Awesome Pixelated Portraits Made with Thousands of Expertly Arranged Paint Swatches

Peter Combe is a San Francisco-based visual artist who specializes in creating three-dimensional artwork using nothing but paint swatches, hand-punched into small disks. Using his special technique, Combe creates stunning pieces that range from abstract pattern-based compositions to highly realistic pixelated portraits with a vintage photograph-like quality.

Combe has a huge collection of paint swatch disks of over 1,100 colors that he has organized based on tonal increments and light-reflecting values. This enables him to think of tones rather than colors while working. To create a piece, he fits these disks into bezel-cut grooves on a specially prepared archival material, with the aid of a vintage operating-theater lamp.


In some of his works, Combe places the color chips obliquely on the ‘canvas’ with the colored side facing away from the viewer, so that the color is not directly visible, but faintly reflected off the back. This plays a trick on the eye – colors from the entire spectrum merge, creating homogenous tonal surfaces.


He explains that this visual effect is almost impossible to capture by photo or video, because it changes depending on the position of the viewer. “These artworks transform and change subtly as the viewer shifts from his/her vantage point,” he said. “There is a magic that occurs, a trick of the eye where color seems to occupy space – a void – at once ethereal, yet seen from another angle the whole appears as if a ghostly image, veiled in gossamer.”


Combe generally produces portraits commissioned by collectors, but he also likes to work with images he finds on social media, particularly Instagram. He says it’s interesting because these images give him a sense of the contrast between the impermanent nature of social media platforms and the more enduring nature of his artworks. He calls it ‘captured history’.


Combe has two upcoming exhibitions on the US East Coast, and a selection of his work is on display at the showroom of the furniture company Flexform, in San Francisco.















Peter Combe via Yatzer

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