The Arts > Artwork

Handy Reference for Art Programs, Resources, and General Advice

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Again I suck at the "naming" and introducing part of a thread. Kweh... Anyway, this isn't really meant to be read end to end in one sitting, but rather to exist as a reference for if you need a program, want to try something different, or need some fairly sound general advice. I'd more than welcome anything relevant to the first post in the thread myself (considering it matches the topic); however, do know that we have a stuck thread for people who want critique and/or advice on something, and it may fit better there depending on what it is.

Throughout the last year and a half (or so), I've been trying to pull together a fairly nice resource set for art and where to obtain references and tutorials. After countless struggles trying to figure things out and a lot of delays posting my artwork - including Ubuntu's love of crashing with a stable kernel for odd reasons - I've compiled a list that I hope would be helpful to anyone needing resources, and sorted by topic.

For the sake of argument, the phrase "free and open-source" here doesn't refer to FOSS, but rather a free-program that happens to be open-source. To be clear, "gratis", not "libre" is meant here.

Likewise, I cannot possibly know everything... This is just a list of things that I've tried, like, or am well aware of, with some embellishments contributed from forum users before I was locked from editing the post at the time limit.
Drawing programs:

- Free and open-source -

The G.I.M.P
Like Paintshop, with a community pushing it forwards.

For vector graphics and to-scale graphic design.

Collaborative drawing program

Not quite as powerful as high-end applications, but definitely very unique. In the same veins as GIMP.

Still in it's early stages, the focus is on a natural feel from a vector graphics program.

When Inkscape meets GIMP, if you want it in a short description... Oh, check the site, kay?

- Free -
An MSPaint replacement that is more than capable of holding its own.

- Formerly free -

A nice collaborative art program (See DrawPile above)
Shame on them for keeping "open" in the name when it isn't open any more!
The last free version in English is available here.

- Commercial -

MSPaint (Wikipedia article)
Especially the Windows 7 version can stand as a decent barebones drawing program.

To me, focused to people with graphics tablets and touchscreens, but nice, nonetheless.
The price isn't outrageous and it still felt snappy a few months ago on my six year old laptop.

Adobe Photoshop/Illustrator
Industry grade graphics programs, aimed mostly at Art Professionals and Industry Companies.
Protip: most colleges for Art - especially Graphic Design - will require you to learn some part of Adobe CS to graduate.

Corel Paint Shop Pro/Painter
Comparable to Adobe, high-end of "consumer" grade graphics programs.
I consider Painter to be the best natural-feel drawing program that money can buy.

- Online -

Adobe Photoshop Express Tools
Well, my art professor likes them. Never really tried them, but he's recommended them time and time again...

The Aviary Suite
A suite of creative tools for artwork. (via Alexx)

The closest thing I've ever seen to PaintShop in a browser. Free and non-free versions exist.

Another take on PaintShop in the browser. (via Alexx)

Online collaborative drawing app. Based on a sketchpad concept.

- For coders and people not afraid of command lines -

Nice set of command line tools to work with images, often found as a backend on servers.

In C++, the Generic Image Library
Provides a nice abstract interface for dealing with images.
Does not have a lot of functions beyond the basics - it's a header and basic function set, not a full suite!

In Java, Java2D
The most stable API that I'm aware of. It's used in my college at times, but I have no personal experience with it.

Cross-Language on Windows, Direct2d's API
Generally, the best wrapper is for .Net, but a bit of searching can be found for other languages as well.

Cross-platform and language, OpenGL
One of two things that I would say has been ported to nearly everything, and understandable after you get the basics down.
It is indeed industry-standard for a background to handwritten processing for both 2D and 3D images.
Wrappers can be found for virtually any language used in industrial settings.

Cross-platform and language, SDL
The other library that has been ported to nearly every architecture with wrappers in most major languages.
It focuses more on game-development necessicities than anything else, however.

Cross-platform and language, GEGL
Good but far from complete
Made for non-destructive editing and has quite a few wrappers officially supported.

2D Animation Programs

- Free and open source -

An animation package I highly recommend for tablet artists.
Focused on tablet users and good at a natural look and feel without compromising features.

