Pixel Art and Formula 1 geekery

This past weekend was the 50th British Formula 1 race at Silverstone and to celebrate the anniversary the circuit organised a number of special events, including a “vintage” fancy dress competition for the practice day on Friday. We’ve been going to Silverstone on Friday for the last few years and I thought it would be good fun to dress up for the day. Watching the Formula 1 races as a toddler are some of the earliest memories that I have and I wanted to celebrate this lifelong interest in Formula 1. So I decided that I wanted to dress up as Nigel Mansell – the first driver that I remember supporting specifically. Although I remember other drives, it was Nigel, with his instantly recognisable moustache, and as an Englishman, that stood out the most when I was a kid.

Having decided that I wanted to dress as Nigel, I first looked into finding an appropriate race suit and getting a theatrical moustache. It soon became apparent though that it wouldn’t be that difficult to get a replica costume. I was disappointed. It would be a bit boring to just get a costume and wear it and I thought there was a good chance other people might have the same idea! I wanted to do something original and a bit more challenging, so I started thinking about the idea of an eighties style game character, figuring that there must have been a Nigel Mansell Formula 1 game at some point – so I could be an 8-bit Nigel Mansell. When I mentioned this to my husband he found out there was indeed an appropriately timed game in the shape of Nigel Mansell’s World Championship Racing. He also suggested the use of the name “8bitNige” and created a Twitter account. I was also motivated by the seeming lack of ‘cosplay’ of 8-bit computer game characters, so I would be creating something different. I wanted to do a pixelated version of the race suit from 1986/7 when Nigel won the British GP races, and to have matching face makeup for the all important moustache.

Canon Williams Honda suit Nigel Mansell's World Championship

My initial idea was to create a race suit entirely from different coloured material, but I started thinking about alternative methods of creating the suit because of the expense and difficulty of finding appropriately coloured pieces. I’ve recently started using acrylic paints quite a lot and I looked at whether it might be possible to create the race suit by using paint for the pixel details. It turned out that using acrylic paint with a textile medium designed for screen printing would enable me to paint on material – and white cotton was recommended. I would need some kind of template for the suit and some suitable material to paint on that would take the paint. After looking at various options it was clear that a proper race suit or similar was going to work best. Although sizing turned out to be a bit of a challenge! They don’t make that many suits designed for women, and my big hips were going to provide to be the limiting factor on sizing – so I ended up with a relatively low budget karting suit that was way too long, but at least my hips would fit in it! I also got a baseball cap and a pair of white cotton gloves to paint with the suit, and authentic looking shoes came later when I realised how tricky it was going to be to attach material to my karting shoes as I had originally planned. I didn’t think that painting directly on the suit was going to work because the colour was very dark, and also I thought it would be difficult to get good straight lines, so my solution was to find cotton with a grid or square pattern that I could paint and sew onto the race suit. Original suit and cap on left, and then with most of the grid material sewn on:

The ingredients - the karting suit to act as a base. Slippers were not included Checks added - sewing stage mostly completed

I originally thought I would be able to paint the material and then sew it onto the suit, but after a couple of attempts it became obvious that it was very difficult to work out exactly where the painted patterns should go on the material in advance. The material would need to be sewn to the suit and then the grid was already in the right place to paint onto. This worked well, and I was able to design the various logos and pixel designs by counting the squares, and ensured that everything was in the right place and at the right scale. Fortunately for some of the time I had very good weather so I was able to paint outside and make use of the sun to more rapidly dry the paint. There was a lot of surface area to cover and many colours to paint! I had originally planned to paint the material so that the pattern underneath was not visible at all, but changed my mind when I saw how the underlying pattern added to the pixel look. Painting in the sun and visible pixels:

Part way through - painting in the sun to speed up drying Pixel details - shows the pixel effect of the material underneath

The painting took a good long time, with the design and details of the sponsor and 8bitNige decals taking the most time. The edge of each colour needed to be carefully painted with a fine brush to get as clean a straight line as possible to ensure the 8bit effect. After the painting was complete and dried the whole suit needed to be heat sealed using an iron. This process is used to make the paint waterproof and to prevent the paint potentially becoming wet again with contact with water. In theory the suit could be put through a washing machine, but I doubt the stitching would hold up! Talking of which, after heat sealing I added an extra round of stitches to the material to give it some extra strength. Until this point the suit was mostly held together by the acrylic paint which covered the majority of the original stitches done with very weak thread. The final parts that planned to be painted were the cap and the gloves, both of which were painted freehand with pixel designs:

Needed Pixel Hands - Backs Needed pixel hands - palms


Whether wearing the suit, which by now was pretty heavy and very insulated, was terribly practical was going to be determined somewhat by the weather conditions on the day at Silverstone. If the weather was like previous Friday’s at Silverstone, then I was going to be pleasantly warm, but the suit might melt in the rain, or the worst case scenario it might be extremely hot, in which case I might melt in the suit! I needed to have a t-shirt under the suit so I could take the top off if it was too hot. The final bit of costume painting was a t-shirt with the sponsor decals painted using designs traced onto a smaller grid.

The final part of the costume could only be produced on the day of Silverstone itself – the pixel face paint, but I did practice several times. The practice with the face paint was partly to create the pixel design for the day, but also to practice applying paint to my face. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve had makeup on my face, and none of those were applied by me, so I had a lot to learn! A later testing session was supervised by the cat:

Testing some face paint, cat provides advice

The key on the day was to take applying the face paint slowly so as to minimise mistakes. I was quite pleased with the end result, the lines were quite accurate. There are problems with not having a straight face, and I have to say painting squares would be much easier with no nose and invisible hands! In retrospect I think I should have gone with a different brand of face paint. This is Snazaroo and although it is nice to use and can be made water resistant, it is water based and has a tendency to dry out – making me look a bit overly wrinkly after a couple of hours in the sun and wind!

Face makeup - dried out a bit in the strong winds!

Anyway, I was pleased with the end result, given I was putting the makeup on myself and I only had a limited pallet, it did the job reasonably well. I was also pleased with the finished costume. The suit was comfortable to wear and the pixel patterns were very clear and colourful. I was a bit disappointed with the lack of other folk dressing up on the day. I guess my costume was maybe a bit too geeky for some, but I did have interest and enthusiasm from some making it worthwhile. And I certainly enjoyed the process of creating a 3D wearable artwork and spending the day as #8bitNige!

The final outfit! Perhaps doing the undershirt as well was taking it too seriously! The youngsters liked it!


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