The pixel art of Helm

Apr 30, 10:15 AM by SanderFocus

The Spartan by Helm

Telemachus Stavropoulos aka Helm is a strong character in the world of pixel art. Where in his daily life he spends his time working as a comic artist with great passion and talent, he deals with pixel graphics in his spare time accordingly. With the same academic and pioneering approach.

Though Helm is only 24 years old, his oeuvre reveals a very experienced mind. Never settling for conventions, he’s a pioneer by heart. Being from Athens in Greece, the often returning themes of mythical looking figures and monumental sceneries would suggest to be related to this background.

Being platform independent he defines his own limitations for his pixel art. Sometimes using a predefined limitations, like different particular graphic modes on the Commodore 64. From this explorative approach, a different perspective emerges, referred to by some as ‘Computer aesthetics’. Embracing the limitations instead of fighting them – deriving a style from it.

In ‘The Spartan’ (main article picture) he limits himself to using only 3 colours on a black background. Interesting thing there is the creation of colours op top of the usual pixel techniques.

The triangle oriented style is strongly based on the limited possibilities of the C64 ‘hires’-mode. That mode forces one to use only 2 colours in a 8×8 pixel square, with the total screen being a 40×25 grid of those squares. This kind of approach totally fits the ‘Computer aesthetics’ idea of doing digital art.

Some croppings of Helm’s pixel art. Click to see them in full glory (200% enlarged).

Pixel art by Helm Pixel art by Helm
Pixel art by Helm Pixel art by Helm
Pixel art by Helm Pixel art by Helm
Pixel art by Helm Pixel art by Helm

Croppping from Technodrama, a comic by Helm in 2009. Click for a full view.
Technodrama by Helm
Read the background information here.

Some questions and answers.

[8bit today] What is the background to your story of today, how did your creativity evolve?

[Helm] I came to do pixels because of video-games. I have had a long interest in graphical adventure games (both making them and playing them) and various action and platform titles mainly on the Mega Drive which was the only console my parents ever bought for me. The interest in video-games was never divorced from pixel art for me, although by looking at my art it might not show as much as for other pixel artists. All my art is informed by the particular effects of computer aesthetics. Hard (and sometimes absurd) machine limitations as a breeding ground for innovative approaches to conveying emotions through visual art.

On the other hand I’ve been making comics on a steady pace in the last 5 or 6 years, many of which have been published in various small press artifacts or newspapers. I intend to keep this up. I tend to think of my comic art as a more professional venture – not so much on the level of conceit but in that I’d enjoy to be able to make a honest and humble stable living out of it. Sadly I do not think I’ll be able to do that.

My creativity evolved because I was an introvert child that sat in his room and listened to/played Heavy Metal, read fantasy and sci-fi, played video-games and rpgs and drew. I’m sure this background is familiar to a lot of your readers.

[8bit today] Working with limitations in pixel art often defines one’s work process. Does it influence your approach to comics, or how do the two relate to each other for you?

[Helm] I approach my pixel art (which is mostly single images) with the sensibilities of the sequential artist only insofar that I am interested in telling stories that illuminate aspects of the human condition. I realize that most great paintings achieve just that without having anything to do with comics, but I’ve first became aquainted with this aspect of art through comics so it has painted my experience irreversibly. I approach my comics with the mindset of the pixel craftsman in that I am very occupied with achieving a holistic and self-defining visual look for everything I do. I try as much as possible to eradicate jarring dualism between narration and image just how in pixel art I’m trying to emphasize the strengths of the picture element (dubbed ‘pixel’ by someone into shorthand) when working on digital displays, instead of trying to hide it behind a facade of hypernaturalist flash.

To make a more specific statement I’ll say that pixel art teaches the visual artist to respect the the foundational elements of their chosen genre of work. In pixel art you cannot go any smaller than a single pixel, and so anything you compose has to be made from this finite element, the atom of the digital display. Of course that’s all barring messing with cathode ray tubes in old televisions that displayed pixel art which could do half pixels and less (this inexact realm actually annoys me to think about and I’m very happy the high-tech digital displays of today show a single pixel in all its crisp and lucid beauty). This might seem like a limitation to the beginning artist, but I’ve found that too much freedom makes the artist fear their medium. If you can do anything, where do you start? Limitations breed innovations. I’ve taken the same approach to my comic work in that I’m looking at its foundational limitations as strengths. I am not interested in making comics that appear like little movies, or still frames from an animation. Imitation of a more limitless medium in a limited medium is the sort of problematic thinking that arrives the c64 demoscene in trying to make their artwork appear like Amiga artwork (oooh, if we interlace these two images it fakes more colors!) when – often, but not always – they do not have the mastery of the basic limited forms the machine was made to display. I know a large percentage of your audience will understand the jargon so to put it succintly: if I can’t do what I want to do in hires or multicolor mode, then why should I try to do it on the c64? Just to impress someone that thought it wasn’t possible?