AKA, the GIMP Graphics Animation Package.
It's a bit odd, but it lets you treat layers as frames in an image.
Insanely flexible once you get your bearings.

Synfig Studio
A personal favourite, designed to be industry strength, highly capable and based on a strong graphics program.

Not a clue, but it's the last one listed in my package manager.
(I don't like KDE or QT4 ~ it's meant for both in the *nix realm.)

- Free -

Plastic Animation Paper
Formerly commercial animation program. Designed for Windows. (via Alexx)

Focused on stick-figure animation
With a bit of practice, it can do anything that can be mapped neatly to a 2d Skeleton.
Spiritual and likely eventual successor to Pivot.

- Commercial -

Adobe AfterEffects
Part of the Creative Suite.
Animation Colleges generally require students to learn at least the basics of this program.

Focuses on the traditional method of animation - in a flipbook, naturally.
If you're interested in traditional style animation, it's worth a serious look.

Toon Boom Studio
A friend of mine in Art School told me to add this to the list.

Anime Studio
Focuses on a skeleton method for animations.
Easy and fast... But remember: The tool doesn't make the artist.

- For coders and people not afraid of command lines -

Mencoder/FFMPEG (See Wikipedia Article.)
Command line encoders for video, more than capable of transforming a series of frames into a video.
It is ill-advised to use the programs as if they were separate entities - they're meant to work together.

The backend to Synfig Studio.
I've never used it, but I can assure you that it must be worth something if Synfig Studio is built on it.

In actual code, animation is viewed as a transition between 2-d images over time ~ therefore, to create an animation, you need a clocking mechanism, a way to handle image files, and a bit of research into how to write the code. Also, due to the simplicity to extend graphics libraries to include at least rudiments for animation, most major 2-d libraries will have some support for handling the repetitive parts of creating animations for you. See SDL, OpenGL, and GIL in these regards for ones I know include this or have extensions for it, as well as Direct2D for one I'd be baffled over if it didn't include it.

Flash, in generalFlash is actually a programming language for interactive (primarily web) applications and therefore not restrained to just animations. If you've played any flash games, you should be aware of this. This listing is for what I'm aware of that's capable of Flash coding or creation... But I'm not so knowledgable on the animation aspect of it.

- Free and open source -From the 2D animation section, Synfig Studio is more than capable of outputing to SWF with native translations for vector images. Let me stress my support for that program... STRESS STRESS STRESS.

- Commercial -
Adobe Flash Catalyst
Had to get it out of the way.
Flash is an Adobe managed standard, so it's assumable that they have the best tools.

- For coders and those not afraid of the command line -

Adobe Flash Professional
Essentially Adobe's IDE for flash creation.

A full IDE capable of outputting applications to .SWF.

Primarily command-line driven.
Sort of like a compiler/checker/decompiler for flash sources.
This is my favorite toolset for decompilation if I want media out of a flash game/animation.

From the 2D animation section, I'm aware of Mencoder/FFMPEG being able to encode to .flv and .h264 within a .swf container, audio streams in varying formats. However, I've never actually tried using these features, so "enter at your own risk".

Pixel Based Art

I do consider this a valid art form (I'm a videogame design major, derp!), but think that MSPaint from Vista backwards and the pencil tool in most "better" drawing packages/apps is the way to go. There are a handful of more-focused programs I'm aware of, but you sincerely can't go wrong with normal drawing tools. (Flip on a 1x1 pixel grid and flip off snapping, sincerely.)

3D Modelling and/or Animation

- Free and open-source -
Probably the best for open-source, but the interface is difficult for beginners to pick up and generally puts them off.
Consider asking in the community for lessons from a guru - it makes things go a lot faster if you want to learn.

Art of Illusion
To me, sort of like Blender with a better interface, but not nearly as capable for coding or animation.
I tend to model in Art of Illusion, struct/animate/program in Blender.

Everywhere I go online, seems fairly respected, but I've never tried it.

Used to be one of my favourites, though I've now moved on to more esoteric things.

- Free -

3d program that's a bit dated but still called useful by a lot of people around online.

