Welcome to the first in a series (hopefully) of interviews with pixel artists. Who better to start with than myself?? Here goes...
Who are you? Where are you based?
My name is Iain, aka the Cave of Pixels. I'm based in the UK, in South East England.
When and why did you first start making your art?
I started in 2013. I was at a comic convention and saw someone was selling mini bead sprites based on Nintendo games and couldn't resist getting a Mario one. At home later on I looked up how to make them, and thought "I could do that". I started off with videogame sprites, with the intent of making some nice art for my games room. When I inevitably ran out of wallspace, I didn't want to stop making art, so started selling.
What inspires your artwork?
I get my inspiration from all over. Obviously videogames are a big one - I've been into them since I was a kid - but my art is also inspired by movies, comics, sport (mainly basketball), music, and even other art. I particularly enjoy making portraits, and art based on things I love, like cult movies or basketball. Basically, if I think something looks cool, there's a good chance I'll try and make my own version of it out of beads!
What's the biggest piece you've ever made?
Probably the big John Lennon portrait I made out of 1cmx1cm mosaic tiles.
What is your art workspace like?
It's pretty good! I have a big screen to display the design I'm working from, 2 decent sized surfaces for beading, and all my beads stored and labelled within easy reach. The consoles and arcade machine provide inspiration when I'm not beading!
What are the tools of your trade?
I generally need my computer with internet access for the reference picture and design, pegboards, tweezers, beads (I use Hama, Perler and Artkal brands), masking tape, an iron, and an ice cream tub and paper clip for my infamous paper clip method (see my beading guide for more info...). Also essential is a Coke Zero, and a good podcast.
What's the most time you've spent on a project?
I think it was the John Lennon project above. That took 26 hours and was pretty backbreaking!
Can you talk us through your creative process? How you go about planning and creating a piece?
Well my process differs, depending on whether I'm working on a videogame project, or if I'm using a program to make a design from a photo.
For gaming projects, it depends on if the image/sprite/scene is readily available online, in a resolution I can work from. If so, great, but if not I will probably spend some time playing the game on an emulator and making a screen recording of the session. Then I'll go through the recording and screenshot the frames I need. After that, it's a case of seeing what size it needs to be to capture all the detail I want to show. This involves pixel counting by eye! I have previously measured how many beads fit into different sized frames, so these figures help me decide how big to go. After all that, I'll make the art out of beads, matching colours by eye. This can be a trial and error process, but I've been doing this long enough to quickly know which colours should work.
If I'm making a piece based on a photo, I use the Dolkow.se Perler program to make my design. It's a simple program, but it does everything I need, and I'm very used to it by now. I know others use Photoshop or GIMP or bead-specific apps, and that's great, but it's not how I learned to do it. The Perler program lets me design to specific dimensions, change the brightness and contrast, and input my own RGB values for the beads, to make them more accurate (the pre-programmed values are not accurate). It's perfect for my needs. After I've finished the design, I'll basically sit down and make it, usually over a few evenings. I do one board at a time, and tackle it one colour at a time, rather than one row at a time. When the beads are all laid, I'll compare the art to the reference photo and make amendments if needed.
When it comes to ironing, I tape the beads with masking tape, sandwich it between 2 boards and flip it over. Then I remove the pegboards and straighten up any beads that might have shifted. Then it's on with the parchment paper, and time to iron it (temp set to "wool"). When finished, I put heavy books on the art and leave them to cool down. Inevitably some beads won't have fused, so the ironing may need touching up. Then it's time to share on the Gram and bathe in those likes!!
What are the most common questions you get asked about your art?
There are a few I get all the time:
Q: What program do you use?
A: Dolkow.se Perler
Q: Where do you get your frames?
Q: Do you iron both sides?
Q: Where do you get your beads?
A: The official manufacturer websites
When people ask me these now, I just provide the link to my guide on how to bead. Because I'm lazy.
Have you had any art-related disasters?
Yes! A memorable one was a Nicki Minaj portrait I spent ages on, then just as I was about to iron it I got the masking tape stuck to my elbow and dragged it off the table and onto the floor... I was pretty devastated, and never could bring myself to remake that project. Maybe one day Nicki!
Do you have a dream project you'd love to make, but just can't justify yet?
I'd love to make a videogame scene that covers a whole wall. Maybe one day!
What are your favourite experiences you've had as a result of your art?
I think I'm lucky to have had a lot of great experiences. Having my art hang in galleries was amazing, as was being asked to display it in pubs and bars. I love that my local arcade has some of my art on display! I really get a kick out of people seeing my art and reacting to it. A few years ago I was able to get some of my art signed by the original (co-)creators - John Wagner signed a Judge Dredd piece I made, and Kevin Eastman signed a TMNT piece. As a fan, it was great to see their reaction to someone's art based on their creations!
Do you have any projects in progress or in the pipeline right now?
I always have a "to-do" list that keeps growing as I think of new things. I have some album covers I'd like to make, and I'm thinking of making a series based on basketball cards (another passion of mine), now that I've made one that I'm pretty happy with.
Do you sell your art? If so, how can people find it?
I do! I have an Etsy shop called CaveOfPixelsArt
How can people find you online? Drop your social media handles, websites etc...
You can find me on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest as @caveofpixels. My website is this one you're reading! I have a Facebook page too: www.facebook.com/caveofpixels
Anything else to share? Shoutouts, words of wisdom etc?
My advice is something I've only just started to follow myself - make what you want to make! Don't feel you have to accept commissions unless it's something you want to make! Make art for yourself... if others like it, then that's just a bonus.
My name is Iain and my addiction is making pixel bead art. My main inspirations are comics, video games and movies.