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Let's draw some pixels

I've been getting into pixel art a lot lately. It appeals to me on a lot of levels.

The coder in me likes it because it's so precise. Every pixel is placed just so. The color palette is limited to a dozen colors. Building a drawing out of such limited means reminds me of building programs out of primitives. There are design patterns in pixel art: dithering, manual anti-aliasing. There are abstractions that work and abstractions that don't. There's a lot of goofing around with RGB values and transparency settings; it's perhaps the most deeply computer-based art form you could come up with, and as a deeply computer-based human, I really like it.

The gamer in me is still partly stuck in the early 90's, so it's a huge injection of nostalgia to look at pixel art. NES- and SNES-era games had a charm that is unmatched by anything since. And I don't think that's entirely nostalgia talking; I still play old games and they're still so much fun. And the art in a lot of those games was just darned good. If you stop and look at it really carefully, and start to get an understanding of how it was made, you can't help but be impressed.

The "artist" in me (if there is such a thing in my brain somewhere) is blown away by some of the things good pixel artists can produce. Go look at and try not to slobber. Some of this stuff just looks amazing. Not "good for a pixel drawing", but good on a level anyone could appreciate.

Pixel doodles are also good practice for the RPG my wife and I are still ever-so-slowly creating. Creating art and music for a game are turning out to be much harder work than programming it.

In any case, I drew a cow standing beside a tree. And I made a new pixel art page to house my admittedly still-amateurish drawings.

Cow Tree

August 10, 2010 @ 4:19 AM PDT
Cateogory: Art

GIMP... sucks?

I was going to call this post "GIMP sucks!" without a moment's thought, but GIMP doesn't suck. I'm quick to say "XYZ sucks" but I always mean "XYZ sucks for my needs at the moment" or "XYZ sucks compared to ABC". Of the many things I've said suck, most of them are fine tools. But hyperbole is my favorite pastime, and it helps get the point across.

In any case, I decided to draw a picture yesterday. I dusted off my old Wacom tablet and thought, why not use the GIMP? Gentoo-wiki has good instructions on getting a Wacom tablet working in X windows. A few kernel modules compiled, a few edits to xorg.conf, a tweak or two to some udev rules, a quick X restart and it was all set. (It's not quite as simple as that, of course, but what is?)

Next step, get my tablet working in the GIMP. I have the very latest version of the GIMP installed at the moment, 2.4.0-rc1 release candidate. GIMP recognized my tablet just fine. There are some options via Preferences -> Input Devices that you can set to tweak how the tablet works. You can also install wacomcpl via emerge linuxwacom and it gives you further options to change sensitivity and tracking speed etc.

So off I went. I put in a good hour or so trying to draw a very simple picture for practice. Result: utter failure.

The next thing I tried was hooking up my old Windows machine that's been sitting in the corner (my cat had been using it as a perch / bed) and trying Photoshop. Result: relative success.

What went wrong? Well, my first problem was brushes. The Gimp has an extremely limited selection of brushes. 10 solid circles, 10 faded circles, that's about it. Photoshop has a berjillion brushes by default, and it's really easy to make your own on the fly. GIMP has a brush editor, but it's clunky and unfun.

Beyond that, there's just something not right about my Wacom tablet in X windows. I don't know what, but no matter what I tried, the thing was all jittery. I thought it was just me, maybe my hand isn't steady enough. But in Windows / Photoshop, I had no problems whatsoever. No matter how I played with settings in Linux I couldn't get the thing set up where I could draw a simple straight line.? I turned the speed way up and/or way down, played with sensitivity, changed the tablet from working full-screen to per-window, all kinds of things.? Nothing I did made it any easier to draw a simple straight line.

Another fun experience I had was that pressure sensitivity would randomly stop working in the GIMP, forcing me to restart it and then pressure sensitivity would return. This may be because I'm using an RC version of the GIMP, but who knows. It kind of kills the mood when you're trying to produce artwork.

Beta-quality GIMP doesn't explain this bug though: after using my Wacom tablet for extended periods of time, Firefox would stop responding to keyboard input until I restarted Firefox. This may be coincidental and I'm not 100% sure it's because of my tablet, but I never had a problem like that before, and I haven't had one since I unplugged the tablet.

If you do a search for "GIMP vs. Photoshop" you'll come back with a million Photoshop-people saying GIMP sucks, and then a million GIMP-people saying it's just as good as Photoshop but all the Photoshop junkies are too used to what they already know and unwilling to change. I'm from the exact opposite world. I use the GIMP all the time for basic photo manipulation and I actually like the interface. I don't know Photoshop at all beyond very simple operations. I really wanted to use the GIMP in Linux; I hate using Windows for anything. But in the end I went with Photoshop.

Does this mean anything? No, my experience is an anecdote. But this experience makes me sad nonetheless. Looking on the bright side, 2 years ago I tried to get my Wacom tablet working and only succeeded in crashing my X server. So we're getting somewhere (or I'm becoming ever so slightly less incompetent). But I think we're still not quite there.

September 05, 2007 @ 1:21 PM PDT
Cateogory: Linux

A drawing of my cat

Today I finished this drawing of my cat:


August 08, 2006 @ 5:58 PM PDT
Cateogory: Art
Tags: Cat, Drawings