- Commercial -

Autodesk Maya/3DS Max
Well known and loved by most amateurs at my college.
Often recommended to me over Blender due to the simplicity of interface.

Basically, to me, the Furry equivalent to Autodesk Maya.
I don't really like it, due to the oddities of how it works and how hard it is to make new figures for.

- For coders/those not afraid of the command line -

Unfortunately, the disease of "do one thing and do it well" runs rampant in 3d design... So it will take several tools to do a job that you could likely do with a single frontend, though the bright side is that most of them are made to work well together.

And, again: OpenGL and SDL are good cross-language and platform libraries for almost anything you could want. No, really.

The Microsoft approach to a 3D graphics library/API.

Java 3D
The Java API for 3D.

Extremely nice raytracer.
Many programs support extension using it.

Art tutorials and resourcesA caution before trying the tutorials from any book or site: it isn't hard to take a tutorial and learn how to draw that exact image, but then you're stuck with that image and nothing else in your repetoir. When faced with a tutorial, learn the image if you want, but if you want to improve overall as an artist then learn the underlying concepts as well - space, weight, balance figure, proportion, construction, weight, composition, so on and so forth. It's often easier to start as an appreciator of art analyzing these elements than it is to try to learn and apply them at the same time. Your call, but the best piece of advice about copying characters that I was never given, and hence posted here.

- Comic/Manga/Webcomic -

Drawfurry's Comic section
Focused pretty broadly amongst the "how"s useful for about any project, but geared mostly at beginners.

- Digital -

Drawfurry's Digital section
Everything from promotion of Paint Tool SAI to Inking with Photoshop.

- Traditional/General -

Drawfurry's Drawing section
General anatomy/proportions to useful quick notes on animal feet and paws.

For free, you can access a fairly broad set of lessons to study on your own here.
It's one of my favorite sites to read random bits of to try to learn new tricks or fundamental concepts.

- Reference Sheets and Stock Images -

DeviantArt's Resources section
It describes itself.
Use the search feature to make your own life easier.

DeviantArt Groups #ReferenceSheet, #ModelSheetCentral, and especially #Art-Reference-Vault
Really good places to check for both character-specific and general model/reference sheets.

If you can stand being bombarded by text ads, most major characters have a tutorial here.

The Unofficial Disney Animation Archive
Fairly good for model sheets of specific Disney Characters from throughout Disney's history.

Animation Meat
Has the best collection I know of Don Bluth's better known characters.

Balto's Animation Gallery
A small wealth of cels and production reference for roughly everything Disney and/or Furry.

On a related note to BAG just above...
Worth browsing/seraching through a bit if you want production references and cels for just about anything.

A french site, but scroll down a bit and you'll find quite a lot of Anime references.

- Miscellaneous -
dA's Tutorials subcategory.
I rest my case...
Use the search feature to make your life easier.

The Art Tutorials Wiki
Scattered thoughts and low page counts, but generally decent in hit-and-miss fashion.

Neon Dragon Art
Again, slim pickings but worth a check.
As of this writing, sadly under reconstruction.

This list
Pretty well covers everything I have to say about pixel art and about that much more.

Any image sharing site with the right coercion and search terms. Try "<series/character> reference sheet", "<series/character> model sheet", "<series/character> character sheet", and/or "<series/character> cleanup model" for a place to start. If you find something you know you'll want later, always bookmark or save it!

Those search strings are also usable on Google Images, and likely usable on similar search engines.

Good advice that I wish people would have told me when I started again
After trying to go from Crayola to PrismaColor, I can say honestly to stick at least in the tool-type you're used to, and that "good tools does not a good artist magically make". I can do better work with a $4 pack of Crayolas than an $80 tin of soft-core PrismaColors. I can do a lot more with a $2 engineer's pen than a $15 manga or technical pen set... And that's nothing to do with the quality of the products, but rather what I'm used to.

Quality generally takes a hit with price. PrismaColors have proven to me, when I tested them under a lamp in a biology lab over a couple days of exposure, that they can withstand full-spectrum light better than Crayolas can. This means that they won't fade nearly as quick and stand up better to natural sunlight... Other things you get at higher prices will likely have such better things about them, and it's worth checking into if you'd like to know the benefits.

