Erin uses FOSS and takes our Twitter mic from January 10th to 17th. Thank you, Erin!
Please tell us about yourself
Hi! My name’s Erindale (Erin’s fine!) and I’m a 27 year old 3D artist from the North of England. In a pre-covid world, I was living in Manchester, an avid cyclist, and working as an Interior Designer. Covid prompted me to leave the city and reevaluate where I was going in life. I now spend all of my time working out of my office in the beautiful Forest of Bowland, creating content to help people learn Blender. Whether that’s for art or design, my work has a quite narrow focus on procedural / parametric workflows. While that is a bit of a niche market, approaching design problems via a completely different paradigm can result in really wonderful, novel results. We use computers but for many of us artists, we’re still doing the vast majority of work manually. It’s great to see the community growing over the last 2 years as people are becoming more open to the shift from computerised, to computational.
What are you working on right now?
Right now I’m working on a few different courses and Blender add-ons. I’m taking 2022 as a bit of a litmus test to see if, when doing what I’ve been doing the last 18 months but with some more business savvy, I can turn it into a career. There’s a pretty strong consensus in the art community (and maybe broader) that maths is not taught appropriately in high school for people who are heading into creative industries. The concepts are too abstract and too much is taught in service of the exams. I’m designing a course at the moment that approaches maths learning from a much more visual viewpoint and will teach the curriculum using Blender. I’m very excited that maths can be taught in a way that really makes sense to people through shaders and procedural geometry generation.
How did you first discover FOSS?
One of my childhood friends (who has gone on to develop for Google and now Facebook) introduced me to Ubuntu when we were 10 or 11. At the time I had an Acer Aspire One netbook (with its 10-inch screen, 1.6GHz CPU and a whole 1GB of RAM) and I think I was wooed by the concept of having a system that was actually mine. I’ve been tinkering with things for as long as I could move my hands and computers were no different. I was frustrated with the lack of control I had over Windows XP (don’t get me started on present day Windows 11) but suddenly my pre-teen mind was blown by the wealth of themes, icons, wobbly windows, entire desktop environments… Who knew there were so many ways to break a system! I learned a lot in the first few years when drastic changes done on a whim had me booting to a black screen. These days those core linux distros seem at least as stable as Windows which is great for normal users and busy people but I slightly lament the loss of that experience for young people. Hopefully their curiosity will still have them dive in head first to break and fix their builds!
What prompted you to start using FOSS?
The real “idea” of FOSS / FLOSS didn’t really hit me until I was a bit older. Up until the age of maybe 16-17 I was just using free (like free beer) software because I was without an income to purchase things. I definitely took some pride in using things that weren’t mainstream and I think that is probably quite a common mindset. I felt like I wasn’t being swindled by these big companies when there were perfectly adequate free alternatives. The fact it was all made in the FOSS mindset was something I was taking for granted. While talking to some Blender folk over on the Blender Artists forums I was introduced to the FOSS mindset and in particular Richard Stallman’s GNU Manifesto. It was then that I realised I was surrounded by something quite special.
How do you use FOSS?
The older I get, the less software I use, which I suppose comes with a reassuring sense of focusing and simplifying my digital life. The less I use the more I’m able to lean into FOSS solutions where perhaps I’d been restricted by requiring access to proprietary software (cough Autodesk cough). I use FOSS for the vast majority of my digital output. While my main PC is using Windows 11 (there is a lot of convenience in compatibility) I produce all of my creative output between Blender and Krita. My laptop runs Manjaro Gnome and there I write my content in Manuskript. I have GIMP for image editing and Olive or Blender for video editing on my laptop. One of the wonderful things about being a Blender user is that it’s really a suite of DCC software wrapped up in one so each year I find myself needing to leave it less and less. Perhaps one day I’ll have a BlenderOS where all things are Blender, and all things are good.
Why should others use FOSS?
I find it hard to recommend people to shift their digital lives into FOSS. I certainly think it is worthwhile but it’s not without trials. One big argument (both for and against) is that we spend so much time in digital space now. For me, a normal day is 10-15 hours on a computer. We have workflows and habits that we rely on and need to maintain so that we can maintain an income. That being said, we spend so much time on a computer, shouldn’t we know what that computer is doing? What is being installed? The security of that software, the security of your data.
What difficulties and limitations do you see with FOSS?
Being a team player in an industry that requires proprietary data formats. This has got to be one of the biggest barriers but, thankfully, we are starting to see a bit more of a shift towards more universal formats. To be strictly a FOSS user back when I was doing more design work in a studio environment was just not really tenable unless the whole team is going to be using those FOSS solutions with you. Some non-FOSS options are so good at what they do that it’s really hard to compete on that stage. I would love to find a desktop publishing app that is on a par with InDesign or Affinity Publisher.
How can they be solved?
Education. When I learned to drive, the first thing the instructor showed me was where the brake pedal was. We are taught digital literacy but not taught digital security or ethical computing. It is just assumed that we will make good decisions with our data. If more people were made aware of the decisions they were making when using their devices there would be a natural shift towards more FOSS solutions. Every decision can be simplified down to an exchange of freedom for convenience. Each person will have a different resting point on that scale but I do believe that if more people realised they were making those choices all the time, they would want to position themselves differently. More people in the FOSS space means more incentive for developers, greater impetus for innovation, more security. It might even encourage a shift in the big businesses towards opening up their development as, ultimately, they’ll follow the crowd.
What does a perfect day off look like?
A day spa. Sometimes you just have to shut down the brain and let get pampered.