Last week I wrote about my experience making a book cover with MS Paint. This week I talk about GIMP. For those who don’t know, GIMP, or the GNU Image Manipulation Program, is an open-source program that does approximately the same thing as PhotoShop. There are other such programs, of course, but I’m using GIMP here as an example of a “real” image processor.
First, a little history about graphics tools. A long time ago, I was an art school student. It was so long ago, in fact, that I remember when cut-n-paste meant that you literally cut out a section from the physical paper and pasted it with glue to another location. I’m not joking. I had a weapons cache of X-Acto blades, and I was damned good with them. I was so steady, I coulda been a brain surgeon.
Then, in the mid-80s, computers came along and blew up the graphic design industry. At first, Apple's Macintoshes ruled with their flag ship application, Quark XPress, otherwise known as the Biggest Thing Ever. Eventually, though, a computer science professor from the University of Utah founded a little firm called Adobe Systems, several other products came onto the market, and Apple’s market hegemony crumbled. (We all know how that turned out.) During this digital flood, the old-fashioned practice of physical art production, under the relentless onslaught of these virtual simulations, faded into the sunset. Forever.
And thank God for that. Doing this stuff on computers is soooo much better. Going from X-Acto blades to mouse clicks is like going from horse-drawn carriages to automobiles, and going from MS Paint to GIMP is like going from an old-model P.O.S. to a shiny new Porsche. There is no substitute. Simply put, GIMP is freakin’ AWESOME.
The trade-off (and there’s always a trade-off) is the learning curve, which is apparently modeled after the north face of K-9. Since I didn’t know anything about graphics programs, ramping up on GIMP was a brutally daunting undertaking.
In the first place, the “documentation” is typical of open-source: nominal, minimal, execrable – not a single example to be found, and no pictures at all. To augment my education, I bought a hard-copy manual. It topped out at a thousand pages, but it was only marginally better than the online documentation. Were it not for the example files to be downloaded from its companion website, it, too, would have been a disaster.
In frustration, I turned to the Internet. I searched on focused queries like, “How do I make chrome text in GIMP?” or “Why doesn’t my airbrush work in GIMP?” Of the top ten results returned by Google or Bing, at least one would get me halfway there. Also, interspersed with the dross, there were some pleasant surprises, like the useful GIMPTricks videos posted on YouTube.
In the fullness of time, I noodled together a functional understanding of GIMP. There were many harsh moments in my learning, but with lots of iterations, and lots of back-ups, I eventually got the hang of it.
And you want to know something? It was totally worth it.
Next week: Using GIMP to create a book cover.