A few years ago, my kids were struggling to think of what they wanted to get their dad for Father’s Day. It’s hard to buy gifts for dad when he’s the kind of man who doesn’t really have a lot of hobbies outside of his work and family, so we tend to try and make our gifts more meaningful and from the heart.
My kids really love arts and crafts, so when in doubt, making a gift is their go-to option. But when let loose on their own, their “art” can be sort of questionable, and they get mightily offended if we don’t end up treating every scribble on a post it like it belongs in the Guggenheim.
With all that in mind, I thought it might be nice to channel their creative energy into something that might actually be worth displaying and keeping. Something that had a bit of cool factor but was still decidedly creative. I wanted them to have control over how it looked but with some structure to it. We considered these cute Father’s Day printables, which I still might do later.
Then it hit me. Why not make a pixel portrait?
I’ll admit that I’m dating myself a bit when I say that 8-bit avatars were the norm back in my formative years. So I had some experience of creating them. But nowadays it’s pretty easy to go online and find websites to make your own 8-bit icons. So that’s what we did.
First, I headed over to 8biticon.com, and I played around with their (very) basic avatar maker. It is not a fancy one and is limited in its options, but I was able to make a passable image of my husband in a few minutes, with the boys’ help. Once we were satisfied that it resembled him enough, we simply downloaded the image to our computer.
Next, we counted out the pixels horizontally and vertically in the image so that we could make a grid to recreate the image on paper. There were 20 across and 20 down, so we decided how big we wanted the portrait to be and then set about doing the math to divide it into 400 equal squares.
I used a pencil for this, as we obviously didn’t want the pencil lines to show at the end, but we needed to be able to see the individual squares as we went.
The next step was also a little bit tedious, but it wasn’t actually difficult. Once again, I found it easier for me to do this bit, as the kids weren’t quite ready to figure out how to make it work.
What I did is get colored pencils in each of the colors that we would need for the portrait. Obviously you don’t have to use the colors that are in the saved icon – you just need to remember which colors you are substituting.
Then, I used the saved image for reference, and I took each colored pencil and mapped out the outline of each area where that color would be used. This involved a lot of counting pixels.
For instance, I knew the entire top two rows would be empty, just background. The third row was the start of the top of the hair, and it would half five empty pixels, ten brown pixels and five empty pixels. The next row would have four empty pixels, one brown pixel, one empty pixel, eight brown pixels, one empty pixel, one brown pixel and four empty pixels.
I went through each and every row, marking every single pixel with its corresponding color, trying to keep larger blocks together so it was easier for the kids to color them in. Once I had everything mapped out on the page, I gave the kids the colored pencils and let them get to work.
They did a great job coloring in the main image, but then it was time to color the background. This is where their creativity got to really shine through. They didn’t want to just stick to one color, so they decided to make it a full on Minecraft background, complete with creepers, endermen and pigs. I guess it went with the 8-bit theme?
When it was all done to their satisfaction, the three older boys each signed their names around the outside, and I wrote the baby’s name on the fourth side.
We used a square Dollar Tree frame to make it look a little fancy, and wrapped it up for Father’s Day.
The boys were SO excited to give it to their dad, and he was really excited to receive it. He ended up hanging it in his office at work, and it’s been there ever since. It ended up being one of the best projects the kids have done, and it is probably the most memorable Father’s Days we’ve had in this family.
I wanted to share this fun project here because I think it makes such a fun gift idea, but it’s something you can do really any time of year. To make it even easier, I’ve created a simple printable grid for you to use. Just print it out and use it to map out your own pixel portrait. You can frame it for a gift or just keep it for yourself.
I hope you enjoyed this craft, and I’d love to know if you make your own. Don’t forget to share if you can, and leave a comment if you have any questions. I’m happy to help!
Katie Reed is a passionate writer and mother of four vivacious boys from Salt Lake City, Utah. Drawing from her own journey through TTC, pregnancy, and the joys of raising children, she offers a wealth of insight into the world of motherhood. Beyond her heartfelt tales, Katie delights her readers with family-friendly recipes, engaging crafts, and a curated library of printables for both kids and adults. When she’s not penning her experiences, you’ll find her crafting memories with her husband and sons—Dexter, Daniel, Chester, and Wilder.