DIY: Pixel Painting

October 5th, 2011

The other day while editing some of my Iceland photos I accidentally scaled a photo down to 15 pixels wide instead of 1500 pixels wide, and I liked what I saw. Just a few blocks of color were able to maintain the mood of the photograph even though the details were completely lost. Before I knew it I was getting out my watercolors. This project is simple, but if you hate tedium you might want to skip it. I gravitate toward time consuming, monotonous tasks (especially when they provide a beautiful end result), so I thoroughly enjoyed the process.

You’ll need:

digital photograph
photo editing software
basic math skills

ruler
pencil
watercolor paper

square tip watercolor paintbrush
watercolors

How to:

First, open the photo you want to work with in Photoshop (or your preferred photo editing program). Resize the image to about 10–20 pixels wide, and zoom in until you can see the individual pixels. Play around with different widths to see what you like best. The larger your image the more detail your painting will have, and the more time consuming your painting will be. For me 12 pixels wide was the sweet spot that gave me the amount of detail I wanted without being too daunting. You may need to experiment with several photographs before you find one that will look interesting simplified into pixels.

DIY pixel painting

This is where you need your math skills. Once you’ve finalized your image, use a ruler and pencil to lightly draw a grid on your paper. The grid should have as many boxes as there are pixels in your photograph, but it still needs to fit on your piece of paper. My grid ended up being made up of .75″ squares.

Grab your paints and paint brush. Keep your pixel-ized reference photo handy and paint each grid square the color of the corresponding pixel. Watercolors worked beautifully for this project. I could easily mix and tweak colors, and the effect of the paint gathering at the edges of each box is gorgeous. It works best to paint every other box, let them dry, and then go back and paint the ones you missed so the watercolors don’t bleed into each other. Don’t worry too much about staying in the lines perfectly or mixing the exact colors. Imperfections are what will give your piece depth.

DIY pixel painting

After a few hours of painting squares your eyes might start to cross, but don’t stop! It will be worth it when you end up with a neato painting.

DIY pixel painting

What do you think? Are you going to make your own? I really love how this turned out. I think I’m going to have to go frame shopping.

69 Comments

  1. John

    That is amazing!

  2. Love this idea! I’m trying to spruce up my walls at the moment so this is definitely going on the to do list.

  3. ok, that is the coolest thing I’ve seen in a long time!

  4. Jenny K

    Love it!
    It’s a great idea with a simple yet ingenious inspiration!

  5. wow! i love love love this. i think it would make an amazing quilt!

  6. Numbah one stunnah! Wha-wha-wha-what?!

  7. How fun! I always love seeing your art projects. You’ve inspired me to be more brave about being creative, and I even started taking lessons from a new friend who turned out to be an art teacher. Thanks for the inspiration! This painting is fabulous!

  8. This is sort of brilliant, what-what! I think this should be an art class project, it’s a good lesson in color and visual communication.

  9. Love this!!! Thanks for sharing!

  10. Absolutely love this and your blog! So glad I found it!

    x Milana

  11. so amazing!! I’ve been looking for a diy project for above our bed. This may just be it!

  12. Michelle

    Awesome! It makes me want to experiment some!

  13. LyndaKay

    First of all, your original photograph was spectacular! And thank you for the easy to follow tutorial. I will try this!

  14. I absolutely love this!

  15. Talia

    ga-ga-gorgeous!! I may have to try this with some times squares photos I recently took! the colors will be incredible!

  16. I love the idea! I think I might do something like this, sounds perfect for those days that all you need is something quiet to do.

  17. Hi!

    I included your image in my “Inspiring Images” blog post today!

    http://yellowbirdyellowbeard.blogspot.com/2011/10/eye-candy-happy-saturday.html

    Thank you!

    xoxo
    Janee

  18. Wow, it looks amazing! What a wonderful idea! xxx

  19. Love the look of this, like a page from a colour study sketchbook. Thanks so much for sharing your discovery!

  20. Wonderful idea and amazing result ! Maybe I’ll do my own and try your tutorial ;-)

  21. Wonderful idea; and your finished piece is beautiful! I love this. I think I might just have to try it – thanks for the inspiration and tutorial.

  22. Hannah

    This is amazing! Loving the idea. Wonder what it would look like with even smaller pixels! Love it!!!!!!

  23. This is so beautiful! And such a great idea! Can’t wait to try it out

  24. Ooh, love this. . .I have a ton of great pictures from our year abroad and this could make some great Christmas presents for impossible-to-please family members. Thanks for the idea! I’ve been to Iceland three times now and it IS gorgeous, and you got some absolutely incredible pictures! I’m adding all the locations from your pics to my list of places to visit next time we go!!

  25. Hi Amanda,

    I just wanted to let you know that I tried this for myself the other day. Its not as wonderful as yours but it was so much fun to do! Its based off a wonderful picture a friend took of a sunset by water and I’m going to give it to him. Thanks for the idea and great blog.

    link to my attempt: http://imgur.com/JoEbL

    Best
    X Saaraa

  26. Hinna

    This looks amazing! Do you think a non-artist could do this?

