Family Portrait

After seeing some of my recent work I was asked to do a family portrait. The last time I did a portrait on such a large scale was in 2007 in Adobe Illustrator and the last time I did a realistic portrait was probably back in 2006 of an old photographer buddy. I’ve been using Inkscape for just over a year now and whilst I’ve been doing little bits and pieces I haven’t actually done a major illustration.

As always I started with the outline first and filled it in with basic colours. I used GIMP and a very useful cutout filter to help me visualise how I was going to layer the colours and shapes that I needed. From there it was a simple case of refining and perfecting! Have a look at some of the progress shots:

1 2 3 4

The finished product looks like so and is probably my favourite piece this year:

The finished family portrait

The finished family portrait

The finished result was printed onto a canvas and is mounted on their wall. Yay!

If you’re that kinda person you can have a look at the wireframe of the image:

wireframe 1 wireframe 2 wireframe 3 wireframe 4

Overall working in Inkscape was quite easy in terms of drawing. One bit of praise I often hear about it is its drawing and node editing tools, and it really did feel quite easy to draw this. However, there are two areas where I feel Inkscape hindered my creativity in creating this piece.

The first is how it implements brushes. Inkscape does this by using the Pattern Along Path Live Path Effect, which in some instances can be more useful than Illustrator’s brush tools. What I feel some users want is for the pattern to act as the stroke of a path and to still be able to edit the fill of a path. This would’ve been very useful for me when drawing the hair.

The second is it’s lack of extensive layer blending modes. Currently Inkscape has five layer blend modes, which includes normal/no blend and these can only be implemented on layers, not individual objects. As far as I know you were able to set the blend mode for each paths in 0.44, but it was removed for technical reasons. I achieved the effects in my earlier work by, at times, combining over ten different blend modes on individual objects. Take a look at this walkthrough by popular vector artist verucasalt82 and you’ll see why it can be quite handy. So, in the absence of blend modes for individual paths could we see a few more blend modes, overlay in particular?

With all of that said, you can see that Inkscape is still a very capable program. I overcame many of the problems I described by just doing things a little different than usual.

Making a Disco Ball using Blender and Inkscape

Awhile back I started doing a few experiments using Blender and Inkscape together. One of my creations from this was a ball.

Blender/Inkscape Sphere (by hellocatfood)

Recently one Inkscape user created a tutorial describing how to make a disco ball directly in Inkscape. Looking back at that ball that I made it kinda resembles a disco ball, so I decided to write a tutorial on how I did it.

This tutorial assumes that you know at least something about Blender and Inkscape. If not, go look at these tutorials for Inkscape and these tutorials for Blender. As with any program, the more you use it, the better you get at it.

We’re going to need three things before we begin. First install Blender. It’s available for Mac, Windows, Linux and probably any other system you can think of. Did I mention that it’s completely free? Next, install the VRM plugin for Blender. This is a free Blender plugin that allows you to export your Blender objects as an SVG (the file format that Inkscape uses by default). I’ve discussed the usefulness of this plugin before. Lastly, install Inkscape, if you don’t have it already. I’ll be using a beta build of 0.47, which should be officially coming out within the next two weeks. If not, just grab a beta build as it’s pretty stable.

Once you’ve installed these programs open up Blender and you’ll see the cube on screen.

The cube is usually the first thing you see.

The cube is usually the first thing you see.

Depending on how best you work you may want to switch to Camera view. You can do this by either clicking on View > Camera or pressing Num0 (the 0 key on the keypad). What we now see is what the camera sees. If you were to export this as a jpg or SVG this is the angle that you’d see it from.

oooh, shiny 3D!

oooh, shiny 3D!

We need remove this cube and add a UVsphere to the screen. Right-click on the cube and press X or Del to delete it.

Bye bye cube!

Bye bye cube!

To add a UVSphere, in the main window press the Spacebar and then go to Add > Mesh > UVSphere.

Add a UVsphere

Add a UVsphere

You’ll now see another dialogue box asking you to specify the rings and segments. This is important as it’ll define how many tiles there are in your disco ball. Think of these options in this way. The segments option is like the segments of an orange and cuts through the sphere vertically. The rings option cuts through it horizontally. These diagrams might explain it better:

Segments go vertically

Segments go vertically

Rings go horizontally

Rings go horizontally

Put the two together...

Put the two together...

The default is for both to be 32, but, if you want more tiles increase the value and if you want less decrease it. Once you’ve chosen press ok and your sphere should be on screen.



You can reposition, rotate or scale your sphere if needed. To reposition it, with the sphere selected (right-click it if it isn’t selected) press the G key. This grabs the object that’s selected and allows you to move it freely. Try moving your mouse about. This can be useful, but we’re working in a 3D environment which…er.. has three dimensions that you can move along. To move it along a set axis you can either left-click the arrows coming out from the sphere or, after pressing the G key, press the key that corresponds to the axis that you want to move it along. For example, if I wanted to move the sphere along the X axis (the red line) I’d press the G key, the the X key. Now, no matter how I move the mouse the movements of the sphere are constrained to the X axis.

