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Hypothetically you are reading this and are signed up because you are an autodidact artist yourself and want to learn, improve your skills, methods and grow as one. The intention is to produce images for print, games and other similar media. I will stick flat to that mindset from now on.
Actual self-expression is always all around and a companion along the way; still it stays at a good fifty percent when creating art as a professional. The other half is the sum of solving problems, learning and using software, sending e-mails, organizing and laying the bricks in front of us. With the right mindset and attitude, after all, these can be written off as self-expression.
But we need tools for all of these! Bring fire!
All my writings contain ideas about traditional ways of creating art but let’s focus purely on digital 2D “artworking”. You can create amazing digital images on a 30 years old computer using a mouse. You may even choose that if that fits your preferences, pixel art is alive and well.
…Hell, this is really subjective: the only person who knows what you need is you. Ask yourself (or just skip ahead), what to do you want to create?
My advice is to research it thorough yourself. Even if you want to produce state of the art material, you can probably do it on a five years old machine/setup.
I do not wish to advertise anything: let’s say the industry leading digital graphic tablets are mostly worth to invest in and out of those, the smaller, older models can be the vessel of incredible art too.
Note these important criteria:
– Will you ultimately own the product if you purchase a copy of it?
– Can you modify, repair and extend its functionalities?
– Do you actually know what your hardware does?
– How long do you think it will last against the tide of technological advance?
– Will you be able to sell it if needed?
– How secure is it? How easily can your data be stolen/protected?
It is not necessary but good to know how your hardware works, it’s functions and details. There are limitless resources available on how computers work. You can save serious amounts of money knowing, doing everything yourself – while keeping yourself and your work safe. That said, a right choice is something that is sufficient to work with the graphics tablet, has enough storage and capabilities to do so exhaustively. The options are endless and can be extremely customized. My advice here is to start by looking at the cheapest products first and see from there what suits your personal needs.
A proper computer monitor (screen) can also be a good investment since there is a lot going on with colours. Not a general rule but the higher percentage of sRGB gamut can be displayed, the more efficient the product is. Crazy large size won’t necessarily yield better results. Unless you are already a happy owner of a permanent working space, it is better to go compact! If you can, view your work on as many different kinds of displays as you can (see my previous blog entry about this).
Software is only about reading and writing. It is literally only that: reading the documentation and then pressing the right keys for the required result. Moving the pen or mouse around and pressing the right shortcuts for the tools, options and actions required. Think of it as simple as that, be ready to read a lot and you won’t encounter many difficulties. Most updated creative software also have a designed shortcut key for an integrated search function/system search/quick help or a quick search/listing of commands. Using this ‘helper’ really soothes things out.
If you are ready to read the documentations (and optionally watch videos) then you are good to go! This effort will open up almost any doors concerning the topic. There are barely any ‘difficult to use’ creative software as they are designed for humans by humans.
So which are to go for?
My recommendations are these amazing, up to date, widely used, lightning fast, well documented operating systems. They offer everything a digital artist might need to produce top quality, industry standard art! All of these are available for no cost (zero moneys – though, remember to donate if you can) while being morally, ethically and legally respectful and completely transparent. See for yourself:
The alliterating word marks the most popular and widely used GNU/LINUX distribution (think of linux as a basic program to build and run everything else upon it, these are operating systems built around it). This might be the most documented one which also offers customer service for moneys. If you are in doubt, choose this distro as it might also be one of the friendliest towards its users (not unlike the others listed here). Watch a video demonstrating the latest features.
Fedora Design Suite
A designer oriented take on the Fedora distro. It immediately sets you up with the creative ‘apps’ you might need. “Fedora is the upstream source of the commercial Red Hat Enterprise Linux distribution.”
Over ten years of development, Ubuntu Studio is of ease for artists, including musicians. A straightforward move to creative setups and solutions.
An elegant and oiled up experience for those coming from mac or windows. Looking very sharp, this distro is also a great choice for any beginner or advanced user. Also based on Ubuntu.
Just like the previous distributions, a powerful and solid one which won’t fail any creative minded user. A trustworthy and secure operating system used by millions.
As for computer programs for creating pictures:
GIMP, Inkscape, Scribus, Krita and Blender are just unbeatable and are evolving at a fast pace – these programs offer everything you need, not less, especially when used together. Let’s break it down:
(These are the reasons why I, personally, make my choices how I make them. I am sure there are other ways of thinking which are probably just as good as mine or others. This is my personal view and everybody should make their own choices and decisions however they want. I state again, this is only my view and you are very welcome to skip reading it:
I am a realistic-thinking person living on this planet with other human beings – talking about computers and science, these simple facts rationally make me a Free and Open-Source Software advocate simply because I believe in democracy, respecting each other, justice, human interaction and a human-level in general. I do not submit myself to anything that comes around the corner.
