Thanks to my dad’s experimental aircraft business, I was privileged to grow up around airplanes and spend a fair amount of time in the cockpit as a kid. It’s no wonder my art often features a variety of flying machines. In particular, I’ve always been fascinated with the Wright brothers and the early age of flight that ensued after they first took to the skies in 1903. So much innovation and fantastic looking contraptions in the form of biplanes, triplanes, and dirigibles.
Awkwardly large to be airborne, airships always have a fantasy aspect to them, even the ones in real life. If we didn’t have video documentation of the Zeppelins, and dirigibles used by the US Navy in the first half of the 20th century, I’d have a hard time believing they actually existed. Of course, we have modern day blimps, but they don’t capture the imagination like their hulking predecessors.
Although most of those early dirigible designs crashed and burned in catastrophic fashion, their bold designs still capture our imagination and make us ask, what if? What if, they figured out how to make it safe and practical? Who knows what kind of contraptions would be in the skies today. Perhaps, explorers would have traded in their sales and fashioned dirigibles to their ships.
While airships proved to be too dangerous and costly, small airplanes took to the skies in droves. In the early days, the biplane, and even some triplanes dominated. With a great roll rate and slow stall speed, multi-wing designs were advantageous for the military operations of WWI. However, advances in materials and design would eventually give monoplanes the same advantages, without the extra drag and poor visibility. While modern day biplanes are still good for aerobatics, they’re more about nostalgia than performance.
My above biplane is based on the Fokker DVII, a German WWI plane. I economized some details to adapt to my pixel style, but it’s a fairly accurate representation.
The marvel of flight lofts our view into the skies, where we can not only see the earth from a new perspective, but also allows us to be amongst the ethereal beauty of cloudscapes. Here’s a quick reference of the main cloud types to help inspire your sky backgrounds.
Apparently, there are more than 100 specific cloud types, but all variations fit into these 10 main types. Some of these are hard to distinguish, with only altitude being the main difference.
Cumuls - Small puffy clouds with flat bottoms, found at low altitude. Spaced out enough to still be sunny.
Stratus - Low, flat, relatively featureless gray clouds that sometime come with light precipitation.
Stratocumulus - Low fluffy clouds, similar to cumulus, but darker and thicker with only patches of sky peering through.
Altocumulus - Common mid altitude that dot the sky in round heaps or sometimes parallel bands. The heaps are sometimes likened to sheep’s wool.
Nimbostratus - Low, gray clouds thick enough to blot out the sun, usually bringing heavy precipitation.
Altostratus - Mid altitude, thick flat clouds that blanket the sky in a gray haze, but the sun stills dimly shines through.
Cirrus - High altitude clouds that appear as thin white wispy strands, streaking across blue sky.
Cirrocumulus - Formed at high altitudes from ice droplets, and sometimes called cloudlets, these clouds appear in white patches, often arranged in rows.
Cirrostratus - High altitude, transparent, whitish clouds that are wispy like cirrus clouds but thicker. Light refraction caused by the ice crystals in the clouds often creates a halo around the sun.
Cumulonimbus - These are large towering clouds that span the low, middle, and high altitudes. They are flat and dark on the bottom, and mushroom into anvil shapes the top of the billowing towers. These are thunderstorm clouds and are sure to bring sever weather.
When I make step by step tutorials, I expect many will follow along pixel by pixel, but it is always my hope that some will discover something on there own along the way. In fact, I encourage you to iterate and modify at every step to really make a design of your own, simply using my direction as a foundation.
I hope you’ve enjoyed our little journey through the clouds. Personally, I can never get enough aircraft and clouds in my pixel art. It was difficult to narrow it down and focus on just a couple designs. Expect more aircraft related topics in the future!
Was this article helpful? If you find value in my content please consider becoming a Patreon member. Among many other rewards, Pixel Insider members get extra resources to compliment my tutorials. But most importantly, you allow me to continue making new content.
This month I’m sharing Age of Flight assets. which includes all the sprites associated with this tutorial. Have fun using these in your pixel art studies or personal game dev projects.
All assets in this feature use colors derived from my Bright Future color palette.
Get caught up on all my downloads
If you're not ready to commit to the subscription model of Patreon, make a one-time donation and receive exclusive art and resources. Fan support is necessary to keep producing content. Thank you!
-By Raymond Schlitter