This Art's Ugly -- But It's Free


No MailboxMany of you fancy yourselves artists, or at least dabblers at heart. You find ways to add your glue and glitter to every project be it a birthday invitation or your tax forms. Making a website is a dream come true-- endless blank pages awaiting your instructions for hand-drawn doodles, clever buttons, and enhanced photos.

Then there's the rest of you. You wouldn't know what to do with a paintbrush if you were sitting on Bob Ross's lap. Fortunately for the un-artistically inclined, the world is riddled with folks willing (and wanting) to spread their creations. Unfortunately, a lot of it is absolutely dreadful.

This article will guide you through the muck to find art you can use or utilities that will help you enhance your website without falling prey to the animated devouring mailboxes.

We'll look at sites that offer free clip art and we'll introduce a few programs that make creating Web graphics as easy as pressing a few buttons. Neither of these methods are as original as having an in-house graphic's department, but with some creativity and some rules (don't ever use those blinking, stomping chewing mailboxes!) you can really spruce up your site.

Clip Art Sites

More clip art is available on the Web than you could see in a lifetime. If you don't believe me, search on any portal. Almost every site will have links to other resources. Most of this art is flat, cartoony styled doodles of characters in different holiday settings or cute animals doing cute things. A lot of it may even look familiar. This art is free, so a lot of people have slapped it all over their websites. Periodically, though, you'll see original art that really looks a bit different. If you can picture the image without the hundreds that flank it, you might have something.

The Microsoft site has clip art available in the Web Workshop section that isn't too bad. If you seek buttons and bullets, has a decent selection. It also has a large list of other sites for graphics, fonts, animations and even wallpaper for your desktop.

Logogenerator CFH
Two buttons made from CoolArchive.
Cool Archive has backgrounds, though many of them are quite busy. Be careful. Text is hard to read over a crazy background. Cool Archive has two great tools: the Logo Generator and the Button Maker. The Logo Generator lets you pick a font, size, font color, and background color. Voila-- instant custom graphics. You could make your buttons this way by creating several using the same fonts and colors. They aren't terribly detailed, but the fonts are pretty cool and how busy does a button have to be? If you only have your system fonts, this is a good deal and it's free.

The Button Maker has a few strange button ideas, but some of the futuristic buttons might be your style. Again you can choose font, color, and size, and there you have a custom button.

You might land at random sites such as Orchid's Free Hand Drawn Clipart and Clipart ByDezign. A lot of it is the same illustrated, cartoony art, but Orchid's hand-drawn fish, flowers, and birds are pretty good. Dezign claims to take requests for clip art that will be sent back to you.

Give Credit Where Credit is Due

Many sites provide art or services that took a lot of time and effort. They offer their creations for free, but many of them ask you to link to their sites. Some even want you to use one of their buttons. Giving credit is the honorable thing to do, but what about your hard work and design? Do you really want a bunch of blinking buttons crowding your site?

You could create a simple link that goes to a credits page. This way you can combine any buttons or links and even go so far as to add praise to the sites you found particularly useful. Not only are you giving credit to the creators, but you are preserving your own design.

Better Art That Isn't Free

Many deisgn professionals look to stock photography for images they need for presentations, brochures, and websites. These collections are reminiscent of those pictures of Smiling Guy and Cute Kitten that came in the frame you got for your birthday. You can find a wealth of smiling or serious executives, happy kids at a birthday party, or windmills in China. Searching these image banks will show you that busy photographers are there waiting to catch every emotion, food item, and random piece of equipment in the world.

These images vary in cost depending on where you find them and how you intend to use them. PhotoDisc is a great place to find such images, though they cost about $20. It may be worth it if you want a high quality image for your homepage. Then again, you could always take your own pictures and have a photo developer put them on a disk.

Can't Take it? Make Your Own

Just because an image is only a click away doesn't mean you can have it. And the rumors that changing an image 14+ times makes it yours doesn't cut it. Besides, if you bother changing an image that many times, why not make your own? The Graphic Artists Guild has posted the copyright law as well as links to related sites. If you're unclear about what you can and cannot take, make your own doodle.

If you don't know where to begin, don't despair. Some programs are designed for making graphics for the Web. NetStudio, available from the ZDNet Software Library, provides a variety of templates that help you create backgrounds, bullets, buttons, and graphics. You can choose the shapes, colors, and fonts and can manually adjust certain special effects.

Another option is to seek out services that will scan art and photos and put them on disk. Or you could buy your own scanner. They are so commonplace these days you could get one at your local Walgreens for about $80. Spend a bit more and get your own digital camera. These are rapidly dropping in price and can be used for print as well as Web projects.

Holiday Clip Art

Feeling festive? Why not slap some holiday art on your website? Silicon Ali found some sites with free graphics you can use as decoration. Here are the links:

CSP Christmas Index-- This is the destination for everything Christmas. The site offers backgrounds, scenery, and a snow applet tutorial as well as a santa puzzle and recipes.

Designed to a T-- These graphics are very crisp, and tasteful, and somewhat Deco in design. Some tutorials are also available for creating and altering graphics using Paint Shop Pro.

Animated Gif Archive-- Though a lot of blinking and hopping objects can distract your viewers, the random self-popping champagne bottle might give your page a nice New Year's touch.

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