Today we interview two of the most popular artists in Linux world of art. Everaldo Coelho from KDE and Jakub Steiner (Jimmac) from the GNOME camp. Currently Everaldo works for Lindows inc. and Jakub works for Novell inc. They were very kind to answer our questions related with the art in Linux, its future and much more.
1. First of all, how did you meet Linux platform and decided to contribute graphic work to it?
Everaldo: This is a very interesting question. In the end of 1998, when I purchased my first PC, I went to a computers store and saw a Mac (I cannot recall the model, even because at that time I did not understand anything about this). In fact to me it was the same as a PC, but the icons of the folders were blue, much more beautiful than the rugged icons of my Windows 95. I fell in love with that and asked the clerk what was it. He introduced me to the “OS”. I came back home and started looking for the “OS” on the Internet to install it on my PC.(yes, it seems ridiculous). It did not take me long to find out that it would be impossible to install Mac on my PC. In the middle of the way,however, I found Linux, which also looked much more beautiful than Windows. Soon I installed the WindowMaker of Alfredo Kojima, which is a cloned and improved interface of NextStep. I even made some themes for him. I have always been in love with icons. Soon after that I knew KDE, I cannot recall precisely if it was still version 1 and a beta of gnome, that was not ready yet. I liked very much the look of gnome, but I thought that KDE was easier to use.
Jimmac: It was due to GIMP. It was only available on Unix platforms and I was in search of something to be a good equivalent to Photoshop I saw at the university but couldn’t afford myself at home. It was I believe in 1996. Time flies.
2. How did you start doing graphics? Did your initial experience and or skills help you or did you start from scratch?
Everaldo: Well, I am na illustrator and I have illustrated many children´s and school books, besides some magazines, including one specialized in Linux (if you are an editor and need some illustrations call me ;-)) I have always enjoyed drawing and surely this was important for my work.
Jimmac: My granddad was an architect and I always looked up to him and tried to draw. I didn’t pursue this as a career though, since I didn’t believe one can make a living doing that. I always though of it as a hobby. I suck at drawing actually.
3. Do you produce your artwork on Linux itself or on another platform? Could you share some information with us about the tools you use for artwork?
Everaldo: OK, in the beginning I used Corel Draw 9, running in Linux and gimp, but as Corel stopped developing corel for Linux and version 9 did not have a good support for SVG, I moved to adobe illustrator, which up to this moment proved to be the best software to draw vetorial graphics in SVG and photoshop replaced gimp. Unfortunately the SVG generated by illustrator is not a 100% compatible with KDE. The problem is the transparency modes “multiply” and “hard light” are not understood by KDE, they are very useful and needed for the creation of light and shadow in my icons.
Jimmac: I love the freedom of moving across platforms. I know the propriatery systems are doing great job of locking people in, so I’m trying to use free software wherever possible. Most of the time I spend in GIMP on Linux, but occasionally I use my mac or windows. Adobe managed to break me and I have hard time trying to replace old Illustrator 9 habits. It’s just so well designed app.
4. I personally think that artists generally don’t get as much credit as programmers and program authors. Do you agree on this?
Everaldo: I think that up to a certain point you are right, however, this has never disturbed me. My job is to make their work recognized, I feel happy when this happens. What is the function of the design? Software not only needs to be good, it needs to look good. My role is to make excellent software developed by the community look as good as it really is.
Jimmac: I don’t share that sentiment. Programmers tend to receive bug reports and complaints. I only get requests to use some of my artwork ;). This is probably due to the fact there’s far more hackers in the community than artists.
5. How do you find open source graphics/CG arts related apps like Gimp, Inkscape, Sodipodi, Karbon14 and Blender? Could you comment on them?
Everaldo: Gimp is great!! It was one of the first things that has fascinated me in Linux. Of course it has some flaws. The main flaw for designers is the fact of not working in images in CMYK pattern, for this reason it´s a great software. I like Sodipodi and Inkscape, I foresee a great future for both. I prefer the desktop of Inkscape, it seems to me to be better organized. Karbon 14 seems to be on the right path, I thought it is simple and intuitive hope that soon I will be able to abandon the vectorial property drawing tools and go to one of the 3 options. Regarding blender I don´t know what to say because I don´t have experience with 3D. What I can say is that all my friends who used it liked it :-).
