Sometimes we get emails from RFR readers full of questions about anything ranging from creating comics, writing, to concept art and games industry, and we love answering them.
Often they are questions whose answers have become part of the noise of our everyday life, in which case it’s always interesting to look at them more mindfully and dissect them to something that could be helpful to others. Other times the answers are something that we’re still figuring out for ourselves. But telling about the road to a still incomplete answer can be interesting too.
Recently we received an email from Holger (31), who has been learning concept art for a year now with the help of books and workshops and wants to turn his hobby into a profession. For us to be truly helpful, we felt his questions have to be answered more thoroughly and would (as per evidence below) need to be more than one- or two-sentence statements.
So Holger agreed to become a case study for our blog readers. You can find a link to his portfolio here.
Now to the questions:
1. How to get to the industry and when will I be ready for it?
Kaija answers: If you are looking for any work that will get you started on your career, you probably won’t be too picky about the company. If that’s the case, send your portfolio out to all potential employers that you can think of. You can cherry pick the projects you want to be working on later in your career. If there’s a chance you’ll get hired, then take it. And as long as you feel that you have the basic skills under control, I don’t think it’s ever too early to send out your portfolio or to start building your online presence. Most of the drastic leaps in skill you’ll make at the job anyway.
Having said that, your portfolio shouldn’t try to please everyone out there. I still recommend that you focus on your strengths. Especially if you feel that you don’t have all the time in the world to get good at everything, hone your skills with the goal of becoming an expert in one area. You seem to be leaning heavily towards environment concept art, and that is what you should focus to excel at. Many employers will even prefer to have concept artists compartmentalized into environment artists or character artists.
Now about the portfolio: the rule of thumb is to show a minimum of eight pieces of your best work. If you have more, great. But remember quality over quantity. Even one bad piece among good ones can instill doubts about your skills, or at least about your ability to objectively assess the quality of your own work. From an employer’s point of view, having a lot to learn is fine, but not seeing where your work isn’t up to par is worrying.
A lot of concept artist start out by getting freelance illustration gigs (e.g. for roleplaying game books and card games). They are a lot easier to get than permanent positions, since the client is taking a smaller risk with hiring you short term. You’ll get some experience with working under deadlines and you’ll have something to start your CV with. You might even get regular clients and realize that freelance lifestyle suits you. In this case you’ll have to continue to constantly be on the lookout for new clients which can be nerve wracking, but the upside is that you can have more control over what kind of projects you’re working on, than if you were working in an office.
If you are after a job in the games industry, your portfolio would always benefit from a focus on concepts with a function in mind. You will not be creating fine art at any games company. Most concepts you make have to serve the gameplay and/or story in some way, and it will help your portfolio greatly if you show that you understand that aspect of the job. To achieve this remember to focus on the design, not only on illustration. Think more along the lines of industrial design with a layer of gameplay function on top of it. In your case, it would make sense to start by adding some prop designs to the portfolio in addition to your environments.
2. How do I refine my skills, when no one is teaching me and I am self-educating?
Silver answers: You mentioned you’re teaching yourself with workshops, books and the internet. That’s a great start, there are multiple different online education opportunities, from paid ones to totally free. There are so many, that I wouldn’t recommend college to anyone but for the sake of getting out of your parents house and learning to be an adult. Also, the latest rage in the concept art circles are affordable, shorter tutorials from industry professionals. http://www.kiwijuice.net/.
Now, this isn’t anything new – workshops and presentations have been around for years, internet has just made it slightly more convenient again. But no matter how much material you have in your hand, it won’t make you a better concept artist by default.
What you need is focus.
I have a friend who used to only draw Conan the Barbarians, over and over again, until they got spectacular. One day he got hired to work as a concept artist for the Conan MMO.
As a self-teaching artist, you have to set out a plan of what kind of a portfolio you want to build for yourself. You know the old saying: If you don’t have a goal, you can’t score. When I was starting out, I chose to only make epic fantasy and sci-fi environment illustrations, with couple of prop designs to support it.
So, if you want to be an awesome environment concept artist, I recommend you choose what kind of environment concept artist you want to be.
For example, if you want to work for cinema, then I recommend you make a portfolio of cinematic landscapes and filmic compositions with lots of storytelling. It’s quite simple really, just screencap couple of the latest hit movie trailers from the genre you’re interested and start making your own versions of those. Or find concept art from those movies and make your own versions of that.
