So here it is. I’m finally announcing it in a blog post, proper!
If you have been following me on Twitter, then you’ve probably seen me talk about it. I’m making a zine tool!
This is called Electric Zine Maker.
It’s an art tool for creating zines.
It will allow you to paint, write, and edit zines. It’s specifically targeted at the 8-page fold ones, but I’m open to adding more templates as soon as I have the hard parts of this finished.
This grew out of a spur of the moment thing. I was fairly burned out (jaded?) after an unannounced collaboration falling through. It kind of stung and took the wind out of my sails. I started thinking about zines again, and remembered this prototype that I had. I asked on Twitter if there was interest (linking to thread because all the “yes please!!!” are cute)… there was quite a bit of interest, so I decided to pursue this.
Working on this is super encouraging. Just for the fact that it’s not necessarily a game project, but more of a strange tool. It feels fun. Like I’m kind of “giving back” by making something that’s intended to make art in.
The mindset for designing this is also pleasantly different. It feels like fresh air.
So, as you can imagine, I’m doing interesting things with this too… Here’s the plan…
I finished the texture pen today!!
Like the "Pattern Spray" you can load an image to draw with (instead of a solid color). It looks so cool when you load glitch art!
It works with transparent images, and you get this really cool layering thing going on!
I MADE A VIDEO OF IT LOOK! pic.twitter.com/MBULtE4O4l
— Nathalie Lawhead (@alienmelon) April 21, 2019
It will feature basic drawing tools, and other stranger tools for creating art. I have a squish tool that’s akin to Kai’s Power Goo, the ability to draw patterns and “spray” them onto the canvas, or import images and use those instead of a color. So there are interesting things you can do with it from a more unusual angle.
I’m also planning on having other tools, aside from the zine maker, that will extend it. Like a basic image editor that lets you crop, remove backgrounds, and do basic color correction, for people that don’t have photoshop.
A tile, or texture, art tool that you use to make perfect tiles. This will be useful to make images that you can import and use in tools in the Zine Maker…
And also, my favorite, will be a glitch art generator. You can import your own images into it and it will distort them. Make glitch art. This way you can use whatever glitch art you save as “colors” for the paint brush (the paint brush in the zine tool lets you import images and paint with them instead… as I mentioned).
I’ll get into why all the effort to allow things like glitch art and tiles later tho… what I’m also excited about is how I want to present it…
I’m planning on also giving this a creative angle for how it exists. By that I mean, I want to create a tiny urban legend type backstory for it. Like Cyberpet Graveyard, but cuter. So you will be making your zines in something that has this pleasantly creative setting. It’s a fun space just to be in, surrounded by some silly lore.
Electric Zine Maker will be bundled with some folders of clipart (for helping people get started in case they don’t have lots of pictures on their machine… this thing works best when you make art by importing some images into the tools).
In those folders I’m ALSO hoping to hide a few little virtual friends, or desktop pet type characters. So you explore and accidentally find those, and they elaborate a bit on the fiction of this software.
Yes, it’s inspired by old edutainment art tools like Creative Writer and Fine artist, among others… My brain is tired so I can’t think of more examples. My old UI thread has lots of those tho.
Someone mentioned Kid Pix to me, and I think that’s a wonderful example too. I mean, Electric Zine Maker is going to be a little more refined, but that type of “unconventional mixed with practical” is the general direction.
I think this (fun urban legend back story, playful UI…) is a good balance for putting something creative out there that’s also meant to be functional.
I don’t really want to have a functional, productivity centered art app. I want to have this playful art toy… if that makes sense.
The reason is that I think older software like MS Paint, or Kai’s Power Goo, etc… attracted people because it wasn’t so “professional”. Its casual nature was inviting. It encouraged casual creation, or just allowed you to be goofy. There’s something appealing about making a tool that encourages casual creation through quirky interfaces. Like you look at it and KNOW that you can make fun little things in it.
It seems less stressful. It’s nice to have creative spaces that you can goof around in.
Modern professional software has this pressure of “make an amazing thing” looming over you when you’re in it. Like, sure you can draw dicks in photoshop but the space seems to discourage it. It’s no fun.
Generally, it isn’t a very playful environment.