  27. Lp

    Love it AND the diy too. (pinned at pinterest)

  28. I found this via Pinterest last week, just in time for the Pinterest Challenge hosted by a few bloggers. I chose to work with your DIY idea and just wanted to let you know I linked to it on my website(http://www.thisthoughtprocess.com/2011/11/pinterest-challenge.html) along with my own. Definitely want to try it again actually using a photo though. Thanks for the inspiration!

  29. I love this…I love grids…I’ve got to give it a go. Thanks for the inspiration!

  30. This is gorgeous! I’ve included the tutorial in my favourite things this week: http://www.matinlapin.com/2011/11/my-favourite-things-this-week.html

    Vixie

  31. Melissa

    Got sent to your site from a pin on Pinterest. I love this idea. I too love something that takes time and detail. When I first saw the pin I thought you were picking paint colors for a room by pixelating your photo. I’m glad I came to check it out.

  32. The moment I saw this I knew I had to try it! And so I did, I made one as a gift for my friend’s birthday and used a photograph that I knew meant much to her. It’s such a wonderful way of giving something home-made and personal. Here is a link to my post; http://specu-laas.blogspot.com/2011/11/diy-pixel-painting.html
    Thank you so much for the inspiration!

  33. Becky

    This is just the greatest idea ever. How lovely! I have nothing in the way of paint materials but maybe someday!

  34. what an amazing idea. i love it so much…how do you think this would work for a large scale image? i guess you’d have to do it in sections and then connect them somehow?

  35. dinny

    I tried this today with my son for his homeschool art friday. We both had a blast and our results were totally different. Thanks for the inspiration!

  36. This is a really good way to have streamline art to suit also modern home. Thanks!

  37. Thanks for such an inspiring post – I found it via Pinterest and made my own pixel painting tonight: http://makesomethingdaily.blogspot.com/2012/03/sunset-in-pixels.html

    I think there will be more in my future!

  38. Kally

    Gorgeous! You are very creative and inspirational. When browsing for beautiful examples of art, I came across sites that use paint chip samples for pictures. I’ll bet that people who are intimidated by water colour paints could try to use these with your technique!

  39. Alyssa

    This looks interesting… I’d love to do this to a vibrantly colored photograph! :) Thanks for the inspiration.

  40. Just did a version of this from a beach scene. Was not that hard to do and turned out great! Thanks for the inspiration!

  41. Egle

    50 shades of grey

  42. Erin

    I’m using this method to create a tile mosaic in a shower re-do and it is coming out great! I love the way the tiles are turning out in the randomly artful design. Thanks for getting my creativity going.

  43. Amy

    This is a really great idea! I’ll definitely try it one day. But at the moment, I only have acrylic paint and canvases to use up! Maybe you can try that to. Thanks!

  44. Chelsea

    I am so in love with this! However, I have never used watercolors before. Any suggestions??

  45. elenor

    wahat a great idea! thank you so much for sharing!
    best wishes for the new year!
    elenor

  46. Janelle

    We’ve been looking for an art piece to put on the mantle, this will be perfect, if I can figure it out…. I’m having difficulty zooming into the picture once it is pixalated. I’m using the picture editing website called Pic Monkey, so maybe that’s why? Do you have any tips on what I could do to zoom?

    • Amanda (wit & whistle)

      You will need to use a software program that will let you resize the image to a specific pixel width. I used Photoshop. You might try Gimp, which is a free Photoshop knockoff. http://www.gimp.org

  47. Thanks so much for this awesome project! I made my own pixel painting a year or so ago, and just posted about it on my blog: http://persialou.blogspot.com/2013/05/i-tried-it-tuesday-pixel-painting.html Thanks again!

  48. Sab

    That’s beautiful ! very good idea !

  49. Do you have any suggestions for someone with no water color experience? Is mixing and matching the colors very difficult? I’m excited to try this!

  50. yolo

    Im gonna make it rite now :)

  51. Rose

    I am going to do this with my students to teach them how to mix paint and use value! Thank you so much for the idea!

  52. Kim

    Great idea! I’ve linked to this from my blog, hope that’s ok!

  53. Catherine

    Thats really kool, where can you make it pixelated like that?

  54. Giulia

    hi!!! good job!….can u suggest to me, a program for pixel the photos?!!

  55. I liked you work. I did a lot of that sort of paintings in Interior Design when I studied in the 70s hours and hours of gouache perfect gradations. It was mathematical work adding x drops of black to white and other colours as well as applying to to perspectives, squares and rectangles and having clean edges done with mask taping. Lucky your free hand watercolour came out so nice BRAVO. Sure frame it and shine the right light on it!

  56. Marion

    I absolutely love this. Could you do something similar somehow but without using the photo as a reference?

  57. Sam

    I love this idea, this is fantastic.

  58. This is perfect! Can’t wait to try. Thank you! x

  59. Terry Ann

    My son did a art project like this in 8th grade. His teacher took a black and white close up. Printed them out on 5×7 photo paper. The students then drew squares on the photo. Kinda like “pixeling” by hand. Then they used charcoal pencils on 36×36″ paper that was also pixelated(if that’s a word) to color each square. The final project was unbelievable. He had the most awesome art teacher. He did several really cool art pieces that now adorn my walls. Just thought you would like to try this if you are unsure of your painting skills!!

  60. THIS IS SOO CREATIVE AND BEAUTIFUL!LOVE IT!!

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