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Art Tips For Programmers? 565

An anonymous reader writes "Recently I've found myself in a bit of a bind with artwork. My programming contracts have been rather small, barely enough to pay myself let alone an artist. The art needs aren't intensive, mostly icons or sprites depending on the project. Despite owning a few key apps (Photoshop, LightWave, Maya) my art production output is rather poor. Are there any other developers who have learned to be self-sufficient? Are there any resources available to educate me on the finer points of making graphics that look professional?" One resource for the less-artistic among us is the collection of free SVG clip art at, though it won't give advice for creating new art. What are some others?
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Art Tips For Programmers?

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  • one place to look (Score:5, Informative)

    by Chip7 ( 587423 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:13PM (#10825817)
    On place to look for art and helpfull artists is Deviantart []
    • Re:one place to look (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:48PM (#10826089)
      as unlikely as it sounds, one book i got a LOT from was "photoshop 5 for dummies" - i've had 15+ programming experience, 10 years multimedia including formal study, and this book taught me more about professional production of graphics than just about anything else, and yes made me self sufficient to the extent i was hired as a design team leader instead of senior programmer on the last job.... so give it a try and forget the dummies stigma....

      • Re:one place to look (Score:4, Interesting)

        by DrVikarius ( 775244 ) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @07:13AM (#10828425)
        A great book that should be read by coders etc. looking to do their own design graphics is "About Face - The Essentials of Interface Design" by Alan Cooper. It's informative, and also funny.
        Example: A person's PC is about to crash, and a box pops up on the screen that says, "System failure. You will lose all your data." Then there's a button below that says, "Okay".
        (Maybe an amusing little grinning demon icon would make it 'look' better ;)
    • by Archon-X ( 264195 )
      DeviantArt is really no good for constructive criticism. It's great if you want to have your ego stroked.
      Seriously, find the worst peice of art your eyes can bear, read the comments and they'll all follow like
      "o_0 LOVEIT!!"
      (_) so sweeet.

      It's a place for collective masturbation.

      The art is good when it's good. For inspiration, sure, but for constructive criticism, you've hit the wrong place :)
    • Re:one place to look (Score:5, Interesting)

      by MP3Chuck ( 652277 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @10:31PM (#10826353) Homepage Journal
      As an artist on -- and former staff member of -- deviantART: To anyone looking for pre-existing icons and stuff to use, please ask permission of the artist! Many artists would gladly grant permission to someone looking to use thier work so long as it's properly asked for. Spare a headache on both sides. :)
  • by parawing742 ( 646604 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:13PM (#10825819) Homepage
    Sounds like you have all the right tools, but are lacking the finer points of graphic design. Might be worthwhile to take evening classes on computer design. I've personally found these to be helpful.
    • by bigman2003 ( 671309 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:51PM (#10826101) Homepage
      I solved the problem the easy way...I married an artist.

      I pay her for the projects she works on (we both have our own businesses) but I am always assured of getting great artwork, exactly the way I want it, with someone who will work within my schedule.

      Other than pledging to spend the rest of your life with this person, I would recommend a few things:

      #0- If you are not an artist- put down Photoshop, Maya, and any other tools created for someone with talent! Use tools that allow you to ASSEMBLE- not create. Creating is a rare talent, which is grossly under-appreciated...until you need it.

      #1- avoid too much 'clip art'. Anyone with an eye for art usually thinks it looks like ass.

      #2- for a lot of projects, you can make good use of objects (boxes, etc) colors, and some good fonts. And if you want free fonts, I highly recommend [].

      #3- Look at other designs, and borrow, borrow, borrow. Very few people actually create something original. Just about everything has been done before, so just borrow away.

      #4- Make it as simple as possible. Strip things down, and maybe use the same recuring graphic over and over- similar to a website with a header. So now you only have one graphic that you need to struggle with.

      #5- In direct contrast with suggestion #1- (don't use clip art) you can find fonts that have interesting symbols in them. They are usually very clean, un-cluttered, and you can size them easily.

      #6- Keep the same style all throughout your project. It's better to have LESS style than TOO MANY styles.

      Well, the original poster asked for ideas- so that is my take on it. I spent 6 years as a 'graphic designer' in the print field, so I'm lucky that a lot of those 'skills' ('practices' would be a better word) carry over to the work I do now with websites, and programming. I'm so far from being an artist that it is sick, but I spend a lot of time organizing, and laying out my projects. I just try to create a layout that uses artwork keep my costs down.

      If you pay an artist $200 for a couple of simple graphics, you'll save yourself tons of time, and your project will come out much, much better. So reduce the number of graphics you need, and get the best ones you can.
      • by PurdueGraphicsMan ( 722107 ) * on Monday November 15, 2004 @10:14PM (#10826241) Homepage Journal
        I wish I had some MOD points... You've made some wonderful points here... I'm a graphic designer that's been doing the exact opposite of what you're trying to do. I've been programming for the last 4 years and still learning every day. I highly recommend some graphic design classes. You'd be amazed at how much of a differce it would make. If that's not the road you want, obviously there are many resources online. Either way, it's a good road to go down.
      • by darkPHi3er ( 215047 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @10:32PM (#10826362) Homepage
        "If you pay an artist $200 for a couple of simple graphics, you'll save yourself tons of time, and your project will come out much, much better. So reduce the number of graphics you need, and get the best ones you can."

        Great Advice and absolutely true, HOWEVER, for the "DIY" types, i would add:

        A. Photoshop
        B. Dreamweaver
        C. Flash
        D. ALL THE 3D Products; Lightwave, Maya, 3dFX

        i'm a programmer/developer, and i've been using some of the above for years in high end web design, and find that if i don't use them for a few months, i have to relearn big chunks of the program, sometimes ending up with a 3:1 ratio between learning and designing.


        A. Ulead PaintShop Pro -- []
        B. Macromedia Fireworks
        C. Adobe Photoshop Elements
        D. Cool Button Tool -- []
        E. Cool FX Menu Tool -- []

        These programs are substantially cheaper $$$$ to buy then the "Biggies", and are designed to take some of the load off some of the design choices that can drive even highly skilled designers (Choices such as; opacity, blends, masks and moires)....


        you can be a good citizen and ask, or you can homage them and alter them enough to make them "yours"

        3. LEARN HOW TO FIND HELP FROM PROS: there are a # of websites designed to provide such help, for example [] is used by pretty much every designer i've worked with or known. everyone of the major software provider has both developer programs and tutorials and community BBs, forums, etc..

        some companies such as Adobe and Macromedia really push these developer forums and you can frequently get better/faster/smarter solutions from these forums, than from the companies' Tech Support programs!!!

        4. SELECT A "LOOK AND FEEL"; from a product/service/??? similar to what your product/service/??? and use that to extract GENERAL guidelines about how to present your design. Chances are these folk have paid good monety to learn lessons about to sell your similar product/service/??? -- go to school on them, BUT DON'T copy their design (Lawsuit City), extract their approach and see how you can apply it to your particular project...

