The Creative Penguin: The GNOME Art Duo Speak

By Staff Staff | Posted at 10:01 PM

After spending time with Torsten Rahn and Everaldo Coelho earlier this year, we continue our Creative Penguin series in a discussion with Tuomas “Tigert” Kuosmanen and Jakub “Jimmac” Steiner of Ximian. If you've ever admired the beautiful artwork of GNOME, these are the gentlemen responsible for it. How did they get involved? Why should you be interested in desktop artwork? They discuss all of this and more with Open for Business' Timothy R. Butler.

Timothy R. Butler: How did both of you get started with working on GNOME art? Was there some
other type of project that you started with, or did you start with artwork?

Jakub Steiner: Writing a book about GIMP made me meet Tuomas on IRC. He was very kind
and helped me a lot with learning the tool well. We also met in person
on couple of ocasions that year. So my introduction to GNOME artwork was
definitely looking over Tuomas' shoulder (virtually most of the time).

Tuomas Kuosmanen: Yeah, it definitely started around the Gimp graphics program. The whole Gnome project started “from the Gimp” in
the sense that the programming toolkit was originally implemented so that Gimp could get rid of the (“ugly and (then)
expensive”) Motif toolkit. So GTK, The Gimp Toolkit, was born. Gnome is also based on the GTK toolkit, and many of the
original people working on Gnome were also hacking on the Gimp.

So Gnome project needed artwork, and I had just found Gimp, the wonderful tool to make it. So I started doing icons,
learning the Gimp along in the process. I had been doing web design as well, and Gimp proved to be a very good tool
for both tasks.

TRB: Tuomas, could you give us a little background on the old GNOME 1.x icon
theme? How did you get started on that and what made you decide it was time
for something new?

TK: The “1.x theme” was not really a “theme” - there simply were no icons at all, and Gnome needed them, so they just
had to be done. This was not an alternate look and feel or anything, just an efford to fill the void.

It had been a while since the Gnome 1.x releases, and when Gnome 2.0 was getting close we thought it was time for
something new. I am currently working for Ximian (, a company founded by the same people who started
the Gnome project. Jakub had joined Ximian as the other “art guy” and I had this task to teach him to do icons and
other artwork “gnome style”. During the process he learned things from me, but I also got a lot in return. The result
was not “Jimmac draws like Tigert” but more like a morph of our individual styles. We were happy with the new look,
it was brighter and in our opinion more clear too. So we decided it was time for a Gnome facelift for version 2.0.
because the new ideas we had were visually different from the Gnome 1.x series.

TRB: GNOME has had a lot of different “external” projects integrated into it -
Nautilus especially comes to mind. Do you find it difficult to take an
application like this and blend the art style (icons and so forth) with that
of the other applications?

JS: I usually try to replace sucky art, not blend styles. But most of the
time the artwork is just missing.

TK: Yea, or like in the case of Nautilus, we ended up doing the file type icons as well :-)

Many applications use the “stock icons” though, an icon library that is part of the Gnome developer
toolkit. By using standard icons for toolbars etc, it is easy to create applications that look visually
consistent with the desktop.

Gnome 2.2 has a mechanism to theme the whole desktop so you don't need to replace existing artwork,
you can just create your own theme that implements a different look and feel. This is useful now that
a lot more companies are using Gnome as part of their Linux-based products - no need to have specially
patched packages. You simply create a theme for your own look and feel and use that as the default. It
changes colors, stock icons and file type icons etc.. basically everything.

TRB: What do your jobs at Ximian consist of? Does Ximian pay you to do your
work on GNOME, or does your work there center around applications like
Evolution and Red Carpet?

TK: Ximian benefits from Gnome's success and development since the Gnome desktop and libraries create
the platform upon which all the products are based on. So we can work on Gnome at “work time”. Of course
Evolution and other products are important as well, but many times those icons can be re-used on other
programs too. We also do some print design - stuff like CD booklets and brochures and so on. An interesting
mix of things.

TRB: I've been basically focusing on icons so far, but there is a lot of other
great artwork around GNOME beyond icons. Have either of you been working on
any other types of art for GNOME?

JS: We theme almost everything - sawfish, metacity, gtk, nautilus, xmms,
make splash screens, wallpapers, background tiles etc, making it all fit

TK: Yes, [i]t's a matter of pretty much everything you see on the screen..

TRB: Lots of attention has been focused recently on the new artwork and other
eyecandy that KDE 3.1 is going to include (such as the Crystal icon set and
Keramik style). Have you had a chance to look at this work, and if so, what
are your thoughts on it as a GNOME artist?

TK: Everaldo (the author of “Crystal” theme) is a talented guy and I like his artwork. I havent
really followed the KDE development these days, so cannot tell much more since I have focused
more on Gnome. With the FreeDesktop ( effort all this “KDE artwork VS Gnome
artwork” issue is slowly fading away when both desktops starting to implement the same standards
for theming. So there will not be “Crystal theme for KDE” - just “Crystal theme” that works on
both desktops. That is interesting. So if you run Gnome applications on the KDE desktop or vice
versa, you can have an unified look and feel accross both.

TRB: Would you say that high quality artwork is something that should be of
interest to IT managers? Do you think it can increase productivity?

JS: Sounds a bit like those helpful and informative e-mails I've been
getting lately. 'Boost your desktop productivity! Download our fancy

TK: Heh. I think a visually pleasing and non-distracting desktop makes you focus
on the actual tasks you need to work on, Much like a good user interface does as
well. Everything needs to work together.

TRB: Thank-you, gentlemen, would you like to leave us with any closing

JS: There's some really nice global icon themeing shaping up for GNOME, so
I'm really excited about that. Almost as cool as the continuing support
for SVG in GNOME apps. Lots of artwork to look forward to ;)

TK: I am very excited about Gnome 2.2. When I look at the development of
Gnome from the early days and compare it to what we have now, I notice one
important thing: I used to say “sigh, I wish we had something as good as Mac
OS Finder so I can actually avoid using the terminal window to manage my files” -
I dont do that anymore. We have a very decent desktop in Gnome now.