Open Source Tools for Artists


Creative tools for art-making, community building and publishing

Note: This is aimed at a 'beginner' audience with no previous experience with open source, Linux, programming and the like.

Question: what would tools to make 'art' look like for Gemini? An ascii drawing program I suppose. And maybe a branching narrative gmi software (maybe a fork of Twee/Twine? I'll leave this as an idea worth exploring further possibly in a future post or as an exercise for the reader).

The following text comes from a workshop held at ARoS art museum in Denmark, part of ARoS Public, co-organized between Flux Factory, Code & Share [] Aarhus and Cantina art space.

Open Source Tools for Artists Poster
Open Source Tools for Artists Poster


Imagine if all illustrators were required to use the same brand and design of #2 pencils or if all photographers could use only one type of camera and film and pay a monthly fee for their continued use. This is the situation today for today’s largest (and best-marketed) digital artmaking suites like Adobe Creative Suite. But a whole world of other exciting, experimental and artist-friendly tools exist beyond the confines of this. This workshop on creative tools is built for artists, and small DIY communities, covering possibilities of image production, drawing, photographing, organizing and experiments.

In this workshop we will start with a brief overview of artmaking tools that are alternatives to commercial offerings and then launch into a range of many other experimental and exciting artist software tools such as zine making tools (Electric Zine Maker), digital painting software (Krita, JS Paint), painting tools that allow one to collaboratively draw with a computer (NoPaint), 3d object scanning (Meshroom), and many more. Participants will create mini projects with these tools which we will document with photos and screenshots. By the end of the session we will produce a collaborative zine about these tools and showing the work we’ve created, with the goal of making this resource available for artists everywhere.

What is Open Source?

Open source is source code that is made freely available for possible modification and redistribution. Products include permission to use the source code, design documents, or content of the product. The open-source model is a decentralized software development model that encourages open collaboration. A main principle of open-source software development is peer production, with products such as source code, blueprints, and documentation freely available to the public. The open-source movement in software began as a response to the limitations of proprietary code. --source: Wikipedia

Free software communities were part of DIY and university communities. Open Source is a more recent term, and was originally intended for software programs but a movement of artists and creative practitioners creating open source tools and creative works has spread worldwide.

The rise and fall of type-in game listings

Example: People's Computer Company was a newsletter that advocated copyright-free software, the free sharing of code, and artistic and creative exploration via programming, even by beginners.

Why are artists interested?

Artists collaborate, are part of scenes and communities and engage in a flow of ideas. The internet has allowed this flow of ideas and works to flourish across far distances, collapsed within the space of a browser. Increasingly, artists presenting their work online are interested in open source licensing for their creative work. Creative Commons is a long-running set of "copyleft" licenses to enable the free distribution of an artist/author who wants to give other people the right to share, use, and build upon a work that the author has created. There are a few variations including one version that only allows re-use and remixing for non-commercial purposes. Example: Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike is a license that says anyone is free to share and remix the licensed work as long as they give credit and share their newly created work with the same license permissions.

There are tens of thousands of creative commons licensed music, for example on the Free Music Archive, millions of creative commons licensed photos on Flickr, and many more sources.

Tools for Work and Organizing

We'll look at tools for organizing and documenting as well as art-making tools. There is a "drop-in" replacement for commercial applications like Google Drive and Microsoft Office Suite called Cryptpad. Its applications include word processing, spreadsheets, slideshow creation, drawing software, Kanban to-do lists, whiteboarding. It does not sell your data; in fact, it features strong encryption. It runs on the phone, and can be used anonymously or saved to an account. You can run it on your own server, or use a hosted option.

Other major editing tools include Krita (digital painting), Scribus (page layout and design), GIMP (photo image editing), OpenOffice (office suite), Ardour (audio editing), Blender (3d Graphics). The website Alternative To is a good place to look for open source alternatives to commercial software products.

Experimental Art-Making Tools

Existing far beyond the commercial confines of a creative suite is the world of experimental and often tiny software tools. This includes software for drawing, photography, sound or other media.

Here are a few tools we tried out during our workshop. Hundreds more tools can be found in Everest Pipkin's Tiny Tools Directory

Tiny Tools Directory generator

Automatically produces on demand! generator is generative software to create new digital images or a website, created from collaging and recombining images gleaned from around the Internet. Current version by Panos Galanis, updated by Winnie Soon.

JS Paint

A 'clone' of Microsoft Paint. Web-based. Simple. Fun. Works okay on mobile phone.


Web-based tool to make pixel drawing artwork

Kid Pix

Original super-fun children's drawing application full of special drawing effects and sound. To erase the board, use the dynamite!


A web-based tool to make branching visual stories. Can be exported or saved to web.

Become a Great Artist in Just 10 Seconds

A javascript port of the original software by Andi McClure and Michael Brough, created for a game jam originally. Often used to generate icons, album art, video game icons, patterns or for experimentation. Works on desktop and mobile.


Tool for making puzzle games. Works in the browser. Has a simple mini language (good for those without coding experience).


Intended as a children's drawing application but fun for all ages. Partly inspired by Kid Pix? iOS and Android apps available as well.

Hot Glue

Unique tool for making collage-style websites. Aimed at artists and creative practitioners.


Make infinitely (!) large posters using a half-toning process to enlarge images to multiple pages. Print and combine them into huge posters.


Web-based tool to make branching text adventure games and stories.


For Web, Desktop and iOS. Vector art drawing software. "Alternative to Illustrator"

Note: this is a tiny, tiny amount of open source art-making tools! Many more can be found on the aforementioned Tiny Tools Directory.

Have feedback or comments? Get in touch through the email at the bottom of my index.html page.

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