        Good Luck!
        • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @01:27AM (#10827243)
          >> #3- Look at other designs, and borrow, borrow,
          >> borrow. Very few people actually create something
          >> original. Just about everything has been done
          >> before, so just borrow away.
          > STEAL, uh, i mean "homage" any image (OBEY ALL
          > LAWYERS!!!!!!!!!)

          This kind of attitude really pisses me off (not to mention that it's really, really stupid to suggest "borrowing" or to "homage"). Stealing art is basically the same as stealing code. You must _ALWAYS_ ask for permission. As an artist I can assure you that if I found your companies using my artwork and passing it on as your own then you might be facing a lawsuit. I would hate to resort to legal actions but if you steal my stuff, and haven't been licensed to use it (e.g. artistic license []), you'd better be prepared for a bare-knuckle fight.

          I'm telling you this for your own good. Just because it's there doesn't mean you can take it and use it as you see fit because you see, like code, it does belong to someone unless explicitly stated to be public domain. After all, like parent stated -- art is subject to Copyright laws.

          If you asked me for permission and acknowledged me as the artist, however, I would probably be more than happy to accomodate you and grant you permission to use it. It's a matter of pride - please keep that in mind.

          Thanks alot, now I feel dirty for having to spell this out in such a impolite fashion.
          • by shaitand ( 626655 ) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @05:17AM (#10828057) Journal
            "art is subject to Copyright laws."

            Absolutely and the parent's implication that it is ok to heist it is entirely wrong.

            "does belong to someone unless explicitly stated to be public domain"

            It's this part of your statement that is wrong and this line of thinking must be corrected wherever seen. It's particularly important to correct (even anally so) someone who creates copyrighted works and has this wrong view. When any man creates a work subject to copyright, that work is owned by mankind, not by the man who made it (although the man owns the physical object, that isn't what is subject to copyright)!

            Copyright is the OWNER ie mankind (or the nation on it's behalf) granting you temporary and limited controls by contract for a limited term. It's a way of saying thankyou. You own the copyright, not the material which is copyrighted.

            Your pride you may be entitled to, but it becomes arrogance to think to own the miracle of man's imagination, even the piece of it you bear through life. Human history shows in thousands upon thousands of documented instances that NO idea is unique. You can think something first, but even if you never tell a soul there will plenty of others who form the same thought.

      • by swerk ( 675797 ) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @01:21AM (#10827219) Journal
        I've got just enough artist in me to get by, but sometimes when working in Gimp or Blender (my 2D and 3D apps of choice) I'll find my programmer side coming through a bit too much.

        Sometimes I spend a great deal of time getting things exactly even, or lined up precisely when it doesn't matter, or getting the image dimensions in pixels to be even multiples of 16. (Seriously, my geek side is like the Gollum to my Smeagol.)

        My primary piece of advice would be not to obsess over symmetry or nice numbers, to temporarily set aside your inclinations to make everything general-purpose and extensible. You can adjust vertices by 0.1 units every time, or you can just move the damn things somewhere that looks about right. The latter will look better. Save copies often if you're worried that it won't. (But it will! :^)

        As a programmer you do have a couple advantages. Turn your tendancies to over-engineer a problem into making the thing higher-resolution than you would possibly need. You know scaling down or compressing to .jpg gets rid of information you'll never get back. You have a tendancy to make things independant of each other, put that into using several layers and selection groups.

        And most of all, if your work looks anything at all like something you might see in Windows XP, or reminds you in any way of any MPlayer skin you've seen recently, it should be scrapped immediately unless you want your project to look fugly on purpose. :^)
    • by TechCody ( 722311 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @10:19PM (#10826284) Homepage
      I just want to relate to you... I HAVE THE EXACT SAME PROBLEM. and it sucks alot that the end user I'm developing for always see's the poor art work and thinks the whole app must be poor. I always spend twice as long on the artwork in photoshop than on the code. And I've come to the conclusion... I don't have it. I just don't. so I'll be paying artist from now on. A great place to find people for cheap.. is your local college campus. College kids have it sometimes better than professionals, and they will work for peanuts, or in my case, I just pay them per graphic or layout/design instead of 125/hr. good luck! -Cody
    • Might be worthwhile to take evening classes on computer design.

      I've spent $75 the last 3 months at taking online courses of the Macromedia Suite. That $75 has given me hours and hours of great learning at a fraction of the price of an evening class at a brick and morter school.

      I've cut back on TV and try to watch for a couple of hours a night. Miss some nights, but on others I'll watch for 5-6 hours.

      I don't have much artistic talent, but for my web pages I wanted clean fonts, lines, graphics

    • by DoraLives ( 622001 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @11:02PM (#10826493)
      if you don't have it, you don't have it

      Absolutely true, and there's simply no getting around it. But pity the poor shlub who "has it" but is working for a customer/end user who doesn't and must therefore submit to lectures and instructions from a complete idiot who seeks to twist and subvert perfectly good art to satisfy his own losery point of view.

      Don't laugh, it happens.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:14PM (#10825823)
    I highly reccommend inkscape, which is pretty good for creating svg art, even for those who are not very artistic. It make drawing really easy.

    Also, try, where there is a lot of public domain licened content you can use.
  • by pinder ( 530914 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:14PM (#10825827) Homepage
    Buy one of the icon collections at [] for only $350usd. They can be used royalty-free for any personal or commercial projects.
  • by athanis ( 241024 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:14PM (#10825830)
    Personally, I find any tutorial online a very weak foundation to build on. They teach you specific tricks but nothing about being 'artistic'.

    Better would be for you to play around with the different tools. Experiment and keep the results, they might come in handy. And it's best not to start on the computer. Do a hand drawing of what you have in mind.

    I heard this quote from my prof. once:
    "Laborers work with their hands,
    Crasftmen work with their brain,
    Artists work with their heart."

    • by drewzhrodague ( 606182 ) <drew.zhrodague@net> on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:49PM (#10826092) Homepage Journal
      Rock-on. Sometimes I use a sharpie, and come up with an idea, and later take a picture with it, and modify the image to what I want. Understanding how the tools work does not take the place of artistic talent, or the knowledge of "how art works". However, there is a union between design, function, and form, and some of us programmers can see this -- sometimes. Having a tutorial on how to define color schemes, or a tutorial on similar styles might be in order for us non-art-students.
  • by sH4RD ( 749216 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:14PM (#10825831) Homepage
    When working on graphics just let your creative juices flow. If what you wanted isn't the result, perhaps what came out is better? When I am working on graphics for a program or website I come up with a basic idea for where I want to go, and just play around and experiement. It doesn't take as long as it seems like it would, and some great creative products result. With Photoshop the best way to really get a feel for it is to have a bit of fun. Experiement, see what comes out. If you can't seem to be creative go look at a free tutorial online, many can both educate and inspire you.
  • Outsource it to India *duck*

    (Seriously, their time is cheaper than yours, unless you get sub-min. wage.)
  • by Proc6 ( 518858 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:15PM (#10825843)
    Despite owning a few key apps (Photoshop, LightWave, Maya) my art production output is rather poor.

    All the money in the world doesn't buy you personal artistic talent. Leave it to someone who has it. You could give my grandma a copy of Eclipse, VS.NET, EditPlus and vi and she'd still suck as a coder.

