Saturday, October 29, 2011

improvement I think

It is my nature to try to make things better, here in the penthouse studio. This new Ubuntu 11.10 is OK but my hardware is older. I just have to get it to where I can fiddle a little. I removed XFCE desktop because there were some background conflicts that annoyed me. Sometimes when more that one window manager is on one Linux installation, if there is not a clear shutting down of the one not being used at the time, they leak into the one you are using. XFCE has it's window manager and Gnome and Unity has theirs. It is common to share code so that redundancy can be limited. I would get some features from Gnome leaking into XFCE acting funny. So having removed XFCE and installing Gnome Classic desktop I ended some background stuff.

It figures, you want details:

Now the dock on the side is called Cairo-dock and it does require a little compositing power and I do have it to be hidden when not in use. I have the app menu at the top and on the dock, status bar on the top and tasks and workspaces on the bottom. Believe it or not, it is faster than Unity and Gnome-shell. This eliminates two or three mouse clicks between grabbing the mouse and starting the application. Most times, one decisive mouse click allows you to keep your train of thought. In the mortal words of entrepreneur Ron Ronco, "set it and forget it!" There is nothing worst in the whole world than stopping what you are doing, doing a bunch of something else, then finishing what you started, all the while trying to remember what it was you were doing.

Why I talk all this mess? Because once you get your work space to where you want it, it is a breeze to use. In digital art you want to do things when you think about it. The OS and desktop should get out of the way, the applications should be snappy, responsive. The older Wacom tablets are fine if that is all you have, but get an optical mouse, but, but, no lose the ball mouse. I haven't had luck with wireless keyboards and mice. If that is fine with you, OK. The latest technology is not always the advantage. NASA even uses older CPU technology because they have wider circuit traces, generate less heat, very good in spaceships even if they have slower clock speeds.

I have a second old PC I can use for tutorial viewing while I am drawing. I discovered I do not multi-task well. In the past I set it up with Synergy which allows me to share a keyboard and a mouse between two or more computers. I just move the cursor arrow to the edge of one display onto the display of the next, boom, I control that one, and back, I control this one. Also on this PC I can view reference pictures from my stash or from the net. It is obvious to me also I like the tech side as much as the art side. Keeping it all simple, of course. I am just saying the older tech is cool if it still works, use it till it's dead.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

what were you thinking?

There are two kinds of artist, them that must recreate what they see and them that must see what they will create. I am the artist of the third kind. Coming from a drafting background and loving architecture, interior design, I am more prone to design the picture frame than the picture. But I did have some training or more correctly some classes in college. I took a teacher training arts class where we explored various media.

Macramé was big stuff, fabric crafts, then clay handling. I didn't get to throw a pot but hand building was cool and I did a bust of myself. Well it was a head that kind of resembled me. Wire sculpture was fun, I got to bend and soldier some brass rods into a wispy pseudo-futureistic form. Life drawing was awkward but eye-opening revelations of perception and proportion and accurate recording on paper, yeah and a naked body. On the Architecture side there was art history and lots of discussions about the industry and the class project. We had to take $5.00's worth of any materials and construct a seating unit to sit on all semester.

My own time was spent in the library, I was a shelver, a great job for me I scanned through many books I had no interest in. Architecture magazines galore, it was a wonder I got my work done. In my dorm room and in an apartment I had later I did acrylic painting, dabbling and smearing. I don't recall doing anything life-like.
When I left the campus life I became an electrical drafter. We worked with pen and ink on vellum and pencil on anything. Then computers came in. I was trained on CADD, Computer Aided Drafting and Design. I was into the task of engineering drawing. The art side didn't dawn on me till one day while running a plotter I wondered how a hand drawing would look plotted big. I drew something at home on paper and got it scanned in the PC, took the file to work. I felt sneaky and like a little kid about to do a crime. While I was plotting my regular stuff I slipped in my lined freehand drawing. My eyes got big with excitement, had to push them back in and hide my joy. It was hard to go into the plotter room after that. Big plots are the bomb man! I gotta get me one of these!

To gather it all together, you see that life shapes the kind of artist you are. All the experiences and other stuff that gets dumped into you. It all activates the art gene, that must come out. The fun part is when I get to laugh at ones who survived traditional artist training. They are often like war vets, good but boy did they take a beating. I've met the incurable crafters of the cute and cuddly, the "I've got something to say" clan and the "it's a job" commercial artist. Everybody loves what they do sort of, kind of, it's a blessing and a curse thing. You can not escape the coming out, the expression of the art gene, you will express!!!

