A while back I suggested trying to start a series where the community could get an idea of what made the Masters amongst us tick; what inspires or motivates them; how do they do what they do. You, the community dove in and sent me piles of questions. I’ve culled through them, chunked them into an order that will allow us to start shallow and get deeper into them as technician, artists, and individuals.
The response from the Masters was also excellent and increased the scope of this project dramatically.
This issue is "Meet the Masters" where we’ll look at their beginnings. I’ve taken many similar questions from the ones submitted and combined them. Some that were very specific to a single artist I’ve expanded. Some will be asked in later editions.
So, on to the questions. [Note, not all the masters answered every question. Not all the answers added value to discovering who these folks are, so were eliminated. If I ever expand to interviews they may return.]
How did you get started skinning?
RomanDA: My background and schooling is in drafting and design. I have always loved to draw, just have never been very good at it.
Skinning was something I never even knew about until "Real Jukebox". I found it and found that you could change its "skin". Being bored with the skins that I saw, I decided to see how to make my own.
Gef: From a article in a computer magazine showing a program called 'Litestep' – that got me hooked
Apocalypse_67: Before skinning, all I did was wallpapers until I came across Treetog's Copper Deck. Something about that skin made me wanna try the craft and even tho' my 1st skin didnt come close to Treetog's work it open a new door of challenges.
Ingui: I have liked drawing and I never liked the default cursors and icons in Win95 and so I was always making my own or downloading icons I found online. I was searching for mouse pointers and came across CursorXP and made my first cursor, "Punc". And of course CursorXP exposed me to to Stardock and WinCustomize and WindowBlinds. Once I realized I could customize so much more than just icons and cursors, I was hooked.
vStyler: I’d have to say that initially it was the desire to be different from everyone else. Started with a Beatles wallpaper and some desktop icons, then I progressed to changing the classic color schemes on Win95 trying to nail the perfect color scheme, funny how some things never change… even back then even though most people liked my custom color scheme there were always those that didn’t. Then I discovered the likes of NextStart and Workshelf and was really hooked on customizing. I then moved on to actually modding some other artists’ visual styles and finally started my own in early 2003. So that’s about it, that and the 6 month’s house arrest for driving on a Susp. License and the inevitable need for financial gain was what got me started. Once I saw I could do it, my ultimate goal has always been to be the very best. I continue towards that goal as I type this.
PixelPirate: I got involved with skinning when I was looking for a dock for Windows, first I found Y'z Dock then ObjectDock and from ObjectDock it evolved to a bunch of other Stardock apps. I was tired of Luna too, so I thought it should be possible to change the interface as well, like you could in Winamp. First I came across StyleXP, I think many newbies have tried that and then later on seen the light with WindowBlinds. Nothing can compare with Neil's magic.
Question 2: What is your favorite thing about skinning?
RomanDA: The challenge, the idea of taking something from my brain and making something someone can use. Trying to make something visually pleasing, yet something that works very well..
Apocalypse_67: I don’t think there is 'ONE' specific thing I like, it's more of collective things, from coming up with a particular design to choosing the colours to picking a name for it. But one thing I really like is; after I complete the skin I can share it with everyone.
PixelPirate: The creativity. In my daily job as a final artist at an advertising agency, the design is usually already in place, and I have to follow that. With skinning, I can do exactly what I want, it's complete freedom. It's where I get to play and have fun with ideas.
Question 3: What makes a good project?
Gef: I never know until it is mostly complete. I just get an idea from somewhere, could be anywhere, and just play about with it.
Night Train: Anything original. When I first started skinning, the trick was having an original concept. If it wasn't original, you didn't make it. Various colored versions of Luna were somewhat frowned upon. Things have changed. It's just not the same as it was years ago. A little squiggle on a basically colored version of Luna does not a theme make. It makes Luna with a squiggle.
JJYing: Creative minds and pursuit of details!
Ingui: As a Project Manager I would say organization can make or break any project. With skinning, if you look at the "best" skins out there, aside from being creative and original, they are well organized. Everything flows together making the overall appeal of a skin that much more attractive and useable.
PixelPirate: I'd say completeness combined with great design. The more thorough it's been done and the more that makes up the project, the better it is. A mini-suite can be fine, but I prefer a big one with lots of apps skinned. And tons of icons
Question 4: What prompts you to develop a project? Do you ever get inspired by community requests?