    • by mav[LAG] ( 31387 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:30PM (#10825969)
      Personal skill at art is something that is teachable and can be learned. Objects look the way they do because of where they are in relation to the viewer and what their dimensions are. Similarly light has rules which you can learn if you are to duplicate the illusion of light in a 2d representation like a drawing. Textures also have rules and so on. It's all about drawing what you see and not what you think is there. Sure there are people who have this ability from early on but the rest of us can learn very quickly.
      I'd suggest getting Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain if the submitter wants to learn for himself. And let me shamelessly plug my Deviant Art site [] so I can get a few more views. I must finish that Neo drawing sometime...
      • by billstewart ( 78916 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @10:51PM (#10826448) Journal
        It's really tough to answer the original question, because the anonymous reader doesn't say what kind of artwork he/she needs to do.
        • Basic network or equipment drawings (flowcharts, boxes and arrows with labels on them, etc.) are something that's not hard to draw in Powerpoint (though it was easier to do in MacDraw 15 years ago, and pick your favorite Open Source Free Beer drawing package if you'd prefer.)
        • Visio is a much more powerful object-ish drawing system that I should get around to learning, and it comes with a wide range of standard object pictures (some in the basic packages, more in various confusingly-priced add-on packages.) Kivio is a similar though probably less powerful KDE imitation of Visio.
        • Basic kitschy clip art is available from a wide range of sources if you really like that sort of thing. A Real Artist would probably spend a lot of time telling you not to do it, or at least helping it not clutter up your presentations.
        • Photoshop is really good for manipulating photographs. If *that's* related to the kind of art you do, fine, but there's no indication that the kind of art you need is better matched to Photoshop than to Powerpoint or Visio.
        • In addition to Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, you're also supposed to go read "The Visual Display of Quantitative Information" by Edward Tufte.
        • Go look at the first couple of years' issues of Wired. Then don't do that.
    • All the money in the world doesn't buy you personal artistic talent. Leave it to someone who has it.

      Or: practice, practice, practice. Maybe you won't be able to "paint a wooden spoon such that you can sense God", but you can become pretty good, with practice.
  • by Raffaello ( 230287 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:15PM (#10825844)
    Just as in programming, or any other field, amateurs create amateurish output. There is a tendency among technical people to devalue the skills of non-technical people (and the other way 'round as well). This is a mistake. People with training in anything are going to produce better product than people without training.

    Invest in a professional. You'll be surprised how cheaply (sadly) good graphic artists will work.
    • by PalmerEldritch42 ( 754411 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:22PM (#10825917)
      I agree. And you can generally find some very cheap (even dare I say it, free) labor at the local art college in your area. You know, the Art Institute of Whatever for instance. You will get some good artwork cheap, and if your sign the right papers for them at the school, they will get credit for an internship. It works very well for both of you. I have done this when I was in school and I helped out some folks with some artwork. I got class credit for it, so I didn't mind working for free. Then, once I graduated, I moved it into a mostly-full-time freelance job. Then, later, I started outsourcing my own work to another school. So, it all comes around full-circle, and everyone wins.
    • by IntelliTubbie ( 29947 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:34PM (#10825991)
      Just as in programming, or any other field, amateurs create amateurish output. There is a tendency among technical people to devalue the skills of non-technical people (and the other way 'round as well). This is a mistake. People with training in anything are going to produce better product than people without training.

      Invest in a professional. You'll be surprised how cheaply (sadly) good graphic artists will work.

      There's just something about this attitude that runs completely counter to the scientific/hacker mindset. Most people in programming -- and yes, in art especially -- start out as amateur enthusiasts, and through a combination of self-teaching, mentoring, and lots of practice, they become experts. Sure, for immediate results, it's best to hire someone who already has experience under his/her belt. But for someone who sincerely wants to develop expertise, it's frustrating to hear the old "if you don't know it now, you never will" line. It's just downright anti-intellectual.

      • by solios ( 53048 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:57PM (#10826142) Homepage
        But for someone who sincerely wants to develop expertise, it's frustrating to hear the old "if you don't know it now, you never will" line. It's just downright anti-intellectual.

        Slashdot is a horrible place to come for art tips. Or even coding tips. Or Choice Of OS tips. Mainly because Everyone Is Right, which gets pretty annoying.

        Funny how in any other discussion there would be six billion OSS solutions proffered up, mailing lists linked, etceteras... but when it comes to art, the response is "HIRE AN ARTIST!"

        Yes, amateurs create amateur art. Sometimes that's all you need. If you really want more, you can buy it or comission it. If you want to do it yourself, then there's nothing to it but to practice. And practice. And practice. And practice. AND PRACTICE. AND PRACTICE. Aud inifinitum. Practice until people stop proferrring tips and start asking you for help.

        Hell, I'm a digital artist and it took me five years to get to the point where I can wear photoshop like a glove. Given enough time, I can make it do anything I want. I've been drawing since preschool and I still have problems with hands, persepective, and scaling. I'd have fewer obvious flaws if I spent more time drawing and less time nerding. But hey, I like the blinkenlights.

        You want to learn the stuff, you have to make friends with people who already know how to use it. Or take a crash-class on it. Getting the flow of the app from real people who really know it is orders of magnitude more instructive than any online tutorial or manual ever written- mostly because the pros already know where all of the really neat stuff is hidden, which can save you months of practicing and digging around trying to find it.

        There's no magic bullet- just like programming. You want to do the crime, you have to put in the time, so to speak.
      • by SSpade ( 549608 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @10:02PM (#10826171) Homepage

        You certainly can produce excellent icon-level art, even if you have no talent at drawing at all. You still need a decent sense of aesthetics, though.

        As one example, I've generated several icons for the (commercial) application I develop using an almost perversely hackish approach.

        I write a perl script that uses GD::Image to draw a large (512x512) version of the shape I want, using plain flat colours for each region. No drawing skill required, no need for pixel-accurate mouse movements. When I'm happy with the shape and colours of the icon I run it through aquatint [] to give it a glassy 3d look and a drop-shadow. Looks great.

        (But for the toolbar icons and so on I licensed a generic iconset from IconExperience. An excellent investment in software that doesn't look like it sucks, for less than the price of a legal copy of PhotoShop.)

      • I think that you've grossly misinterpreted the parent post; the point being made isn't that one cannot learn art, but rather that those with professional levels of experience will generate far preferable output compared to those with much less experience.

        Seeing as the initial question was made by a professional programmer seeking to generate professional-level artwork, the reply simply pointed out that professional-level work (in any discipline) comes from a combination of training, practice and experience
  • If that doesn't prove to you the utter lack of graphics skill in the Open Source community, I don't know what would convince you. Coming here asking for help from Open Source "artists" is like going to a Sci-fi convention asking for tips on literature: you'll get a lot of input, but it will be mostly useless.

    If you want to have professional icons, hire a professional. There are people that do this for a living. They studied and practiced and now are eking out a living doing it. Same as how you studied
  • College students (Score:5, Informative)

    by agentkhaki ( 92172 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:18PM (#10825867) Homepage
    A great untapped resource: college students. If you know folks in college, or there is a local college with a decent art program, contact their career advisor (or anyone at the art school) and let them know that you've got work that needs to be done.

