Open Source Tools for Artists

Open Source Tools for Artists cover image

Creative tools for art-making, community building and publishing

Organized by

Flux Factory
Code & Share

@ARoS Public ⚫ August 7, 2021

Cover image by Nynne Lucca


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. But a whole world of other exciting, experimental and artist-friendly tools exist beyond these limits: tools built by and for artists and small creative communities.

Images in this zine were produced by artists during the workshop Open Source Tools for Artists.

This zine (🠖source) was produced with , a web and print-based zine-making template produced by Rowan Merewood. CC BY 4.0.

Computer Lib Dream Machines
Computer Lib / Dream Machines, Ted Nelson, 1974. A self-published book on computers and liberation.

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

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.

People's Computer Company subscription form
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.

Jesper's image
By Jesper Lyng

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.

Cryptad drawing
Screenshot of Cryptpad Drawing tool running on a phone. Image by Mette Milling.

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.

Krita artwork
Image by Sholeh Asgary

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 generator 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.

Warhol Flowers, in netart generator
Warhol Flowers, by Winnie Soon
Made by Jennie Schneider & Muhammad Ejle.


Almost 20 years in existence, Rasterbator is a web-based tool to take small images and blow them up to create huge raster-based images up to 20 meters in width, printable on a standard home or office printer as separately tiled pages.

Grass from ARos, by Heidi Nikolaisen and Anders Visti using Rasterbator

Game-making tools


Steven "Increpare" Lavelle has made a number of open source experimental tools for creating games. His tool Flickgame is a tool to create web-based branching visual stories.

Flickgame screenshot
Screenshot of Flickgame by Sholeh Asgary