From an early age I’ve always had a huge love for animation, technology, and art, but like so many people who struggle with ADD, I find it difficult to focus and produce any meaningful results in the solitude of my own room. With only the glow of a computer screen and 50 open tabs on my browser to keep me company, it can feel isolating and impossible to get started on so-and-so’s “learn Blender 3d animation in 5 minutes tutorial.”

So I decided to open my 51st browser tab and Google “Blender 3d Animation Classes near me.” And to my surprise I found…..nothing in-person or affordable. I tried, “digital art groups near me,” “animation social clubs,” etc., and again there was nothing! Sure, maybe a Facebook group that hadn’t met since 2017, or expensive classes at the community college that require a registration process and only offered online classes.

But there was hope! Because I didn’t know it at the time, but soon after this fateful day I would be creating a community that has profoundly improved my life and helped so many people reach their artistic goals!

Key Outcomes

Our Meetup has grown to over 360 members with 7 assistant organizers
• The Discord has grown to over 160 members with many artists sharing their work each week
• Online art jams have attracted participants from all over the world, including Puerto Rico, Washington, California, New York, and London.
• Our in-person Saturday social has grown in popularity and boasts an average of 10-17 attendees every week.
• Our monthly Blender animation workshops have made digital technology learning accessible and affordable for people of all backgrounds even recently helping attendees with various physical and mental disabilities.
• We have recently expanded our offerings to include game development in Godot, audio engineering, and will continue to expand our services with help from our paying members and sponsors!

Challenge: No accessible social clubs existed that catered to non-traditional digital artists IN-PERSON!

When searching on popular event platforms like Meetup, Eventbrite, Willamette Week, and Facebook, there were no spaces that really catered to that mixture of “artsy” and “techie,” that I so desperately wanted to join. PIG-squad or the “Portland Indie Gaming Squad,” has been around for a few years but all their events tended to host online and they were not offering classes or workshop for digital artists. I’ve also found through attending 200 plus Meetup events as a guest, that most events are disorganized, usually meet at bars, and lack quality leadership and a definable purpose besides “20’s to 30’s adventure league,” or something like that. Which was really just an avenue for creepy single men to patrol events, and ask the same question over-and-over “what do you do?” which is guyspeak for how “much money do you make” and “are you a threat to me trying to hit on the single women here.” I wanted a calm and welcoming space, where the de-facto question was not “what do you do?” but rather “what kinds of art do you like to make?” A space where people could show up with any background or experience level and feel welcome.

Solution: The Open Source Artist Community was born on Meetup (later becoming the Portland Digital Dabblers)

And thus in February of 2022, “The Open Source Art Community” was born on Meetup! In the beginning I wanted to try and capture traditional artists and those who prefer to work all digital (or both), so our first Meetup event was out of Just Bob Coffee in Portland Oregon, and the theme was something to the effect of, “show up and draw bad art!” For me, having attended many Meetup events before, I never wanted our group to feel elitist or just a pathway to building someone’s portfolio in industry.

The hidden agenda I had in place was to make our community a safe haven and support group for artists, and anyone, who had the desire to express themselves (through any medium) but needed a little extra motivation to get started.

We had 1 person attend our first event along with Roya and myself. (and it was someone I was already friends with). But that’s where all groups start!

In the beginning it was fairly demoralizing with mask mandates still in effect, limited seating at most coffee shops and restaurants, and a tiny group nobody had ever heard of. At our second event we attended the adult animated documentary “Flee,” about a man under the alias Amin Nawabi, who shares his hidden past of fleeing his home country of Afghanistan to Denmark for the first time.

We had 3 people attend our second event. What an improvement! However, something I learned early on hosting my first Meetup group, was that size matters not.

And at this second event I was introduced to Rev, who later became our guide on all things bugs and a resident Blender Guru! Rev has hosted several of our Blender 3d workshops out of the Digital Dabblers private event space in SE Portland. In the beginning, Rev nervously showed all our guests their own original 3d animated series called HumansBGone! on their phone. And I was shocked. All story-boarded, animated, voiced, and edited by this one person using nothing but Blender (a free and open source tool for digital artists). After deciding to step away from the group to focus on their rapidly growing fan-base we have several members stepping up to help teach classes in Blender!

Result: the Portland Digital Dabblers grows to over 400 Meetup and Discord members, finding a private event space for classes and social events!

By this point our group had doubled in size and we were quickly filling up seats at our Saturday social’s. Plus, the problem with meeting out of public spaces is you never know how busy a place is going to be on the weekend or if they plan on hosting their own events. We also could not offer any classes or workshops without renting a conference space by the hour (which was quite expensive!). And thus, I embarked on a journey to locate a new home for the Dabblers which quickly became a new nightmare. It took over a year of hosting out of coffee shops like the Eastside Coffee Bar and Workspace (a non-profit friendly to large study groups), and Honey Latte (another large coffee shop with more seating), before I finally had enough and started searching for a permanent space.

Challenge #2: Finding a permanent private meeting space at the right price

Trying to find an office space in the Eastside of Portland was a struggle (despite the irony that the commercial rental market has been in decline since Covid). What we needed was a safe space with comfortable seating for 15 – 20 people, with access to a kitchen, close to where we had already been meeting, and all for the price affordable to someone working at a non-profit. It only took about 4 months of searching Craigslist everyday before I spotted a space with a terrible photo but that seemed in the right location and price.

Luckily, it was MUCH more beautiful in-person! And it’s here we have been since May of 2023.

Our Space: Portland Digital Dabblers Events!

With our own private space we have been able to host our Saturday social with delicious coffee and latte’s! And delicious muffins made by Roya our co-collaborator. Along with several other organizers we now offer monthly workshops on a sliding scale in various topics such as:

  • Blender 3d Character Modeling and Rigging
  • Blender 3d Character Shading/Texturing and Lighting
  • 2d Animation and Motion Studies
  • Godot 2d Game Design
  • Foley Audio Capture
  • Video Editing in DaVinci Resolve
  • WordPress website design
  • And more!

Conclusion: Don’t give up on finding a community for you next digital art project. Come join us at Digital Dabblers!

So many people who join our group mention their goals to, “become a better artist,” to “find the time to practice and learn animation,” or folks “Just looking to make friends,” but what they find is so much more than that, because the Digital Dabblers is a real community. We don’t focus on gatekeeping, or profit, but instead focus on igniting our members passions to turn ideas into reality! So please don’t give up on your hobbies and passions, come join us at the next Digital Dabblers event instead! And stay tuned for more exciting content and workshops coming soon. With our membership steadily growing, and supporters growing, we are seeking to expand our offerings into many different arenas such as: on-demand online courses, live gesture drawing classes, advanced video editing, digital marketing with WordPress, voice recording lessons, and so much more!

And if you’re just staring at a blank computer screen trying to find some hope in this bleak and scary world just remember YOU ARE NOT ALONE. We are here to provide support and plenty of fun learning.

Consider becoming a Guild member to support what we are trying to do. All for the amazingly low price of only 29.99 per month! OR FREE if you are unable to spare!!

Daniel is the founder of the Digital Dabblers. But what many don’t know is he was also an Audio/Visual technician for over 3 years and holds a bachelors in Energy Systems Engineering (which incorporated many courses in electrical engineering). Not only does Daniel have a huge passion for supporting non-profits but he also has a plethora of knowledge and experience in the technology of microphones, recording engineering, and open source software for mixing. He is also an open source software evangelist and regular Linux user alongside Blender, Krita, Audacity, Inkscape, WordPress, and more!

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