Jimmac: The biggest advantage of free software tools is that you can affect the development by talking to the developers and making yourself useful. The biggest disadvantage of free software tools is that some developers don’t care about you :). The GIMP is a great example of corporately “unspoiled” project ran by only a handful of individuals. I’m still amazed how much has been achieved.
With proprietary software you buy a finished product. Unless you are a key customer you have a minimal chance to influence the product. As an individual pretty much none. With free software you can join the project and help out so that it fulfills your needs and helps you solve tasks you need. But of course that means “paying” for the features with your time and effort.
Blender is great project that is _managed_ real well. There is a lot of motivated developers in the project and blender’s development seems to bloom exponentially. It was one of the greatest things to see blender GPLed.
I haven’t tried Karbon yet, but I can’t get the hang of Sodipodi or Inkscape. I’m locked-in by the familiarity with Adobe Illustrator failing to break free. I find even the basic path editing obscure in those two free software packages. I’m hoping to write a simple functional spec for path editing, since at least Inkscape developers seem to be interested in making their app be a graphic tool, not an SVG editor aiming to implement all of the standard.
6. What are the basic steps for icon creation?
Everaldo: Basically this is the process of creation of an icon:
1. The icon is drawn manually in paper and afterwards it is digitalized.
2. A The digitalized image is imported to adobe illustrator and serves as base to the drawing in vector.
3. The drawing in vector is exported to photoshop where it is finalized and exported to the final format.
4. The finalization of the icon is made in different ways depending on the system in which the icon will be used.
When the icon will be used in Linux I use photoshop itself to make the adjustments and export the icons in PNG. When the system is Windows I use Axialis icn workshop to finalize the file in .ico. When the system is MacOS I use iconbuider plugin for Photoshop created by iconfactory.
Jimmac: The hard part is always a good metaphor. One that takes the point across but also takes the level of detail in question. It needs to be simple. You can hardly draw a soccer ball in the net of a goal on a stadium at 16×16 pixels to illustrate “score”. Once I have an idea I sketch it on a piece of paper and then, depending on the situation either start painting it in Illustrator of GIMP.
With bitmap graphics I start with larger size and try to reuse parts of the icons for smaller sizes or scale down and redo the outlines, highlights etc to compensate for the filtering. Sometimes a different perspective needs to be done for the toolbar and menu sizes and radical detail diet needs to be applied.
With vectors I always start with a polygon of the shape and then tweak the curves, fill with gradients and draw highlights and details at the end. Vectors are great because you can reuse parts more easily, don’t have to do different sized versions and you can use the artwork for other purposes such as splash screens, wallpapers.
7. Do you think the situation about graphics on open source desktops is good enough to today’s standards? What in your opinion is holding back/pushing forward graphics and eye candy on Linux desktop nowadays?
Everaldo: Well, this is a tough question. I think we have great artists working on KDE. Many of them are creating alternative themes. Kdelook has created a great community around KDE. I think about kdelook.org as a great barn of ideas. I am a child of this place :-). I think that one problem is that the icons pass by many hands before reaching cvs and they end up suffering some modifications in the middle of the way. The crystal posted in kdelook is different from the one in the official KDE. As a matter of fact, if you want to see KDE as I see it, use the package of icons that is available at kdelook.org. For the future I am working together with Ingolfur from Lindows inc. on a new theme that will replace crystal. It is technically superior to crystal. Regarding gnome, I think that Jimmac does a great job there. I am a great fan of his design.
Jimmac: What we need is more interoperability between the various desktops. It makes me cry one has to theme a million of things to get a consistent look on a system with apps from various desktop environments. But we’ll get there eventually. Freedesktop.org is a great project that’s doing a lot even in this field.
8. Could you share with us your opinions about SVG based graphics usage on desktops and slightly compare it to the raster based alternatives? What advantages/disadvantages does SVG provide?
