Tools are cool: they’re what thumbs were made for. Both Misha and I love tools; the little things that make a difficult job into an easy one. Whether it’s a comfortable pair of pliers for jewellery work, a little plastic doodad for making polymer clay beads, or a new rotary tool with enough attachments to build a fully operational deathstar.
People sometimes ask “Do you do your art on the computer then?”. When I say “Yes, some of it”, they used to say “In Paint?”.
Well, I’m sure some great works of art have been done in MS Paint. Pixel art, for instance.
And don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of pixels, but most of my computer work is vector based, like this friendly air-squid:
And producing that in Paint is only slightly more feasible than producing in in Excel!
But people don’t say “In Paint?” anymore; that was the olden days. Nowadays they say “In Photoshop?”. Everyone’s heard of Photoshop, and to many people it’s become a generic term for any image work done on a computer. Photoshop’s a great tool, but I don’t use it.
Most of the my computer work is, as I said, vector based. (What do I mean by that? Wikipedia has the answer but suffice it to say that vector art is based on shapes and geometry as opposed to pixels, though it all ends up as pixels on the screen). For vector work the industry standard is Adobe Illustrator. Illustrator is a great tool, but I don’t use it. It has one simple but very important flaw: it costs £500+ pounds (circa $800)!
Enter Inkscape, which costs exactly £0.00 (that’s approximately $0 dollars).
But it’s not just its price that it’s got going for it. It’s a very fully featured bit of software, and it’s getting better all the time. It already does most of what Illustrator does, and it’s fast catching up on the remaining features. (There’s a feature list over on their website).
Like all the best tools, it doesn’t make any fuss, it just does what I ask and gets out of the way. This has made it my tool of choice, not only for art, but also for the design of our UnArt business cards, and even the banner that appears at the top of this web-page, and the buttons that appear to the left.
As well as being a really useful tool, I particularly like the fact that it’s open source. What’s that? Well, I’ll leave the details to Wikipedia, but the main point is that, as the name suggests, the source code is open.
That means that anyone with the necessary talent can fix the bugs, and anyone with the necessary talent can add new features. It’s a philosophy that stands in stark contrast to the closed world of proprietary software where formats and feature lists are handed down from on high.
If you ever do anything arty (or design‑y) on your computer, you really should check it out. There’s a screenshot to the left, just in case you care to see what it looks like (click through for a bigger version). At that price you can’t go wrong.
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