Who are you? Where are you based?
I'm Kyle McCoy and my wife and I just purchased a home in Ithaca in upstate New York.
When and why did you first start making your art?
I've always been a big fan of the pixelated aesthetic. No doubt inspired by the countless Nintendo games I played growing up. I also prefer working with my hands over a computer, so when I discovered Perler Beads in 2008, it seemed like a great way to pay tribute to those games as well as explore a new craft. Over time I wanted to push the boundaries of the beads and see what this medium was capable of. This resulted in recreating some of my favorite retro-gaming scenes but also photorealistic portraits, minimalist characters, giant murals, and hundreds of pop art pieces covering the scope of pop culture, all under the banner of the Pixel Art Shop. Eventually I had a lot of people asking about my process which inspired me to create a YouTube channel where I offer tips, tricks, and techniques. It's also a good excuse for me to ramble on about all the things I love!
Do you remember the first piece you made?
Not really actually, haha. But there's a 99% chance it was an 8-bit Mario. I think most artists get into the craft by tapping into their nostalgia for games they played as a kid and I was no different.
What's the biggest piece you've ever made?
Without a doubt, that would be Project Springfield. A 40-square-foot recreation of The Simpsons' hometown, featuring 54 locations and 166 characters. I worked on it for nearly two years. Of course I made a lot of other projects in that time like art pieces but also writing/directing original musical productions in NYC, making short films, as well as getting married, but Springfield was always in the background coming together piece by piece.
What is your art workspace like?
A smooth, clean white table with the beads sorted into drawers by color. Stacks of sticky notes surround my desk, all filled with ideas for future projects. Camera set up overhead to capture my process for videos. I set up my studio in the basement of the new house so it's been nice and cool this summer. Something I'm very grateful for when working with my iron or hot glue gun.
What are the tools of your trade?
So much more than just Perler Beads! There's the parchment paper and iron I use to fuse them together on the pegboards and I usually end up mounting my pieces onto canvases that I paint myself. Hot glue does the trick and sometimes pieces involve magnets, pins, or pieces of black foam core for multiple layers. There's my camera and microphone for video purposes. Then I have a bunch of colorful markers handy because I like to draw little pictures or surprises on the packages of pieces I'm sending out to buyers.
How do you go about planning and creating a piece?
Depends on the scope of the project and the style but ultimately it's about deciding the level of detail I want to include, making color choices, and getting the beads on the board. I always tell people to remember that the smallest detail in a project can only be a single bead. So start there and just expand outward. I find it incredibly satisfying to take our chaotic and cluttered world and simplify it down to clean and crisp lines of color.
What are the most common questions you get asked about your art?
"What program do you use to turn a picture into pixel art?" So many people seem to think it's as easy as throwing a pixel filter on a subject but the fact is I design my patterns one bead at a time. I suppose it's flattering that people like my designs so much they assume a computer must have made them but it's a very tedious and time-consuming process. You can only have so many arrangements in a given space after all so I try to focus on how the human eye will interpret a certain composition of colored dots and find the best way to accurately portray my vision to the viewer.
Do you have a dream project you'd love to make, but just can't justify yet?
Absolutely! But as creative as one can get with this craft, the size of the Perler Bead never changes, meaning some projects would end up being 20-25 square feet! However, this inspired me to take some of my dream projects, like the map screen from Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for example, and redesign it myself, shrinking it down to one square foot but keeping all the details I could. Creating dream projects pragmatically is just another challenge that hopefully inspires you to do something you might not have thought of otherwise.
What are your favourite experiences you've had as a result of your art?
Without a doubt, fan interaction. There's a great and encouraging community on the r/beadsprites subreddit and I can't wait to start attending conventions again. Perler Bead artwork was (and still is) a pretty niche market and people usually aren't expecting to see it on display as a serious medium so it's always a welcome surprise and I love those reactions, especially from folks who remember playing with the craft as kids. And of course my YouTube channel reaches an even bigger audience so I've had fans send me photos of artwork they've made based on my designs. One individual wrote to me saying recreating my pieces helped her through depression. Another told me how learning to recognize the bead hues in my projects helped him with his colorblindness. The genuine heartfelt encouragement and joy this craft has brought my and others is overwhelming.
Do you have any projects in progress or in the pipeline right now?
Always! Currently working on getting the new batch of videos out. I keep trying to get on a regular schedule with them but sometimes have to take a break for a few months (which is an eternity in internet time) just because of big life changes like moving or, you know, that whole pandemic thing. And I'm constantly thinking of new pieces to add to my absurd amount of ongoing series like Mini-Masterpieces, Classic Comic Covers, Iconography Sets, Animated Locations, Minimalist Movie Posters, and there's even a few more series on the way.
How can people find you online?
Everyone is invited to check out my headquarters at PixelArtShop.com! That has links to my YouTube channel, shop, and full gallery. And for sneak peeks, new releases, and works in progress (as well as the occasional cat photo!) just follow my Instagram: @kylemccoy37
Anything else to share? Shoutouts, words of wisdom etc?
Find your comfort level and go from there. Don't be intimidated by large and complex projects. This craft is perfect for choosing something as simple or complicated as you like and the more you do it, the more familiar you become with the materials, the closer you are to improving your process and refining your style. Practice makes perfect is good advice in spirit but I think it's a misnomer. I don't think I'll ever want to be "perfect" because that would mean I'd stop improving and have nowhere left to grow. So let's say practice makes progress. Anything you see me do, you can too. And put your own spin on it. Experiment. You'll probably think of something I didn't. Just keep at it and keep progressing.
My name is Iain and my addiction is making pixel bead art. My main inspirations are comics, video games and movies.