This weeks Featured Artist is the very talented Chris Caskie. He uses wooden blocks to create awesome 3D pixel sprites inspired by retro video games. Below you can checkout my interview with him and some of his art. You can find contact info and links to Chris’s store at the bottom of the page. Enjoy!
KD: Hi Chris! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you do?
CC: Hi! I’m Chris Caskie. I usually go by mrgilder online or when I play games. I’m a hobbyist artist who is completely in love with the pixel art aesthetic. My signature pieces are “wooden sprite” plaques and standees of classic game characters that I build and paint by hand.
KD: What inspired you to make these awesome, wooden 8-bit sprites?
CC: When I was young, my dad and grandpa taught me to take a lot of pride in working with my hands to build and fix things around the house, and my mom was always very artistically inclined. Growing up in that environment put a drive in me to make things. Even though I love video games, occasionally I found that spending all my free time playing them made me feel a bit guilty. I was having fun, I wasn’t being conventionally “productive.” I decided to look for a way to use art to engage with and celebrate games, so that I could have the best of both worlds. It also occurred to me that a lot of people who grew up enjoying games in the 8 and 16-bit eras are adults now. These people probably have their own homes, and they might be in the market for unique decorative pieces that tap into their nostalgia for old-school gaming. I started out by making traditional pixel paintings on stretched canvas, which is quite a popular hobby these days, but I didn’t find the activity particularly fulfilling. First off, I wasn’t really interested in scenes or backgrounds – just the character sprites themselves – so I always lost interest in a piece 3/4 of the way through it. Second, although I enjoyed the painting aspect, I wasn’t really building anything with my hands. I was satisfying the artistic impulse, but I was failing to meet the need that I had to really make something. That’s when the idea came to me to build characters out of wood first, then paint them. That’s how my wooden sprites came about, and I’ve heard nothing but positive feedback since.
KD: What’s your process when creating the 8-bit sprites? I’ve been interested in doing this myself sometime soon :)
CC: There are other people out there making wooden sprites, but no two artists make them in quite the same way. I think my approach leads to a very clean, bright, and authentic look that I’m very proud of. Once I’ve identified a sprite that I find really interesting, I use the free art program GIMP to isolate the sprite, blow it up, and impose a grid on it so that I can easily count out the pixels and see how and where the color blocks sit. I then build the sprite out of 1/2 inch wooden cubes that I purchase in bulk. I use wood glue to put the cubes together. Titebond 3 sets quickest and forms the strongest bond. If I’m building a standee, as opposed to a plaque, I will also work two 1/2 inch wooden dowels into the bottom row of pixels. Instead of painting or staining the cubes before assembling the sprite, which is a technique that I’ve seen, I build the sprite entirely out of naked wood first, then sand it smooth with fine-grit sandpaper. The next step is to prime the wood. Solid black paint goes on the back and edges. White paint for the front face. Then it’s just a matter of painting the piece. I use only good quality, artist grade, heavy-body acrylic paints. I work with a 1/4 inch chisel tip brush so that my pixels always have extremely clean edges. I follow the edges of the individual blocks as my guides as I paint – it’s the advantage of building the sprite instead of simply cutting it out of a sheet of wood. I always apply several coats of paint because I want the colors to take on a smooth, plastic quality to create the illusion of a digital image brought out of the screen and into your living room. The final step is to varnish all the surfaces of the sprite using acrylic medium, so it’s protected from the elements and its colors always stay vibrant. It’s a long process, but totally worth every hour of work.
KD: Do you dabble in any other forms of art or sculpting?
CC: I sure do. I’ve been drawing, painting, and making crafts for most of my life. When I don’t feel like getting all my art supplies out, I like to make traditional, digital pixel art as well. The rise of the indie gaming scene in the past few years has really inspired me to get into some of my own sprite and tile making. I have also been experimenting with digital drawing and painting using a Wacom tablet. I’ve always had an interest in character design, and I really like to create anime style giant robots and armor.
KD: What’s your favorite Nintendo game or series?
CC: Wow, that’s a tough one. I know it’s technically developed by Squaresoft, but I’d have to go with the original Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. I like Nintendo best when they’re at their weirdest and most experimental – and the original Mario RPG is just waaaaaaay out there. There are just so many odd, original characters that have never been seen again. A rad 90’s style evil Yoshi with a spiked collar and sunglasses named Boshi? Yes please! It’s also really hard not to fall in love with a game that lets you include Peach in your battle party so that she can bonk baddies on the head with a frying pan. Then Bowser joins you too? What is going on?!? I love Mario RPG.
KD: Are you working on any new projects that we can expect to see in the future?
CC: I’m always working on something. I just recently got my hands on some sprite sheets for Final Fantasy 5, so I’m hoping to do a series of classic FF sprites. I started work on a Moogle this week, and I hope to do a Chocobo and a Bomb as well. I’m also really interested in doing a few characters from modern indie games. Shovel Knight is a must, and I’m enamored with style of Tribute Games’ Curses n’ Chaos. I work slowly though, so I try not to get too ahead of myself with future plans.
KD: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer some of my questions Chris. I can’t wait to try and make some of my own wooden 8-bit sprites! Where can our readers checkout some more of your pieces or contact you if they have any questions?
CC: Any time! Thanks for all your kind words about my art. I’ve got a few places online where I share my work, and I definitely encourage everyone to give me a follow and see what I’m up to. First of all, I just want to point out that I do sell the majority of my wooden sprites in my Etsy shop. Most of the proceeds go right toward materials so that I can make more sprites, so support is always appreciated. You can find the shop here. I also recently launched a Tumblr blog, so follow me and reblog until your heart’s content. Finally, I have a gallery on DeviantArt that I have maintained for many years. It’s a great place to see my older work along with my current stuff. Anyone who wishes to contact me can find me quite easily on Google+. Just look me up by name. I use the same little pixel art mecha-bear as my avatar everywhere online, so I’m easy to identify.
Any artist interested in having their artwork on PureNintendo.com or in PNM can contact me at Kaelyn@purenintendo.com. We love to see anything Nintendo themed from fan art to sculptures to baked goods. You could be the next Pure Nintendo featured artist! Also to see artwork from artists featured in our magazine, PNM, please head to PureNintendo.com/magazine to subscribe! Thanks for reading.