Monday, October 24, 2011

ease of use?

I heard the cry "ease of use, ease of use" out there among you icon clickers. Relax, please. Now repeat after me "I do not need to make a habit of using the command line unless I want to." And "I disavow any knowledge of the command line but reserve the right to recollect if I need to." It's a good thing we done this because I was going to breakout Imagemagic a command line graphics application that could make you the next Wizard of OZ. LOL we could be down here in the cave of wonders for weeks.

My main infatuation is that you too can turn your average to geek-busting PC into an art studio for a small sum, next to nothing in fact. Yes in Microsoft Windows too. Check out the Open Disc project:  These are MS Windows compatible open source programs compiled into a DVD iso image. You have to download it and burn it. The cool thing is that the risk of malware is not there. Not for the DVD image and not among the apps on the disc.

But hey, I'm a Linux guy, Ubuntu in fact. I will list the rundown of Apps that I am using.

Libre Office is an office suite a fork of

GIMP or GNU Image Manipulation Program is like Photoshop - bit-map

Inkscape is like Illustrator - vector

MyPaint is like Corel Panter - sims natural medias

LibreCad is like AutoCad, sort of

Then I have a collection of other apps to round out things like viewers and printer control apps, color pickers.

If you suffer from creative block once in a while. Put as many of your own sketches or reference pictures into a folder, then use a screen slide show function of a viewer to replay them. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow, study them intensely or out the corner of your eye in a casual manner while doing something else (like cleaning your studio). I rigged an old standby PC for this. Add music or not. Things will start cooking again.

Use old technology like a pad of paper and pen to take notes of your thinking. Then scan them into your folder for mental viewing. Pay no attention to the man/mame behind the curtain.

cave of wonders

We go today down through the catacombs into the cave of wonders. Most are afraid to go down there but if you remember to only touch the lamp, you'll be OK. I'll explain it in a different format so that you'll get it. Carpenters all over the world know you measure twice and cut once. So you read the formula, type the recipe, check that it is correct, then hit the return buttom. Simple.

We are talking about the terminal window or command line in Linux. It's sort of like the similar terminal window on the Microsoft OS but in a different neighborhood. OK, we all know you have been to trained to push the icon on your smart phone, tablet and PC, get over it. I will drag you through the process of this discovery. Cave of wonders, remember.

First I wanted to take a book that was a folder of scanned pages (JPG files) and turn them into a PDF document so that it was easier to handle and read. I tried a number of applications thinking it would be easy. No one application could do what I wanted to do. I was looking at converting and compiling and editing.

Second, when in jeapordy put your answer in the form of a question and Google it or Yahoo it or..... My question, (how to) "turn multiple jpg pages into pdf document in Ubuntu." Scanning down the results and bypassing all the add this application and that (you have to learn how to use each application!) there was the convert command. The person described what it was and how to use it. I took the folder with the files in it and copied it on my desktop, then opened the terminal, typed in his formula using my folder names instead of his:

cd Desktop   --   change to desktop
cd tim   --   change to "tim" folder on desktop
convert *.jpg timbuktu.pdf  --   convert all the "tim" folders ,jpg files to a single pdf file named "timbuktu.pdf. Use a carriage return or enter key after each line. Remember the carpenter rule, the first time I did it, it did not work. Then I put a space between convert and *, it work more than fine and fast. When I opened the "timbuktu.pdf file there, low-n-behold, was my book in PDF format, no extra work on my part.

Linux has a lot of commands in it's cave of wonders, but we like GUIs and Icon. I problem is that the pretty covers are usually ganged functions for ease of use. The command line is often more articulate and precise. Either obtain a book on the subject or Google like I did. The convert command is built into Linux, we never knew it was there, now we do. Come on now, I saved you from installing and learning 3 different applications and don't trip over the flying carpet.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Just when you thought it was safe

Ah yes the quiet retreat, away from the hubs and the bubs. The SATA hard drive on my upstairs machine "the penthouse" started having boot problems. I was trying to do stuff, it was acting funny. I thought maybe I should have done a fresh install of Ubuntu instead of the upgrade I did. It seemed like my CD drives were in on the excitement too. I swapped out the hard with a used one, the CD drives worked fine and the hard drive I now have works but is an older IDE drive. I reinstalled Ubuntu, this time a fresh install and I repartitioned the drive to have a separate partition for the operating system and another for my "Home" folder. And did I mention if I have to do this again I would only have to change the partition with the operating system on it. And of course I save my "Home" data from the previous hard drive on a 4 gig flash drive so that could reinstall that also. And finally it's all quiet again, order is restored, at last, and gosh that was a blast and now I am wondering what to do next.....oooh, I'm out of breath typing.