When I draw comics I think about panels, boundaries, the flow of the page, the black/white balance on the foundational level and I try to write stories that can be best conveyed in that medium. When I make pixel art I think about how the pixels (and the particular limitation set I’m working in) will amplify what I want to do with the image. If they would not, then I do not use that medium. That is the correlation between my comic work and my pixel art work. A respect for foundational capabilities.

[8bit today] What motivates and inspires you, is there a difference for pixel art and comic art?

[Helm] There is a difference between one image and sequence of images. Whether they are made of pixels, are pixel art (not the same thing) or neither is not as important. There are though certain inherent charges in using a machine display to show your work, or a piece of paper on which your work is printed that are worth noting. I think I might have covered the implication here, on the answer above. The motivations behind all my work are the same though:

I’m interested in how the human mechanism works not so much out of a positivist curiosity, not to disassemble a machine and put it back together… but to reconcile myself with the deterministic causality of reality (and it’s holistic, unfathomable temper) so I can be more at peace with the various psychic wounds that causality inflicts on the sentient self. A lifetime is a cruel thing and I’m only a quarter way through it, I cannot cope through it trying to assign blames and reasons to everything, my reasons are idiotic and reality is blameless. I do not want to ‘understand’ anything about reality, I want to allow myself to feel it on a more essential level through the sideways glance through the wound that is art. I want to steel myself through this process and there might be wisdom in learning that you cannot understand it all.

I describe situations and feelings in my comics so that they might reflect back to me from a higher place and guide me towards a reconciliation with the actual facts that inspire the art works. I know this might sound like a stretch when you look at a picture of a stupid sci-fi building I might have drawn, but if one allows himself to approach art with a less cynical outlook for a bit they might appreciate the severity of the intent in the childishness of the result (this is how to appreciate Heavy Metal also). I show these works to others so that they might notice that I exist on some more fundamental level than our automatic lives usually allow us. From that vantage (if achieved, it’s often the case I show artwork to people and it means nothing at all to them) I’ve found, more effective communication can be attempted.

My motivation towards being active in the artistic critique community is not exactly the same. On one level it feels really good to have helped someone with their work, for nothing. Positive karma loop. On another it is really fascinating for me to be able to correct artwork I see which from my point of view could be corrected. It’s like fixing your own work without having to do the first five steps in making it, just going straight to the problems and fixing those. I’ve found that the more I critique and the sharper my eye gets at spotting errors, the more my own work has benefited from this. There is, I am certain, a very narcissist impulse in striving for technical ability after you’ve conquered a degree that allows for the basic communication that a ‘silly’ form of art like comics is known for, but I try not to think of it as the core of what I’m doing, if for no other reason than that from that vantage I find my own work very sorely lacking.

[8bit today] How do you see the future for you and your pixel art? Is there a bigger goal, or anything particular you want to achieve?

[Helm] I want to get more stories out of me because that makes me healthier. I want to see growth around me and inspiration for something better. I’m trying to not give in my doubts and various shames.

My other various aspirations include eating everything, becoming a human being, living forever.

Helm’s blog on comics can be found here. See more of his pixel art at Pixeljoint.



fantastic work…!
great interview, thanks for this..

nemoDreamer, 30.04.09  [link]

one of my favourite c64 artists. seems, like it was just the right moment for this interview.
“I do not want to ‘understand’ anything about reality, I want to allow myself to feel it on a more essential level through the sideways glance through the wound that is art. “ – this is one of the best phrases i read in a long time. i definetely would like to read more from this author.

elfh,  1.05.09  [link]

this knight was my wallpaper during month ! you, good sir, have really excellent taste ^^ please, keep doing this great job with your blog !

iris,  1.05.09  [link]

online pixel art tool

makyoo, 12.05.09  [link]


Comments are disabled.