Six Programs for Starving Artists

A Program List

Like most freelancers out there, I don’t have spare cash for subscription fees. Approximately 99.9% of my disposable income goes toward coffee, booze, and books.  Side-note: If you haven’t read Stiff by Mary Roach, you should. Informative but also surprisingly lighthearted.

Back to the point. Graphic design, photo editing, 3D modeling, GIS packages—the serious stuff can swallow your wallet whole. Luckily, the internet is a magical place, full of open-source alternatives to help level the playing field. Here’s my top picks.


If you’ve used Photoshop before, GIMP is pretty intuitive. It has the standard controls—contrast, brightness, color correction, filters. You can adjust images using curves and overlay layers for different effects. The toolbox also has a a cloning tool, dodge/burn, smudge, and a cage transformation that can help correct image distortion.

And if you install GAP (the animation package), you can split videos into frames and make gifs.



3D modeling software is expensive as hell, which is why I adore Blender. You can get nearly photo-realistic results if you know how to combine the right lighting, materials, and textures. It’s a bit daunting for beginners, but fortunately, there’s a wide variety of tutorials to pick from to learn the ins and outs.



I always wanted to incorporate math into my projects but couldn’t figure out how until I started using Processing. The possibilities are endless—ciphering in greyscale, automating image exports for animated textures, and creating interactive Spanish flashcards—those are a few of the things I’ve done, and I’ve barely scratched the surface.

If you’ve never coded artwork before, the coding train will get you started.



GIS stands for Geographic Information Systems. That’s just a fancy way of saying super-cool-mapping-system. If you want to make pretty, precision maps, you’ll need a program that can deal with shapefiles—those are shapes that have locations embedded.

QGIS can do that and has a Python console that allows for automating your work.



You may have noticed there isn’t a lot of audio on this site. There’s actually no audio. It’s a completely silent production.

However, after diving into the YouTube video production process, I learned that recording sound is an arduous process. Anytime a plane flies by or an ambulance siren goes off, you have to start over or cut around it.

Audacity makes trimming supremely easy. You can also adjust the pitch of your voice to make it sound like a chipmunk, if ever you have need.


Open Broadcast Studio

This one is useful for artists but mainly in the making of tutorials.

When I go to make a gif of a script in action, Open Broadcast Studio is my go-to for recording my desktop. You can set it up to record your entire monitor or a specific window. And you can export it as an .mp4, .flv, .mov, or .mkv. Lots of letters to pick from. It’s also really easy to set up hotkeys in the settings.

Just note that it records itself when it’s on your desktop, so it can look a bit trippy at first.


Well, that’s about it folks.

Next week, I’m getting back to good old-fashioned tutorials. More Blender, Processing, Gimp, and GIS coming soon.





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