I went over to the art gallery today, the weather was nice. My wife allowed me to be talked into helping with the mural in progress on the back of the building. OK get on Facebook and click in Lorain Arts Council and look at the pictures. Yeah I am not the one holding the camera and I am not in the pictures. I am never there when a camera is there, go figure. Anyway if your penthouse/man cave/mame heaven/art studio gets to be too much, get out and do art in a different media under a different circumstance. I got paint on the wall now, outlining figures, painting over flaws, adding touches and feeling I did a lot more. Looks pretty darn good.

 In one of the back rooms a sculptor was working on a sandstone piece. I've seen this guy dressed to the nines in a show, to see him in overalls making dust was a shock. We are talking developing more studio space, a darkroom, a video lab and even a dance/rehearsal/recital space. We do have a bistro, what we don't have is member volunteers in droves. We have a few faithful, so be it. I always have to be coaxed into deeper participation, lots of conflicts of interest and little pay. But darn cool it is and once I am there a while I don't want to leave. I think I am going to help with the Lorain Arts Council newsletter since I am blogging anyway. I'll race ya back to the studio, got to get some of my own work done.

Friday, October 21, 2011

It's gettin homey Homey

I am settled in and the view is fine from here. There has been a desktop display war going on and a lot of Ubuntu users are effected. I don't have a pimped out machine so I can't test all the eye-candy and new "Shells". Canonical's Unity desktop has proved to be too much in the way for me and my video card has a hard time with the Gnome Shell. I think that says all that needs to be said.

I hate screens full of icons. You don't really remember what is behind them or at least you aren't really sure. Then there is too much space between them, you have to scroll down a page to see them all, plus sometimes two layers deep of search. This all equals too much thought between the first icon and the app you want to use.

I am going to add to what Linus T. said about operating systems. The OS should not get in the way of the user, neither should the desktop interface. So to that end I am not using Unity nor Gnome Shell. I have the standard Ubuntu 11.10 and added XFCE desktop. Here's a pic:

Just like Unity and Gnome shell I have a panel of favourites on the left side that hides when not needed. On the top the file manager is very handy, then on the bottom the menu, task-bar, work space, clock, etc.

Pretty much everything is one click away and faster than the shells. I don't want to work through desktop layers to get things done. This is a hybrid solution that works nicely for me. And I can change it around to look and work differently. I haven't even added tweaky-geeky stuff to achieve this, simple is cool.

I am also starting to play with the graphic tablet more to get the feel of it. This old mouse masher is used to doing vector type drawing. I'll have to work on some project to push my practice of digital freehand.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

penthouse life

From our vantage point let's zoom in. Oh wait, that's the back of the gov photo satellite, whoops, my bad! There's the dot on the glob, I mean globe, a land mass, then....Google Maps photo doesn't show my home there's a glut of trees.....aaaugh! Kids with laser pointers.

I'm getting settled into the penthouse life, a throwback in, not that far back. I have CRTs because the flat screen video driver boards are shot on my two displays. It cost as much to replace the boards as a new flat screen monitor. There's the hum of the PC box fans on the floor and racing electrons through circuits when the data to the CRT changes. All my art stuff is up here, drawing table, pens, pencils and exhumed technology laying around. The mouse table, the digital tablet and cat hair like clouds or rolling tumble weed. One desk and one chair and room to pace. OK, it's a man cave, but it's a studio to me.

You have to create a place where your world is under your control and your thoughts can rest. A place where you can say "what if" without saying "OH Darn, what now!" The production of art is all about extruding a line of energy under your guidance. Especially, this is true with art on the computer, you are using known procedures to accomplish your ends. Just about every facet has a tweak, an adjustment before you use it. Sort of like using a recipe out of a book. First you follow it to the T. Then you change it slightly to match your "Taste". After you've forgotten where you got it, you say "a pinch of This and a pinch of That", when someone asks.

PC's are all about repeatable results, this is why on-line tutorials are gold to the video artist. You may not discover it, but someone may have and already did what you want to do and has that let me show you gene. To teach is a blessing but to brag is mental torture. Lookie what I can do.......bang, bang bang, the loud music, the talk not clear. Sure the natural state of things are fine for some, but teaching is also an art. I would like to learn your method and prefer my own music turned down in the background, thank you.

