Pixel art pictures made from beveled squares of stained & painted ply wood!
Yup...it's another pixel art 'ible from me! This time it's something that doesn't need a million tools, and uses inexpensive ply as opposed to hardwoods.
If you give it a go please post pics in the comments. Also, please comment with any ideas or tips on how you would do it.
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Step 1: Plan & Source Materials
Things I used....
- 2ft x 2ft 9mm ply
- 2ft x 2ft 3mm ply
- Table saw
- Various stains & paints
From making pixel art chopping boards I learned that most 8bit pixel sprites are 16px by 16px. I wanted a bit of space around it in the design, so went with a canvas of 20x20 (that's 400 squares!).
I didn't want the overall size to be above 600mm square, so once I'd knocked off a 50mm border for the frame this left me with a pixel size of 25mm square.
Although the grain would be visible through the stain, I wanted to have more texture going on so decided to give a little bevel to each square. It turns out that this was a huge amount of work (4 edges per pixel...that's 1600 edges!), but I reckon it was worth it.
I took a quick trip to Wickes and got myself a 2ft x 6ft sheet of 9mm ply (about £15). I wanted to make a few pictures, but a 2ft x 2ft bit should give you enough squares to get the job done. Don't just grab the first sheet on the shelf...Have a good look through the wood available and pick a sheet with a nice clean face and with as little bending/warping as possible. I also got a sheet of 3mm ply (about £12) that would play the part of the canvas.
To plan my designs I used a 20px x 20px canvas on photoshop, and just kept clicking the pixels until I was happy.
Step 2: Cut Ply Into Strips & Paint/stain
My first move was to cut the ply into strips. This was done on the table saw.
I cut my strips at 30mm wide as I hadn't allowed for the frame width in my initial plan. This led to me having a load more machining to do later and a fair bit of waste. Cut your strips to the right size (25mm) the first time!
I gave each strip a light sanding and picked a face side. I then gathered up my various stains and applied to the face side of the strips.
After doing the bulk of the strips with shades of brown I decided it would be far too subtle so set about getting some colours on the go. I wanted them to be subtle and have the wood grain showing, so watered down some paint. I'd never made a 'wash' before, so might be worth Googling this to check how it's done properly.
Also, I recommend deciding on a design and checking how many squares of each colour you need rather than just doing loads and working around what you've got.
Step 3: Cut Strips Into Squares
Now it's time to cut the strips into squares....back to the table saw.
The pieces are pretty small and it's not good to get your fingers that close to a saw blade, so I made a little sled to hold the bits.
Annoyingly I'd cut my strips to 30mm wide, so it took 2 passes to get 25mm squares.
Not much to say here other than it takes a while and is very loud, and use your blade guard.
A cheeky tip to avoid your face edge getting mangled is to angle your fence a smidge so the blade is only cutting on the downwards rotation. I don't know if this is considered good working practice, but it worked for me.
Step 4: Bevel Pixels (optional)
I wanted my pixels to have more texture than just the grain, so decided each pixel should have a slight bevel. It turned out that this was a tonne of work, so you may want to give this a step a miss and just have flat squares.
I made another table saw sled that could hold 3 squares at once, and a flap to hold them down. I tilted my blade to 45%, and edged the fence in until I got the desired bevel. I passed the sled through, then rotated the squares 90o, and repeated. It takes a lot of patience, and is loud and very long, but if you're willing to do this a few thousand times i think it's worth it.
After my bits were beveled I tidied each edge up with sand paper, being careful not to touch the face side. This is a good chance to pick out any bits with too much breakout too.
Step 5: Lay Out Design & Glue
Once I'd cut my 3mm ply into a 600mm square I penciled on a grid. This was a little over the top, but you should definitely mark on a few lines to keep things straight & square.
After laying out the design, I clamped a big square to my "canvas" and began gluing my pixels on. I used gorilla wood glue but PVA should do the job alright too. Take a look at the pics to see how worked within the constraints of the square, and moved it around the canvas as I progressed. Also, try to avoid packing them in too tight as this will make it hard to keep the edges straight later.
Step 6: Frame/border
To finish off the woodworking side of things I added a surround with some 12mm ply.
On the table saw I cut some 50mm strips from a scrap of 12mm ply. I then angled the blade and gave them a bevel, before cutting them to length on the mitre saw.
Then I just glued them on, held in place with clamps.
Step 7: Paint & Varnish
After giving the border a light sanding and filling in any voids, I gave it a couple of coats with black paint.
Once that was dry the whole thing got a few coats with gloss PU varnish. To get into all the little bevels between pixels I had to use a pretty small brush.
The last thing to do is to add some little fixings on the back to hang it from.
Step 8: Finished!
I really like these and they look awesome on the wall! They're subtle enough to not be overbearing, while still making a bit of a statement and bringing out a touch of nostalgia.
Please post pics in the comments if you have a go yourself, but if you'd rather just buy one....
The super mushroom one is already sold, but the fire flower and invincibility star are still available from my Etsy shop for a very reasonable £50. I've got some more on the way so hit me with a follow & like to catch them when they're finished. If you would like to commission a custom piece please get in touch and I'd be happy to hook you up.