Northwest Jubilee, who calls himself professionally only by his first name. Although best known for her serene landscapes, their clouds reflecting magical sunsets and moonlight, I came to her work through her Instagrammed “tea studies”, works of art depicting beverages in cups, cups or tumblers. “I honestly started [making them] because I saw the original photographs online and thought they were so warm,” says Jubilee, who I recently spoke with on the phone. “I really like to make people feel things every time they look at my art.”


Around 2014, she recalls, she started seeing lots of pixel art on Tumblr, including works by Waneellabest known for his richly detailed cityscapes, and 1041uuu, who specializes in serene, painterly landscapes – two artists who became catalysts for her to explore the medium more deeply. “They do a lot of cityscapes and stuff like that, and really intricate lights and stars and moons. And they always animated their works,” says Jubilee. And while she hasn’t had time to animate her own art yet, by 2018 she had gained enough following and work load to quit her day job in retail. She now combines her individual artistic practice with commissions from Microsoft, Magic: The Gathering and Paris Fashion Week.

“My inspiration is mainly 2000s handheld games for Game Boy Advance, like Kirby and Fire Emblem,” Jubilee says. “In fact, I often find myself going back to Kirby for inspiration, because of the colors.”

Pixel Perfect: Jubilee Pixel Art


Jubilee now photographs most of what she will turn into pixel art, after which she proceeds to sketch. “I usually do it with real pencil and paper,” she explains. “So I’m going to look at the picture just to get my own proportions.” She then photographs the sketch and traces it in Photoshop, to begin the piece with a digital line drawing. Throughout the process, she uses a graphics tablet and Photoshop’s 1-pixel “pencil” tool. The original image always sits next to the working canvas – it usually uses a 135×135 or 175×230 ​​canvas – for reference. “It really depends on how many pixels you want to have in the room; so you can detail them, but too many pixels also means you lose sight of the actual pixels.

Next, Jubilee searches for “mood colors” – a palette to set the mood of each work. “If I want a happy sunset, or if I want it to look like the sunrise of a new day or something,” she says, “I’ll think of bright blues, yellows… If you’re doing a moonscape or something in the middle of the night, that’s going to be the blues for a solemn, melancholy reflection, so you want to go for darker blues in the purples. I still think those are magic.

Pixel Perfect: Jubilee Pixel Art

“Then I always work from the background colors to the foreground, from the shadows to the light, just because I think it’s easier that way,” continues Jubilee, adding that the main challenge in a work of pixel art is about trying to block out the main colors. “You want to arrange them in a similar pattern,” she says. “And then once you get a similar color pattern, you can just do your own thing and make it better. It doesn’t have to look realistic, it just has to look good.

What makes Jubilee’s art pop is the way the reflections are rendered, whether it’s flickers of light reflecting off a glass surface, moonlight or sunlight peering into the clouds. “I think contrast is definitely key. You can’t have muddy colors because white, the ultimate visual representation of light, isn’t muddy,” she says. “When you’re color blocking you want to make sure you’re keeping the light in mind. When I started [making] art, I only worked in grayscale, so I just focused on the lighting, making sure the lighting was right, and then moving on to color.

Pixel Perfect: Jubilee Pixel Art

Once the color is locked in and the light pattern is set, it’s time to deal with the texture. “The way you do different textures [depends on] how you want to interpret it,” says Jubilee. One of his tea studies, for example, features a glass with a diamond pattern. “I just made diamond patterns, then you want to fill in the diamonds as you go.”

Then, to make the light so it blends in with the rest of the room, it’s important to make sure there’s some curve, Jubilee says. Yet there is no hard and fast rule, other than the observation: “It’s much easier when you look at a reference – I couldn’t do that without a reference.”

How do we decide when a piece of pixel art is made? “With the pixel, it’s really hard to stop because you can literally look at a pixel and keep coming back to it over and over again because it looks fake,” she says. “But as I got better and made more art, I realized I just needed to come to a stopping point. It’s not about ‘to be perfect is about succeeding.