I believe in freedom, freedom of the individual, unbound human existence by protecting and helping each other, aiming to understand one another, working together and not against each other. Competing only for fun. I vote for a world where nobody has to live in fear and doubt. Nobody should be blinded by lies and corporate standards. Nobody should be involuntarily dragged into doing or using something just because those things are over-advertised, forced onto the naive with propaganda wrapped in shiny plastic – or LEAST OF IT: just because the others are doing it. Climb on top of the industry by demanding transparency and truth! Do not sell yourself and do not submit to hidden limitations and hidden fees! Refuse subjugation! Do not rely on software you are not permitted to understand! Be a real person not data, not somebody elses profit or stepping stone! Whoosh.)
GIMP pitted against Photoshop:
1, Cost(s): GIMP is free in every sense, Photoshop is overpriced or you can hire it (leasing it?) as a tool for a monthly fee (note: high price, not owning the program, not permitted to understand it, not permitted to modify it at all).
2, User interfaces, menus, icons, splash screens: First of all, you can make GIMP look and function like Photoshop (CS6) if you are unwilling to learn something new. You can also modify it to your liking as you please, since it is free and open-source software. If you know how to modify windows applications you probably can do all of these to Photoshop as well but definitely not legally and likely with much more effort, time investment.
3, CYMK: is not (yet) supported in GIMP – or is it? You can just export your image, open it in Scribus and then export with a colour profile of your choice, then make some adjustments to the original image in GIMP according to your results and well, right there, if you are willing to use another human friendly program then you actually have CYMK support.
4, Plug-Ins: Undoubtedly Photoshop has more plug-ins, way more features and you may find more resources for it. This doesn’t mean the same results can not be achieved using GIMP, it may only take somewhat more work and creativity – note: a great load of resources are available for GIMP as well.
5, Customer support: Companies may require customer support and help over the telephone. Adobe has the moneys to employ people dedicated to the task. A win for Photoshop. Or is it? I, personally, rather do a quick search and read a short post on a forum or ask another user or the developers if I am unable to find out something by myself. It may even take less time to find out the hows.
6, Future use: Photoshop is just a product developed by an ignorant corporation which guarantees nothing for the end user, while GIMP is a transparent project developed by a small group of dedicated individuals who tell you about their intentions, listen to user demands and can be approached in a civil way.
Photoshop is an amazing tool, I have nothing against the software. I enjoyed creating with it and there is a reason why it is widely used. But as of today, it can be replaced by an ethically, morally acceptable option which does only what the user tells it to. For free, for (artistic) freedom.
Yet, if you are still inclined to use PS, at least make sure you get it for free.
A FEW PRINCIPLES CONCERNING DIGITAL ART
“Help yourself” also known as “secrets”:
– Use a larger canvas. Unless you are creating a small image (for example web design), use a larger canvas and create larger images. Invest in a cheap RAM upgrade if needed. Reasons: higher resolutions become more and more popular, larger media is in demand – there is nothing wrong keeping up with this habit. You have more space for details and it is easier to work on larger pictures. ALWAYS use at least A4 size and vector graphics if the image is just simple shapes and graphics.
– Zoom out! Work zoomed out! Zoom in only when you really need to and are almost done. Also do it physically. Stand up and look at your work from a few steps away. I may add: stretch and relax! Take care of your trusty hands, eyes and back.
– Flip your image horizontally often while working on it. I am in need of redoing all my older work because I just didn’t do so. Reasons being: you get accustomed to your work by staring too much at it the same way and your mind just adjusts and may even “correct” mistakes. Flipping the image on the horizontal axis (left to right and vice versa) gives you a brand new look at it, revealing problems and flaws! Just flip that view!
– Save often! Save or better yet, save a different version after every major change! Delete what you don’t need afterwards. Create a routine and your own practices to reduce the back-sets this could cause. After a little while you will know what you need or want and what you just do not.
– Use a color palette – Remember: limits set you free, so decide and make your own limits and make useful “measurements” of it. Endless details and options will just kick your legs out from under yourself.
– Silhouettes play a big part – think of it as recognizing shadows, recognizing objects from a far! Using dark shapes helps to clear up the theme and transfer the message of your art. Make your figures ‘calligraphic’! Let the shape already tell a story!
– Do not “photo-bash”, instead use references. Yes, do photobash the hell out of everything when “matte painting”! But when drawing, sketching and “actually painting”, just forget the method. Draw from real life whenever possible. Let your skills improve!
– Never upload in high resolution. Just don’t. Not something easy to go with but it may be important to keep your art under your own control!
Use crops to show details. Watermark your images and put your name and address/website/email in a corner. You don’t want to see somebody else making profit using a picture stolen from you. Go for a maximum of 1200 pixels if possible or find other ways to protect your intellectual property.
This is it for now, I very much hope it proved useful for you!
In the next entry, after discussing how to set up the graphics tablet with GIMP, we will go through a full hands-on tutorial for a character!
Then I write about learning to deal with personal problems: lack of time, lack of motivation and similar problems opposed by great ways to slash them out of the way! Exorcising demons, destroying anxiety, re-inspiring yourself, making that non-existent time and other things to help you!
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