    Generally, you'll find one or two students who have the budding (or more developed) skills and know-how, and who will be more than grateful for the opportunity to earn a little extra cash or, more importantly, who will work for free in exchange for being able to use a "real world" project or two in their portfolio.

    Not only are you "giving back" to the community, but you get what you need for cheap/free.

    Two words of caution though. First, don't be a condescending ass. A lot of non-artistic, business-types tend to think of art students as starving-scum-of-the-earth, and they end up coming across as assholes who don't get the best they could. Second, realize that college students aren't always 100% reliable (were you?), and budget for that time-wise).
    • Have you no decency? (Score:4, Informative)

      by solios ( 53048 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:38PM (#10826012) Homepage
      Yeah, Art Students are a great way to get what you need on the cheap. I should know. Several of my friends - myself included- got fucked over right out of the gate because we believed what the contractor told us- that it would be "a good portfolio-building experience."

      So's sitting in my bedroom jacking off into the GIMP, thank you.

      "Portfolio Building Experience" means it pays a pittance if you're lucky, and you can totally forget about having any rights to your work. Oh, and PBEs are typically long hours with shit pay and no benefits. My first field experience was one of these- a contract job to do some multimedia work. After the dust settled, my hourly for the project was somewhere around eighty cents.

      You get what you pay for- if you get into the habit of taking advantage of art students, don't be surprised if the talent pool suddenly dries up on you.
      • by captnitro ( 160231 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @10:33PM (#10826368)
        Damn straight. I've been doing various forms of media consulting for a while, but it didn't start to pay off until a while ago, when I realized both client and designer need to be fully invested in the project, financially and otherwise. College kids can't do that.

        By which I mean, I had a lawyer draw up a very detailed contract on the rights and responsibilities of both parties. I visit him building every time there's a new client; contracts aren't one-size-fits-all.

        You'd think contracts and big prices scare off potential customers, and you'd be right, but you have to think a little bigger. You're thinking about scaring off enormously consuming projects for $500, and I'm talking retainers of thousands and tens of thousands. If you spend all your time on the little fish, you won't have time to spend on the big ones.

        A few months ago, somebody needed some design work done, called my ratecard outrageous, went to a college kid, paid him something that would have barely made a night out. Came to me the week afterwards. Shock! You get what you pay for.

        Pay a designer well and they'll do good work. Pay them poorly and you'll find out why.
      • Only on slashdot will you find a comment titled "have you no decency" that includes the phrase "jacking off into the gimp".
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:18PM (#10825870)
    All the Wacom models work reasonably happily with Linux+X and the relevant drivers at [] - wacom is not at all linux-hostile.

    Using a tablet means you can draw like an adult on your computer (directly on the screen if you spring for a Wacom Cintiq...).

    I used to think a mouse was okay for GIMP and Blender use. It's not. It _utterly sucks_ . I got myself a tablet on a whim and now I can draw as well on my computer as on paper (okay I'm not brilliant at drawing on paper, but like most people I've ever seen, I'm far better on paper or a tablet than drawing with a mouse!)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:19PM (#10825881)
    ... then you can afford to commision a graphic designer ;)
  • by carambola5 ( 456983 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:21PM (#10825891) Homepage
    Free Art Test []. Are you an artist? Find out Free. Premiere Home Study Program. aff.

    --that's all i got from google's sponsored link.
  • by tinrobot ( 314936 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:22PM (#10825915)
    As someone who makes my living as a digital artist, it's really just a matter of practice, practice, and more practice. Anyone who can write their name can potentially draw a good picture, but it takes time to train your eye and your muscles to accomplish that. Chuck Jones once said everyone has 100,000 bad drawing inside of them, so it's best to get the bad ones out of the way early. It's kind of the same for digital art.

    If you don't have the time to practice, I'd say spend a few bucks get some good looking clip art. The stuff you buy at Fry's and Office Depot pretty much sucks, but there are some collections out there that look pretty darn good.
  • Outsource! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mcrbids ( 148650 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:25PM (#10825935) Journal
    Yep. You heard it.

    Write your applications such that the artwork can be easily added/updated later. Make it clear that artwork is NOT your forte, and that you'll structure your application to allow this later improvement without requiring (much of) your assistance. Make sure it works OK, and doesn't look TOO bad.

    If anybody asks about looks, point to the contract. Also, maintain a good relationship with a good graphic artist, and don't forget to recommend him/her.

  • Ha (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:26PM (#10825945)
    Sorry, programers suck at art and artist suck at programing.
    Ever wonder why OSS interfaces are so ugly and hard to use? Because there's no such thing as an open source artist. Best off you hire someone to do a good job instead of trying to half-ass it yourself.
  • What not to do (Score:3, Informative)

    by plasm4 ( 533422 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:26PM (#10825947) Journal
    For the love of god, please don't use photoshop lens flare effects! Unless of course you're going for a retro look.
  • by EEBaum ( 520514 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:29PM (#10825960) Homepage
    If the product allows, there's a certain quasi-postmodern charm in "programmer art", if it is cohesive as a whole. Stick figures and such. It has to be completely confident in its kitchiness, though... amateurish art that is supposed to look professional is awful.

    If it's for an office-esque app, though, the highly "modern professionalist" users would likely cringe in self-righteous disgust at such a suggestion.
  • by LeninZhiv ( 464864 ) * on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:32PM (#10825978)
    If the other suggestions given here are still beyond what you can realise, here's one no-cost solution that can work in a pinch (depending on the requirements of your application, of course):

    1. Use Google images, a scanner, or any similar appropriate source to get stuff that looks as much like what you want as possible.
    2. Open that image in GIMP, add a new layer over it and trace the outline of that image.
    3. Delete the original layer (which you have no right to appropriate), and colorise the new layer with all your knowledge of gradiants, textures, etc. that you can muster. (Read up on what the GIMP has to offer in this department if necessary.)

    This works especially well when you're developing for mobile applications or other situations where the loss of fine artistic ability is not likely to be noticed. If your needs go beyond this, however, it will not be adequate and many of the other suggestions presented here are far more appropriate.
    • Delete the original layer (which you have no right to appropriate),

      If you don't have the right to use the image, the above procedure won't get you off the hook. Tracing the outline creates a derivative work of the photo and the copyright holder of the original image can still make a claim on it.

      Of course, you could always work around that by taking your own source pictures with a digital camera. I've done that a couple of times (without the tracing step, granted--I need to give that a shot) and it'

  • by alaivfc ( 823276 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:32PM (#10825980)
    The poster's comment about having the "right tools" (PS, Lightwave, etc.) exemplifies most programmer's and the general publics incorrect view on computer graphics and technology and art. IT'S JUST ANOTHER PAINTBRUSH.

    All too many people think that if you have the right "digital tools" amazing Pixar quality art will pop-out. Its simply not true. The primary reason that pixar is so unbelievable is not because John Lasseter and co. are incredible programmers but because they are amazing artists that understand how to use their paintbrush-the computer-to the fullest extent.

    Some posts have mentioned taking evening classes and such. That's a good idea, but all too many of them are stuck in the rut of teaching you how to do different tricks on a particular piece of software.