If you're a traditional artist that scans and posts colored work online, be very careful about your colors. Compare the sheet you create to the scanned image - especially if you have a mass-market scanner. Generally, the colors won't match very well. Double that for photo-reactive colors, triple for ones that glow under a blacklight, quadruple for any material with notable texture, and quintuple for colors that have interesting additives - glitter, gel tends to give me problems, the "metallic" colors from most companies. In order of scale, they have things that are hard to reproduce by scanning because they rely on the physical nature of the medium.

If you're like me and constantly open things to lose faith in yourself and close them without completing things, do what I'm doing and don't open them until you're sure you can do them. Never feel an obligation to "request"-based work - it doesn't pay the bills and it's something you're doing for free.

An artist that has outrageous demands, like retaining full rights - including characters - of a commission is no fun to deal with. An artist with no sympathy to reasonable accommodation - such as non-artists who would almost have to provide a text-based reference sheet - is cutting out a figurative majority of their potential audience and/or customers. An artist that is lazy, slow, or non-responsive tends to not be favored unless they have legitimate reasons for being as such. In the last case, taking fewer jobs at a time or letting people know you like to take your time would go a thousand miles to the good.

How nice you treat your requesters/watchers/customers should always start at "as if an unmet person that you know is a friend". From there, it should move directly in proportion to how much of a pain they are, how much they're worth to you, and how they treat you. Though this example is not in art, it's not uncommon for computing people in the private sector to upmark the prices on jobs that cause them stress, because nobody is worth feeling like crap over when you go home - especially if you don't ask for it.

Don't oversell yourself, and don't undersell. "I'm a beginning artist, and here's my artwork for style examination" is much better than "I can do anything you throw at me". "I don't like pornography and especially hate Sonic fan service" is better than "I'll do anything you'd like". "I've been doing art my entire life almost, and here's a few pieces if you want to know how my art looks" is better than "I consider myself to suck horribly, but people seem to disagree".

Especially to beginners and most people I've ever heard complain about a lack of watchers/followers on dA and FA - your fans will find you in time. Don't let culture and what people want dictate your artwork, because we have more than enough of all the same things floating around. It's not hard to find stuff that gets fav'd on FA that most people wouldn't show their parents - but it's getting more and more difficult to find artists that manage to stand the lures of selling out against themselves. (Give the people you think are fine now enough time, or examine big names when they were just starting to see this point.)

Art is for the artist. Critics are always going to exist - ignore the blatantly disrespectful ones and accept those that try to help by giving you advice with references or redlines. Never say "no critique, please!" if you're going to put a piece of artwork online - having it where it can be seen is an open invitation for people to say what they are going to say about it, and one of the hazards of being an artist. Expect half the world to hate you without giving you a chance to explain yourself. Fandoms are made of drama - deal with it (by which I mean, ignore it when it tries to start) or get away from it.

You don't really know who someone is online related to who they are in real life. I might be a 20-odd year old software engineer/engineer/lawyer's assistant/student/international translation volunteer... Or I might be around just because people fascinate me at a younger age than myself and I like to watch people grow emotionally and intellectually. The photos you can find of me might actually be me... Or they might be someone that I put up and said they were me. I might really be a therianthropic athiest - or I might be a Christian hiding in the pagan and faithless masses to cause trouble. The only person who really knows is me - and even the assurance that I have good intentions shouldn't change your conviction that the only person that knows is me.

Don't hate people for not being themselves, likewise, when they address you online unless they get absurd, dangerous, or illegal. There are self-healing/self-prescribing/safety/etc. reasons for people to change things like their name, gender, age, nationality, and even things as simple as their weight or height. You can't say that you don't enjoy saying you're something you're not if you're a member of the furry fandom - after all, I don't think you're an anthropomorphic animal in real life, though I'd be quite ecstatic to meet you if you really are and all my dreams really could come true.

