During the last few years, there is a wave of artists that exploring the nostalgic 8bit art. Thanks to them, pixel art is returning from the 80’s, in the form of artworks and indie games.
Stefanie Grunwald is a neo noir pixel independent artist from Hamburg, Germany. She first discovered 8bit art in 2015 and since then she is creating animated pixel artworks in her free time.
In this interview she is talking about how she discovered pixel art. She is also sharing her thoughts and her creative process.
– You have been creating pixel artworks for about 4 years. What’s the source of your interest in the pixel art scene?
Back in 2015 and seemingly at random, my Tumblr feed suggested an artwork by 8pxl (Jubilee) to me and her tiny animations got me hooked immediately. Was it a game? Was it an cartoon? I had no idea people were creating art like this.
Once I entered the pixel art bubble, I discovered artworks by Kirokaze and Waneella and I was amazed by their compositions, their palettes and the very specific mood that pixel art added to the whole experience. Something nostalgic and yet playful, it just really resonated with me. Watching 8pxl grow as an artist and develop her style over the years motivated me to give it a try.
Perhaps I could make pixel art, too? Dark and moody pixel art? Yes, I could; and I never stopped.
“Hamburg Fischmarkt” (2018)
– How do you balance your creative time with your job as a software engineer, which is a quite demanding job?
I mostly create my artworks on the weekends. A few hours here, a few hours there… It’s not a secret that I work for Adobe and it really helps to be surrounded by immensely creative people. Motivating yourself to work on something in your free time when you just want to relax or watch a movie becomes easier when everyone around you invests time in photography, in traditional painting and even in game development, to name a few.
At some point, creating art becomes compulsive for many artists; your ideas scream at you to let them out. It’s no different for me. Right now I can’t imagine giving up my career in engineering to pursue art full time but switching to a 4-day or 3-day week is definitely something I’m working towards.
Also, I’m the kind of person who always needs a side project. For many years this project has been studying Theoretical Physics but at some point I felt that the academic route wasn’t for me. Trying out art came just at the right time.
– How do you want to engage your audience with your art? What is their reaction?
My audience is a blend of both fresh and established artists, retro gamers, friends, colleagues and even neighbours. Especially the pixel artist community on social media is like a bunch of cheerleaders. We inspire each other, hype each other and sometimes even dissect each others’ artworks to learn something about our processes and how we approach colour and lighting.
My friends have been incredibly supportive from the start and I’ve even gotten messages from strangers saying I inspired them to start drawing. The thought that even just a single person out there might have started making art because of me still blows my mind.
Being an inspiration to others is a huge honour and probably my favourite engagement of my audience with my art.
– For many people pixel art is a travel to the old gaming times. Is this something you are aiming to achieve via this form of art and also, what is your message to the new generation of audience?
I always chuckle whenever someone points out to me that one of my artworks had “Monkey Island vibes” or reminded them of “the good old 80s”. I must have heard these comments a thousand times. When you’re so deep in the pixel art bubble it’s refreshing to encounter people who have no idea that pixel art is a very vibrant art community and is very much alive in 2021.
Yes, for many people pixel art is purely a nostalgic endeavour but for me, pixel art is a medium that has grown to stand on its own, with amazingly skilled artists who have something to say and who bend the limits of the medium. Every time I see one of those “Monkey Island flashback” messages, I drop a few artist profiles underneath them in the hopes that the author (and other viewers) explore the vast range of contemporary pixel artists.
– There is a new trend for indie game developers, to give that retro aesthetic to their games. What is your perspective on this?
Pixel art looks so simple and straightforward that it can trick you into thinking it was also simple to create, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I fell for that lie in 2016 and I think so do many game developers today. All the rules about what makes a game exciting – the story, the conflict, the mechanics – still apply, and while a retro aesthetic can enhance the experience, it’s not going to make a game a success on its own.
However, I’ve hugely enjoyed games like “How We Know We’re Alive” and “Virtuaverse” and if it wasn’t for their pixel art, I probably never would have played them.
Games are a modern means of storytelling and the more stories get heard from all the diverse creators, the more we all benefit from it – individually and as a society, whether with or without retro aesthetics.
– As a software developer yourself, is there any interest to enter the gaming scene, combining your programming and art skills?
Definitely. Being able to not only build a story artifact in the form of an artwork but making it “experienceable” by an audience to roam and explore is really tempting.
But being a software developer myself, I also know that what I estimate to be “a few months of work” would probably turn out to be several years if I’m lucky.
“Stefanie Grunwald” – Pixel Art Profile
– Currently, your themes are based on urban night environments. Will you be interested to explore and some other themes (e.g futuristic, cyberpunk etc)?
All my artworks are deeply rooted in realism and I enjoy putting these in distinctly neo-noir settings. I find the “here and now” more inspirational than anything else.
Just look around you and notice the pervasive clash of the artificial and the natural. In each direction there are streets, city lights, cars and buildings. You live in a little concrete cube that comprises more concrete cubes. Sometimes you enter metal enclosures that high-speed port you to distant places. All the while there are trees literally growing in the cracks of our pavements, or crows throwing walnuts on the street for cars to run over them and crack them. We circle around a giant fireball in a vast space of darkness but “enjoy the stars”. This juxtaposition is a core theme of my art and I don’t think I’m running out of ideas there anytime soon.
I’ve explored some other themes in the past such as space (“Milky Way”, “From Space”) and nature scenes (“Northern Lights over Tromsø”, “Autumn Sun”, “A Night in the Woods”) but I keep coming back to neo-noir settings. These are my “home” and best suited for carrying the stories I want to convey. Whenever someone says “when I saw this artwork I immediately knew it was you” it does give me a nice feeling of having a recognisable style. Something I’ve been struggling with for a while and something I think is worth having.
“2:00 AM” (2020)
– What is your creative process, what are the tools of your choice and also how long does it take to complete an artwork?
Over the years I’ve collected huge mood boards with photos and drawings that inspire me. Before I start a new artwork, I usually scroll through these boards to find references that match the mood and atmosphere I have in mind. It’s never a single reference but usually 10-20 different ones, each one for a particular detail or feature I’d like to capture.
My artworks start out as black on grey sketches to flesh out the point of focus and the major compositional elements. I then block in colours very roughly and once I’m happy with the overall look, I start pixelling the details. Sometimes I go in with a concrete idea of what I want to animate but sometimes I just make the animations on the fly. There’s still a lot to optimise about my process and especially finding the right colours is extremely difficult for me.
My tools of choice are Photoshop and my 13 inch display tablet although up to 50% of the work is me tapping the touchpad of my laptop. Perhaps that’s why my artworks take me anywhere from 40 to 60 hours to complete.
“Who owns the city” (2001) – Creative Process
– What do you plan to do with your art in the future? Do you have any projects in mind or any collaborations?
I’m really intrigued by the possibility of transcending the medium of animated GIFs. Many of my supporters are aware of a short story I’ve written a year ago that I’d like to convert into a pixel art graphic novel and, if things go really well, even turn it into a pixel art short movie.
I’m at the very start of this adventure but I’m looking forward to this exciting journey. I plan to put more emphasis on crowdsourcing with my Patreon and get more independent of my day job, so I can ultimately devote more of my time to art and to creating valuable assets for the pixel art community.