    As a programmer who has dabbled in art my suggestion is to try and forget your programmer self. Don't look at Lightwave and see all its cool features, its extensibility, effects, etc. Approach the project just like you would if someone were to hand you a paintbrush and say paint a picture or a camera and say make a movie. In other words, understand the medium you are working with, but don't get engrossed in it. It's still just art.
  • by SpamJunkie ( 557825 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:36PM (#10826004)
    I'm a professional designer with much experience with web sites. I've also worked on many other projects including a familiar theme for Enlightenment back when Enlightenment was popular.

    I've seen a lot of sites designed by developers and I can tell you what to do - listen to what I say and you'll be better than 90% of the sites on the net: keep it simple.

    This works on so many levels it's ridiculous. The most well designed sites [] with the most expensive designers do this as a matter of course. It's not only refreshingly easy on the eyes it's also good business.

    Don't try to be gabocorp or razorfish - those guys already have the look-at-me-look-at-me-look-at-me market saturated. Most paying clients want something more professional. Stick to what you do well - developing, hopefully - and it'll get the recognition it deserves with a design that lets your real work shine through.

    Pick a nice color scheme [], stay away from comic sans and courier and you're halfway there. Leave the graphics for photos and logos, use color sparingly, and limit yourself to as few different colors and fonts as possible.

    If you're really interested you could pick up a few design or mac magazines - really! even if you don't use a mac - just to get an idea of what clean & simple design is like.
  • by skittixch ( 777368 ) <> on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:39PM (#10826020)
    You must first be an artist, before you are a digital artist. Learn the fundamentals of the work you're trying to accomplish, if your area is in logo design, research effective logos, get a sketchbook, and jot down any ideas that come to mind. Don't be afraid to venture from the digital realm, that's where the magic happens. Let yourself design on paper, and create and articulate in the computer. (I've spent the past year at art school overcoming that very concept) good luck with your passions
  • color schemes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by typhoonius ( 611834 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:40PM (#10826028)

    One thing I've consistently noticed about programmers is that they have no grasp of color theory. Witness the countless [] ridiculously [] low []-contrast [] Blackbox [] themes []. Hell, look at Windows XP's primary color-filled default theme.

    In general, get to know the basics. Just looking cool doesn't make something usable, and the best art brings together prettiness and usability.

  • by adolfojp ( 730818 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:41PM (#10826040)
    These are some of the things that I've learned from my mistakes and from experience. I was in your situation about two years ago. Enjoy!
    • 1. Stock photos. A good picture is worth a 1000 design elements. Start scavenging for stock photos NOW. A good place to start is here: [].
    • 2. Avoid excessive effects and filters when not needed. Nothing ruins a good design like trying to emboss everything or making it 3D.
    • 3. Keep it clean and simple. Think Apple.
    • 4. Learn from the experts. Visit places like [] You can even post designs and get peer reviews. Also, http://http// [http] will help.
    • 5. Use and abuse CSS. The separation of design elements from everything else will help immensely. You will be amazed by this site: [] Change the themes and be amazed by the power of CSS!!!
    • 6. Buy graphic design books, preferably those with collections of commercial art made by different designers. Get inspired ;-)
    • 7. Get a digital camera and take lots and lots of pictures of the world around you. Current examples of designs and logos and ads will help.
    I hope that helps!

  • Time-Warping to 1993 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by RobotRunAmok ( 595286 ) * on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:41PM (#10826041)
    [Doing my best Mako [] impression:]

    "Once upon a time, when the WWW was whipping across the business landscape like a cold wind from the North, nobody in business had a clue how to wrangle it. Was it an IT thing? A Marketing thing? A New Business thing? It was a Time of Chaos, and still-moist script-jockies were christened "Web Masters" and given the imprimatur, "Um, do your thing. And here's a six figure salary, cuz we haven't a clue what 'your thing' is. Oh, and make it look 'cool,' cuz we heard it's supposed to look 'cool.'"

    And they did their thing.

    And it looked dreadful.

    Happily, business recovered, bean counters and Marketing Directors finally found something upon which they could agree, and color-blind code-jockeys were partnered with art-types so the WWW could outgrow its purple-orange acne-encrusted adolescence and mature into pseudo-suave 'white-is-the-new-black' twenty-something hipsterism."

    Bottom line: I'd rather teach an artist how to code (and have done so), then let a coder try to "do art." But if you want it to look remotely professional, you prolly need at least two heads involved.
  • by TheSHAD0W ( 258774 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:42PM (#10826048) Homepage
    This is a wonderful style guide [] to building icons meant for Windows XP, and the techniques are good for icons of all sorts. You can figure out how to build good looking icons out of simple design elements.
  • by MichaelCrawford ( 610140 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:43PM (#10826060) Homepage Journal
    Like, I expect, most people here I was unable to draw more than stick figures until I read Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain [] by Betty Edwards. Here are some samples of my drawings [].

    Edwards based her book on the results of experiments performed by Roger Sperry of Caltech. Sperry's experiments used people whose brains had been severed in the middle to treat severe epilepsy. By studying how these "split-brain" patients reacted to stimuli sent via the sense organs to one side of the brain or the other, Sperry was able to deduce that our artistic ability is centered in the right hemisphere of the brain, while our logical and verbal ability comes from the left.

    Most slashdotters are heavily left-brained people. But artists are right brained people. To create artwork for your software, you have to learn to think with your right hemisphere.

    Edwards says in her book that anyone who can learn to think in what she calls "R-Mode" can learn to draw. The earlier lessons in her book focus on stimulating that sort of thought while quieting the interference from the left hemisphere.

    She teaches drawing with pencil and paper, but once you've completed the exercises in her book I'm sure you will have a much easier time using computer graphics applications.

    The right hemisphere of the brain is responsible for more than just visual art. At the same time as I learned to draw from Drawing on the Right I taught myself to play the piano. In 1994 I borrowed some recording equipment from a friend and recorded my album Geometric Visions [], which you can download in MP3 format. (Ogg as soon as I get off my lazy arse and encode it.)

  • Definitly Students (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nate nice ( 672391 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:45PM (#10826077) Journal
    Many people have pointed out that getting college students to do the work on the cheap is the best route for you. It really is. Here is how you go about doing it if you do not know any graphic design or fine art students. Make a flier, explaing that you need a designer to make icons for your project.

    Make some copied of this flier and post them in the grpahic and art departments of the local college. You will probably get quite a few calls and ask to see some wrok they have done. The one that appears the most responsable and has the work you would think you want is the one you choose.

    You probably won't have to pay over $100.00 to $200.00, depending on the scope of the work. If it's just icons you need, $50.00 may be fine. Let them know they can use this work for their portfolios and use you as a reference in the future.

    It benefits everyone. You get cheap design labor and they get beer money/positive references.

  • by solios ( 53048 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:48PM (#10826087) Homepage
    As a digital artist, it's nice to see the tables turned. I'm used to being shat on and talked over by UNIX admins and coders who just assume I know vi, or emacs, or where network interfaces are on bsd or various linux distros, et ceteras.

    And the programmers are looking for art tips? Nice.