Treetog: When I am skinning for fun, everything can inspire me, a building, a tooth brush, a stereo, a fishing rod, anything.
Night Train: When I am finished with a project, I pretty much have my next project in the works in my mind. Usually, while working on a skin, I stumble into something I think will work well for another skin and I put that on the shelf for later.
Apocalypse_67: Even tho' I have made quite a few skins by request, my main source of ideas come from watching animations. I will often see something that I like and try to turn it into a skin.
vStyler: Anything and everything, I have taken inspiration from community requests, friends, nature, life experience, media, trends just about anything and everything.
PixelPirate: Might be something I've seen, or something I could imagine would be fun to do. I did a skin once based on a PC case, Pas and I had the same case, he likes black skins, so I tried to make one that looked a little like it. Otherwise I haven't done any requests; I kinda like to follow my own ideas. Either that or a large amount of cash helps. The Pirate suite came to be because it just would be awesome with something with pirates. I've actually wanted to do that for a long time, finally got around to it, came up with a fun talking pirate gadget too. Totally useless but funny.
Question 5: What is your interaction with the other Masters?
Treetog: Well, today I work for Stardock Design, so we stay most of the day on our channel, but I have many other friend skinners, like Dangeruss, danilloOc and my son Tiggz.
Night Train: I often swap skins for general feedback and testing. I am always here to assist any of the other Masters in whatever way I can. Tiggz once asked me to test his GT skin and I think I scared him by overdoing it. At the time I was helping many other skinners at the Skinartistry Workshop and I guess Matt wasn't aware that I don't hold anything back when asked my opinion. Sorry Matt. Didn't men to scare you with too intense of a test run.
Apocalypse_67: I don't have as much interaction with other masters as I would like (work & family has taken much of my time) Nikos (Adni) has been one of the few that I have interacted with the most, from support to advices. Time permitted, I would like to work on a collaborated project with him. Danillo has been another great skinner whom I had a chance to briefly interact with.
JJYing: Usually get many helps and tricks from those sophisticated skinners.
vStyler: I try to interact and gain experience from other Master skinners and folks in the community that I respect and have developed their talents to the extent that to me they have "expert status" I have some on MSN , some I communicate via email. IR Brainiac, PixelPirate, Mike Bryant and DanilloOc have been of particular help in their guidance and I’d venture to say that without each of these guys I wouldn't have progressed as far as I have. I am very grateful for their expertise
PixelPirate: We chat once in a while, exchange ideas and critique on each other’s projects, pat each other on the shoulder when we see something we dig. We also find time to chat about stuff that isn't skinning related, basically the same kind of interaction as with other people, just all around the world and with the twist of our mutual interest of skinning.
Question 6: What is your level of interaction with your "fans"?
Treetog: I exchange emails
Gef: I always reply to any comment or request without fail. If I can help anybody – I will.
Night Train: Please (sarcastic tone).... I don't have fans. I have friends.
RomanDA: FAN? What the heck is that?
People will write me, ask me how to do something, If I know what to do, I tell them, if it's really complicated, I’ll look at it when I can. Like I said before, I have made a lot of things based on "fan" ideas. I love getting great ideas, I also love to be able to work with someone that will work with me on testing etc.
Apocalypse_67: Aside from the comment posts, I get daily email from thank you notes, to requests, to help with either a skin they can’t get to work or a skin they're working on. I try to respond as much and as quick as I can. -Those that I have not answer to, I have not forgotten
Ingui: I make it a point to reply to each comment as a way of saying thanks. And to take the time to listen to and respond to feedback, whether by uploading a fix or emailing some element like a user icon or rejected wall when someone asks for it. I used to have a lot more interaction when I was cursoring (is that a word?); I had a lot of contact with people like RadialFX and Shmoopy and Phoon who were actually busy cursoring themselves.
vStyler: I think everyone appreciate the people that appreciate them, without people commenting, writing me , purchasing my work I would indeed be sunk. There’s nothing more motivating and comforting than to finish a theme and watch the comments and support roll in. Those are the day’s I live for and I must say I am thankful to each and every one of you that takes the time to leave a kind word, some critique or encouragement, It’s you that keeps me going Thank you!
PixelPirate: Heh, don't know. Andrew keeps sending me flowers. Seriously though, I only get an email once in a while really, I try and answer them and that's about it. I don't have a hoard of fans running after me. Only hot women.
