Art Making Software Reviews

The FOSSter Creativity team has reviewed several of the FOSS software applications.  After downloading and testing the software, each member of the team has provided their opinion on the best use of the software in the art education environment.  Each of the reviews links to a lesson plan for you to test, modify and expand in your classroom.  We encourage you to send back to us any creative lesson plans that you would like to post in our growing resource center where you will be properly credited for your contribution.

Belvedere 4.1:

Author of the program: Daniel D Suthers

Free source mind-mapping software. Belvedere’s creators state that the program is designed to “help support problem-based collaborative learning scenarios with evidence and concept maps.” The software is intended to encourage middle and high school students to learn “critical inquiry skills.”

Belvedere 4.1 is very similar to the Inspiration program. Both are mind-mapping programs, which allow students to create and link modules in order to visually organize ideas and information. After using both programs, I feel that Inspiration is a much more useful organizational tool. With Belvedere, there are no options to have the program re-organize your chart if the modules and links start getting spread out all over the place. Inspiration, on the other hand, does have this option, which I have found to come in handy. Also, there are no options to change the color/size/shape of the modules in the Belvedere 4.1 application. Another aspect I liked about Inspiration, which the 4.1 version of Belvedere does not offer, is the ability to create a mind map and then have the program turn it into an outline or visa versa. This can be very helpful. The Belvedere program turns your mind map into a chart, but this isn’t very helpful if a student needs to create an outline for a research paper, for example. I would recommend using Inspiration (or its counterpart Kidspiration for younger students) or a more developed free source mind-mapping program. Other free source mind-mapping software to consider: Kdissert, Thinkgraph, View Your Mind. Check out the links to the these software sites to see examples of the different graphics and templates used by the various mind mapping programs listed above.

Ideas for use of mind-mapping software in the classroom:

Students can create outlines and mind maps for organizing ideas and information for art history research projects and essays;

• Mind maps may be a helpful way of relating different areas of art history to one another to give students an idea of how different styles, mediums, and artworks from different eras and cultures are inter-related;

• Teachers can use mind maps to design lesson plans. Choice of medium, style, connections to examples in art history, etc, can be mapped out visually in a way that may be easier to plan and organize;

• Students can also use mind maps to plan presentations or more long-term projects that must be broken down into steps;

• Mind maps may help to reveal where there are gaps in students’ knowledge or understanding of certain concepts or subjects.

Blender 3D Animation Program:

Blender is a free fully functional open source software for creating 3D modeling, animation, rendering, post-production, interactive creation, and playback.  This is a great tool for any aspiring or firmly established developer. Used in the development of all sorts of cross platform applications, Blender has found wide application on Mac OSX, Windows, and even FreeBSD   Blender is free to download on their homepage. There is also a great deal of information on the homepage regarding blender news and articles which is very interesting.

 Posted on February 24, 2006!

Friday March 24th, the premiere of Elephants Dream will be in Cinema Ketelhuis, Amsterdam. This cinema is well known in Amsterdam as the place for documentaries and art-house movies. It is part of the re-developed industrial area Westergasfabriek, a new cultural center in the heart of Amsterdam.

Blender and Education

"We have been using Blender in our senior computer classes for two years now. My students are intrigued, amazed, and motivated by Blender! I learn new things from them every day.
There is no other piece of software that has contributed as significantly to the popularity of my classes. Thank you." - Bill Kingsland, Vancouver, Canada
Teachers throughout the world have found Blender and are using the software in their courses in art schools and universities. You now have the opportunity to meet some 20 of them at our 3D Graphics Teachers' Discussion Forum. Find out what your peers with Blender teaching experience think about Blender and let them convince you! To join the Forum, e-mail
Once you've started to learn Blender, you'll find that a large, active and helpful user community surrounds you. There have been 2.5 million downloads from which a global user community of more than 250, 000 has developed. These users meet on the company website,, to share their ideas, their creativity and to help each other in 2,5 million page views per month.


Created by Robin Rowe July 4, 2002; updated Feb 14, 2006

From what I understand, Cinepaint appears to be a graphics program intended more for professionals in the film industry and possibly film students at the college level, more so than for art students in the K-12 level.

The program’s website describes CinePaint as “a collection of free open source software tools for deep paint manipulation and image processing. CinePaint is used for motion picture frame-by-frame retouching, dirt removal, wire rig removal, render repair, background plates, and 3D model textures. It's been used on many feature films, including The Last Samurai where it was used to add flying arrows.”

Other studios, such as Sony Pictures Imageworks, use CinePaint.

