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The Use of Pixel Art in r/Place on Reddit

by Taylor Slattery | August 16, 2023


What is a Pixel?

In the context of digital displays, a pixel refers to the smallest unit from which an image is composed. Depending on the resolution of the device, millions of pixels work together to form a complete image. Terms like Full HD and 4K are simply shorthand for communicating a device’s resolution in pixels, with Full HD, or FHD, meaning 1920 x 1080, and 4K meaning 3840 x 2160. pixel art.


What is Pixel Art?

If pixels are just the smallest units of a digital display, then what is pixel art? Simply put, pixel art refers to the use of pixels for creative expression. Frederic c Billingsley coined the term pixel in the 1950s when computer monitors were first being developed. As technology progressed and video games were developed in the 70s, game developers found creative ways to use pixels to represent all sorts of objects in their games.


At first, game creators could only communicate their ideas with relatively crude representations—think Pong or Space Invader. However, as the resolutions of monitors became capable of higher detail, the fidelity with which game designers could render their graphics increased as well. 

In the 80s, there was a digital renaissance of sorts as game developers all over the world explored new ways of using pixels to create art. Pixel art is by no means a new phenomenon though. It has existed in some form or another for thousands of years. Ancient Mesopotamians first used decorative tiles in a similar way to modern pixel art in the city of Ur in 4000 BCE.

Some artists specialize in this 8-bit method of creativity, making it one of the most unique additions within the digital arts field as a whole. This proverbial iron is so hot in fact that it’s not all too uncommon for commissioned pixel artwork creation to be a robust side hustle, if not provide outright professional opportunities for digital artists with a passion for the medium.

If you’re eager to gain a lucrative career within the digital arts, than our proud partner, Sessions College, is the first place to look. With a robust selection of online art and design degrees and professional certificate programs for all kinds of creatives, it’s never been easier to gain expert-let experience in art and design from one of the longest-running online colleges to date.


How Pixel Art Is Used Today

Since then, mankind has had a lot of practice arranging square units to form larger pictures. The popularity of this art form has seen a resurgence in recent years as the digital tools for making it have become more accessible. One of the most noteworthy examples of this is the collaborative pixel art experiment that takes place on Reddit‘s dedicated r/Place special event page.

The experiment, which began in 2017, allows users to place a pixel on a blank canvas with a limited resolution. After placing a pixel, users must wait to place another. To prevent their work from being undone by others, groups of users band together to collaboratively create images within the timespan that the canvas is available. 

The experiment has taken “place” 3 times in total, with the most recent iteration having just wrapped up in July of 2023. Reddit’s various subreddit communities use the occasion as an opportunity to make their presence known, share messages of protest, or simply meme. r/Place is truly an unadulterated, visual representation of internet culture, simultaneously at its worst and finest capabilities.


Taylor is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Taylor is a graphic designer, illustrator, and Design Lead at Weirdsleep.


Are you interested in exploring 3D modeling? Sessions College offers a range of online digital arts courses for students at all levels. Contact Admissions for more information.

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