GNU - Open Source Art Software

Inkscape is a fine vector tool based on SVG. I have used it for several freelance jobs like the one shown. I am not reporting anything new here. Other artists are also using inkscape in professional work. Still there is a stigma that it can't be good because it is open source. It is like any graphics software - some strengths and some weaknesses. If you use it in scenarios that suit it - it is a good piece of software. The latest iterations has included a gradient mesh tool that is decent, and another program in this brief review, and praise of GNU and open source efforts - Mypaint - now has vector layers. This allows a mixed media using both softwares to create nice mixed pieces. Yes I use Illustrator for most work because it is entrenched. I have also used Freehand - now gone, Xara Extreme - now under a different name, and Serif Draw plus for freelance work. They all havd strengths and weaknesses.

Krita is new to me. I looked into it in the past but it was and is ram hungry compared to Mypaint, and early on it was not for Ubuntu based distros. But I decided to look into it again. It is now working fine in various distros - even Windows - not sure about Mac. The above off the cuff test practice, is my first official Krita piece. I fisrt started playing with all the brushes to see what they did, and then glommed onto the paint brushes and created the background prep - the same way I used to prep a painting on masonite ... and I was surprised how close it looks to how I did it with actual media. So then I decided to play some more ... not sure what I would do. I though figurative and started doing a females partial figure - just of the top of my head - not looking at any reference. Then started getting into it and was surprised even more. It started looking like the way I used to do oil painting. So I am now officially a Krita convert. It is still ram hungry compared to Mypaint, but I can't get this oil look in Mypaint. I also use a commercial painting program on occasion called Art Rage. It offers the ability to build up chunky oil - not a full range of traditional chunky oil... at least not in the version I have - 3. Art rage is a bit better in ram then Krita but doesn't allow me to mimic the way I specifically rendered in oil. So this is my experience with digital paint programs to date. They all offer something - but when it offers me a way to mimic what I did or do with traditional - I like it! Update: Krita 4 has been released and the brushes included appear to be faster in general. It looks like a nice step forward. Unfortunatily I don't see the bristle brushes I use to start paintings with. I assume they can be imported from the prior version - alternatively I can keep both running.
The inset in the upper left - a second Krita test. Again - I started with no idea in mind. Just started scribbling with the brush and ended up with this figure. It was initially just a nude - but something reminded me of the few times I had been to the beach. At one point I was going to try to make it into a full illustration - in fact being a fan of the Mars Attacks franchise - I was thinking of making it a spoof advertisement - a big sun tan lotion bottle in the foreground, to the right, with a label that reads Super Sun Block now with Martian Attack repellent - having two Mars Attacks Martians in the background all frustrated trying to get at her.

Mypaint has been my go to digital paint program for several years now. The quick simplicity and light system resource usage just makes it a great general purpose tool. This paint program will run on just about anything - due to the light over head. I have an old Dell D430 low watt laptop - 1.3ghz and Mypaint works great for sketching up stuff on it. So if you have a low powered and or old device - Mypaint is good to go. It's paint brushes aren't specific but work well enough. You can't mimic brush stroke look like in other more elaborate art programs but it is fast. The dry media - pencil, pastel and blending stump tools are as good as any ... accept oil pastel. Other art programs do better chunky oil pastel. So I consider Mypaint the perfect open and sketch tool. It is decent for painting down and dirty quick. I have used it in conjunction with Art Rage - using Art Rage to get in some chunky oil paint. Recently Mypaint team added vector layers. This can lead to interesting mixing of some artsy technique along with graphical vector graphics. The above art is still an unfinished piece being done with the pencil and chalk / pastel tools.

The above fantasy figurative study practice, was done using both Krita and Mypaint. The centaur piece is actually very old and redone - just after doing the satyr and dryad piece. I had lost the last full sized file - so just had a screen cap. I took it into krita and rough painted in strokes - then back into Mypaint for detailing. Each tool has some advantages and disadvantages and is oft the case I will use more then one program for this reason. I have stated this in other places but always good to repeat some things: this sort of practice - using no references helps build a solid foundation. The outcome here so closely matches the way I used oil on masonite - hardboard, that I find it compelling to use these two programs in this technique. I used wet brush tools in both programs and the brissle, and bristle blender brush in Krita.