On the drawing surface of the video screen, the cursor coaxed by the digital pen on a tablet or the mouse, leaves a trail of pixels. All the principles of art apply plus the added hand-eye coordination. Some have a pen tablet where video display is the tablet but most do not. Especially us casual artist. A mouse driven cursor is awkward for some types of drawing. For engineering CAD work or vector drawing a mouse is sufficient and efficient. For freehand drawing, sketching, painting, a digital pen is best. The digital pen needs a lot of practice to get the adjustments and feel right. I hope to get close to a natural feel like using a pen on paper. It's trusting the media and sensing what it will do when you are doing it. When it becomes second nature, it's right, effortless!

Art on the computer is all about layers. Layers of procedures, layers of operations, layers of pixels. It's how you control things. If you put it all on one layer as with a single piece of paper, you lose the advantage of the computer. That again is your choice, how you work. Layers make life with pixels more manageable. When is all said and done the layers are mashed into one view for viewing or printing. You can see it all from our lofty vantage point, we digital artist have to hone in. That is our daily practice so we can get down wid our content.
Hey a shadow, it's the that graffiti on the side? Pimped out man!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Laptop goes quietly

 Hey everyone, I blogging today from the penthouse and the view would be great if it weren't for the tree. It's just starting to get the autumn tinge. As usual it waits till all the raking is done and the first sloopy rain/snow mix, then it looses everything. The chateau was renovated with the updated Xubuntu and then the hard drive would not boot. It a classic Gateway 4026gz with original equipment. Kind of beat up it was but comfortable to use. I will probably buy a used 2.5" drive for a few bucks and resurrect it. Yeah, I'm that good! LOL!

This economy sucks and I've been stuck with low budget hardware far too long. The good thing is that you appreciate what you can do with what you have. Limitations can be OK, but not always good. Open source has been a staple because availability and hardware requirements have not hindered me thus far. I lost my XP disc long ago. I think that was a good thing, trusting everything to Linux was a slow and exciting process. And yes I would have used Open Source had I still had XP.

Mind ya now, I am no code on the command line geekaholic as many think Linux users are. Though I've used MSDOS, I never gotten used to it. Linux has always had a windowed desktop in my experience. I am a mouse masher to the hilt. I do use the command line when there is no other way to do it. Mostly I am taking instruction from others who've written what to type. I just follow along in hope of repeatable results. Yeah man, computers do that well!

Speaking of desktops, Ubuntu's Unity desktop is in heavy use, it is not as efficient as the old drop down menus. You just have to embrace the way it does things. A step or two more to get to the icon you click to do stuff. People talk about improvements but the swiftest thing yet was the DOS shell on a 286 computer back in 1980's. Doesn't that sound a long time ago? That was before MS Win 3.0. What slows things down is graphics. There's a thousand words of code behind each picture or icon, you can't get around it in data. You have to process the picture AND the thousand words of code behind it. Now everybody wants fancy effects on screen, eye-candy, takes even more power. Not a problem, technology is keeping up, look at what you can do on iPads type devices, that's impressive.

The penthouse is kind of isolated, I miss the chateau in the hub of activity. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

the art mind on pc fan fumes

I have talked a lot about hardware and software but not enough about the inner workings of the artist. It is not so easy for me as I am a trained draftsman in the electrical CAD discipline. You know circuit design is only a representation of the actual circuit. When I did some printed circuit board design, that was more actual. If I had done mechanical part drawing, that is a modeling of the real thing. Doing artistic work is a challenge. Drafting is realistic like a photograph in a way, the data depicts the actual. For me the challenge is putting down the idea in a non-explicit way. I can go from drawing a blob and calling it a house to drawing a house realistically and nobody has to ask what it is.

The drive to draw a perfect representation of an known idea or concept is so strong. I have to tell myself I can draw a blob and call it a house. I don't have to draw a perfect house or a good house. I love Japanese water colors but not the calendar art where the planned flaws are obvious. I struggle for those happy "accidents" where the ink hits a spot on the page with too much water, but it's OK. I struggle because doing art on a computer is rather mechanical. I am trying to make it fuzzier or more unpredictable, more flawed like we are.

To date most of my impatient nature shows in my work. I do solid color fills and thin consistent lines. To grunge things up slightly is an extra step that would add interest, texture and depth. This trains my person to live with the process for a little while longer, to think and work in another dimension.  You see a draftsman doesn't do "art", he draws an idea that is a plan for something to be made. It is precise so that someone can make it. Artist draw so you can get the gist of it, being a thing, person, landscape or a mood, feeling or concept.

