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January 1, 2010
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Seeing the art in 177 pixels by Synfull Seeing the art in 177 pixels by Synfull
A while back ~Mike-RaWare suggested I did a deviation on 'Seeing the art in 177 pixels'. 177 pixels is the size of an average 15x15 emote and this is an explanation on why I feel they deserve to be called an art form.

As stated several times below I am entitled to my opinion and you are entitled to yours. If you don't agree with what is said then just move along, but please do consider some of the points I raise.


Seeing the art in 177 pixels

Art is a really bizarre thing. Where as in maths or science thereís often a right and a wrong way to do something, when it comes to art itís very hard to draw a line between what is and isnít art. There may be some fancy definition somewhere, but truthfully a lot of it is down to personal opinion, and this is where differences arise.

To some people smileys and emotes are the most amazing of things, but equally there are many people out there that see them as just a circle with a smiley face. In the end everyone is entitled to their personal opinion. This is not designed to bash into your brains that emotes are art, merely explain my thoughts and feelings behind why I feel they are, and to let you into the view of an emoticonist.
At first glance an emote is just a pixel ball with a face, but when you dive into the emote community you often discover it is so much more. To create this face there are a number of different elements including:

:bulletred: Shading
:bulletgreen: Expression
:bulletblue: Objects
:bulletpurple: Animation

Whereas not every emoticon involves all of these elements, they do play a role in many much loved ones today.

One thing many people believe is that emotes are quick and easy things to create. It is true that I can make and animate an emote all within 5 minutes, but thereís a lot more to it all than meets the eye. To create some of emotes it can take 5, 10, even 100 hours. Time isnít something you should really take into account when considering whether something is art or not. In theory a photograph can be taken within a second, yet we all know thereís much more to being able to take that perfect shot over and over again.

Many people Iíve met have quoted Ďyou never know what it takes to make an emote until you actually try ití. Although I canít make you try one out, I can give a more insightful look at what things an emoticonist may have to consider and tackle while working with only 177 pixels (one 15x15 pixel ball)


If you take a look at an emote from a distance they may look one solid colour, but to create the perfect emote shading and emoticonist must consider several different things. Thereís no single way to shade an emote, but often itís about finding the right balance between enough colour yet still being able to view the expression clearly. Combined with this an emoticonist must also consider the mood of an emote, for example anger is often represented in red, and saddened emotes are more commonly blue. Once they have made decisions on these sort of things they actually need to work on the shading in which they have to think about lighting, as well as picking colours that both fit together to give an smooth effect, yet offer enough contrast both to themselves and the emote's features.

It is true that a gradient can be used to fill in an emote's shading. Whereas this eliminates some of the issues, it can take a while to learn how to create a good emote base.
To an experienced emoticonist shading can come as second nature, but certainly when starting it takes a bit of getting used to, thought and practice. Below is some examples of shading, and you can clearly see the difference.


Personally I have never been all that great at creating a wide range of expressions for emoticons. Iíve been lucky enough to find ways around this lack of skill, but when I browse the gallery I am often in awe of some emotes out there.

When creating an expression you are limited to using 0-50ish pixels and managing to show strong expression within that space is a trickier problem than you may first imagine. Some expressions such as :) and :( may be easy even for someone new to the community, but when you get onto more complex feelings it can take a lot of imagination to get it spot on.
There are thousands of different expressions out there and as an emoticonist you have to learn how to create and manipulate them to give you the correct effect. Some emoticonists are naturally creative and can easy pixel individual expressions for different situations, yet many others have to learn to use a range of up to 15 expressions in different ways to display a desired effect. Moving a single pixel can yield an extremely different emotion and even when you know a basic range of faces, you have to learn to use them to create the desired impact.


Again with objects in emoticons it often takes time to learn how to display items within such a tiny canvas. Whereas in real life you can see a toothbrush is made up of many strands, itís impossible to pixel that detail into any object an emoticon could have. Instead you may end up with a simple 3 pixel line which poses a new problem of making a 3 pixel line act and behave in the way a toothbrush would.
Itís often about finding a compromise between detail, size and the ability to identify the item. Many believe you can work on a large image and scale down the item to fit the emote's size, but it's extremely difficult to achieve this without the item looking distorted. It is true you can zoom in while creating objects, but that still doesnít fix the fact you may have only 15 different squares and therefore up to 15 different coloured blobs to make an identifiable item when you zoom out.


Animation is often the key to making an emoticon work. For the few brave enough to stay as statics a new set of problems occur. With a single frame you have to supply the viewer with enough information to both understand the emotion displayed and also a summary of what may be happening in the bigger picture.