I love the idea of exploring some sense of balance between the two. Something that allows you to make something, but also doesn’t have the pressure of making something amazing. It’s quick, cute, and fun.
Of course that’s making a big statement because it also has to be functional. I understand what a minefield software that doesn’t work as expected, or is not usable because of “poor UI design”, can be.
I do intend to make these tools GOOD… but using them should be easy and fun… I hope.
There’s some weird balance I’m trying to strike in making it a fun and interesting space, but also something you can use. Hope I don’t get carried away with being too experimental.
I suppose at the end of the day, if it’s something I would use then that’s the best I can shoot for. Everyone’s tastes are different.
Interesting observation too is that I want to keep this flexible enough to accommodate anyone’s art style.
The focus of this tool is the PEN and ERASER. Originally it was going to be just black and white, with line size… it kind of grew to support more than that.
It’s really hard making a tool that is flexible. No matter what I do, it will encourage a particular style. It almost feels like you have to choose when you’re building something like this.
I hope it will be a flexible enough style, but that was a very interesting thing to realize when I was first putting it together.
Like, what about people that want brushes? What if these lines aren’t fine enough, should I support tip shapes? What about people that want to make pixel art?
As soon as you start making something like this, you notice you’re building around preferences. It’s going to end up being a certain style.
Also, I used to talk about this more, but I think it’s absolutely fascinating how, when we make virtual art tools, we always try to pursue styles (mediums) that are based in the real world.
Like we want pencil texture, and brush strokes, and water color like textures, and pastels, and… real world art tools that we already fully understand and have concepts for. They often translate very clumsily into virtual tools. Dabbler 2 is a fascinating example of this. That’s worth checking out for a lot of reasons, but mostly for how it approached that…
It’s interesting because we’re on a computer. We have this digital thing, where you can make anything possible, so why not explore completely non-real concepts, even in art tools?
We don’t necessarily explore, or make tools, that ONLY a computer could support. (Even in game tools things tend to lean toward emulating reality…you can argue that, but this is a generalization.) By that I mean art tools that maybe allow you to paint in glitches. Pixel art is the only one that’s popular enough that comes to mind… but what if we pursued themes, textures, aesthetics, styles… that were only possible with computers? Software that comes to mind was Kai, or Become A Great Artist… I love the idea of painting with errors, brokenness, diffusion, distortion, pixel shifting… what fascinates me about that is wondering what kind of styles would we come up with if we had more of that? How would art made in something like that look? Would people care enough to invest creative time making things in it?
It’s kind of fun to think about what art tools would be like if we also “invented” tools. Stranger weirder things.
Of course the issue to all this is that it can easily stop being practical, and turn more into a toy that nobody knows how to use, or has a purpose for. I think BECOME A GREAT ARTIST IN JUST 10 SECONDS is really interesting because it succeeds in being an art tool despite how out of this world it is. It’s worth checking out to see what I mean.
I’m not necessarily saying I’m doing a very good job at incorporating all that into this tool. I’m still trying to make something practical, but I’m hoping there will be JUST ENOUGH of that to be intriguing and playful.
It seems like zines are a prefect theme for making something like this. It’s already very casual.
The planned release for this is more like “when it’s done” BUT I am going to put out a beta of it with the basic features. As soon as I have everything functioning I would like people to have access to it… so that my ambitions don’t get in the way of people that want to try it.
Taking the time to build this properly is becoming very important to me.
I want this to be something like fantasy software, surrounded by some cute urban legend, with interesting things hidden in it, AND you can create in it.
It’s less of a functional desktop application, and more like a strange toy machine that you can make things in… as weirdly 90’s edutainment pitch as that sounds… but maybe they were onto something. I tend to think so.
You can see me gush over all that in this thread lol.
Without getting into a longer rant about all this not being about nostalgia…but that what seems like nostalgia is more about remembering concepts that we forgot in our ambition to turn software entirely into productivity, pure functionality, and maximizing output…I’ll stop now. Someday I’ll write something more concise about that.
If you are excited about this, consider supporting me on Patreon. I hate bringing this up so much, but I could use any help:
If you can’t afford to, nice words, and kindness go a long way too.