365 Sketches is a project in which I use free and open source software to do a single visual design every day. The project is currently in its second year of production, and was started as a way to force myself to do at least one thing every day to build upon my design skills. You can visit the project and follow my progress at http://365sketches.org. As time went on, it became a public visual diary, a way for people to come together online and converse about, suggest ideas for, and critique my work. The work is occasionally practical, sometimes clever, often funny, and increasingly personal. I continue to achieve the goals that I had planned for in the beginning of the project. I have seen a gradual improvement and evolution of my design, typography and photomanipulation skills, but I also received many other unforeseen benefits, such as gaining an audience, being contracted for new consulting work, taking part in shows and presentations on the project, and feeling a genuine desire to keep making more pieces.
This project was inspired by an end-of-year inspirational blog post. In December of 2009, I read this blog post on Smashing Magazine entitled Design Something Every Day! and it echoed a sentiment I had heard in my undergraduate fine arts studies. A beloved ceramics teacher said that the best road to success as an artist was to do something every day — shake a hand, make a call, throw a bowl, draw a scene, etc. The key was to do something that brought you closer to your goal, and to refine the goal as achievements were made. I had always loved that advice, but had not acted upon it previously. Reading the post above triggered a memory about the advice, and the project was born.
I wanted to master the open source software application called Inkscape, because I thought that it was incredibly powerful, but also because I felt I had only lightly scratched the surface of understanding it. Inkscape is a vector-based illustration program, similar to Adobe’s Illustrator, and it is free. You can download it for Windows, Mac or Linux at http://inkscape.org. I decided that working in Inkscape once a day, then sharing those designs online, was potentially a great way to improve my skills and share my progress.
For the online publishing, I decided to use another open source project called WordPress, because Automattic, the company that created it, offers a free hosting service at http://wordpress.com, and because the publishing platform is highly extensible with themes and widgets, sidebar blocks where you can share information and data. I paid for a custom domain name from WordPress, and soon after, my first designs appeared at http://365sketches.org
I personally feel that getting people to find your blog and appreciate your content is easier today than ever before because of social networking. I decided to make a page and advertise new work from 365 Sketches on Facebook at http://facebook.com/365sketches and to tweet about new pieces that appeared on the blog via my personal twitter account, @lemasney (http://www.twitter.com/lemasney). I also share the work on Flickr.com, Yahoo’s photo sharing site, and StumbleUpon.com, a site that allows others to serendipitously visit your site based on their interest preferences. Soon after doing this, I was able to gather statistical feedback, get an increase in comments, and ask people to give me ideas for future sketches.
I also wanted people to be able to use my work freely. I decided to license all of the work generated for the project under a Creative Commons, Share-Alike license, so that people could use the pieces for free in return for attribution, but could not later take my work and make it proprietary. Because the work, social networks, blogs, and software are all monetarily and ideologically free, I wanted to ask people if I could do design tasks for them for free as a way of generating new ideas and challenging myself.
I maintain a design consulting company and I wondered what effect the project might have on it. If someone needs a quick logo or some branding work, the project is often a great way for them to get the job done for free and for me to build trust with future clients and add to my portfolio. Sometimes the needs of the request are more complicated than the relatively simple work typically created for the project, and those requests are often converted into contracted jobs. The project has inspired two shows at libraries in the greater Trenton-Princeton area, generated artwork for t-shirts, mugs, and posters, and allowed me to make connections with hundreds of people who had never heard of open source, Inkscape, or my company before. The project became a great way for me to extend my brand and its exposure.
A few people who follow the project have reviewed all of the pieces in order to look for some overarching progression in the work. Perhaps the best way to do this is to visit the 365 Sketches set on Flickr. I’ve gotten some interesting feedback about the work that I didn’t expect. For instance, one friend said that I have an obsession with hair. Another told me that my work took on a decidedly personal tone after my mother died in October of 2010. A third said that animals were a major ongoing theme. I was personally interested and delighted to discover these themes in my work, but maybe more so that people had taken the time and effort to look back through the catalog of pieces and give feedback.
In the first year, I used Inkscape exclusively, and in the second year I’ve used both the GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) and Inkscape. In the future, I will likely move to three-dimensional modeling applications and animation or video. GIMP is for editing photos, and has a similar look, feel, and function to Adobe’s Photoshop. My work in the GIMP tends to be more ethereal, with more soft edges. My Inkscape work is more hard edged and contains more solid blocks of color. If I want to work with photography or realistic blending of forms, I will usually use the GIMP. When I am working with text, making wordmarks, or doing work for an infographic, I will usually use Inkscape. From time to time, the work will pass back and forth between these two applications so that I can gain the benefits of each. I personally believe that I could not have learned as much about the applications using some other method (such as reading or videos), as experiential learning has always been especially powerful for me as a way to gain knowledge.
Making the work starts with an idea. Sometimes the idea is my own, such as something that happened in my life or in the news. Sometimes, I will request ideas from the page’s followers on Facebook. Sometimes I’ll get an email with a request, or someone will have a project or organization that needs some brand elements. I keep a few books nearby in situations where I am blocked. For example, I keep a book called Instant Karma by Barbara Ann Kipfer nearby because it has provided many great starting points for quote illustrations. Then I open up Inkscape or the GIMP and get to work.
The whole point is to get the visual plan that I have in my head onto the screen. As I became more familiar with the tools, keyboard shortcuts, and techniques, this became much easier. I originally started with a 500 pixel by 500 pixel canvas in Inkscape in the beginning of the project, then moved to a golden rectangle format at 809 pixels by 500 pixels. When I switched to the GIMP in 2011, I decided that I would let each piece denote what its size would be. In situations where I do not have a predetermined size in the GIMP, I will usually choose 800 pixels by 600 pixels, because I can be sure that most people can see it on their screen without having to resize or zoom in.
After I have my piece done, I’ll save it to my hard drive, then move to Chrome, an internet browser, so that I can share it. I have a bookmark folder that contains several links:
The current page at 365sketches.org
- The New Post page at 365sketches.org
- The Facebook page at http://facebook.com/365sketches
- The Flickr upload page at http://flickr.com
- The cloud based social aggregator application at http://hootsuite.com
By right clicking on this folder in my bookmark toolbar, I can choose to open all of these at once, and then add the image, a short description, and tags to each of these services in order to advertise the new post to each of those audiences.
365sketches is a project about design, open source, and community. The project started as a way for me to do just one thing each day to better myself as a designer. It turned into a way for me to share ideas and techniques with hundreds of people every day. By using free and open source software, I was able to maintain the project with no monetary costs, while creating objects of personal and community value. The process for publishing has been refined and modified over time, and provides me with a relatively simple way to share my work with a lot of people in just a few clicks.
I hope that you’ll consider participating in the project. The best way is to subscribe to the site at http://365sketches.org or if you’re on Facebook, join the page at http://www.facebook.com/365sketches
John LeMasney is the Manager for Educational Technology Training and Outreach at Princeton University. He was the Manager of Technology Training and Instructional Technology for 12 years at Rider University. He created LeMasney Consulting and Design, which serves the greater Princeton-Trenton area of New Jersey. His most recent project is 365sketches.org where he makes one design a day using open source software.
John is a husband, father, artist, designer, speaker, technologist, open web standard advocate, and open source evangelist living and working in New Jersey.