I really don't draw abstractly or altering something until it's unrecognizable. I draw shapes and lines and colors and parts of patterns. If the mess reminds you of something you know, that's an epiphany on your part that makes my art, art. I also like to pimp out a room beyond traditional but not to the point it is overwhelming, because "ya gotta live wid it!" 

Friday, October 14, 2011

more cafe dining

We're still at the Linuxville Seaside Cafe. You know penguins, seaside and ice! Just finished remodeling the chateau including the penthouse and I'm letting you in on my take of the Linux madness. What a rush the new Ubuntu 11.10 is here and I downloaded and installed. Actually I downloaded so that I have a copy to pass around but on my two machines the chateau and the penthouse I did the on-line upgrades. Doesn't that take for ever? YES! But I get to save most of my personal files and configurations. A key thing is to put your HOME directory on a separate partition. That way swapping in a new OS or an upgrade does not effect your data., just the partition your OS resides in.

The penthouse is my upstairs desktop, for it I have Ubuntu 11.10. The chateau is the laptop in my dining room downstairs. For it I have Xubuntu 11.10. Since I am one of stretched resources, I don't have top shelf equipment, older but sufficient for now. I consider myself the bottom line. Xubuntu is perfect for my 512mb laptop, it is not bogged down. I did try regular Ubuntu 11.10 and it choked. It actually tried, didn't crash, but choked. The new whiz-bang idea is that most people can afford a little more umph!, so why not raise the bottom bar. To be comfortable the laptop could use 1gig memory. Neither the new Gnome Shell or Canonical's Unity 2D worked well on my laptop, period. I didn't try Gnome Classic because it works OK, heavy but OK. For the best, fast and efficient desktop Xubuntu's XFCE is king. And if you want spic-e check out Enlightenment 17( E17), very hot and fancy to boot. Pardon the pun!

In the penthouse/cave of wonders/studio/etc; my desktop sports 1gig memory. Regular Ubuntu 11.10 is in full play but..........short. Gnome Shell doesn't work well at all. I am so surprised Gnome is supposed to run on anything. The Classic desktop works, the Shell doesn't. Unity works and if you want snappy download Unity 2D (without the effects). What!?! effects are the key here. Effects are alpha channels, you know transparencies, shadows and overlays. Some graphics chips/cards handle that stuff well and some NOT. Having more memory can overcome this sometimes when the calculations are handled in software but doing it on the graphics chip is effortless.

“We have a verdict here!”, the penguin judge said as he slaps the fish-gavel on the table! Unity is improved and will take a while to develop efficient user navigation the likes of the older drop down menus. Same for Gnome shell. Reminds me of Win7 and the dreaded ribbon interface for XP users. A fresh approach requires a new mindset (and practice), it also invites new perspectives and new possibilities. Now, if the old ways are wanted, Gnome Classic (for now), XFCE is still here and E17. Upgrading your hardware is most valuable to increase your enjoyment of the new interfaces Unity and Gnome Shell. AND in the spirit of Linux and Open Source, the land of multiple solutions, if you can't come to grips with this, change it to that! And if that is not enough, MS Win7 OS and Mac OS are still available. You still compute, but you'll have to leave the Linuxville city limits. Not a worry, Open Source Software will let you in on fun we have in Linuxville.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Open Source cuts the mustard

In the Linuxville Cafe the conversation is lively, the food is great and the views are unnoticed. Everybody's got some device to click, pat, tap or talk to.

Of Course I only scratch the surface! When you go too deep there are droves of folks running out of here. Only the faithful remain and the two-bit gotta say something not terse person. But you know the Open Source crowd is a gaggle of winers and diners. We savor what we use and exercise our discriminating taste with that hint of distraction, “suit yourself”.

Oh to buy or not to buy commercial software? Shall I suffer the outrage of difference or the consequence of being labeled “not a professional” or “not a seriously engaged artist” because my software is a little light on the economic scale? or “Why isn’t his name brand the same as ours?” or “You know the Swoosh was probably made on an Adobe laced PC, that’s good enough for me!” An air of compliance drifts into the space. The do I measure up question is suddenly written on everyone's face.

At our table there was a commotion after that last overheard remark, laptops flipped open, a buzz of key clicks. Then we all turned toward the pro-ware protagonist with the laptops held aloft, a swoosh-stika on each display and a laughter that rippled across the room...."the tools man, not the brand, the tools!”

