It may sound counter-intuitive, but sometimes all you need are a few limitations to get the creative juices pumping. When you’re forced to do something with very few resources or tools, you’ve gotta be clever to make something great. Everytime I see an 8-bit video game or a great pixel-y GIF animation, I always get nostalgic for how restricted computer art used to be. The tools have become so advanced now and it’s fascinating to look back at how it all got started.

Ever wonder how limited Photoshop was in version 1.0? Check out this video by CreativeLive in honor of Photoshop’s 25th Anniversary. Can you imagine only being able to undo once!?


The Free Art & Technology Lab (F.A.T.) offered a life drawing class that only allowed the use of MS Paint. Amazing.


One of the most fascinating stories in pixel art is “The Pixel Painter” about a man named Hal Lasko, who, at 98 years old, recently passed away in 2014 after spending a lifetime creating pixel paintings in MS Paint. Check out the fascinating documentary about Hal below.


Many more interesting things started happening when artists and designers would mix art with code. Remember when the internet looked like this … ? All sorts of weird JavaScript trickery can be found here, and this was back in the mid ’90s! Artist Joshua Davis famously sold copies of his own hard drive filled with art made from code he wrote.

"4 Color Swatch Palette" by Matt Kenyon
“4 Color Swatch Palette” by Matt Kenyon

Threadless itself started with many screen printing limitations. Artists were limited to just four spot colors in their designs. This led to many clever graphics such as this image which uses only a four color palette plus the color of the garment itself to generate a variety of colors and patterns!

Do you know of any other approaches to computer-generated art that embrace the many limitations? Share them in the comments below!

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Jake Nickell

Founder & CEO at Threadless. Also sometimes known as the Coolest Dude on Earth. (For SEO purposes.)