How illustrator Aled Lewis designed gig-promoting cross-stitch posters

Aled uses his pixel art style to digitally design three posters for a series of concerts on TV, which were turned into physical cross-stitched embroidery.

You may know London illustrator and designer Aled Lewis from his cheeky Toy Stories personal project, which became really popular back in 2011 (he still posts a few on his Tumblr). Since then he’s continued to dabble in a mixture of client and personal work, including a rather epic 30-ft cross-stitch tapestry depicting the Star Wars saga from Episode one through to Episode six. It was shown as part of his solo show – Such Pixels at Gallery 1988 in Los Angeles – and caught the eye of brand and product communication agency Ad Store Italia who commissioned Aled for this unique pixel art project. 

Epic Home Concerts is a campaign by Guestar – an Italian online platform, which brings live concerts into the home of ordinary people. Users of Guestar can be put in touch with artists to propose a gig in their private home, whether that be a mountain cabin or beach bungalow. 

The campaign aims to blend two traditionally very juxtaposed aesthetics – band posters and cross-stitching. The idea is that cross-stitching is a hobby usually carried out in the home for an ornament or in memory of a special occasions within family life, which Guestar hopes home concerts will become a part of. We’re not sure who younger than the age of 65 actually cross-stitches anymore, but we love the idea.

Aled Lewis designed three cross-stitch posters in Adobe Photoshop using Metallica, Daft Punk and Lady Gaga names as the base of the pixel art canvases. Embroidery artist Thu Ha Nguyen then translated them into physical cross-stitch patterns. 

Each of the three patterns were hand-stitched with three-thread cotton on white Aida fabric, using more than 40 different colours and nuances – all of which Aled came up with.

Aled tells us how he worked with the creative director at Ad Store, Giulio Nadotti, to refine his ideas to fit budget, and the challenge of using a colour palette that would translate to colours available in physical thread. 

Miriam Harris: How did you get involved in the Guestar campaign?

Aled Lewis: "I was approached by Ad Store Italia who was interested in talking through a concept that they had for an ad campaign. I think I’m right in saying they came across the Star Wars saga tapestry that I created using pixel art and cross-stitch and they figured I might be able to work with them with the artwork and production of a series of cross-stitch pieces.

"The idea to use cross-stitch came from the creative team at Ad Store. When they explained the project to me and I saw the strapline for the campaign Epic Home Concerts I agreed that the concept answered the brief perfectly."

MH: Were you given a brief?

AL: "My creative brief developed after some back and forth with Giulio Nadotti, the creative director at Ad Store. To start, we had to scope out what was achievable and realistic within the project parameters because cross-stitch is a very labour intensive endeavour.

"My early concepts were larger and more complex but they would have taken far too long to produce and they lost some of the modesty and simplicity of genuine home craft embroidery. We agreed a canvas size for the pixel art of 70 x 100 pixels. The smaller size means less stitches, but brings different challenges; drawing icons or patterns or text with fewer pixels and less space is very restrictive but it becomes a problem solving challenge, which I enjoy."

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MH: Tell us about the creative process.

AL: "My personal creative process involves sketchbooks and note-taking and plenty of trial and error in front of the screen. With pixel art, I find it is usually best to take a sandbox approach - working straight onto the screen so you can start pushing pixels around and see if things work. When I first started pixel art I was working in Illustrator, drawing squares onto a grid, but as the work became more complex I transitioned into Photoshop."

MH: How did you decide on the colours, concept and composition of each image?

AL: "With this particular project I found myself sketching the layouts for each very roughly then laying them over the canvas and testing patterns and iconography to see what worked and what didn’t. The layout and colours and composition really evolved in conversation with Giulio and his colleagues as each piece went through several revisions and they formed their own identity while maintaining overall stylistic continuity. 

"The colours chose themselves to some extent. Gothic black and red are key colours for Metallica, Daft Punk use dynamic rainbow and neon colours and for Lady Gaga we landed on feminine, pastel colours for the floral border which I think frame the ‘Gaga faces’ perfectly."

MH: How hard is it to digitally design an aesthetic that is normally a result of physical thread?

AL: "Because I had already produced a 30-foot tapestry, I was familiar with the challenges and limitations of the medium. For the most part, the finished cross-stitch ends up closely resembling the pixel pattern that is created digitally. Perhaps the most challenging aspect is colour-proofing from screen to thread. I find myself creating the artwork in Photoshop, then reducing the palette down in order to reduce the complexity and amount of different thread required. Then I will re-colour the artwork to best match the available threads.

"Even then, without having each thread in front of you to compare and contrast hues and tones, it can mean a best guess as to what will work. Some of this can be adjusted in post-production but I am really happy with how the colours came out in the finished pieces."

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MH: How was this project different to your other work? 

AL: "I do occasionally make physical pieces work, but most of what I do is created in and only ever exists in the digital realm. Even if it’s just making prints, it’s such a pleasure to physically produce a piece of work that a person can hold and own. Working on this project to make a series of physical pieces of art was very rewarding. 

"This is the first time I had entrusted the cross-stitch production to another creative and embroidery artist. Thu Ha Nguyen did a beautiful job in realising my artwork. Like Giulio and his team, she is based in Italy so it really was a long-distance collaboration and the first time I’ve worked on a project where concept, artwork and production were fragmented in this way. It worked remarkably well I think."

MH: What’s next for you?

AL: "It’s back to personal work until an interesting project lands in my inbox. I’m working on a piece for a group show at iam8bit Gallery in Los Angeles as well as a series of 16-bit character pieces which I hope will become an on-going series. Keep an eye out for them on my Instagram and Facebook Page."

Image: Aled's 30-ft Star Wars tapestry