The Cinepaint website also states: “In our primary target market, the film industry, our position is #2 to Adobe Photoshop.” “CinePaint has fundamentally different design goals from projects like Gimp. We have the domain experience, professionalism, and the pro users necessary for developing successful software for the high-end.”

In view of the fact that this program was designed for professionals in the film industry, I would recommend using Tuxpaint or Gimp as a free alternative to Adobe Photoshop for the K-12 art classroom, rather than Cinepaint. Check out the reviews and project ideas of both of these free source programs on this website.

Gestalter is a free vector drawing program. The program is modeled after Adobe Illustrator. In order to use Gestalter you must install Gnome libraries.  In addition to the standard gnome libraries you must also install gtkmm, gnomemm (gestalter is written in C++), gdk-pixbuf, libsigc++ (which is part of gtkmm AFAIK) and the libxml2 library by Daniel Veillard. In the Gestalter program it is possible to construct compound paths, group elements and enable everything to be screened by a mask. Multiple layers are possible, choices between two display modes: an antialiased and a wireframe one are possible. You can place pixel images and transform (rotate, skew, scale, etc.) but not edit them (use GIMP for editing pixel image data). You can open the Postscript output of Gestalter in GIMP to use your drawings on The Net.

GIMP stands for “Graphical Image Manipulation Program”.  You can read more about it and download it at:

GIMP is a basic image manipulation program. According to the GIMP website, it is capable of “photo retouching”, “image composition” and “image authoring”. In other words, it is similar to the infamous Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop except GIMP is much, much cheaper: because it’s free. GIMP would be beneficial for an art class because it can be a paint program, a photo-retouching program, and even has some animation capabilities. If you are exploring digital media with your class, this is a good program to use.  It also seems relatively simple to work with.    

If you happen to be both an art teacher and techno head who is interested in “scripting”, then GIMP is an even better tool for you because it is expandable and extensible. It is designed to be augmented with plug-ins and extensions to do just about anything. The advanced scripting interface allows everything from the simplest task to the most complex image manipulation procedures to be easily scripted.

GIMP is written and developed under X11 on UNIX platforms. But basically the same code also runs on MS Windows and Mac OS X (About Gimp, 2001). Below is a helpful list of GIMP Features and capabilities, which can also be found listed at

Features and Capabilities


• Full suite of painting tools including Brush, Pencil, Airbrush, Clone, etc.

• Sub-pixel sampling for all paint tools for high quality anti-aliasing

• Extremely powerful gradient editor and blend tool

• Supports custom brushes and patterns


• Tile based memory management so image size is limited only by available disk space

• Virtually unlimited number of images open at one time

Advanced Manipulation

• Full alpha channel support

• Layers and channels

• Multiple Undo/Redo (limited only by diskspace)

• Editable text layers

• Transformation tools including rotate, scale, shear and flip

• Selection tools including rectangle, ellipse, free, fuzzy and intelligent

• Advanced path tool doing bezier and polygonal selections.

• Transformable paths, transformable selections.

• Quickmask to paint a selection.


• A Procedural Database for calling internal GIMP functions from external programs as in Scriptfu

• Advanced scripting capabilities (Scheme, Python, Perl)

• Plug-ins which allow for the easy addition of new file formats and new effect filters

• Over 100 plug-ins already available


• Load and save animations in a convenient frameas-layer format

• MNG support

• Frame Navigator (in GAP, the GIMP Animation Package)

• Onion Skin (in GAP, the GIMP Animation Package)

• Bluebox (in GAP, the GIMP Animation Package)

File Handling

• File formats supported include bmp, gif, jpeg, mng, pcx, pdf, png, ps, psd, svg, tiff, tga,

xpm, and many others

• Load, display, convert, save to many file formats

• SVG path import/export

A great source for learning the ins and outs of GIMP is  This is a go-at-your-own-pace online course designed by the lovely folks at  The women who run this site also make tons of other tutorials and projects available for other Free Software and/or Open Source programs.


Check out these other websites for even more info:

This is an artist who runs international workshops on Free and Open Software for Artists:

This website offers online tutorials for GIMP and other popular FOSS:

Interested in designing your own website, but don’t want to pay for Adobe programs?  This site helps you do it using GIMP:

This is a tutorial for making a poster using GIMP:



-The GIMP, (2001). About gimp. Retrieved Feb. 23, 2006, from GIMP Web site:

-Peck, A.  (2005). Linuxchix gimp course. Retrieved Feb. 23, 2006, from Web site:

GNU Paint (gpaint) is a simple, easy-to-use paint program for GNOME, the GNU Desktop. It features drawing tools (ovals, freehand, polygon, and text, with fill or shallow for polygons and closed freehand), the ability to cut and paste by selecting irregular regions or polygons, print support using gnome-print, a modern, easy-to-use user interface with tool and color palettes, the ability to edit multiple images at the same time with running multiple sessions of gpaint, and all the image processing features present in xpaint.