Similarly, to rotate the sphere press the R key and to scale it press the S key. The same rules about constraining it to a certain axis can still apply.

You can do things such as repositioning the camera other such trickery but for that you’ll need to learn more about Blender for that.

With your sphere now ready go to Render (at the top of the screen) and then press VRM.

The VRM options window

The VRM options window

I left the options as they are, but if you feel adventurous have a mess around. When you’re ready press the Render button and then choose the place on your computer to save it and what name to give it and finally press Save SVG. You’ll notice the egg timer appears in place of your mouse cursor to let you know that something’s happening but otherwise there’s a handy progress bar at the top of the screen.

Blender Screenshot

Open up the saved object in Inkscape and voila!

It's an SVG Sphere!

It's an SVG Sphere!

That’s the first part of this tutorial done! The next part draws upon some of my own experiments but is also taken from the original tutorial.

When you’ve opened up the sphere you’ll notice that it’s all one object. This is because all of the paths (the tiles) are grouped into one. You can ungroup it if you want but for this tutorial you don’t need to. Give your object a base a fill and stroke colour. You can do this using either the colour palette at the bottom of the screen or the Fill and Stroke dialogue (Object > Fill and Stroke or Ctrl + Shift + F).

Applying fill and stroke colour

Applying fill and stroke colour

The final step of this tutorial from me is the following. With the base colour selected we’re now going to randomise the colours but within that hue. To do this we’re going to use the randomise filter which is located in (in Inkscape 0.47) Extensions > Color > Randomise.

Leave the Hue option unchecked (unless you want a multicoloured sphere) and then press Apply.

Your finished disco ball!

Your finished disco ball!

There is of course more that you can do to make this disco ball look more realistic but take a look at the tutorial that inspired this one and come up with something of your own 😉

Click to download the SVG

Click to download the SVG

Starting off Simple

I’ve been doing quite a bit of messing around with Alchemy. Whilst in search of solution for a problem in Blender I came across a rather awesome time-lapse digital painting from an upcoming Blender Foundation project, Durian. Not only was I blown away by the skill of the artist but also by the software that he uses. I’m an open source nut so was really glad to see him use GIMP and other open source software to produce his piece. One particular piece of software that stood out to me was Alchemy.

If you’ve watched the video already you’ll have seen how he used that program to create chaos from which to build something else from. I was a bit skeptical at first, thinking that GIMP and Inkscape can do this already and with many more options. However, upon using it I could soon see the benefits of using this program. As the website so clearly states, it’s not meant for finished pieces (although some have used it to create finished pieces). It’s meant to help generate ideas, to sketch, to just go crazy on!

After just a week of using it this was some of the work that I had created in it

Lunchtime Butterfly (by hellocatfood) Stop Hitting Yourself (by hellocatfood)

I soon began to think more about what I perceived to be the point of the program. Typically, when I sketch my marks start off very light and whispy. Then, I draw over these whispy lines with more confidence until the original marks either become thicker and darker or are simply overshadowed by the newer marks. With practice you would then expect one to be more confident with their mark making, to the point where there are no more whispy lines, just sharp, clear marks.

Also, after many hours of studying you would expect one to make marks that represent any form in as few marks as possible. One important lesson I learnt at university is that you should only add detail where it’s needed. Spending 100 hours on an art piece may be personally satisfying but when people wont notice or have the time to appreciate that amount of detail why bother. In another situation, when you have a deadline looming, do you really have the time to add insane amounts of detail?

In time I feel I should be using this program to help develop this skill and my confidence as an artist. Drawing intricate layered pieces may look impressive but personally I know part of the reason I use that style is lack of confidence. I have put a suggestion to the developers to add a feature to Alchemy (and I’m slowing learning Java) that can help facilitate this by restricting the amount of shapes you can have on screen, but until then I’ve been doing a few tests of my own. Partly born out of frustration I’ve been trying to do portraits of myself using as few shapes as possible, in this case four shapes. As there are soooo many different recognisable features about our own individual faces it would be quite a challenge to pick just four features or shapes.

Working from memory I drew these portraits last night.

Portrait 1 Portrait 2 Portrait 3 Portrait 4 Portrait 5

On a side note the good thing about Alchemy is that it can record a snapshot of your drawing to a pdf at timed intervals. You can download a zip of all of the pdfs if you really wanna see how I did it.

Admittedly the first portrait probably has six shapes (open the pdf up in Inkscape to find out) but that was because I accidentally used a white shape on a white background. Alchemy has no undo function so I just painted over it in black.

