4.8 Pixelated images

The purpose of this exercise was to create a series of illustrations that explores my relationship to digital technologies.

Key words from the brief:

  • Using a grid format of pixels, create a series of illustrations that explores your relationship to digital technologies.
  • Stick to the rule of only using one colour per square

Generate ideas

Overall approach

I struggled with the part of the brief that specified creating work with a pixel grid format because it is such an outdated idea that may have been relevant when the course was written but isn’t any longer. What I did find interesting is how pixelation is currently being used as a way to hide or protect identity. This dual aspect of how the same digital techniques can be used for good (to protect identity) or evil (to hide identity) became my starting point.

Mind mapping

My first mind map generated some interesting ideas and connections, and allowed me to hone in on the areas that interested me. At this point I was still trying to find an idea that I could illustrate using a pixel grid.

The more I thought about these ideas the more I thought they were too obvious.


I continued thinking using a second mindmap.

The second mindmap really tuned in to what I found interesting, some of which I’d covered in an earlier Printmaking 1 exercise, 5.3 Developing a series of four combination and experimental prints, where I explored how oversaturation of news imagery desensitises us to the human stories themselves.


My central premise was how pixelation can be used to either hide identity (the negative use of the technique), or protect identity (the positive use of the technique). I was particularly struck by an article I read about a feature YouTube developed that adds pixelation to video footage to blur faces and protect the identity of people being filmed. This is particularly important in a scenario where political activists

The mindmapping resulted in a series of 5 x illustrations with working titles:

  1. #cutting
  2. #freedom of speech OR #trolling
  3. #selfie
  4. #crackdown
  5. #echochamber



Marcelle Hanselaar

The etchings of Marcelle Hanselaar have been an inspiration to me for a number of exercises. I love the depth and range of mark making and tonal variation she manages to achieve, and I could see parallels between the subjects I wanted to portray and her series of ‘Crying game’ etchings.

The ‘Crying game‘ etchings were inspired by Otto Dix’s series of 50 prints, Der Krieg, which were themselves modeled on Goya’s series Los Desastres de la Guerra.

Marcelle Hanselaar - Remnants of civilisation
Fig 1- Remnants of civilisation

I decided to trying copying and emulating this to inform the visual style of my own illustrations.

Max Beckmaan

I admire the work of Otto Dix and Max Beckmaan and the way they carefully observe and portray their gritty subjects using a combination of satire and social realism.

I decided to try copying one of Max Beckmaan’s drawings with the intention of seeing what I could learn from the experience.

A sketch of ‘The faces of World War I’ by Max Beckmaan


Picasso and Paper

Picasso and paper is on at the Royal Academy until 13th April 2020. This was a amazing exhibition. Just the amount on display and range and inventiveness of the work. I was particularly interested in a series of pen and ink drawings of female nudes. They were all about A3 sized and bursting with energy and inventive mark making. I paid particular attention to composition and mark making to see what I could learn and use in my own work.

Radical Figures – Painting in the New Millennium

Radical Figures – Painting in the New Millennium runs in the Whitechapel Gallery until 10th May 2020. What caught my eye was the last sentence in the description of the exhibition: Since painting was pronounced dead in the 1980s, a new generation of artists has been revitalising the expressive potential of figuration. Charging their vibrant canvases with a social and political undertow, they echo the words of Philip Guston: ‘I got sick and tired of all that Purity. I wanted to tell stories’.

Given that I’m exploring narrative illustration this seemed like a good place to seek inspiration.

I was attracted to the paintings of Dana Schutz and Sanya Kantarovsky,  I think because I liked how they’d simplified their figures right down, stripped out unnecessary detail and used a combination of posture, character, composition and colour to communicate the narrative.

I spent a couple of hours in the exhibitions and sketched out a number of the paintings as a way to learn more about the composition and structure of the work. I was also on the lookout for postured and features that I could rework for my own illustrations.


The design phase of this exercise followed closely the approach I’d taken with 3.5 Once upon a time, with a lot thought being put into the design of each image to make best use of composition.

The difference with this exercise was the amount of additional visual research that I’d done. The sketches I’d made at the Radical Figures – Painting in the New Millennium exhibition were particularly useful, and some elements of these were modified and used in the final artwork.

Thumbnails exploring different compositions and detail

I also had a good idea of the kind of visual style I wanted to use. The subjects I were dealing with are quite dark and I wanted an illustrative style to add to this overall narrative.