'gpaint' is still in progress; while currently usable for simple image editing, the author hopes in the future to implement a zoom in/out function, scaling and rotation, and to turn the program into a Bonobo component

Gpaint starts as a port of xpaint and takes advantages of features unique to the GNOME environment. Gpaint is licensed under the GNU GPL, version 2 or later.

Current Features:

• Drawing/Painting tools--ovals, freehand, polygon, text, with fill or shallow for polygons and closed freehand.

• Cut and paste by selecting irregular regions or polygons.

• Print support using gnome-print (still flaky, will be improved upon next release)

• Modern, ease-to-use user interface with tool and color palettes

• Editing multiple image at the same time without running multiple instance of the image editor

• All image processing features present in xpaint


Product currently under review.

Tux Paint
Introductions first…Tux is a real character.  He is the Linux Penguin who provides help, hints and information throughout the program a lot like Microsoft’s much maligned paperclip.  While quite adorable, Tux makes very strange noises.  Children, of course, love him. 

Tux Paint is an open source drawing and painting program for children.  It has a small number of useful tools and nice range of colors that include all the primary and secondary colors, black, white, brown and a few tints.  Artist tools include a paint brush, shape and line tool, rubber stamp, text tool, magic wand for special effects, eraser and a multiple undo.  Commands couldn’t be simpler: Open, print and save. 

There are some parent and teacher controls that are useful: the sounds can be disabled (but this is a child’s program) and the print command can be set to only run x amount of prints within 30 seconds (environmentally conscious).  You don’t, however want to impose too much control as the program itself is simple and direct with little opportunity for a child to go astray – the walls are safe.  Tux paint is recommended for children age 3 and up and I can guarantee that up goes far enough to reach the teachers and parents who can be mesmerized by the power in its simplicity. 

The screen is one size and is much like putting a piece of paper in front of the child and it remains stable during the process.  When a shape is placed it can be turned a full 360 degrees but it can not be moved or resized.  Lines stay put, and paint sticks to where it was brushed.  The multiple undo key helps with shapes, lines, stamps, paint and text being placed not quite desirably.  The size of objects and brush strokes can be changed prior to placing them.  This is the simple power that I alluded to earlier and provides enough variety of color, shape, line, text and objects to make learning fun and provides an arena for creativity for children who have learned the tool and have developed an aesthetic sense from traditional art activities.

I take that leap back to traditional art experience to say that the value of Tux paint is different for children at different ages but, at all ages, it should just be a tool that reinforces concepts and should not be a primary means of teaching.  For children 3 to 5 years, I think is a fun activity that can reinforce concepts such as shape, line and color that the children are already learning throughout daily activities.  For this age group it should only be one way in which a child is introduced to concepts.  It is a learning tool if the child is guided, at least initially. 

For students in the first grade though third grade, it would be a nice addition to the overall art program.  Physical involvement and manipulation of material is extremely important to the young learners.  No technology replaces that.  It can however support it by providing another means to investigate concepts, explore their own imagination and enjoy another form of expression. 

Older students, depending on their familiarity with technology and their interest in image making, can spin wonderful visual expressions.  It is a fun tool that can be utilized as part of a larger repertoire of tools to teach art concepts and provide arenas for creativity. 

The lesson plan that follows is designed for second and third graders but is meant as a springboard for ideas as to how to utilize the program in the classroom.  Furthermore, there is a gallery on the Tux Paint website,, that will generate ideas for you and your students.

Educator Tools

FOSS supports the unique needs of educators who require classroom management support and organizational tools to streamline and systematize processes. Below you will find a few of those FOSS resources that have been investigated by the team.

Claroline : Open Source e-Learning

Claroline is very similar to Blackboard Coursesites. Blackboard is an elearning site that needs to be purchased. However, Claroline is Free! It is a FOSS (GPL). That means downloading and using Claroline is completely free of charge. Claroline is a free application developed by teachers for teachers. Based on PHP/MySQL. Claroline allows teachers to create and administrate courses online. Claroline is great for collaborative and traditional teaching methods. Claroline is translated in 32 languages and used by hundreds of institutions around the world.

Claroline Platform Claroline allows teachers to remain autonomous while teaching online courses at university levels. Claroline has a few functionalities that are made simple to assist your pedagogy needs such as: publishing documents and announcements, giving students tools to develop activities and to demonstrate their competences, allowing interactions between students and with teachers.