I slept on it and came back with a few new ideas. Do you really need to draw someone’s head or hair? That depends on what their most recognisable features are. I am quite well known for my hair, but I proved last year that even without it people still knew who I was *shock*. So, maybe it’s not that important. As a test for yourself, try taking a portrait picture of yourself. Open that picture up in your favourite picture editor (I use GIMP (duh)) and apply the photocopy (or equivalent) filter. If needed erase the background until you have just your facial features.

With Hair and clothes

With Hair and clothes

Without Hair and clothes

Without Hair and clothes

Is it still recognisable?

So, I tried again to draw myself using only four shapes, but this time only my facial features. Here are my results (same four-shape rule applies).

New Portrait 1 New Portrait 1
(download zip of pdfs)

A little more recognisable? Four shapes might be a little bit too restrictive but you only really learn from challenging yourself. Why not try making the cursor invisble when you draw (press H) or draw “blind” (Affect > Draw Blind). Going back to the aims of the program once you feel more comfortable using very few shapes let yourself go a little bit and maybe use 10 or twenty shapes. Here is my final piece, starting with simple shapes, then going over with more detail

Final Portrait
(download pdf)


On Thursday 11th June I gave a presentation about Open Source Software and its relationship to open source software. You can download my slides. There’s lots of information in the notes so be sure to check.

In general I covered the usual things including what programs there are availble to facilitate creativity. One thing I wanted to emphasise was the need for more collaboration between coders and artists/non-coders.

What makes many of the open source creative programs so powerful is their extensibility. In many of the programs have a scripting environment where plugins can be written, often in Python, that can do many things, such as batch processing, modifying an image in real time or just about anything that the programmer can imagine. A problem that we (the open source community) face is that not everyone is a coder. So, they may see the scripting environment as a drawback instead of a feature.

So, I think there needs to be more education about the capabilities of the software and demonstrating of what can be achieved by learning programming and understanding more about your tools.

Make and Do at The Edge

On Friday 29th November I was invited to the first Make and Do Party over at The Edge, which was hosted by Friction Arts.

There were about 20 artists present and there was a strong emphasis on just having fun creating art! I think there’s definite potential to increase collaboration amongst artists, possibly through the use of games.

Here’s some of the pictures from the night:

This is one of my works. It’s looking up onto a baby that’s about to jump off its chair.
Jumping Baby

This is the collaborative sculpture most of the artists on made on the night
Improvised collaborative sculpture

Which licence?

I’ve been wanting to start an open source art project for awhile now but the most confusing aspect of all of this is which licence to choose! I’ve already discovered that the GNU GPL doesn’t really cover art, and since I have stumbled upon three different licences that I could choose. Before I reveal them here’s what I intend to do:

I want to allow people to upload their original ideas onto a website and have those open for modification, whilst still crediting the original, and all subsequent authors/editors. Once an image is created I want the image itself to be available for modification and the original file i.e. the psd, xcf, svg etc file also available. All of these would remain free and not be allowed to be used for commercial work.

I thought Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 would do the trick but it doesn’t mention source files. I then came across the Free Art License 1.3, which seems to cover most things but there hasn’t been widespread adoption of it since early 2000’s so I’m questioning the validity of it. Finally I’ve come to the Open Art Source Licence, which is still in the draft stages but is more up to date, so possibly addresses more issues.

Can anyone provide any input?

Free Art Or Free Design

Reading Floss+Art really has got me wondering if art should be free. By free I don’t mean public domain, but rather in a way that ensures the work stays free, such as releasing their work under Creative Commons or some similar Copyleft licence?

When I approached this question I split it into two questions, should art be free and should design be free. To clarify, I see art as something more aesthetic, more pleasing to the eye. I don’t think it strictly is there to answer questions, but more to raise them. It’s like a fiction book, which isn’t there to provide facts, but to entertain.

I see design as something that solves problems. Need to push something up a hill? Design created the wheel. Need to make a mark on a paper? Design created the pen and pencil. It is true that there is some artistic (as I’m defining it here) concepts that went into it’s design, but primarily I see it as design.

Overall, of the two I feel that it is design that should be set free, especially when it can benefit so many people. On the screen a UI design may make a program easier to use but on a wider scale it sets the scale for other programs. If all other/similar programs followed the same design principles those programs in turn would become easier to use and everyone would benefit. However, too often I read of stories where companies patent whatever aspects of their program they can. Doing this does give them the upper hand over their rivals, but it prevents others from improving on their work and benefiting the users.

If You Go Down In The Woods Today

A followup to the last post. Here’s the blurb from the video caption:

Insectoid went to Earlswood and engaged in a silent, collaborative painting experiment.

We decided the basic plan beforehand, but no verbal communication took place during the 2.5 hours of painting.

The process of carrying back to the studio had an effect on some sections of the painting

Insectoid is now on, so get scrobbling!