Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Portrait of a Perler Artist

Sometime during the past week, I celebrated my first "Perler-versary" - the one year mark of my entry into the world of bead sprites. I remember my entry into this brave new nerdy world well: my first creation was last summer an 8-bit Link during Create Camp on July 25; I man-crafted with a friend that Friday, and by Sunday I had purchased most of the supplies I needed to start, following up the initial surge with a blog post about my new hobby a week later. Over the past year, I have enjoyed a fair bit of this hobby, though much more intermittently than I would like sometimes, and I have amassed a decent collection. I had a lot of fun showing my work to the campers at this year's Create Camp; I'm now a living legend among the 7-11 year old crowd thanks to my sprites. I have really enjoyed my first year of Perler beading, so here, for your enjoyment, is my collection from my first year of making sprites.

 First of all, the tools of the trade (except for an iron and parchment paper):

Mega Man 2 and 3 bosses (except Hard Man - I can't quite figure out the colouring on him):

The Legend of Zelda (NES on the left, SNES and other Links on the right):

And, finally, my assorted Mario sprites, and my start on the Greendale 7 from Community:

I know it seems like a lot, but it really isn't that much. I have had a few spurts of creativity, but not as many as I would like to have had. I have a few projects and ideas that I would like to finish sometime, including finishing the Community sprites, making a Roughriders logo, and making Mega Man X, but we'll see what happens in the next few months. For now, I'm still basking in the glow of my most recent project, which was also my first true work of Perler art. All of the other sprites are simply copied from a pixelated image, but this project took inspiration, interpretation, and dedication, and I found myself engaging as an artist. Here's my story.

My mom is a caricaturist, and she sets up at the Fringe every year to sketch passers-by for a nominal fee. She was looking for something different this year to set her sign apart, so she suggested that I could try making a Perler bead version of her "Angry Monkey" logo:
I took up the challenge, and I had to learn a whole new level of making bead sprites. Her logo did not exist in a pixellated form, so I had to run the picture through a program online to change it into a bead-able format. The first step was to adjust the picture so that it worked with the palette, and then the program converted that image into a bead-by-bead pattern.

Then came the actual beading process. It took four boards, and I had to interpret the pattern a lot since it did not always correctly feature black beads, instead using the light brown beads. I forgot to take pictures of the whole process, but it took several hours and a lot of trial and error to get the design right. As you can see, there were even some differences in the final stages as I went back to the original pattern to get the best comparison I could.

Then came the final step: the ironing. Again, I didn't take any pictures, but this time it was because I was so focussed on trying not to ruin the entire piece. I took over an hour to iron because I tried to move the paper up before it was all fully melted, which meant that a lot of the beads fell out of place. I had to gradually iron each small section into a larger section, and I eventually got every part except the top middle of the hair all together. The challenge in ironing is that the beads will curl up as they cool if they are not held down, so I had to continually try to iron as the beads were moving out of place. I was finally able to iron the small section of hair and then integrate it with the rest of the monkey. You can see a little bit of different ironing on the final product below; just look for the two areas in the middle top that look a little less melted (ie. more holes) - the ironed-in portion is between those two sections. Despite my troubles, I am still very proud of how it turned out.

So there you have it: my first real piece of Perler art, a one-of-a-kind, never-to-be-duplicated Angry Monkey. It is my largest piece to date, and although it used a small palette, it was easily my most complex due to the nature of the creation process. My mom was ecstatic when I gave it to her, and it is on her sign right now. And I feel great, like I finally really accomplished something as an artist: I took something that wasn't and made something. I did not necessarily get each bead perfect, but I did my best to capture the essence of the original. I took one artist's idea and made it my own, and I'm proud to call myself a true bead artist now. I'm no longer just a replicator; now I'm a creator, and I'm excited to create new pieces that are not merely simple replications of pixellated figures. I will still enjoy making those, undoubtedly, but I can now enjoy being an artist at my craft, regardless of how nerdy it happens to be.

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