100 pixels wide, 100 pixels tall… not exactly a sizable canvas for any artist. That would be true for traditional artists who use paper and ink. So it also is for those who rely on the Photoshop and other graphics programs. When you’ve got such a small space to work with, “skill” is perhaps no longer the greatest asset for a digital artist to possess. Instead, the ability to accurately gauge that fuzzy visual threshold, beyond which even the keenest eyes can’t read or understand images or text, and to know how to fill it up to the brink (or when to keep it simple and hold back) probably takes precedence over one’s mastery of the whatever program they happen to be using.
That said, the business of making Livejournal icons has been an indisputably serious one for a long time now, and has been an unexpectedly interesting forum for burgeoning digital artists to show off their fine eye for details and mastery of the digital toolbox. I find this most surprising because Livejournal has never struck me as a platform designed to attract users particularly interested in time-consuming processes such as these. Rather, it’s always seemed to me that its primary function has been social networking (far beyond how sites like Blogger or WordPress have functioned in this regard, even), bringing together the solo blogging experience with the niche-friendly community-building groups function. I don’t think it was ever designed to foster so much content creation among its users, but so it has for quite some time now, to the point where its many unique users have seemed to agree on a certain aesthetic in the creation of icons and banners, no doubt determined by the strict size limitations they’re forced to work with.
Over the years, I’ve approached avatar and userpic selection on the various message boards and forums I’ve been a part of as a fine art of self-expression. But this has usually restricted itself to grabbing pre-existing images off the Internet, ones which usually require nothing more than a quick re-sizing or cropping job, if that. The art of building icons from scratch, using screenshots or fanart, is some next-level geekery that I’ve yet to take on, so I view it from afar with a sense of confounded awe. Over the years, the standard LJ icon has become cleaner and more sophisticated, from artfully-selected screenshots to elaborate icons containing animated images and text. There’s a surprisingly high level of quality in these; rarely will you spot jpg artifacts or overly pixelated text. Unlike AMVs or most fanart, there’s a certain standard that most users on LJ seem to hold themselves to, whether it’s in the creation of or in the selection of icons for use.
I originally planned on writing an entry on what a blogger’s choice of platform (Blogger, WordPress, or Livejournal) might reveal about how they use the Internet, but the more I look at Livejournals, the more they upset the stereotypes that I used to hold about them. I used to consider them an entryway into blogging, something a user might dabble in before they “grow up” and migrate to Blogger or WordPress. But its network of communities, the content and relationships they foster, and the ease of self-expression on the site seems to be above and beyond what I’m getting from the rest of the Internet lately. That, and the creativity-encouraging atmosphere, which feels more rooted in the classic ideas of “sharing” and “fun” than just about any other network I know of. They’re ideas embodied in the “Livejournal icon,” which, in the hands of thousands of different users, can take on just about any form you can imagine, but still retains a certain quality that’s somehow unmistakable.