Coma Drawings: The Pixel Art of Craig Robinson

Craig Robinson (otherwise known as @flipflopflying) is an artist who works in the pixel aesthetic. The work that he is most known for is his collection of minipops: famous people drawn really small. I became aware of his work in the early 2000’s when I started a nursing blog called PixelRN. I knew I needed an avatar that reflected my interest in nursing + digital art so I blatantly (and clumsily) ripped off his style in creating the PixelRN avatar. 

Many years later I noticed he was on instagram so of course I followed him and still love his pixelated style. 

Many iterations of the Pet Shop Boys

Recently he posted something really fascinating: It was a series of 8 “Coma Drawings,” in which he depicted an alternate universe he experienced while in an actual coma for a couple of weeks in 2019. 

Even without the context, the drawings are fantastic, but as a nurse I have always been fascinated by the state of consciousness that patients are in when they are comatose. Where are they? What are they thinking? Dreaming? Are they in some unexplored region between life and death? Maybe they are visiting the afterlife, but not yet committed to staying there. I can only wonder. Occasionally patients will wake up from these hallucinations and describe them to me. I once had a woman that actually hallucinated that I was an artist! She was seeing all kinds of vines and flowers on the wall that she thought I had painted and she asked, “They really let you do all that?” She even hallucinated an art installation of manikins wearing sunglasses. She said, “You did that too? Very clever. I love it.” 

Craig’s coma drawings are brimming with specificity. Two small girls with yellow ponchos. Making a Grace Jones painting with someone named Amy. A nurse mixing up some pureed pasta in a to go cup. Each tableau is surrounded by beautiful gradations of color, and contains an alter like structure with strings of mini lights. And all done in the pixel aesthetic.

I recently reached out to Craig and asked him if would answer some questions for this post, and he very kindly obliged:

BC: How much do you think about your time in coma land?

CR: It crosses my mind pretty much every day. Mostly these days it’s a fairly fleeting thing, but I still have days where I think about it wistfully.

BC: Was it an overall positive experience, or were there highs and lows?

I was aware I was sick and confined to a bed. My memory is that sometimes people were keeping me there against my will. I remember a real life friend was “evil” inside the coma, stopping me from doing things. That feeling kinda remained in the real world for a day or two. When I was back from the coma I recall telling a different friend that the other one shouldn’t be allowed to visit because she was dangerous.

The high was having a new friend inside the coma. She didn’t exist, but we were colleagues working for a customer support line for some sort of internet sports-themed company. We got along really well in a totally platonic way.

BC: Do the people in your drawings exist in real life? 

In the drawings, I seem to have done non-real world people on the whole, but that’s purely by chance. A lot of the doctors or nurses in the alternate reality didn’t exist, although a couple of the more prominent ones were real. They had different names in the real world, but I think that’s one of the reasons the transition back to reality was slow: these nurses were total strangers before the coma world, so why would I not feel like I was still there if I saw them in the intensive care ward?

BC: Was the place you visited a dream? A hallucination? Or maybe an alternate reality? The afterlife? The bardo? Do you care what it was?

CR: I always refer to it as the alternate reality. I like using the word reality because it WAS real for me. And it was so much more than a dream. My memories of the coma world, which is nearly five years ago, are as strong as other memories from. 2019. Whereas I have no memories of dreams from that long ago.

BC: What is your process like? What software/app do you use?

CR: These days I use iPad apps Pixaki and Procreate more than anything else. If something is more complex I still use Photoshop though.

BC: Where do you find inspiration for your art?

CR: I feel like whatever is important in my life tends to be the subject matter of drawings. Architecture, Mexico City, baseball, Christianity, motor sport, pyramids, Berlin, soccer, and the coma is definitely up there with these real world topics.

BC: Can people buy your work?

CR: It’s not something I do at the moment but hopefully I’ll get my shit together soon to sell prints and stuff.

If you want to see more of Craig’s work you can find him on Tumblr and Instagram. I am happy to report that he is still making the minipops – it looks like he is up to number 1680.