Everaldo: The problem of SVG are the small size icons such as 16×16 and 22×22, very much used in KDE. As the re-dimensioning is automatic, it is hard to design an icon that look good in 128×128 or 64×64 that also looks good in 16×16. Unfortunately, I think that bitmap is still the best option in this case. Anyway, 80% of my icons are designed in vector format.
Jimmac: The biggest advantage for the artist is surely that the artwork is resolution independent, usable anywhere. It is also easier to reuse artwork elements.
For the user the icon can also hold metadata for assistive technologies such as speech synthesizers. SVG icons or parts can be generated. You can have an SVG template and insert an emblem or text within the icon with a script. You can modify colors of the icon fairly easily.
What is specific about SVG icons is that it only works well for simple artwork. If you start adding a lot of detail the performance hit can become apparent. All of the current themes in Gnome are pretty simple, so you can hear statements about SVG icons being as faster than png themes. It was just designed so. The theme needs to work well rasterized to 16×16 px and also scaled up to 128×128+. Vectors are definitely linked with a specific style or set of styles. Aiming for photo-realism using vectors would be a bit foolish.
9. What users can expect from their favorite desktops from graphics point of view in both short and long terms? How do you see the future Linux desktop art?
Everaldo: I think that KDE will pass through a great cleaning in interface design. I say this because this seems to be a tendency in desktops, just look at Mac OS X and Longhorn. Vectorial icons when implemented appropriately (nowadays it is hard to use 100% vectorial icons because of small icons in 16×16 pixels). They will give a great visual appeal to the system.
Jimmac: In Gnome, I am happy to see the pre-gnome2 artwork bite the dust finally. The style is now well defined and we don’t plan to do anything drastic to it. There is a single repository for most of the icons so it is easier for me to manage the looks of the entire desktop instead of hunting for odd hacker-“artwork” in the hundreds of gnome projects. Some icons in gnome-icon-theme would benefit being scalable perhaps.
I hope in a not so distant future we will agree on and will be implementing a common file naming scheme for the icons so that icon themes work across desktop environments.
From the overall eye-candy and better usability I am holding my breath for the new X extensions promising hardware accelerated UI. At this point we are pretty static. For example for some people, never exposed to the concept of virtual desktops, it may be very confusing to see all their applications disappear once they hit that shortcut by chance or click the switcher applet. I saw people trying to launch new copy of the app thinking it crashed. Once they are told about the functionality, they fall in love with it. If we were able to fluently move/pan from one desktop to another, the user would be given a clear feedback of what’s happening. And there is a lot of other places where animation would help make the interface more clear. *drool*And yeah, all those alpha transparency tricks 😉.
10. Could you describe a perfect customizable desktop in terms of themes you are dreaming of? How do you think a perfect theme should be? Is it less or more different than themes available today?
Everaldo: Simple, clean, beautiful and intuitive. Ingolfur, the Lindows team and I are working together to make this dream true. Wait 🙂
Jimmac: A perfect theme would encompass all the apps I can be running. Single place to change it, *plop* and my desktop looks consistent. The current situation is far away from that ideal. Eek, that reminds me we still don’t have a GUI editor for gtkrc colors.
11. And finally, what would you advice for novice artists that want to get started in this area? Any hints for the artists that have skills but do not know how to get involved? Anything else you would like to add?
Everaldo: Well, my piece of advice to those who want to start is simple. Leave the computer behind for a while, take a piece of paper and a pencil and study designing. This is the greatest challenge of graphic software (open source or not), they are designed to be easy and intuitive. The hardest thing is to create the drawing and this is something that no software can do for you.
In conclusion, once more I would like to thank the community of user and developers of KDE for using my work and for supporting me. You have no idea how much this has been important for me. I also thank all Linux distros that are using Crystal in their projects. I really feel honored. Special thanks to Lindows team, you have been awesome! To my wife, Patricia, who always supports me in everything. To OS news, that is a wonderful site and offers a great service to all the community. Moreover, I thank God, for giving me the chance to do what I enjoy doing and be accepted.
Jimmac: Pick a free software project that you care about and for yourself try to make it as good looking as you would like it to be. Show it off to the project maintainers. They may like it as much as you do, perhaps giving you some feedback and before you know it, it’s your project. And a big bullet point to your portfolio.