2D Graphics

Submitted by Tim on Wed, 09/05/2007 - 12:36

This chapter of the Creative Desktop will provide a gentle introduction to: Bitmap editing with The Gimp; Importing images from a digital camera or scanner; Photo management with gThumb or similar; Vector artwork and illustration with Inkscape and Font management and creation. Everything you need to know to get you started on the path to producing professional quality photos and graphics.

The Geeks shall inherit the mirth

The first challenge facing us is that what it takes to be creative can seem almost diametrically opposed to the usual geek logic prevalent in Linux-using circles. For many people, creativity begins in blue-sky or cloud-gazing mode. So we shall begin by taking a break from the computer and indulging in a gentle 'mind-shower' or 'brainstorming' session. The time and effort spent reading online manuals, reconfiguring your soundcard or kernel or whatever is all time lost for staring out of the window and thinking brilliant creative thoughts. Sometimes the embarrassment of riches offered by Linux can be the very thing that gets in the way of this.

My favourite tool for this job is the creative diary, for which I like to use a physical A4 book with lined pages and an analogue inscription tool (aka: a pen). Computers tend to force the mind to work using rather linear, granular logic. It is useful for the creative process to get away from this for a moment. Open up a blank page and start writing. Write anything you like, your exact thoughts precisely as you think them, disable your internal editor for now and simply fill up three A4 sheets or the equivalent with mental verbiage. Close, file and forget.

This is a very useful exercise first thing in the day or whenever you need to clear your mind. The usefulness of this technique will become apparent the more you do it. The most important part is to get into a flow with it and not worry about the results or try to edit your thoughts in any way. In its purest form you would never look at these notes again and possibly destroy them immediately. That is one approach, I like to use my diary as a store of useful ideas that I can draw upon later in the creative process.

Working up the fluff

This is where we define our project and indulge in the flights of fancy and other emotional predilections that give our project meaning. Too many technology driven projects suffer from being proof-of-concept pieces. This is a worthy exercise in itself, but we need to focus on our final product, music CD, game, cartoon series or whatever and the message that we want to get across. Firstly the project needs at least a working title, as well as a central character or two and some sort of seed plot or motivation behind the story. Did I mention fun? One of the most important reasons for using Linux creatively is not only that you can control every aspect of the project without having to ask anyone's permission, which in itself is pretty cool, but also that it is simply great fun.

For the purpose of this series we need a pretty broad-based project to use for our examples. I propose an all-singing all-dancing anthropomorphic gang of Linux advocates who are preparing to storm the world with open-source multimedia joy. For want of a better moniker we shall call our mythical multimedia production crew Pengwyn Parc. Great. They are all set to make it big on the international circuit now. They've got the songs written and rehearsed, they've got the dances choreographed, the video storyboarded and the penguin costumes. All they lack is a production budget. Inspired by the thought that it's possible to get a number one hit without the backing of a major record company these days, they've holed themselves up with a computer they saved from the skip and installed a whole load of free software on it in their hastily converted bedroom studio. Now they are ready to unleash the potential of open source software on the world, but where to start?