All of the above tools have something decent to offer. After 20 years - my experience - which goes all the way back to Photoshop 2.5 and Aldus Freehand, leads me top look for individual tools - not looking for one software package to limit my efforts. I have noted many other artists using and some promoting the above software as well - and IMHO - well deserved promotion. You may note that I have left GIMP out of this review of open source graphics programs. I have only used GIMP for conversion from Open raster from Mypaint to Photoshop format and some simple tasks. I have never used it for painting or typical Photoshop type work. I have seen people do some decent digital painting with it though.
All of the above open source software will most likely continue to grow and offer more as time goes on.
I use all Gnu software in both Linux and Windows. When using Linux - I have used the following distros for a fair amount of time: Mint in XFCE, Peppermint, Manjaro in XFCE, Bodhi, Ubuntu Studio, Xubuntu, Mageia in Mate, XFCE, and Enlightenment. Mageia still has Xara Extreme in its repositories and even though it is old - it is still ripping fast! I have tested other distros in the form of sketching - like AntiX - running Fluxbox or ICEwm. Because Xubuntu has been improving a lot and amd tending to stick to Ubuntu Studio - which is based on Xubuntu. If just sketching in Mypaint - any decent distro that supports the light weight and fast Mypaint is good to go.

Just to be thorough, the last group above are art pieces that were done in Xara. So why put these here, and what is Xara. Xara - was a lightweight - yet fastest most stable vector program to hit the graphics program scene. The ability to do art fast, and the ability to do levels of complexity that would choke other vector programs made it the sleeper in vector programs. Early on it was partnering with Corel and also worked with the GNU - open source community to create a free, open version. Sadly conflict apparently killed this effort and Xara developed into it's own full program - pulling away from Corel. Please verify this as I read these things in passing - so for details and what not - you need to look up. Now the lament part: The last distro I know of to fully support XaraLX was Mageia. It appears to work OK in 32 bit, but not in the 64bit version of the distro. The abstract fish was an attempt in 64 bit. Xara crashed too many times, so I took it into Xara Extreme 2, on an old WinXP laptop, to finish it. The other two pieces are very old, and were done in Xara Extreme 2. All the tools I used to do them are in XaraLX. The difference is the interface was greatly improved. So a valuable tool on the Linux side appears to be dead now, and it was the only vector tool to rival the best out there for down and dirty - and heavy duty vector art. Don't get me wrong - I like and use Inkscape. But inkscape's memory/ data handling is slow and limited comparatively. So I lament the loss of XaraLX. I wonder - had it worked out succesfully when the GNU community and Xara got together, would other Commercial software companies considered at least porting their stripped down versions - like say Photo Elements. Well that is pointless speculation and the only hope for XaraLX would probably be if Magix - which is linked to the XaraLX site, decided to fund an effort to revive the LX version. Possibly as a means of offering a very very stripped down version of what has become a very mature, multi faceted program, in hopes that it brings more people in their direction. After all - the last time I had a chance to test a version - version 6 I believe - it was the same super fast - faster then any other vector program, only with a lot more features.My opinion is that once one gives Xara a real try ... really learning the tools ... they, like me will become frustrated with other vector programs. The other programs will seem convoluted, and slow. I have become more at home in Linux now and would gladly run all my digital art efforts from Linux were the needed software in place. There are distros more stable then Windows and the cariety of choices in desktop paradigms and base distro engines - one can easily find a great match. Mac and Windows are a take it as we offer it proposition. So from a Linux enthusiast perspective - I lament the apparent death of XaraLX. Kudos to Mageia for supporting it as long as it did. Side note to this side note section: Mageia 6 - in Plasma and or Enlightenment - just awesome!. Xfce and MATE also good. The Plasma - though higher in overhead then Kubuntu - is as fast and is the best looking Plasma - when set to dark theme IMHO.
All artwork © 2000 to 2018 Ron Weed unless rights sold