Everyone has a fetish. Some people are so afraid to develop sexually that they never discover it. Others think it makes you "strange" or "sick". Still others just don't want to admit it... But still, everyone has a sexually driven obsession - everyone has a fetish. How you deal with that as an artist should be a mark of your personal preferences, and not the implications of people that want to press their personalities on you or force you to conform to some standard of normality, because, as XKCD says - [Screw] that [crap]. (Likewise true of many things in life, just saying.)

Pastels, charcoal, soft-lead pencils, graphite, chalk, and many other materials all share one thing in common - they're messy and like to smear. The two easiest solutions I know, either by section, full sheet, or piece to be connected to a larger piece, is spray-on clear acrylic for nearly everything and polyurethane for wood-working art as a clearcoat (polyurethane has a slight brown-orange tint en masse, so use with caution). Make sure, before you apply either, that you are fully done with the piece - it's not impossible to edit later, but it's very difficult, doesn't seem natural, and requires you to add at least that many coats again to the edits later for the same protection. Likewise, 5 or 6 light coats is drastically better than one really thick one, both because it won't be as likely to warp the materials (or smear paints) and you get better average and more even coverage that way.

You're not Don Bluth, Hale Laocon, Blotch, or Walt Disney. I'm not saying it's wrong to have a style like theirs, but it is wrong to try to exactly copy them and then beat yourself up when you can't. All of them had/have their own methods, experiences, bodily physiology, and preferences that determine how they create artwork... How could you possibly match everything that makes them who they are without being exactly them? Lesson: "Imitate, not duplicate."

Likewise, you're not Don Bluth, Hale Laocon, Blotch, or Walt Disney. They didn't learn how to do what they do overnight and you can hedge bets that they were likely just as uncertain as you when they first started, wondering where the fans where and only knowing that drawing was something they liked doing in their various applications.

Of course, if you are any of those four people, you can feel free to strike your name from those last two as you read them. I'm clearly not biased and clearly don't have an opinion or any favorites, and if you believe this sentence is true then you probably need to reread/read the introduction to this post. Likewise remember that I'm human and therefore automatically biased due to both the filter of experience and the filter of emotion.

First edit:
Formatting, many spelling errors, finishing a few things I left hanging originally, removal of things either unneeded or else promoting an ill tone.

Second edit:
AddingAlexx's notes in the second post, more spelling errors. Word choice errors, a couple dangling bbcode tags, and some grammatical constructs/ambiguity resolution. I'm more than happy to edit until Tuesday.

a ghost:
This is...downright fantastic. Everyone can use this.
I do have some additions though.
Pixlr is also a online clone of photoshop, and the aviary suite is definitely something to check out.
And for animation programs, there is a 2d animation named Plastic Animation Paper (or PAP) that was originally Commercial, but was discontinued and became totally free.

Edited them in with links to your post as credit.

I'm sort of conflicted - It's going to be hard to explain that this is meant as a reference piece rather than something to read end to end... But should I go ahead and add the audio tools that I have sitting in a text document, too? I'd hate to see it be off-topic, but at the same time, I'd hate it to be incomplete as well.

Yes, it has suffered a rename. Glad we could get my mild ego-trip and the mild confusion that tends to cause both out of the way.

a ghost:

--- Quote from: copb.phoenix on April 10, 2011, 01:09:13 pm ---Edited them in with links to your post as credit.

I'm sort of conflicted - It's going to be hard to explain that this is meant as a reference piece rather than something to read end to end... But should I go ahead and add the audio tools that I have sitting in a text document, too? I'd hate to see it be off-topic, but at the same time, I'd hate it to be incomplete as well.

Yes, it has suffered a rename. Glad we could get my mild ego-trip and the mild confusion that tends to cause both out of the way.

--- End quote ---
The furthest I would go out is video and audio editors. Or, you could always make a mini thread in the music section?

2d animation covers most of the video editors I use, save 4 non-linear ones if I just want to hack different chunks together (AMVs, etc).

I'll split the music programs to a separate thread, but it's going to take some time to get them there. The bright sides, instead of strictly editors, I can go ahead and add my sheet editors, synthpads, and maybe even a couple of useful synth players to convert midi to PCM waveforms.


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