    My advice : If you can't do it yourself, make a deal with someone who can. It doesn't even have to involve money. Could be barter or whatever.

    Just remember that an artists time is just as valuable as yours, if not more so- and artists are typically subjected to the harrowing horrors of Art Direction. "Make it smaller! Make it rounder! Can I have it in cornflower blue? It's too complicated! It's not complicated enough! It's not what I want but I know fuckall about how to communicate my vision to you so I'm just going to keep requesting changes until you resign from the project and tell all of your art friends I'm an asshole!" and so forth.

    I do video and admin work for a living, and I share my work area with a designer who gets pushed around and shat on daily. I love working for myself, but from what I've seen, having someone else in charge of my visual output is a special kind of hell- which is why I don't do contract work.

    Know exactly what you want and be prepared to produce several "along these lines" or "kind of like this, only..." examples to illustrate your point. Give the contractor too much free reign and you're likely to get some whacked out thing that bears no resemblance to what you want- wasting their time and yours in the process.
  • Art (Score:3, Informative)

    by _KiTA_ ( 241027 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:50PM (#10826098) Homepage
    The absolute best art learning book I've ever seen is "[url= -/0874774241/qid=1100569243/sr=8-1/ref=pd_csp_1/10 2-9640388-0042521?v=glance&s=books&n=507846]Drawin g on the Right Side of the Brain[/url]" by [url=]Dr. Betty Edwards[/url]. It teaches "how to see" instead of "how to draw"... rather, instead of saying "see this? draw it. keep going, eventually you'll figure it out. Maybe"; it teaches you how to start seeing the same way artists see (which is ultimately what allows people to draw well).

    I highly reccomend it. The before and after images are just asounding -- in just 5 days Dr. Edwards' students show simply AMAZING progress.
  • I call BS (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Grond ( 15515 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:53PM (#10826120) Homepage
    This guy basically claims three things:

    1. He owns Photoshop, LightWave, and Maya. A cursory look at pricing reveals that buying those programs would cost about $3200 total (assuming he buys Maya Complete and not Maya Unlimited).

    2. He only needs some icons or sprites.

    3. He can't pay an artist to make those things.

    I haven't priced custom artwork latetly, but assuming it's -anything- like custom software, I have a damned hard time believing he can't get what he needs for much, much less than $3200. I think it's much more likely that he is using illegal copies of those programs, in which case I think he needs to get out of the commercial software business if he's not willing to respect the copyright of other programmers. In any case, if he's willing to infringe software copyright, he might as well just copy some artwork, too.

    Sorry for the harsh language, but this guy is either an idiot not to have done the math or a crook for copying software illegally.
  • Iconfactory (Score:3, Informative)

    by spiralscratch ( 634649 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @09:54PM (#10826128)
    The Iconfactory [] offers royalty-free icons and design services. You may want to look into them. They have some nice-looking stuff.
  • by wombatmobile ( 623057 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @10:01PM (#10826166)

    Get a camera and shoot stuff like what you see here [].

    Or give up with the art and get a job here [].

  • by Jameth ( 664111 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @10:05PM (#10826184)
    If you are trying to create icons with those tools, you have a basic misunderstanding of the medium.

    Photoshopping is for editing, well, photos. It's fine also as a finishing tool for icons that are already made.

    Maya is used for making 3D models, which is almost always overkill for an icon. (I've never used Lightwave, but I recall it being a 3D app as well).

    What you need is a vector graphics editor. I would have to recommend Adobe Illustrator myself, although Inkscape is coming along quite well (and is free, so start there if you just want to see what I'm talking about). As for Macromedia Freehand, it seems to be a good program. However, I've always found it awkward (many will disagree) and at the school where I work it has incredibly many printing errors, so I can't really say.

    And, beyond all that (as others have said) the key problem is most likely that you are an amatuer, not a professional. So, take an art course. Just go to a local college and sign up for a 2D design course of some sort.
  • by dan_bethe ( 134253 ) <> on Monday November 15, 2004 @10:23PM (#10826306)
    Open Source Web Design [] has been good to me.

    "Open Source Web Design is a community of designers and site owners sharing free web design templates as well as web design information. Helping to make the internet a prettier place!"

  • Charge enough... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by barfy ( 256323 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @10:27PM (#10826329)
    To hire all the people that need to be involved. Writing, programming, and iconagraphy are three different skills, and have really no overlap. Writers, do indeed write better. Programmers do indeed program better, and artists do indeed art better.
    It sounds as if the guy that writes your proposals and specs the jobs (who is that in the mirror?) could use a lesson in resource requirements.
  • Try Sitepoint []. is a very good web design site. At first there were only technical articles, but they added an art column, and now they got their art and design newsletter.

    Here's the article: Good designers copy, great designers steal []. Two thumbs up for that one. They even give you examples of how to do it right.

    Might wanna try.
  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) * on Monday November 15, 2004 @11:07PM (#10826534)
    1. Colors, Colors, Colors: Understand Colors and what works and what Doesn't Red Green Blue for Displays Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black for printing. Red and Green make Yellow and Magenta and Yellow make Red. Warm Colors are Red and Yellow, Cool Colors are Cyan and Blue. Black Gray and Whites are Neutral. Green, Magenta are in the middle of Warm and Cool. Avoid mixing inverse colors except for Black and White. (A way to find the inverse color is to use a graphic program and take a negative image of it)

    2. Don't Go Crazy: Often for a programmer who starts dabbling with Art they like to go crazy and put as much artwork as possible. Look at companies known to have good interfaces like Mac OS there are plenty of graphics very pretty but they keep it under control.

    3. Try to use as many of the standard widgets for your platform. Depending who your platform target audience is, try to make your graphics fit their OS Platform. If you are programming for apple stick to the gray stripes or the brushed metal look (Stripes are easier). In Windows stick to the Blues, Grays, Whites, If XP add some orange in the mix.

    4. Animate for a reason. Animations in a program should help the user follow the flow of the information (Such as a box that needed to get bigger or some extra text inserted) Dont animate for the sake of animation.

    5. Anti Aliasing goes a long way: Make your graphics big then shrink it with anti aliasing turned on. It makes it look like it is not from MS Paint.

    6. A little rounding or making it a little edgier sometimes is all it is needed to make the customer feel that they have a good product. Just take a shape control and give it a curve of 15 make it White with a Black border and put it underneath a group of widgets and they will think it looks super cool.
  • by splatterboy ( 815820 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @11:11PM (#10826556)
    I have spent the last 7 years as a painter/graphic artist/art director in NYC and twice a day I have to reply to a non-creative (Account, Copy, Admin etc.) about "why cant I make art look good too". Webster: Art: 1. skill acquired by experience, study, or observation 2. a branch of learning. That doesnt mean you cant do it - you can - but its hard work. You never "get there", but you can certainly get better. Its a continuous process and you will probably feel vaguely uncomfortable for a very long time. Just keep trying to learn and improve. Only a pretentious bastard believes everything they do is a holy nugget (it never is) and you do not want to be one of those. Find and hang out with the kind of people who do what you want to do and learn from them... Take basic drawing and design classes... Most of all, PAY ATTENTION to what you like and learn from it. On the other hand, if its a big professional deal ($$$) and you need the help - hire an artist. We all want to learn and grow but sometimes you need to call in a professional. PIXAR has specialized division of labor - why not you?
  • by Paolomania ( 160098 ) on Monday November 15, 2004 @11:14PM (#10826577) Homepage
    ... you could always spend a lifetime multi []-classing [], but don't go complaining to the DM when you discover that divided XP means you make only half the progress in each of your classes. Who cares how many hit-dice you have if HR is only looking at your class-skills!
  • Steal Ideas (Score:5, Interesting)

    by techsoldaten ( 309296 ) * on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @12:25AM (#10826956) Journal
    One hat I wear is that of a designer. I probably spend about 1 - 2 months out of the year doing artwork for Web sites and applications. I have provided the design work for hundreds (if not thousands) of Web sites and programs in one way or another, as you will see below...