Information Remember as an online instructor to utilize your etools to create an informative and fun educational experiences in your virtual classroom.

Montaigne, some centuries ago, said that "the student is not only one vase to be filled. It is a fire to be lit ". So remember to research and have fun learning about all the functionalities that Claroline has so you can make great pedagogical lesson plans.

To Learn More about Claroline Go to Download Claroline. Here is a list of all the features on 1.7.0.

Fri February 17 2006: Claroline 1.7.3 released

Time for the new release of our monthly maintenance program. Aside some minor bug fixes, Claroline 1.7.3 main improvements concern;

• Enhancement of the Claroline interoperability with case insensitive external authentication systems (as LDAP),

• Repair of a security hole in the SSO extensions.


Moodle is a course management system (CMS) - a FOSS package that uses pedagogical principles, enabling educators to have virtual classrooms. Teahers and students can download and use it on any computer. Moodle will run on any computer that can run PHP, and can support many types of database (particularly MySQL). Moodle is great because it can be as small as a one teacher site to a 40,000-student University.

To view a powerpoint presentation of Moodle go to

Moodle Development Moodle has a long list of developers who are sensitive to security issues. Check out the Moodle Security site. Also moodle has a bug tracker where you can and should report general bugs (and fixes!).

Moodle Downloads Moodle is available in a variety of download packages with different levels of stability, as well as via CVS from A number of additional modules and add-ons and language packs are also available.

Moodle is growing fast Moodle has a large and diverse user community with over 75,000 registered users on this site alone, speaking 70 languages in 138 countries

Where did Moodle come from? The word Moodle was originally an acronym for Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment. It's also a verb that describes the process of lazily meandering through something, doing things as it occurs to you to do them, an enjoyable tinkering that often leads to insight and creativity. As such it applies both to the way Moodle was developed, and to the way a student or teacher might approach studying or teaching an online course. Anyone who uses Moodle is a Moodler.

Moodle Philosophy There are four main Pedagogy philosophies that Moodle is based on. Learn more about Moodle.

1 Constructivism

2 Constructionism

3 Social Constructivism

4 Connected and Separate

5 Conclusion

Open Office:

What’s in Open Office is very similar to the Microsoft Office Suite. But there is an Open Office Suite Advantage. It is free to download, use, and distribute! is a multiplatform and multilingual office suite and a FOSS project. Open Office will run on all major platforms.
For free demos of open office, is more than a collection of five superb tools.

It was designed as one complete office package. And it is available in many different languages.

• If you can master one of the tools you can master them all. They all have the same look and feel.

• The suite uses the same tools in all the programs.

• You can open any Open Office program. You don’t need to know which program the file was made in.

• All the packages share a common spell-checker.

• Information can be transferred easily between all the packages.

• All the components save in OpenDocument format. And all the Microsoft Office programs are compatible.

• All the packages are installed in one single operation.

• There are no hidden charges for Open Office now or in the future.


1. WRITER - Is a Word Processing Program like Microsoft Word. WRITER is’s word processor: use it for anything from writing a quick letter to producing an entire book with embedded illustrations, cross-references, tables of contents, indexes, bibliographies... Auto-complete, auto-format, and real-time spelling check make light work of the hardest task. Writer is powerful enough to tackle desktop publishing tasks such as creating multi-column newsletters, brochures – the only limit is your imagination.

2. IMPRESS - Is a powerpoint program. IMPRESS is the fastest, most powerful way to create effective multimedia presentations. Your presentations will truly stand out with special effects, animation and high-impact drawing tools.

3. CALC - Is a spreadsheet program similar to Excel.

Use CALC to bring your numbers under control. This powerful spreadsheet has all the tools you need to calculate, analyze, summarize, and present your data in numerical reports or sizzling graphics. A fully-integrated help system makes entering complex formulas a breeze. Sophisticated decision-making tools are just a few mouse clicks away. Pull in external data using the Data Pilot, and sort it, filter it, and produce subtotals and statistical analyses. Use previews to select from thirteen categories of 2-D and 3-D charts including line, area, column, pi, XY, stock and net with dozens of variants. 

4. DRAW - DRAW will produce everything from simple diagrams to dynamic 3D illustrations and special effects.

5. BASE - It is a database program. New to Version 2, BASE enables you to manipulate database data seamlessly within Create and modify tables, forms, queries, and reports, either using your own database or Base’s own built-in HSQL database engine. 

6. MATH - MATH enables you to calculate and formulate math equations. This can be used as a single program or with other programs in Open Office.