Enhancing your Creativity

BEING creative is one thing. Almost everybody has, lurking somewhere inside them, at least a small creative spark. The trick is to draw it out and nurture it. To plant seeds to make it grow.

Now, for the overwhelming majority of artists on the planet, two things are true: Most artists struggle (the days of patronage are long gone, and it’s a rare thing indeed for aspiring artists to be taken in by the wealthy…we could debate whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing on the whole, but that’s a whole different topic, for another day), and most struggling artists don’t have a lot of money to spend on tools.

Of course, almost everybody reading this understands that by themselves, the tools can’t MAKE you creative. They can help play a role in nurturing your creativity by providing an easy outlet, and they can increase your creative productivity by making your life a fair bit easier.

So…the first of what will grow into a number of articles and essays on the topic.

Finding tools that help you get more out of whatever creative enterprise you’re pursuing.

In order to “make the cut,” the tools mentioned here have to meet two basic criterion. First, they have to help an artist create, and offer something in service or function that makes working with the tool faster/easier/better than not, and second, the tool has to have a free function (it’s okay if the tool has a paid version with even more features, but in order to be mentioned here, it has to have a fully functional free version as well).

This first essay then, will introduce you to a variety of different tools (some you may have heard of and some you probably haven’t) that do their jobs very well and meet my two criterion above. It should be noted that I am not an affiliate for, and receive no commission from the makers of any of these products, though if they offered some type of affiliation, I would certainly formally join them, as their products are outstanding and, having used all of them, I highly recommend them!

Anyway, enough about all that…on to the goodies themselves!
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Open Office
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Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you’ve likely heard of a company called Microsoft. One of Microsoft’s best selling products is MS-Office, which is a package that comes with Word (word processor), Excel (spreadsheet), Access (database), PowerPoint (e-mail), and others, depending on what, specifically, you buy. A great addition to Microsoft’s office package is Adobe Professional, which allows you to turn text documents into PDF’s (a PDF being one of the most widely used document standards on the ‘net today).

Unfortunately, unless you’ve got a couple hundred bucks, you can kiss these two particular pieces of software g’bye (a quick search as I’m writing this reveals MS Office ’07 on sale for a hundred bucks, with Adobe pro coming in at that same price…so, literally two hundred bucks and tax to get both).

Fortunately, if you’ve not already heard of Open Office, you’re reading this document, and are therefore about to save a ton of money.

See…Open Office has not only all the features and functionality of MS Office, but it also creates PDF’s, rolling the functions of both packages into one, completely free piece of software.

If you’ve ever used MS Office, it’ll take you about five minutes to familiarize yourself with Open Office, and in next to no time, you’ll be off and running! It is, quite simply, a fantastic piece of software, and I used it to write the piece you are now reading, to boot!

Grab your copy, free, today, by clicking here: Get Open Office!
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Gimp image

Image editing is a huge market with lots of big name players. Probably the best known image software is Adobe Photoshop (a search for that title reveals that it’s currently on sale and can be had for $145). I don’t know about you, but I can think of LOTS of things I’d rather do with a hundred and fifty bucks than spend it on a piece of software, especially when there’s a free alternative out there.

Enter GIMP. It’s right behind Open Office as one of the first pieces of software I download and install on a new computer, and it’s fabulous. With tens of thousands of user created “brushes” you can add strange and unimaginably beautiful effects to your digital photos or scanned copies of your art. In fact, in Christina’s Gallery (on this site), you can see examples of digital art she created via GIMP, and her color/black and white blend photography was all edited using this program).
Galaxy Star
Put simply, GIMP is a fantastic piece of software that does everything we’ve ever needed it to do, and the internet is brimming with new development ideas, tutorials, and GIMP related tools, so if you can’t figure something out, you can easily find the answers to whatever questions you might have. I mark it down as a must-have tool on every computer I have, or will have in the future (and it’s currently installed on both our machines here at the house!)

You can get it free, by clicking here: Give me GIMP!
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Audacity-logo
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Audacity is to the at-home recording artist and sound mixer what GIMP is to the visual artist. Yes, you can spend hundreds (and actually thousands) of dollars on big name software titles (Adobe Audition is currently selling for $349) to do sound recording, mixing, and editing, but again…why? Audacity is a completely free, open source, full featured piece of software with amazing features and functionality, and like GIMP and Open Office, it has a large and vibrant community associated with it, and there are plenty of add ons and tutorials to help you extend the capabilities of the software beyond its natural (quite feature rich) bounds.

With Audacity, a decent microphone, and a decent place to make your recordings, you’re well on your way to producing quality audio files for almost any purpose you can imagine, so whether you’re into music, poetry reading, creating books on tape, marketing, or public speaking, you can make GREAT use of this fantastic product!

Here’s a sample of Audacity at work in the computer game Candle’Bre. Tavern

Get your free copy by clicking here: I want Audacity!
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gm-sticker

Game Maker is an interesting bit of software, created by Mark Overmars. There’s a fully functional free version, and you can upgrade at nominal cost to the paid version, which allows you to extend the capabilities of the core software quite significantly.

Even in its free form, however, you can do quite a lot with it.

Essentially, it allows someone with no programming experience to create computer games. Fully functional, completely playable, computer games.

I didn’t really believe it when I heard about it, and just HAD to try it out for myself, and the verdict is…it’s true!

I know NOTHING about code. Didn’t when I first started playing with Game Maker, and still don’t to this day…but it doesn’t matter. In short order (and with lots of experimentation and reading on the Game Maker forums), I was able to crank out a functioning prototype of the Candle’Bre game. The ability to go from visualization to realization is both huge and fantastic. To be able to say, “wouldn’t it be neat if we could add a feature to allow…” and then turn around, and in a matter of days (and often hours) have that feature up and working…that’s beyond words! And that’s what Game Maker allows you to do.
Gamemaker Pic
Now granted, someone like me doesn’t generate the most efficient code, but that’s easily fixed by partnering with someone who knows a thing or two about it. The major point, however, is that you can really bring your ideas to life, and you can do so in a way you may not have considered before, because you thought it meant learning a programming language.

It doesn’t!

If you are even vaguely interested in exploring this particular avenue of creativity, you owe it to yourself to check out the Free Version of Game Maker today!
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Widget

The last item I want to bring to your attention in this segment is Widget Box. It’s…one part web-library, and one part software development.

You can go to Widget Box, create a new widget (which requires a bit of code know-how), and put it on the site for others to use.

Or, you can browse through the existing widgets (most are free, but there are some that you have to purchase to use), and find something to work into whatever creative project you’re pursing (there’s an example at the bottom of this article). There are a staggering number of widgets that perform an amazing multitude of functions, so I leave it to you to explore the site and draw your own conclusions, but if you’ve never heard of it then, a) you owe it to yourself to at least check it out, and b) you don’t know what you’ve been missing!

Go explore Widget Box today!

And congrats! If you’ve grabbed all the software from this page, you’ve just saved yourself something like $600 and a ton of headaches! :)

-=Vel=-

We’ve set up an image for you to play with, or you can use your own (the path for the image is: http://www.creativisms.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/Smokey-Flower-small.jpg – just copy and paste this into the widget box and click “test image” to use!)

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