GIMP or the Gnu Image Manipulation Program
GnuPaint or gPaint
My Paint
Tux Paint
Xara Xtreme
And many more, some polished and some in various states of development, all up and running. All costing nothing but the time involved with it to learn the tools. In the end you create a file that's art.

All that professional stuff......, depends. Do you need to share files mid-project or work with others who use the same tools both in house or out? OR maintain a professional industry standard, OK. Examine your needs, then proceed. Tools and files are the secret to Open Source, no need to be hindered or limited. They don't make you an artist any more than pro-ware. So, bust your chops for nothing, then if you must go pro! If you are young and broke or old and broke (like me!), Open Source gets you in the game doing graphics. Ooh!, pass the wipes, mustard on the mouse is not cool.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Linuxville news

I am going to expose myself to the would be art world to teach them the art of being an artist, digital artist. This coming from a guy who learned PC art via electrical drafting. What has computer aided drafting to do with computer art. It’s the tools man, the tools. There is some hardware needed to draw, then some software code used to draw. Guess what? The code was changed to accommodate the different kinds of drawing. Using a drafting program like AutoCAD is very similar to using Inkscape in the way it draws lines. Now trying to draw or paint in GIMP is another thing altogether. I think teaching how the tools work would work. So, I am not teaching how to be an artist but how to use digital artist tools to make art. Let the artist be the artist or discover he/she is an artist. This is all about the work side, the side most people don’t see.

After mildly bragging about using Linux and all the free open source software, I let it slip that there are Windows versions of open source also. Today I downloaded a DVD called Open Disc from   There are over 40 software titles on the disc. What is special here? They all are Windows versions of open source titles. The disc includes manuals and description pages, install executables and no malware. That’s NO MALWARE!!  I make a note here because I helped a friend download and install Real Player and down his computer went. I do not use Windows myself but a lot of my friends do. Downloading software for the Windows platform is scary business. Since I’m not an avid Windows user I don’t know which sites are safe to download from. Linux on the other hand has protected repositories from which to download from. So, the Open Disc is a safe way to get the Windows versions of Open Source software without extra crap slipping in.

Man, there is building excitement a brewing in Linuxville. No lines like at the Apple Store, but users hunched over their keyboard all waiting to download the spanking brand new Ubuntu 11.10 dubbed Oneiric Ocelot. Hey, I just use them, I don’t name them. Maybe the controversy will be over as both Canonical's Unity desktop and Gnome’s Shell will be available. Oh it’s crap, it’s well....., No it’s great. I will let you know my two-bits when I see them myself. Stay tuned, Oct 13, 2011.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Art by the bits

I'm working on a lesson plan to teach some folk about digital art via Open Source software. After a couple of days work, I was reviewing the plan so far. I had made a list of the software I was going to use.

GIMP for paint/draw in raster type work.
Inkscape for vector illustration type work.
My Paint a raster paint application that mimics natural paint methods.
PhotoPrint for versatile printing options. 

Hey, I didn't do that intentionally, I just looked down and there it was. GIMP and GIMP, I think that is a sign everything is cool. LOL!! There are a lot of other free or low cost softwares I could have used, but I haven't used any of them and they don't spell GIMP when you stack them. 

If you are thinking about learning digital art, there are things to be concerned about. One is that the process is as long as the process using natural materials. If you use a mouse get an optical mouse not one with a ball, better control and precision, no cleaning. Get a mouse with a tail, the wireless ones can lag so the response can be behind your hand movement. The same with a tablet and pen, there can be a lag. In some cases the wireless pen can pick up interference and behave awkwardly. I wish todays pens were wired to the tablet like the older CAD tablets. They were cursor pushers and didn't have pressure sensitivity. Practice drawing with a mouse or pen as if you were marking with a pencil. It will become normalized after many hours, the feel and coordination is different.

The first thing to learn after you're familiar with the program is layers. LAYERS, LAYERS, LAYERS. Even in my life as a CAD drafter, layers were important. Learning layers will save your sanity in doing digital art. 

Set time for work and play. When you work, work and when you play, play. Why? if you play you will play a lot, might not get any work done. You see, you are not wasting paper, canvas or ink on the computer, only electricity and time. You might get play happy, still you won't get much work done. In digital art there is a lot of planning going on, a mind to work it out and get it done is good. There is always time for fooling around, experimenting, play. Why limit play time? Get away, do something else. Step away from the machine!