Question 7: What are the most important skills to being a (master) skinner?
Gef: It’s not just skills; it should be based on a number of things including my answer to question 6, long service, quality and dedication.
Night Train: I really couldn't tell you. I was shocked to be made a Master. It is most in part in what I have contributed to the community as a whole rather than my graphic talents. I sincerely am not worthy of the title. I feel it demeans the other Masters. When I first was promoted to Master I was going to reject the honor but that would have been rude. Pretty stupid as well. I think I'll be keeping it for awhile.
RomanDA: In a word… PATIENCE
you need to be patient with others, with yourself, and with your "art".
Some people are AMAZING at graphics, some are coders, and some are both.
Apocalypse_67: I think is the ability to create not only quality work but a work that people are going to like. Another important skill is to be able to skin various applications. People like to decorate their entire desktop not just the windows frame.
JJYing: Learning, learning and learning.
Ingui: Obviously you must develop some level of proficiency with the software you use. But I would say again that apart from artistic talent or design skills... I think you have to develop the ability to recognize the balance of form and function.
vStyler: I can only speak for myself but I would have to say… Knowledge and expertise in the applications you use to produce your skins. Attention to detail and a good eye for anything that may be out of place or unskinned. Commitment and desire to be the very best that you can be.
PixelPirate: I think you gotta have some sort of expertise with the various apps, be professional in design and execution. You have to be able to produce something of a high quality when it comes to graphics and flawless when it comes to usability and functionality. So awesome graphics and few/no bugs should characterize master skinners.
Question 8: What's the process that works best for you to complete a project?
Treetog: work, work, work! I don´t know any other way to complete a project.
Gef: If I start a project and I like the first few objects etc., I will always finish it and then decide if it’s good enough.
Night Train: I get into a zone and block out the rest of the world. 6 hours straight out without blinking is not uncommon. Stick with it or otherwise you will end up redesigning the wheel. I don't sleep a lot so I have the advantage of a lot of time to waste.
RomanDA: Um.. lots of pressure to finish it.
Having someone who is working WITH me to test things, help with positive feedback, etc.
normally I get an idea (from someone or on my own)
I work on the code first, since I suck at graphics.
I will work with TEXT objects to see how things work out
Once I get something simple working, I move on the graphics end of things.
Apocalypse_67: I find it easy if I start with a pencil sketch of the design (shape, buttons, borders, etc) Once I get a general idea of the design I start to see what colours will work best. After that, everything gets dump into PS and that’s when the fun begins.
JJYing: Waiting for the moment that inspirations hit me, maybe in dreams in lunch time and even in the toilet and then make some mock-ups to see if the concept is ok in a real skin. After a certain level of mock-up is done, I start coding (and bug-fixing in the meantime) before the whole preview is completed. And coding a skin is passionate process, I usually spent 80% time to design a skin on and off but finish the coding work in only 15% time. And finally, the rest 5% is for releasing and enjoying my own works~
Ingui: Working from a layout. My last few skins were actually sketched out with paper and pencil. ( yes, real paper and a real pencil ) LOL
vStyler: Haha… Honestly I am a complete mess; I typically don’t have a process that I follow on each skin I admit I jump around from one element to another. I guess If I have any process it’s to work on the part that I feel like at that particular moment in time. If I get frustrated on one part I will jump to a totally different part of the theme and come back to that part later. If I find myself self in the "zone" I will run with it as long as I can and those times are when I get the most done.
PixelPirate: Working on various things at once. I can do 30 icons, but then I'm tired of it. Then I can continue on a skin, or do logons or cursors or something else while I take a break from the icons. When I get tired of doing the other things, I can go back to the icons again. So variety helps me out a lot. It's also nice to see it all come together as work progresses, kinda gives a more satisfactory feeling.
Question 9: What is the back-story on your favorite project?
Treetog: My all time favorite project was the Polymer suite, it was done by Dangeruss, Demer and me (The Skindicate). 36 different applications were skinned. It was the biggest project ever done by so few skinners. (some skins are still uploaded over WC)
Night Train: My Citrium XP skin took on a life beyond a Windowblinds skin. Many other community members made matching skins once I uploaded it and it became a great suite. I am proud of everyone involved on that one.
