How I Became a Teenage Pixel Trash Artist

Updated: Dec 21, 2020

I've been thinking about my art lately. Or, maybe to phrase it a little better, my former art, since I'm really not an artist anymore.

Once upon a time in the early 1990s, my parents bought a program called Print Shop Deluxe. There were very few things in the world that made me feel quite as fancy and artsy as ~*dEsIgNinG my own bIRtHdAy iNviTAtioNs*~, printing them out, and seeing on the back “designed by Christie.” These screenshots bring back so many fun memories. Probably a lot of people around my age remember this with fondness.

In 1998, my family acquired a scanner. That scanner came with some free software called Ulead iPhotoPlus. I had no training or real understanding of photo editing—I didn't even know what it was called—but that program sparked my imagination enormously. I'm assuming it was 1998, given that year is the earliest date on my picture files. The amount of time I staring at this interface is honestly crazy. (The screenshot below is in French, but the program looked exactly the same except in English.)

Oh, just looking at this makes me want to use this program again. I had no name for what I was doing. "Art"? That’s a pretty big roadblock in terms of getting taught how to do something, so I just made it up as I went along. Click everything, try every option, see what happens.

If I liked a picture online, I saved it. If I really liked it enough, I would play with it in the photo editor.

At the time, I was definitely not aware of copyright/usage issues... even if I was, I am pretty sure I wouldn’t have considered what I was doing to violate copyright. I was remixing! Transforming! Making ART! (It totally violated copyright. Don't do this.)

See also: picture I made using a photo of Britney Spears (I think she looks much better as a goth). Sorry, original photographer.

My method was pretty straightforward: find pictures I liked and then modify them into oblivion. I didn’t just lift pictures off the internet. To get the effects I wanted or execute the ideas I had, I scanned everything I could find to build my collages and mosaics: my own photos, my own hands, my hair (by craning my neck backward with my locks of hair pressed between the lid and glass), my own hand-drawn art, objects. I didn’t have a digital camera, so anything I wanted to work with had to be scannable.

Yep. Literally scanned my hands—many times. (They were so thin! Now my fingers look like little sausages. Ah, to be young again.)

And of course, all the pictures I found online were pixelated and low quality, though at the time there wasn't anything notable about that.

I had so much fun even though the options were incredibly limited on this program. There were no layers, so you couldn’t go backward except with the undo function—everything had to be built up meticulously. As soon as you pasted something else in, you were locked into whatever the base background was and could only modify your current floating selection. The tools were simple, and the filters were pretty much limited to things like a basic blur, ripple pool, or wave effect.

Which is why I put ripples and waves on everything...

Eventually, I figured out that since there were no layers, I had to save a million different variations so I could always go back to an earlier file if the layered edits turned out badly. And of course, I didn't have a word for "layers," so I didn’t even know that I was lacking them. As I recall, I used that same Ulead iPhotoPlus 4 program until I think early 2005, when I got a copy of Photoshop CS and discovered layers. (What an eureka moment. LAYERS!!)

I loved playing with these pictures. I spent countless hours piecing together image mosaics and experimenting to push the limits of my tools. Many of my creations are abstracted into distorted geometric messes or just weird colorful patchworks.

I poured hours and days into making these things and then putting them on my website. Every so many months I’d overhaul my website, call it a new “version” with some name to fit the color/image theme, and redo the whole thing from the graphics to the layout.

I would occasionally play with transferring art from digital to hand-drawn and vice versa. For example, I remember like a picture I saw online of a girl with angel wings tattooed on her back, so I drew it by hand in calligraphy ink. Then I scanned the drawing and deconstructed it.

All these pictures are from 1998-2002. I'm very pleased with my teenage self for burning all my files onto CDs. I have hundreds and hundreds of these pictures. I spent countless days—from morning until night during the summer break—just making pixelated trash art. Ahh, the golden era of my youth, what a delight. :) <3

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