Mario pixel art

Eighth-grader Parker Kamstra stands in front of a Mario mural at Sheldon Middle School. He came up with the design and had help from his classmates to put together the display.

SHELDON—A mural-sized display at Sheldon Middle School featuring Nintendo’s Mario riding his go-kart is the product of combining computer science and art.

Marci Cabrera isn’t new to teaching art but did have a class she wasn’t familiar with added to her workload: computer science. She taught the basics of coding along with other specialized computer science skills, but she brought art into the equation as well.

Cabrera, who is in her first year teaching in Sheldon, had the eighth-grade students do paintings but instead of using a brush, they had to use Google Sheets. They had to format the squares on Sheets to a certain size and fill them in with color to make pixel art. The top 10 designs out of the almost 100 submitted had a chance to have their painting enlarged on the bulletin board in the computer science room.

Parker Kamstra’s peers voted his Mario design as the top one, leading to it becoming a mural-sized display at the middle school.

What Kamstra thought would be an easy design took him 10 hours to do. But the time he put into it paid off.

“I wanted something good but nothing that was that good,” Kamstra said. “I just decided what I thought would be easy, so I just made a Mario. I’m thinking Mario Kart, that’s pixels. So that’s pretty much how I came up with it.”

He also thought his friend, Malakai Vermeer, had the top design.

Vermeer’s was of a largemouth bass jumping out of the water. The other finalists were Lilo from “Lilo & Stitch,” a Minnesota Vikings logo, an elephant, a house, a duck, a flower, two cats and Sonic the Hedgehog.

“They blew me away with their designs,” Cabrera said.

Out of the top 10, Kamstra’s was the only one to take up all of the space on the 8-by-11-inch design, which helped his cause and one of the reasons it took him 10 hours to design the pixel art with a variety of colors.

Creating the giant Mario for the bulletin board took about another 10 hours, but Kamstra had some help.

The middle school offers a tutorial time if the students have all of their work done, so seventh- and eighth-grade students could elect to help with the Mario mural. Cabrera said about 20 students helped put the mural together.

The mural was designed as if it was made out of pixels and 2-by-2-inch pieces of colored paper were used for most of it. Yellow paper was used for the sun, red and blue for Mario’s outfit and black for the go-kart. However, there was a lack of peach paper for Mario’s skin.

“We took white paper and colored it peach,” Cabrera said.

Hundreds of 2-by-2-inch pieces were stapled to the bulletin board to complete the Mario mural.

“I don’t even know how many hundreds of pieces of paper it took to make the whole thing,” Cabrera said.

Once the mural was done, Kamstra’s original Mario pixel art was placed close two it and the other nine designs also are on display in the room. A computer art show was held a few weeks ago to show off everyone’s art and the mural, which will stay up all year.

The class was a semester long for the eighth-graders and it has now shifted to the seventh-grade class for the spring semester.

“The seventh-graders are like ‘When do we get to do pixel art?’” Cabrera said.

There is another bulletin board in the computer science room for the future seventh-grade mural.

Cabrera said she learned more about computer science in the process.

“I tried to tell the kids I’m an example of lifelong learning since I am in my 30s, and I was learning something new,” she said. “Some of the students were excelling and learning a lot or knew a lot more about code than I did. It’s fun to learn alongside them and problem solve with them. I’ve learned a lot in the last six months.”