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January 2008

January 2008 -- Dawn



  • Behind the Art:
    Practical Color Theory, Part 1
  • Myths and Symbols:
    Red, a King Dethroned
  • Healthy Green Artists:
    Green Resolutions
  • Artist Spotlight:
    The Whimsical work of Arthur Rackham, 1867-1939
  • EMG News:
    Dawn of a New Year
  • Wombat Droppings:
    Tackling New Media


  • Starting a Home Business for Artists
  • Starting With The GIMP, pt 1


  • Poem: City Fragments Resolved
  • Fiction: Understudy Dawn


  • Falheria: Dawn
  • Tomb of the King: Prologue

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  • Starting With The GIMP, pt 1
    by Valerie Joanne Higgins

    You want to try your hand at digital art?

    You've been looking at programs and you think they are very expensive, especially for something that will take time and effort to learn and you are not sure will suit you?

    Don't despair.

    One of the best digital art programs around is completely free!

    When I say free, I don't mean one of those limited option versions where you have to pay to upgrade to the real thing. I don't mean a trial version for a few months.

    I mean that the entire and complete version with all its plug ins and add ons, is absolutely and completely free.

    Nor am I joking when I say it is one of the best and most powerful digital art programs around.

    It is called The GIMP. That stands for Gnu Image Manipulation Program.

    It will work on Windows. It will work on Linux. It will work on a Mac so long as you have X11 installed.

    So what are you waiting for? Get a copy and give it a try!

    Starting out

    When you open The GIMP, you will get a screen that looks something like this, a group windows or boxes that might be “docked” together, or scattered around separately. (It doesn't matter, they still work the same way)

    There is usually a "GIMP Tip of the Day"

    This is the most important of them: "The GIMP can undo most changes to an image so feel free to experiment."

    At this point, if you have never used a graphics program other than the "Paint" that came bundled with your Operating System, you may be thinking "Where is the bit I draw my picture on?"

    Select the box labelled "The GIMP" and click where it says "File" and select "New"

    This gives you a dialogue box like this:

    You can either type the size of image you want in the boxes for Width: and Height: or you can click on the Template drop down and choose from a list of ready set templates such as US letter size, A4, A5, CD Cover, Floppy Label and etc. (I'm not quite sure why they include a template for US toilet paper and I probably don't want to know)

    If you intend to sell your work you will need to use what may seem to a beginner quite huge image sizes. I can guarantee to you that if you can see all of the image on your screen when it is displaying at a view of 100% then it is going to be way too small to print as a poster or on a T-shirt. A US letter size poster at the standard required resolution of 300dpi is going to be 2550 by 3300 pixels, and that is a baby poster as poster sizes go, a design for a T-shirt will probably require 3000 pixels square. This applies to all graphics programs not just The GIMP and is something you should be aware of before you buy a paid for program. Make sure before you buy that your computer has a powerful enough graphics card and enough memory to run the program. If your computer is a couple of years old it may need updating to cope. (For technical details on setting up your computer for The GIMP, I refer you to Carey Bunks)

    If there is a size you'll be using often that isn't on the list, once you've typed it in the Width: and Height: and hit OK to open the file, you can give it a name, “Save As” a template and it will appear in the Template drop down box next time you use it.

    So you've chosen your size, clicked OK and now you have an image to play with. Hooray!

    Wave your cursor over the image and if your cursor has turned into a little icon of a paintbrush or a pencil you can have a very satisfying scribble. If you don't have a little icon of a paintbrush or pencil then select the window marked "The GIMP," look for a little picture of a paintbrush or pencil, click on that, and then go and have a scribble on your image.

    When you've finished being silly for the joy of it, you can go to "Edit" on your image window and select clear from the drop down menu, or just right click inside your image and go to Edit then Clear on your right click menu.

    So now you have a nice clean empty image to start working on.

    Now is a good time to add a new transparent layer. Layers are a very powerful feature in digital work. They enable you to color in the background straight across without worrying about smudging your beautifully drawn foreground figures, and they enable you to add transparent glazes like an oil painter. They also allow you to move individual elements of your picture to improve composition without disturbing your background. You can also add highlights and shadows and be able to alter them without damaging the work you've already done, and piece together scans to make a copy of that painting you did that was too big to fit the scanner, plus lots of other useful things.

    Go to the window marked "Layers." If it hasn't opened automatically, you can get it by going to the menu on your image, clicking on Dialogues and selecting Layers, or by right clicking inside your image and going to Dialogues and then Layers on the right click menu.

    You should see a row of icons along the bottom of the window. Clicking the one on the far left (which is meant to look like a sheet of paper) will give you a new transparent layer. The up and down arrows are for moving a selected layer up and down the "stack" when you have several layers. The two sheets of "paper" overlapping will give an exact copy of the layer you currently have selected. The anchor will tie down a "floating" layer (which is what you get when you copy/paste into your image so you can slide around the pasted bit until its exactly where you want) and the little dust bin or trash can is where you click to delete a selected layer. So, create a few new layers. You can give each layer a name to help you keep track (sketch, hair highlights, tree in middle background, or whatever you find useful) or just leave it as New Layer and let the computer number them.

    Now take a good look at the window marked "The GIMP." You have a "toolbox" of items, you should easily recognize a pencil, paintbrush, pen nib, eraser and paint fill (bucket of paint). Hovering your mouse over icons you don't recognise will tell you what they are.

    Underneath those on the right will be two boxes over a gradated stripe. The left of those two boxes is your active brush, click on the brush when you want to change it and a "Brushes" window will appear for you to choose a brush from; just click on whichever brush you want.

    On the left will be two overlapping squares, these tell you what foreground and background colors you are using at the moment, when The GIMP opens these will be black and white until you change them, the little arrow next to them will swap the colors.

    Now that you have your brush and are ready to go, you can choose a color to paint with. Double click on the top square to open your color selector.

    Check that the tab at the top of the big square has the little GIMP animal icon selected. Click on the "rainbow" bar down the side of the square to find the colour range you want, and then choose your exact shade by clicking on the place in the large square closest to where it appears.

    If you are just creating an icon, or an image that will only be used on a website, you can just click OK and off you go.

    If you want your image to be printed, its a good idea to check that the color you have chosen is in the CMYK colour range (which is the range of colors that can be printed with ink) Go to the tabs at the top of the large square and select the one with the printer icon.

    Adjust the sliders if necessary, click OK and you are ready to create.

    Go to your image and start painting.

    The GIMP can save in a wide variety of formats. Its native format is .xcf

    Always save a copy as .xcf first before you change into anything else. Save all your work in progress as .xcf it will preserve all your layers.

    Then "Save As" whichever format you require when all your work is finished.

    File, Save, is on your image menu, or right click inside your image and select "Save."

    Save often, if you are not sure of a change and might want to go back to a previous version on another day just give it another name, you could have UnicornWIP.xcf, Unicorn2WIP.xcf etc. But, save often, and back up your files. Image files can be very large and digital artists are always pushing the limits of their computers (Give me a bigger computer and I'm just going to want to make bigger posters). It can be heartbreaking to crash your computer and lose hours of work.

    You know enough to get started, give it a go.

    Want to learn more?

    A very good place to start is with the book "Grokking the GIMP" by Carey Bunks, the complete text of which is online. You can download a copy to your computer, but it is well worth buying your own hard copy.

    Doing a search on Amazon for "GIMP" will also bring up a wide range of book titles.

    Stay tuned next month for part two!


    Valerie Joanne Higgins a fantasy artist and poet who lives in Shropshire, England.

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