As for animation, there is a never ending list of tricks and effects you can choose to master. Although some can come more naturally with practice, effects such as explosions, 3D perspective and fire are avoided even by some of the most well known emoticonists.

For a simple emote you must not only consider how to make it move smoothly but also think of ways to correctly loop animation, and overcome the severe lack of body parts. You often have to have a great sense of thinking outside the box to conjure up ways to get around issues posed by size and animation restrictions.

Whereas creating a simple blink or wave emoticon may be easy for any Joe Bloggs off the street, it takes time, effort and passion to be able to easily create flawless emoticons time and time again.

Arenít they just a thing to use?

One of the unique twists about emoticons is the possibility to actually use them within conversation. Although nowadays thereís a branch of the community focused on emotes purely for viewing pleasure, a steady stream of new conversation based emotes pass through our gallery each week.
However because itís now so common to see and use emotes around sites, many people donít consider the people behind them that put the time, energy and pure passion into creating a mini representation of a feeling, thought or action.

Itís true that every once in a while an emoticonist will create a simple emote without much thought or preparation that suddenly shoots into the spotlight, but for the majority of pieces it does take some work and several attempts before you successfully pin down the desired effect.

Emotes may be a thing to use, but if you choose to use them it shows the emoticonist has done their job well and achieved their goal of creating an emote to display an expression or action.

Emotes and DDs

The most common place for me to find a person that struggles to see the art in emotes is when I browse comments received on DDs ( Daily Deviations). They often pose the statement Ďi donít feel emotes deserve DDsí and it actually interests me as to why they feel this way.

A Daily Deviation is not an award, it is purely a 24 hour feature. To me the main purpose of them is to bring some exposure to brilliant pieces and artists and highlight some of the best pieces within an art form.

When people try to compare the standard of DDs featured from one gallery to another it really makes no sense. If you analyse a photograph there are completely different elements you look at compared to a fractal image or a manga drawing.

For this reason I believe that emotes deserve DDs just as much as any other art form. Its true it they may not be able to generate a full time income, but useful or outstanding emotes should be allowed some exposure and recognition. For any conversational emote it can also create a massive boast and bring some light on brilliant emotes that may enhance conversations all over dA, in which case the public benefits just as much from the DD as the artist themselves.

Moving forward

One of the other interesting things about the art form is its age. Compared to many other art styles itís the baby in the art world, but instead of that dragging us down, we use it to leap forward. In a few years the art form can progress at massive speed with constant new effects, animation styles and crazes passing through the gallery.

This means not only do emoticonists have to learn things at a fast pace, but also have a drive to test the boundaries of the art form and move with the times. What you may see as Ďjust a simple smiley faceí has come a long way in such a short period of time, and if you take a comparison of a Ďtext emoteí with a visual emote it can be quite easy to see how much more artistic emotes are today.

Free thought

If by the end of this you still feel emotes are not an art form, I challenge you to make one yourself. Thereís a range of free programs and trials listed here: [link] and if you can return with a perfectly shaded, brilliantly animated emote displaying a complex emotion and still have the same opinion I will be impressed. If you do by chance manage to do this, or equally refuse to try then so be it. You are entitled to your opinion and I am entitled to mine.

However, do remember that just because you can have your own opinion doesnít mean you should spam it all over DDs, emote comments or emoticonists pages. I equally have art forms I dislike, but that doesnít mean I scream my hatred for them at every chance I get. Just because you dislike a piece doesnít mean its not art, it merely shows its not to your likings. Art is about emotion, expression and above all being creative and if you donít approve of something, move on. Thereís at least 100 million other pieces to view.

You can find all of my other tutorials on this page: [link]
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PizzaPotatoNBacon Featured By Owner Apr 3, 2013  Student General Artist
I like all art forms to be honest! :giggle: But this justifies everything about emoticons.
I really love pixelling and all that effort of zooming in, click the right square, zooming out... Oh, the great fuzzy feeling I have when I see I did things right, even though zoomed in it looks confusing. Emoticons are no different- heck, I made one myself, and before that, I kept on giving up XD
Well said. :D
Synfull Featured By Owner Apr 6, 2013
cellinara Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2012
Umm.. I am new in DA and this question might be super stupid. Where do we make these emoticons ?
Synfull Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2012
There isn't a specific place to make them - people just use normal art programs like MS paint, gimp and photoshop
cellinara Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2012
oh thanks a lot ! Love ur tutorials.
Astrikos Featured By Owner Oct 8, 2012   General Artist
:la: Well said. :heart:
Synfull Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2012
:aww: Thank you
Astrikos Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2012   General Artist
wolfgirl0123 Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2012  Hobbyist Artist
Wow this was very helpful! Thanks!
Synfull Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2012
:) glad you found it useful
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