I like the comic book illustrations by Molly Mendoza, particularly her graphic novel ‘Skip’ that I’d researched in 3.7 Narrative and visual style. In this book she uses a very limited but distinctive colour palette, and I decided to try a similar approach as a way to add colour to the images. I tested out a number of colour combinations on a pen and ink thumbnail sketch. I quite like the effect but felt it moved too far away from the more gritty tonal quality I wanted to achieve.

Although I’d gathered enough material to create a series of at least five images, time constraints meant I artworked two:

  1. #cutting
  2. #trolling


Illustration 1 – #cutting

One of the unintended effects of overuse of technology is a significant increase in instances of self harm in young adults and children.

During my research I found some worrying statistics published in 2019 related to children in the UK:

  • The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health surveyed 109 children and young adults and found they spend an average of 7.5 hours in front of a screen per day (phone, computer/laptop/tablet and TV).
  • A study by Warwick University that surveyed more than 11,000 teenagers found approximately 15% reported self-harm in the last year.
  • The Office of National Statistics published a report highlighting that the suicide rate among females aged 10 to 24 years has increased significantly to its highest recorded level since 1981.

This illustration tries to draw attention to this phenomenon.

#cutting – pen and ink drawing, A3 sized

I drew a pencil version of the image using the thumbnails as a guide and reference sketches for some of the detail. The figure reference came from a life drawing class that was useable with only minor modification.

The final artwork was drawn on a lightbox using a Pelikan fountain pen and black illustrators ink. The tones on the figure were added using a watercolour wash.

Illustration 2 – #trolling

Wikipedia describes internet trolling: A troll is a person who starts quarrels or upsets people on the Internet to distract and sow discord by posting inflammatory and digressive, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community.

A report by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) describes the objective of the most insidious type of internet trolling:

Troll propagandists know that when public figures engage with abusive trolls to defend their reputation or their values, a normal behavioural response, this inadvertently spreads and legitimates the trolls’ message and tricks social media algorithms into pushing it into a broader array of users’ timelines.

The report cites examples of how trolling is a strategy actively employed by extremist groups to gain media attention.

The second image illustrates the effect of this type of trolling.

#trolling – pen, ink and spray paint. A3 sized

The CCDH report has a quote by George Bernard Shaw that goes some way to explain how to counter this form of abuse: “I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”


What went well

  • The final images are based on solid research and authoritative/reliable data.
  • Drawing from the work of other artists, particularly in an exhibition environment where there is a direct experience of the work, was an effective way to develop and process my own ideas.
  • I was pleased that I was able to use my life drawing sketches as reference for some of the figures.
  • Ideas generation worked well and took place over a period of about a week. Ideas changed and were refined using mind maps that were repeatedly revisited and updated.
  • Time spent thumbnailing to try out different compositions was and important process.
  • I like the combination of pen and ink and spray paint in #trolling to give a different contrasting texture within the image.

What I would do differently/better

  • It would have been nice to use a printmaking technique to create these images. Etching would be an obvious choice, but I also like the feel of woodcut.



Pappas, Stephanie (2010) Different colors describe happiness, depression At: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/35304133/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/different-colors-describe-happiness-depression/#.XmEJ9kPgrUI (Accessed: 10.03.20)

Centre for Countering Digital Hate (2019) Don’t Feed the Trolls At: https://www.counterhate.co.uk/ (Accessed: 10.03.20)

Wikipedia Internet troll At: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_troll (Accessed: 10.03.20)

Beth Manders, Jasveer Kaur (2019) Suicides in the UK: 2018 registrations At: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/suicidesintheunitedkingdom/2018registrations (Accessed: 10.03.20)

Taylor & Francis Group (2019) Large UK study shows teenage girls far more likely to self-harm At: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-12/tfg-lus121719.php  (Accessed: 10.03.20)

Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (2019) The health impacts of screen time – a guide for clinicians and parents At: https://www.rcpch.ac.uk/resources/health-impacts-screen-time-guide-clinicians-parents (Accessed: 10.03.20)

List of illustrations

Figure 1 – Hanselaar, Marcelle (2015-17) Remnants of civilisation [Etching] At: https://marcellehanselaar.com/etchings-2015-crying-game/  (Accessed: 08.03.20)




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