Where do I start?
Pixel art is about the pixels- that’s as simple as it gets. These tips share a common goal: to make sure your focus is on the pixels.
Start small– The larger the image you’re trying to make, the more time and work it’s going to take to complete it. Don’t make this tough on yourself, use a small canvas. Pixel art can convey a lot of information for its size, you’d be surprised how little room you need if you control the pixels properly.
Use a limited palette– If you can’t make a good sprite in 4 colors, using 40 colors isn’t going to help. Using a small palette is especially good for beginners because it forces you to focus on pixel placement and the relationships between groups of pixels.
The original, 4-color GameBoy palette is a good choice for beginners, as you’ll only have to worry about value, and not hue or saturation.
There are plenty of good programs out there for pixel art, many of which are free. I use Grafx2, but GraphicsGale, Pro Motion, Photoshop, Pixen, and MS Paint are all common choices. Some are more user friendly than others, which is why I choose something with keyboard shortcuts like Grafx2 over MS Paint, it has saved me many trips to the toolbar (and makes for much easier palette management).
A common mistake that new pixel artists make is saving their art as a JPEG/JPG. While this file type might be fine for other types of images, it causes compression, which destroys the quality of a piece of pixel art.
Never, ever save as JPG. Instead, save as PNG or GIF. Be careful though, as some programs (such as MS Paint) don’t properly support the GIF format, and will ruin your image. In these instances, you’ll need a file converter (such as Giffy) if you want to save your image as a GIF.
But how do I start the image?
It’s completely up to you. Some artists prefer to create the line art first, then go in and add color:
Other artist prefer to ‘block-in’ the major forms with a larger brush, then continue by refining the image until it has a pixel-level polish:
Both methods are fine, it all depends on what you’re comfortable with, or the specifics of the project. Line work might be a good method if you’re tracing a scanned image (such was the case for the sea monster example above). If you’re beginning the image in your pixelling program, and it isn’t a tiny sprite, blocking in the forms with a larger brush may prove more useful.