Scaffold Graphic Design By Creating Physical Pixel Art

This student pixel art project was created to support a graphic design or game design unit. Our youth needed a break from coding, and so they were challenged to create a favorite video game or movie character in pixels. In the discussion, youth learn what pixels are, planning and prototyping design, and the basics of animation and image quality.

This project can also be done offline.

Activity Time: 40 minutes

Supplies Needed

  • Cardboard
  • Colored Paper (scrapbook paper works great)
  • Glue sticks
  • Scissors
  • Box cutter (facilitator use)
  • Paper cutter (facilitator use)
  • Rulers
  • Pencils
  • Computers with Internet Access
student pixel art project materials

Project Directions: How to Create Physical Pixel Art

student pixel art project step 1 prep canvas and pixel paper

Step 1: Prep Canvases and Strips of Paper

This activity takes some prep from the facilitator. First, cut 12×12” cardboard squares, one for each youth. These will serve as their canvases that they will glue their “pixels” to. Take colored sheets of scrapbooking paper (this worked great since they are 12×12”) and using a pencil and ruler, create a 12×12” grid.

Then, using the paper cutter make strips of 12. I did not cut each individual square, just strips of 1×12 squares they were easier to keep track of versus smaller pieces.

student pixel art project step to go to piskel app

Step 2: Plan and Design Pixel Art

To help youth brainstorm ideas, have them sketch 3 of their favorite video game or movie characters (we remind our youth of our “no weapons” policy). Youth will go around the room and vote on their peers’ designs. Each of the youth will recreate their highest rated design in pixel form at www.piskelapp.com.

student pixel art project step 3 create sprite resize canvas

Step 3: Plan and Design Pixel art

Select “Create sprite.” Make sure to resize the canvas to 12 x 12pt by clicking the resize button on the right side of the screen. It is between the gear and save icons. Click “resize” to apply the dimension changes.

student pixel art project step 4 moving on to cardboard

Step 4: Move On To Cardboard

Once youth finish their designs, they are ready for their cardboard. I demonstrated to those who were done first how to make a grid on their square with a ruler. Once these youth had successfully made their grids, they helped their peers. Each square of the grid should be 1” x 1”. If the pieces are 12×12” then there should be 144 squares total.

student pixel art project step 5 indicate colors on cardboard

Step 5: Indicate Colors

Next, youth should indicate which color goes in each square based off their computer design.

student pixel art project step 6 cut and paste pixel colors

Step 7: Cut and Paste Pixels

Now youth can begin cutting their colored pixels to paste to their square. Use glue sticks or brush on white glue. Allow them to share their designs with one another in a mini-showcase!


No Internet, No Computers, No Problem!

Here are a few alternatives if your students don’t have internet access:

  • Piskel is available for download to use offline. Before your session, you can download the file to a flashdrive and install on your laptops
  • If your space does not have laptops, try this:
    1. Prepare all materials as described and still have youth sketch in their notebooks
    2. Have youth take colored paper “pixels” and place them on their cardboard grid to create their design. But, do not let them have glue yet. This allows them to move their pixels around until they finish their design.
    3. When it is set to go, bring out the glue sticks!

Discussion Questions

What are pixels?

  • Pixels are the building blocks of pictures. They are tiny colored squares and when they are put together, they craft an image.

How does the number of pixels affect an image?

  • When we think of the number of pixels, we are talking about resolution. An image with more pixels is a higher quality image. It is crisp and clear, whereas a lower resolution image will be blurry and lacking detail.

How can you take one image and create an animation?

  • An animation or video is a series of still images of a subject with tiny movements called frames. The frames are then sped up (like a flip book). Our brains just see the movement and not the individual images. Stop-motion productions are made in this way.

What does 1080p mean?

  • A 1080p TV has 1,920 x 1,080 pixels. 4K TVs have more pixels. When there is more “information” or pixels, we have greater image quality. 1080p is how we refer to HD televisions.

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