How Open Source gave me my start in Design

Aug 5, 2018 · 5 min read

I was the kid in preschool who was banned from the arts and crafts drawer. I would show up, go straight to the drawer and start drawing, cutting and pasting things together — so much so that the preschool cut me off. At home it was the same at first, but with my dad being the techie that he is I was also surrounded by technology — mainly a Windows 98 computer that quickly became another facet of my interests. He let me play games, which were mostly passed or borrowed from coworkers at work. I often received games without the jewel cases and for most people that seemed fine, but I wanted to organize and display my games so of course the next natural step was to fire up MSPaint and do something about it.


Image: Paint.NET

I quickly found MSPaint fun, I was able to digitally create so much and modify existing images. I wanted to learn how all of it worked and how things were created on the computer in games and on the web. My Dad continued to encourage me to use other programs, but I felt that I wasn’t ready — after all I was about 6 or 7 years old. But after he took it upon himself to install some demo software to Paint Shop Pro but the interface went over my young head. After he suggested Paint.NET, an open source photo and graphics program for Windows, I found the freedom of layers and transparency incredibly freeing.



At 12 or 13 I started to be interested in the open source community. I started searching for all kinds of open source alternatives for programs I used frequently and I came across ReactOS. The more I read about it, the more I was intrigued by the concept of open source: people donating hours of their lives to make an alternative to something as prevalent as Windows — this seemed like the motherships of all Open Source Alternative software to me at the time. I downloaded the early alpha build, jumped on their forum and started getting involved. I asked (dumb) question after question and started getting involved in discussions. People were so patient with me and encouraged me to do better when my contributions weren’t up to par. I wanted to be good enough and this almost instant feedback on the work I was creating was priceless looking back at it. With time I got more and more wrapped up in the FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) world and ended up replacing Windows with Ubuntu 7.04.


When I entered to the free world of Linux, I had to leave some programs behind, including one of my daily staples: Paint.NET. All of my efforts in finding alternatives or to find someone as passionate about the project as me to port it to Linux all ended in failure. Everyone on forums would say “just use GIMP.” I tossed around the idea of switching back to Windows, installing a VM, and trying to get Paint.NET to run on Wine. All of these were bigger pains than just launching GIMP, facing the learning curve and getting back to work. My obsession transferred and I started contributing graphics to ReactOS and other open-source projects which gave me a purpose to learn new things on GIMP and that got me honest feedback. Eventually due to having my own vision of where I wanted the UI of ReactOS to go, I started, for a short time, my own little ReactOS distro called OpenLonghorn.

Early image of openLonghorn, a defunct ReactOS distro

New Challenges

Getting into my mid-teens I was looking to start saving for a vehicle among other things I started reaching out to Android developers through Google Play, then Android Market. I would design icons at incredibly low fees for developers who didn’t have the skill or access to design. That quickly evolved to UI and UX work which was foreign to me but my low fees and hustle made most of my clients flexible. My FOSS contributions and freelancing continued and scenarios that challenged me to grow my skills.

I helped recreating the iPhone Keyboard on Android in 2011 for SixGreen Labs


In High School we were fortunate enough to get a brand new computer lab for the graphic and CAD classes along with great teachers including some who run successful design businesses outside of school. I inquired if my GIMP skills would and could translate to use Photoshop if I were to take the class. A placement exam allowed me to skip the basics and directly join Graphic Design II with Mr. Cochran. His guidance and advice allowed me to be more efficient at home where I continued to use GIMP in my freetime. To this day, years after getting out of high school he has become a friend and a colleague and I have the pleasure to work with him frequently.


Since then I’ve grown to appreciate both open source and proprietary software more as I’ve continued to freelance and work different jobs in the design field. Today, I hope to work towards closing the gap between the two, open and proprietary, more with my efforts at, which I founded with Kenny Stier in 2014 to develop Trenta OS for all kinds of creatives. I usually devote my free-time to in the evenings and on weekends, and have a full time position designing for web and print at Costco Wholesale’s world headquarters in Issaquah, WA.

Mockup of Trenta OS, 2018

I owe so much to the FOSS community and am grateful to have found it when I did.

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Written by


Visual & Web Designer.

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