Common App essay – Pixel Art

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

I zoomed in on my character with a few quick swipes using my drawing tablet pen. The blocky character was made out of perfect, tiny squares as if it had been built out of Lego bricks. But something was a bit off. I peered into the picture and tried to find what was wrong. Is it the hair? I had outlined the borders of the hair with a single pixel layer and wondered if that was throwing the image off. No, that was not it; I dismissed the thought and scanned for something else. I noticed only after flipping the image and changing the perspective that the gradients of the two eyes were too similar to convey their depth. With the color identification tool, I copied my eyes’ RGB values from a photo of my face and applied it to the two dots that represented the eyes of my character. Done. I zoomed back out and looked at my piece with pride.

This is pixel art, a form of digital art that requires the artist to carefully curate each individual pixel on their digital canvas. When I was young, I lacked talent in drawing, so I always took a role in researching or presenting for school projects because I knew my peers could do a better job on the visuals.

However, when I became indulged in coding and began to develop my own software, I lacked the funds to hire a graphic artist to make images for my application. In my search for an alternative, I discovered pixel art. It seemed deceptively elementary, so I decided to break my isolation with art and challenge my weakness. The first few times, my shaded squares formed splotchy images, and I struggled to draw anything that even slightly resembled what I had in mind. However, after clicking the little paintbrush tool hundreds of times, I soon began to see improvement in my work, and I began to release the creativity that had been restrained by my lack of technique. I started out by drawing small images such as icons and tilesets, and slowly moved onto characters and landscapes with larger canvas sizes and animation. After every project, I could tell that the complexity and color scheme of each piece was improving.

Although the style of pixel art may seem easy and simple, the limited number of squares that I can use forces me to use each space as efficiently as possible to convey the overarching picture. No pixel can be wasted, for a single misplaced pixel could cause the entire work to fail. This is what I love about pixel art: every single pixel is of equal importance and must do its job in order for the whole canvas to work. Much like how a single pixel is only the small part of the overall picture, pixel art is only a small part of me. The components of my life, no matter how disconnected they seem, are equally important. It is only when these pieces come together that the whole picture of ‘me’ becomes visible. I am not just someone who is confident in aquatic sports, someone who enjoys playing the piano to relax, someone who volunteers as a tech tutor, or someone who draws pixel art. It is a combination of all these features that truly define who I am.

Despite my progress, this image of myself is not complete. I still have pixels that I must add and fix: there are still fields that I have not yet explored, new mentors that I will meet, and changes I will make for the betterment of humanity. I hope that the pixels of my abilities and achievements will eventually come together to create a cohesive masterpiece, a creation that I can proudly present to myself and the world. With this goal in mind, I pick up my pen and boot up my drawing tablet.

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