Apocalypse_67: My favorite project has been Matrix_Xtreme (needless to say I like the movie) It all started when I made the wallpaper -something a bit different from the regular movie-scenes wallpapers- I then started to look for Matrix skins, but honestly, I found nothing that I liked, so I decided to create my own. The first one I made was ok but I was still learning to skin WB, later on I did a big update and released the Matrix_Xtreme suite (minus the IP) I still get emails about that project
Ingui: Well, somehow, it was discovered I was working on the greatest skin ever made. A secret agent from the Republic of China offered me a large sum of money for my files and when I said no, they ransacked my house while I was at work and.... Ok, I really don't have any interesting skinning stories. But you gotta admit that was a good try.
PixelPirate: First of, I think Liquidox is my favorite project. I think that's the first suite I did, which was a lot better than the rest I had done. I started working on it, but stuff happened IRL, so I needed to leave skinning for some months, had to take care of myself for a while. So I returned to it with a vengeance, and did a bunch of stuff for it, I didn't initially intend to do, so it turned out to be the biggest suite I've created and probably will for some time. I think it took me over a year to get it done. I managed to push it forward to Stardock as well, so it also marks the beginning of a more professional skinning career. I really like that suite, because there's so much in it. I've even done some updates to it, which oughtta be tested at Stardock these days, so you gotta bug them for the updated suite.
Question 10: How has Wincustomize changed your life?
Treetog: Well, I was already here when WC was launch, so I am a member since day one (registration # 27). WC didn´t change my life, WC is a big part of my life.
Night Train: WC gave me a home base. If I didn't get into customizing my PC I would have been doing something else creatively. Stardock and WC gave me a hobby that I have alot of fun doing. I hope they get even a part of the satisfaction I get in allowing me to use their products.
RomanDA: Some of my best friends are on WC, Island_Dog, Nickie, Zubaz, and lots more.
I have managed to start a small on-line business selling gadgets: http://www.commercialgadgets.com
I have worked part time for SD on some cool gadgets, and things
Maybe one day I’ll end up working full time there??? Who knows?
Apocalypse_67: Coming across WC change quite a bit my life, not only it gave me the opportunity to learn about the world of skinning but it also help me expose my work and skills, but more important, I have come across a great group of people that share my same interest and that I probably would not have cross ever. Kudos to Brad for providing this site.
Ingui: I have gained a greater sense of self-confidence in my own artistic ability thanks to all the kind words of encouragement and appreciation from other members and the recognition of the staff. And it has definitely become a daily part of my life. I visit everyday even when I am too busy to skin.
vStyler: WinCustomize has made a huge difference in my life actually. It’s typically a very hospitable place and I find the people here very helpful and kind. It’s also IMO the nucleus for 21st century skinning on the internet and I am proud and happy to be a part of what I feel to be the best skinning site anywhere.
PixelPirate: Well, what started as a hobby made my skills improve, I got to do work for Stardock, and I’ve met some great people in the community and made some friends there. I think it's safe to say it's changed my life for the better.
Question 11: What is your favorite Zubaz project? Why?
Treetog: "Ask a master" project
Gef: I’m afraid I don’t have a favourite ‘Zubaz project’, I’m also not sure what this is.
Night Train: Zuskin blueprint cracked me up. I am part home designer and it just touched a bone in me. Good stuff even as simple as it is.
RomanDA: He has projects???
Apocalypse_67: 'Zuball' It reminds me of my ol' friend Dusty
Ingui: It's a toss up between ZuBall and ZuBench. When it comes to walls, I am kind of a minimalist. I don't like it busy. Those 2 are simple enough for my tastes, but I am not sure which I appreciate more. The simple greyness of ZuBench or the vibrant colors of the ZuBall.
vStyler: My favorite Zubaz project has to be when he put my head on a cartoon body with a pink tutu and called me the Dancing Queen..heh… I guess you’re really no-one until you have been mocked in this manor… Thanks Zubaz!!
PixelPirate: Think I'd go with "Flaming Aero Of Death", great name to try and get noticed in the GUI championships, and as a simple wall, it's actually quite good. Should be easy to recolor as well, so you have some options with it, if you don't fancy the orange color.
Thanks to all the Masters that participated in this round. I really appreciate the time and effort you made.
[11/17/2007] Note: SKoriginals missed the invitation to this Issue. My most sinscere apologies to him. He'll be included in the next issue. Mea culpa. - Zubaz