In the fall of 2004, I came up with an idea to create "sprite sculptures". Being a child of the 80s I have become infatuated with sprite imagery. The technique and skill for them fascinate me and they have sucha warm nostalgic feeling for me, being the 80s child that I am. The original sculptures included Radd from Kid Radd, a small Space Invaders installation in my Junior year studio, and Indifferent the Duck.
Indifferent the Duck In the spring of 2005 I entered a new sprite sculpture based on Indifferent the Duck to the Washington Project for the Arts silent auction where he sold. With this sculpture I experimented with creating a base for the sculpture so that they could stand freely without fear of tipping over. I also used 3/4" cubes for this sculpture to meet size requirements. I prefer the 1" cubes since they're easier to work with.
Ness Between August and December of 2005 I created more sprites and began venturing into 16-bit designs, as well as continue working with "8-bit" and lower sprites including Pac-Man, Mario from Super Mario Bros., Link from the Legend of Zelda, Bogey from Kid Radd, and Ness from Earthbound.
White Walls Show Also with this series I created "side objects" to go with a few sprites. For example Link got 3 of his hearts (OK, 2 1/2...), Radd got his Rocket Board, and Ness was accompanied by Buzz Buzz. These were shown during the Senior Thesis Preview show at the Corcoran College of Art + Design's White Walls Gallery in December 2005.
I decided to abandon the "side objects" for the thesis show and focus on creating 7 new sprite sculptures, both appropriated and original creations. And so... That's what I did! The installation was complete on March 21st and was open to the public from March 22nd through the 26th at the Corcoran Gallery of Art as my thesis project.
The original concept (left) vs the final design (right).
Indifferent the Duck and the Sprite Sculptures
I'm a child of the 80s and I like Nintendo. Sprites have a deep nostalgic and aesthetic resonance with me because of that. The word sprite here does not refer to a mythical fairy creature, a popular soft drink from the fine people of Coca-Cola, or even the seldom used definition for a spayed ferret. Instead, "sprite" refers to two-dimensional pre-rendered transparent image or animation that is used in video games. For my thesis, I've taken these sprites and created sculptures based on them. I have created "Sprite Sculptures".
My sculptures are split into two categories, appropriated and original. The appropriated sprites, of course, are from already existing characters such as Super Mario. The original sprites are obviously designs of my own creation. I make these sculptures by assembling wooden cubes with wood glue, and color them with acrylic paint.
"Simple Solutions for I've appropriated certain sprites for a few reasons. The first reason is simply to help give an immediate context for my original sprites, to relate them to something that is more familiar to people that may not really get what they're seeing. The audience for this work is pretty limited; it doesn't hurt to have Super Mario around to help guide those that may otherwise be lost in this carnival of brightly colored pixels. Another reason for appropriation is to show an excerpt of the history of sprites from 8-Bit (Nintendo Entertainment System) and 16-Bit (Super Nintendo) software. The "improvement" of technology allowed for more complex sprites with more colors, for better or worse. One of my favorite quotes is "Less is more" and this philosophy certainly holds true for both my sprites and more frequent practice of illustration. As technology progressed into the 90s, larger palettes and higher resolutions became available, and more often than not sprites suffered by becoming amorphous blobs of color that can only be made out if you squint from far away or see them on a TV screen. I simply just want to celebrate the craft and effort that goes into making these easily made out and clever designs of sprites. Lastly, I just wanted to do something fun for people to see and make some sculptures of my favorite characters.
Sprite art can essentially be boiled down to sculpting a digital image one pixel at a time. What I'm doing with my sculptures is giving this technique a more tangible practice by using wooden cubes instead of pixels. Making sprite sculptures breaks the two biggest limitations of sprites; that they can only exist digitally and two-dimensionally. I want my sculptures to look like they suddenly hopped out of the screen and now tangibly exist, scuttling amongst our shins.
These sculptures are made from 1"x1"x1" wooden cubes that I bond with wood glue and color with acrylic paint. I like to do all this manual labor to make it known that a hand was involved in their creation. The sculptures aren't perfect or flat but sure do come pretty close. I love working both digitally and traditionally, but one thing you don't get when working digitally are "mistakes", things that can only happen in the real world. These imperfections just make work interesting to me.
Pixel sprite art sculpture First I take the 1" wooden cubes and lay them out loosely. Then I then start gluing them with wood glue! I start from the bottom and work my way up row by row. I start off by pairing cubes, then pair the pairs, then eventually construct a row. Working on a glass surface is nice so you can lay the sculpture down to keep it "straight" and it makes wood glue clean up a cinch.
After gluing everything together I usually sand the outsides briefly to remove excess glue. I'm not too worried about cubes that stick out much or whatever, I kinda like those imperfections as I've stated before above. The next step is to start taping off areas to paint! I've decided recently that doing the darkest color first, usually black, makes touching up easy. I tape out each color and paint both sides with acrylic. I let the paint dry and peel the tape off and tape off another color until I'm finished. It's just that easy!