Monday, July 21, 2008

Linuxville School of the Arts

Let's see, you took the red pill, went down the rabbit hole and woke up in a whole different place called Linuxville. You've committed to being strapped in to learn as much as you can absorb. The slender neural-net spike inserted, you try to relax but the mixture of not knowing what to expect, curiosity and anticipation makes it all impossible. There is a surge, blinding rapid eye movements and an anguished gasp for air, you cry out, "Man, I know Ubuntu!!" OK, let's see what you got.........

When I worked for a NASA contractor, I met with a small group of guys who wanted to explore Linux. We decided to start having meetings and open it up to other designers and engineers. There were no questions about what is Linux, just can I do this and can I do that. We didn't know that much about Linux ourselves yet we were grilled as if we were experts. Our various interests in Linux at the time did not include user applications. Except for myself, the interest were in setting up a server with remote access and writing code for small devices. I was more interested in desktop functions and applications. That was back around 2004. A few years later, things have improved greatly and I know a little bit more. Besides having a full compliment of useful applications, Linux has been made flexible enough to accommodate a wide swath of equipment and users. You can use it briefly with a live-CD or be committed with a solid stable installation.

My latest adventure is to explore some of the graphic applications. I used to drool over watching people use Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, Corel Draw, even PhotoPaint and others that ran on the MS pc. Economics and priorities always came into play, so building up a software library was not in the cards for me. Today it is much different, open source has made a way to give decent software for low to zero cost. The quality of software is wondwerful because developers are also in the market for paying jobs at software companies. There is lots of incentive to put out good product. It's like in sport, your performance is being watched. Linux has boasted in the GIMP for a long time. GIMP is still taking critical heat from Photoshop vets. There are rapidly fading limitations with GIMP that make it an application to watch. It is very mature and stable. Another area where computer artist go crazy over is vector graphics. While Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw and other big guns have swept the market, open source folks have put the same tools in various degrees into Draw, Sodipodi, Inkscape, Xara Xtreme and a few others I can't think of at the moment. So, you can get the tools, learn to use them for little to no cost and if you want the "pro-stuff" be familiar already in how to use them. With my intro into using these open source applications I don't see a need to own the industry standards. What is the standard part anyway, the tools or the brand-name?? As always people have their opinions, experiences and preferences. But open source gives you a wider cross-platform choice, see what works for you. The secret is that the tools are the same, skills are transferable and multiple interfaces can be learned, no sweat.

One of the things that has vexed me, tormented me since I started using a computer is transferring my pen and pencil skills onto it. In drafting it was a little easier because drafting relies on constraints and dimensions. Doing non-drafting stuff is so different. Using a mouse is like drawing with a bar of soap, and on top of that the mouse is on the pad, the eye/cursor is on the screen. The eye-hand coordination ability needs to be strengthened. I do have a "graphics tablet", with a wireless pen, but it is far too sensitive for my clumsy drawing technique and I've grown accustom to holding the mouse. I think I am more draftsman than a drawer or sketcher. Actually vector drawing works well with a mouse and the control over all the elements of the work is quite amazing. In the future we must consider a direct touch, draw on the screen display to see if that is more natural. Some laptops have that arrangement. The main thing is to fit your idea into the work flow to accomplish it. You will see you can always do things better, with less intermediate steps. Many think drawing on a computer is automatic or a creative crutch or not worthy of serious art. New tools and new media is always resisted with great pomp. Even Disney had to set up the new school next to the old school, then find a way to blend and upgrade at the same time. So now I am going to spend time figuring out how to put the stuff in my sketchbook onto my computer and make something happen. The most wonderful thing is that I am just a casual artist, doing it for fun. I can roam far and wide to the Linuxville city limits and with open source cross-platforms with the same shirt and shoes, roam some more.

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