Making Digital Art With Open-Source Software – A Demonstration

A while before writing this article, I was preparing one of this month’s daily art posts. I was also in the mood for making some digital art too.

But, wanting to challenge myself a bit, I decided to make the digital art using a slightly old version of a free open-source program called “GIMP” (GNU Image Manipulation Program) that I downloaded a few years ago. This program comes in versions for Windows, Linux, Mac etc.. So, it will work on pretty much any computer.

I chose to use this program because, although I’ve used it for occasional image editing before, I was curious to see what it could and couldn’t do. It can do a fair amount, however the version I used (version 2.6) does seem to lack a couple of features that I’ve seen in the old commercial image editing programs I use much more often.

So, let’s get started. You can click on any of the images in this post to see a larger version of them.

The line art:

Not a promising start, but it’ll get better!

I added the line art using a mouse. Although I’ve got an old graphics tablet, I often find the mouse more intuitive to use (even though I use my non-dominant hand for it).

However, unlike in the old version of MS Paint (version 5.1) that I normally use for digital drawings, I couldn’t seem to find any “line” tools in GIMP 2.6. So, I ended up having to draw the line art freehand with the “pencil” tool. Hence why it looks so shaky.

Filling everything in:

Note the menu that appears below the toolbox once the “bucket fill” option is selected. This allows you to choose what you want to fill the area with.

GIMP 2.6 contains a tool called the “bucket fill” tool that can be used to fill areas with either a solid colour or a textured pattern. Seriously, you can fill areas with textures (albeit a limited pre-installed selection).

This is a really cool feature, although it’s often a good idea to select the area you want to fill with the “fuzzy select tool” (the icon looks like a torch/magic wand) first. This allows you to quickly add other effects to the area after you’ve filled it (such as altering the brightness/contrast levels or the colour settings).

By selecting the area (with the “fuzzy select tool”) before filling it, I was easily able to change the colour of the pattern I added to this area.

To de-select the area after you’re done, just click on the square icon in the top left of the toolbox and click once on another part of the image.


Note the small purple line to the left of the silhouetted man. This line determines where the gradient is and how large it is.

For the sky, I decided to use the “blend” effect. The icon for this looks like a grey square and it is next to the “bucket fill” icon in the toolbox.

Once you’ve chosen your colours, just click and drag the mouse across part of the area you want to fill. This will draw a line which will determine where the blending will happen, what direction the blend will travel in and how large the blended area (between the two colours) will be. It takes a little bit of getting used to, but that’s what the “undo” button is for!

Miscellaneous stuff:

Altering the brightness/contrast levels in one part of the image to create shadows.

After adding some detail to the background using the “pencil” tool and the “RGB Noise” option in the “Filters” menu (at the top of the window), I then decided to add a few shadows to the image. This was done by selecting the relevant areas with the free select tool (the icon looks like a lasso/ loop of rope) and then going into the “Colours” menu and messing around with the brightness/contrast settings.

After this, I also tweaked the hue/saturation levels in the entire image to give it a more vivid look. The option to do this can also be found in the “Colours” menu:

Altering the hue/saturation levels in the image.

Then, using the airbrush tool, I added some extra background details. One cool thing about the airbrush in GIMP 2.6 is that you can vary the brush size and – depending on how long you hold down the left mouse button – the intensity/opacity of the paint too.

Seriously, the airbrush tool in this program is really great. You can vary the brush size and (depending on how long you hold down the left mouse button), the intensity of the effect.

Lighting effects:

This is where to find the lighting effects menu.

One really cool thing about GIMP 2.6 is that it allows you to add extra lighting to your picture. The program digitally adds a light source to the picture and then darkens other parts of the picture (to make the light appear bright by contrast).

This option allows you to select the position of the light source (and you can move the light source around in real time in three dimensions by altering the X, Y and Z axis values), to select the light’s intensity, the light’s type and the light’s colour. Seriously, this effect is really cool.

The preview window and the three “position” boxes allow you to move the light in three dimensions (just don’t move it too far out of frame. This feature of the program crashed when I moved the light too far to the right when messing around with this feature before this demonstration.)

This menu allows you to choose what type of light source you want to include (and how intense it is).

Finishing touches:

Seriously, the “airbrush” feature is great for adding rain effects (as long as you vary the line width etc..)

Finally, after messing around with the background a bit, I decided to add some rain to the image with the airbrush tool. This is where the airbrush really came in handy.

By varying the size of the brush and the amount of pressure I used, I was able to create much more realistic rain effects (using this technique) than I was in the program I usually use for this (MS Paint 5.1). Seriously, I cannot praise the airbrush in GIMP 2.6 highly enough!


Although it would have been nice to see some line/shape drawing tools on the toolbar, I’m genuinely surprised (and pleased) at all of the stuff I was able to do in GIMP 2.6. And, given that this program is a free, non-commercial, open-source one that is available for pretty much all operating systems, there’s no excuse not to check it out.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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