    Steal your ideas, mine have been ripped off more times than I can keep track of and I assure you no one is ever going to be able to do anything about it.

    I see it all the time, some slick looking site based on another designer's ideas, and it hurts bad when it is my own work getting stolen. I have had companies provide me with other people's conceptual sketches (in some cases, sketches from friends of mine that I already know have not been paid for) and ask if I can do the same thing cheaper. I have had people ask me how I pulled off some neat trick in Flash, gone to their email domain and seen my work being copied frame for frame. I have found watermarks in content I made showing up in other people's sites and been told no visual idea belongs to anyone. Originality stopped being a virtue in 1997, why even try?

    You should steal whatever artistic concepts you think you need, cutting and pasting screenshots into Photoshop should be sufficent for any purpose. Intellectual property is a joke unless you have an army of lawyers, and it still costs too much for most companies to come after you unless you are costing them big bucks. Consider buying a scanner so you can steal ideas from magazines and newspapers as well - ESPN the Magazine is a great source of content to lift and maybe it will keep my stuff safe.

    Just put 'Artisitic Genius' on your business card and tell people you are Picasso's evil twin. Go spawn children and steal... uh... 'study' their crayon drawings for use in your work. Carry Silly Putty to lift tattoo outlines directly from people's skin and pass them off as your own. Spend all your time at hotels and pay for your meals by signing them off to other people's rooms. Give up technology and just start mugging people, same thing. Phish.

    If anyone ever calls you on stealing artwork, refuse to acknowledge the 'similarities', tell them to bite you and claim they stole YOUR ideas. If they still bug you, find out their phone number and threaten their families in the middle of the night. It works.

  • by Mustang Matt ( 133426 ) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @12:35AM (#10827000)
    If you're not an artist you're not an artist and you aren't going to crank out beautiful work regardless of how well you learn any software package.

    Here are my tips...
    1. Keep designs simple.
    2. Keep designs consistent.
    3. Don't mix serif and sans-serif fonts. ( is a great example of what not to do... All the titles are sans-serif and all the text is serif. Download a copy of the page and edit the CSS file to use Verdana for the body text and look at how much better it makes it look.)
    4. Don't do things for the sake of doing them, make sure any layout decisions have some reason behind them.
    5. Find an artist and barter services if you can't afford to hire them.
  • by BrynM ( 217883 ) * on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @01:30AM (#10827262) Homepage Journal
    Rather than try to gain years of art training and practice in technique to get a creative result, get creative about your method. Decide what you need some art of... This is the hardest part, but you're logical. You can figure it out. The most important part is to decide on your subject and anyone can do that. Let's say a figure on a hill. The only tools you need are Photoshop and a digital camera. Here's a creative method:
    1. Go to the thrift store and buy an action figure you like. Something posable helps to have options.
    2. Find a hill you like. Nuff said.
    3. Point your camera at the hill on a tripod. If you have some way to take a picture without touching it, great.
    4. Place the figure about 18 to 25 inches away from the camera so that it appears on top of the hill in a natural way.
    5. Take a shot with the figure in place and another shot without. Keep the camera as still as possible.
    6. Go home and open the two images in Photoshop.
    7. Select the image with the figure and press CTRL-A to select all. Now CTRL-C to copy (just being thorough). Select the other image and paste (CTRL-C).
    8. Now play. You should have the images in layers one on top of the other. Try fiddling with the opacity, or add a filter or cutout the figure and re-position it. Don't be afrait to try anything - especially blurs! Let people fill in their own detail. Worry about what the image is instead of how detailed it is.
    (Yes, I know this is a classic special effects method. It works well for an example.)

    Some great Photoshop tutorials (and Maya and others too) can be found in Computer Arts Magazine []. The tutorials are step by step with great examples to learn from. It's a little pricey here in the US, but worth it for a beginer.

    As to how to make an icon rather than an animated GIF or a JPEG or something else, just look up the spec. Google for "Photoshop icon tutorial []" or or "Photoshop animated GIF tutorial []". Think of the different file specs as... well, specs. Photoshop can edit pretty much any image type you'll need.

    I tend to do a lot of self contained work (Art, Music, Programming) so I can attest: Anyone can do it themselves.

  • A few thoughts (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Adam Wiggins ( 349 ) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @03:25AM (#10827735) Homepage
    I'm a programmer but having worked in the game industry for many years I grew to know a lot about game art, both on paper (concept sketches and paintings) and on the computer.

    First, it's a skill that can be learned like any other. Sure, some people have a natural talent, and others don't (like me). There are also people who are natural programmers, and they will always be the best at it; but anyone can learn to program if they really want to.

    I've ended up doing tons of stand-in art for games, and a lot of it ended up going into the final game, because it was Good Enough. Usually it was character animations and interface elements, basically the easy stuff, but still - it goes to show you that there isn't as much of a line between the artistically talented and someone who can just learn to work the tools.

    Here's a few random tips from my many years of hanging around with really talented artists as well as my own tinkering:

    Tools - I'm pleased to say that the OSS art tools you can get today for photo art and 3D are as good as or better than their commercial counterparts for many tasks. I've used Photoshop, Maya, 3D Studio Max (and the original 3D Studio, for that matter), and Lightwave in the course of my career, but I find that the Gimp (for 2D) and Blender (for 3D) are today better, or at least as good as, most of the commercial offerings. One thing about this may be that both of these programs are geared more towards programmers-become-artists than pure artists, which may be why I find them more intuative and powerful.

    Color - Color is a huge element. Crappy shapes with a good color scheme actually look pretty good; nice shapes with a crappy color scheme always look bad. Typically you want to combine complimentary colors - purple and gold, for example - in a way that is pleasing to the eye. It can be tricky to get this right, but one trick you can do is use the color wheel in Gimp. Find the first color you are going to use, and then go to the exact opposite side - that's your complimentary color. Note that a muted color (tan, for example) should fill more, proportionately, of the image than its bright complimentary color (red, for example). When in doubt, go look at a nice-looking website and steal their colorscheme.

    Compositing - You can do a LOT by compositing photographs and other existing graphic elements. For example I made the header image for this website [] by compositing shots I had taken in New Oreans, plus a couple photos from eg, Stonehenge in the lower left corner). Using the Gimp's color adjustment tools, scale, resize, rotate, and opacity, you can collage together a bunch of unrelated images and end up with something that looks pretty cool.

