Backgrounds for people with no talent

Thu 24 July 2008

I love the official Hardy background. It serves many purposes well:

  • Far above and beyond the restrained abstract backgrounds that came before it

  • No point is so bright that it distracts your eye from using the desktop

  • The codename heron served as an appropriate inspiration for an LTS (but we don't have to repeat that with intrepid)

  • It is art that goes out of its way to let you know it's art

  • By being so damn good, it makes the strongest case possible for the current color palette

  • It demonstrates how a group of people can create something better than a single person did

There's even some neat things about it you probably don't notice. The accent shapes surrounding the heron are actually taken from the heron itself. The author who did that feels it's lazy, but I like it; musical pieces often borrow from themselves to create a more nuanced whole. There's also a subtle gradient that can be handy to tell how good the color depth of your display is and how well your dithering algorithm is working. (Nouveau at one point apparently was slightly busted there.)

Unfortunately, there's some drawbacks. The heron was awesome, but somewhat tied to that release. If Ubuntu continues to modify it, we look lazy and it looks out of place. This is probably why we should avoid codename inspired animals in future releases.

Fractals: The Ultimate Programmer Art

I don't normally cite gentoo-wiki (did you know they aren't officially affiliated with Gentoo?), but they have a fantastic article on using GIMP for fractal backgrounds. The page describes itself thusly:

This short how-to describes how to make a simple and yet visually appealing background for your computer in very little time with very little skill.

The gallery has some nice results, but the real fun is making your own, of course. It's a pretty simple process in GIMP:

  1. Pick a gradient / colormap to render the fractal in

  2. Open Filters->Render->Nature->Flame

  3. Zoom way in under the Camera tab -- the fractal is your centerpiece

  4. Click the Edit button and browse through the variations and randomizations for a render you like

  5. Once you have a fractal you like, make sure to save it! (Click OK to exit the Edit Dialog, then Save) You might want to re-render it in a different colormap later

  6. Select a colormap (custom gradient most likely)

  7. Render

  8. Play around with the color tools, experiment with GIMP. There's lots of stuff, and you can always hit undo if you don't like the results.

You can see my results hosted on deviantArt. I like the blue and red one the best. The other one is a bit too bright and grainy, and I don't think I'll bother to fix it.

This process has disadvantages; you have no direct control over the results, and they have almost no bearing on reality or historical artistic methods unless you explicitly give it some. But there's a number of advantages: you can generate variations rapidly, you don't need to study or practice art or math to understand it, and you can end up with something you like fairly quickly. I hope gentoo-wiki's quick tutorial helps you make a desktop that's uniquely yours.

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