    Learn Blender - A great way to make a final image is to create a central element in 3D, and then paste it into an image and edit it up with the Gimp. That's how I did the graphics for this site [], for example. Blender is surprisingly easy to learn; this excellent tutorial [] will have you up and running in no time. I was creating elements usable for compositing in my 2D images in a matter of hours after I started learning it. (Of course, I have a lot of experience using other modelers, so it may take a complete 3D novice longer.)

    Last of all, I will suggest the tried-and-true method for self-teaching yourself almost anything: duplicate! Go find a piece of art that you think is attractive. Study it closely. Pick it apart. Now try to create your own version of the same thing using whatever tools you are trying to learn. The process of taking apart someone else's image will teach you a lot about the elements that experienced creators use.
  • by Aqua OS X ( 458522 ) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @03:38AM (#10827772)
    As for training to become "self sufficient". I'm both a developer and an interactive / graphic designer. Visual communication skills are not something you can simply pick-up. Those of us who are legitimate graphic and interactive designers have spent a LOT of time at universities learning how to solve problems using graphic arts, typography, engineering, psychological research, sociological research, etc etc.

    I don't mean to sound condescending (seriously), but most professional graphic or interactive designers have worked their ass off in order to get where they are. That typically means 60+ hour school weeks in a decent undergraduate program, and or even more grueling training in a graduate program.

    Unfortunately, many in the development field think designers are talented "artists" who can make things pretty. We're not. We're problem solvers who should be helping users to interact with (your) software or multimedia. Moreover, this interaction should be both incredibly functional and emotionally immersive (ie: iPod).

    (this is the part where Slashdot folks respond with "I taught myself and now I'm the head blah bitty blah designer for Company X"... don't listen to those people. Unless they're named David Carson, they probably suck. Worse yet -- they, and or their boss, probably don't realize that they suck.)

    Now... what they hell am I getting at? Well, you could start learning visual communication skills in order to become "self sufficient." However, you're interface design work won't be very good unless you take the time to get some real training..... Or, you could hire a graphic or interactive designer.

    Graphic and or interactive designers can be quite pricey. $35 to $200 per hour. Nevertheless, if you take advantage designers or grad students who are willing to do quality work for cheep (or free), you could be in good shape. Many designers will work for peanuts if you offer them some creative freedom and have a project they would love to include in their portfolio . Sometimes having a cool piece in your portfolio is worth much more then a paycheck.

    If I were you, I would check with your local AIGA chapters ( ) or graduate design programs. Look for a talented fresh designer who needs to build up his or her portfolio. Try to get them to do some pro bono work ;)
  • Why not simply... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by zeruch ( 547271 ) <zeruch&deviantart,com> on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @05:19AM (#10828060) Homepage
    ...go to someplace like and seek out artists often willing to do it for you, and in may cases for free?
  • by Fantastic Lad ( 198284 ) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @05:24AM (#10828075)
    so that I'm really awesome. Only thing is, I don't have the passion or patience to spend the minimum ten-to-fifteen years necessary to become recognizably good. And I certainly don't want to spend the life-time needed to become really, really good.

    Any tips? --I already have my own nun-chucks and expensive cross trainers.


  • by Qbertino ( 265505 ) <> on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @05:27AM (#10828083)
    Having studied and practiced art professionally for 8 years I can say that, just like programming, the essence of making art boils down to about 10 to 20 rules. Yet grasping these rules to the full extend and improving your skills to actually apply these rules usefully is long hard work. A basic tip I'd give is to copy the artists you consider best. The rest follows the usual pure and simple rule:

    There is no secret. Work your ass off.

    And, btw, no amount of powertools will bend that rule. Just as is it is with programming.
  • by MickLinux ( 579158 ) on Tuesday November 16, 2004 @06:43AM (#10828337) Journal
    Okay, you want to make art: icons, and such. First, let me point out that I have found no graphics program to be as good or as quick as Deskpaint for the old,old macintoshes, by ZedCor. I think there also used to be a PC version of that program.

    However, you probably can't get a copy of that program any more. So the next best bet is to get a copy of FuturePaint (freeware--do a web search) for Macs. But if you can't do that, get something that is reasonably quick, that can import and export different file types, that can scale graphics and change the number of colors gracefully, and that has some basic drawing tools.

    (Sorry, Linux folks, GIMP just doesn't cut it. Nor do the K apps, which are slow and crash too much.)

    Also, save your work using different file names at every step of the way. It isn't worth the time if you mess something up. Indeed, when I'm doing outlining, I like to save my work several times during that process ... just in case. Don't throw those files away, later, either, or the standardization notes. Archive 'em. You'll perhaps want them later.

    Okay... now, step by step:

    (1) find the dot size (like, 150 dots by 150 dots) of your desired icon. Quadruple that (600 x 600). Note that you'll have to do this whole process 4 times or so, if you have 4 different resolutions for a single icon. Don't skimp, or some of these will look lousy.

    (2) Scan in a picture (a good hand drawing, or something from a magazine) of what you want. If what you want is not available, you can actually arrange picture pieces in a collage, and scan that in. I've done this to avoid copyright problems -- I can be sure that my work doesn't even look like the originals I used, because I cut a leg and turned it, cut an arm and turned that... you get the idea. Anyhow, scan it in so that it appropriately fills your quadruple-size area (600x600, above).

    (3) Lighten the whole picture so that it uses only the 5/16 lightest colors. Now this will be your background.

    (4) Select 2-3 standardized line sizes: for example, 5 pixels wide for outlines, 2 pixels wide for internal detail lines. Don't forget to multiply by 4, because we're working at 4 times the resolution (20, and 8).

    (5) Now, using the line tool on black, draw all those lines with your sketch tool. Outline what you see, and make detail appropriately.

    (6). Now print out what you have, then convert all light grays to white. Do that either by changing the color curves, or by using flood fill judiciously (which I prefer).

    (6) Now, pick your colors. Again, standardize. (when I say standardize, I mean write the standards down on paper, and stick to them). Using lines of the selected colors, isolate patches and then flood fill them.

    (7) You should now have an icon that is 4 times the size/resolution of what you want. Select it, and shrink it down to a quarter size. Your program should be able to handle merging (averaging) colors. If it can't, then save as a 256 color .bmp file, and let your own homebuilt program average sets of 4 colors. At this point, details that looked "not so good" will look better, even great.

    (8) If appropriate, convert to 256 colors, 16 grays, or whatever.

    (8) Retouch as necessary (probably won't be necessary).

    Just as a note, I have found that I like my flood fill colors to always be in the lightest 16th of the palatte, whereas I like my lines to always be black. This makes the icon easy to see and identify.

    Now... all that said... you seem to be having trouble making ends meet. Let me suggest a business website for you: []

    The guy also has an $8 book which is invaluable:
    ___The incredible secret money machine II____

    To the extent which I was able to follow his advice, it created a good business for me (~17000-$30000 a year).

    That said, the level of justice in our country is crashing

I was playing poker the other night... with Tarot cards. I got a full house and 4 people died. -- Steven Wright