Prove that you’re able, rather than unique. There’s always time for uniqueness when you’re established.
But maybe you want to be working in the video games instead? Well then, what kind of video games? There’s a big difference between casual/mid-core/hard-core concept art requirements. Usually the casual games (farmville) are cell-shaded, and friendly, the hardcore (halo, ryse) games tend to get gritty and extremely realistic and mid-core (clash of clans, league of legends) can be anything between.
You also have illustration work in your portfolio that seems to fit into the roleplaying game book and card games industry. To succeed in the book and cover market, you have to be a spectacular storyteller with multiple characters. As an environment artist, you’re always going to be struggling for work in illustration, since most illustrations are character based.
Judging from your current portfolio, you have most potential for hard-core games and film set design.
If you want to get into the games industry, then I recommend making additional prop-designs and gameplay-concepts for the type of games you’re interested. Most of the freelancers who are hired in games industry, are for either pitch art or to help out through production with prop-design.
If you’re more interested in the film industry, then I recommend making concepts in cinematic aspect-ratio with characters that are acting out a scene, and it wouldn’t hurt to have some storyboards there too if you want additional work. Directors are always in search for good storyboard artists.
I know I pivoted a little bit from your original question, but I think my point is still strong – whatever you teach yourself, teach it with a focus and a goal. The spectrum of drawing, concept art and illustration is so wide that you can spend years trying to become good in all those subject matters – and you should do that too – just do it in an orderly fashion so as not to stress yourself too much.
3. What do you have do to be recognized, when i get a lot of rejections? How do you deal with rejections?
Silver answers: To be recognized, you only need consistent good work. The concept art world is ridiculously small, so if you keep pushing out new work weekly, and putting out in social media or art sites like ArtStation, you will start gathering like minded peers. Now this won’t get you clients yet, but it will get you recommendations in the future.
The better you get, the more likes/shares you will have and the more times potential clients will see you.
Just take a look at James Paick, Maciej Kuciara and Fightpunch. These guys are putting out new work, professional and personal all the time – and they are swimming in work.
Being a freelancer is tough work, you need to advertise yourself and find new clients while maintaining the old relations, and it’s not easy while just starting out.
It doesn’t mean it’s impossible though. You just have to find lower profile clients, like junior directors and young start ups that can’t hire those high profile guys yet.
But what if you get rejected by them?
Now, rejections are just part of this business – and remember – they are never personal. The reason you’re rejected is that you haven’t convinced the client that you’re the right person to the job. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
First step to dealing with a rejection is understanding what kind of work the client was looking for and how does it differ from your current portfolio.
The next step is changing your portfolio to fit to the clients expectations or finding a different client who is looking to make projects that your portfolio can serve perfectly.
Never take work for granted, and try to understand that concept art is just a tool for the client to communicate their vision and plan, and every time they hire you, it’s a financial risk that needs to make sense.
4. How do you deal with all the awesome work out there? Does it depress you and make you feel you’re behind?
Kaija answers: There is always going to be awesome work out there, how sad would the world be if you were the only one producing the only beautiful things out there?
Another point I want to stress is, if you’re like most other creative people, you will always be striving for something better, new, and challenging. And the things that inspire you, whether they are other paintings, great stories or extraordinary people, will play a big part in kicking your butt to get up and contribute with your unique perspective. That’s a positive thing.
And you will hopefully always be in a state of learning, which means you can either spend your whole life ear-deep in insecurities or enjoy the process.
Learning doesn’t have to mean you’re worse than someone else, it means that you can progress from yesterday.
Few words on your portfolio
Your portfolio site is too complicated. We almost missed your navigation button on the top left and once you go to the different pages, you can’t enlarge any of the images.
Also, we can’t find the header illustration anywhere, and that’s our favorite.
We recommend using a different tumblr-profile or going to squarespace for a portfolio. The easier it is to view, the better, for example Silver has his stuff on tumblr like this: http://sept13concepts.tumblr.com/
We also strongly urge you to add characters to the concepts that have none at the moment. Human scale always makes a difference. And if they are acting a scene or gameplay at the same time, it’ll be even better.
Your paintings are not bad, they are pretty impressive for someone who has only been doing concept art for a year – but what shows is that you’ve been only focusing on the act of painting, and not so much on design.
We know this’ll sound like a broken record, but we suggest you start trying to think like a movie director or a game designer when doing additional work, because they will be your clients, and the faster you can get into their heads, the more work you will get.
So, there you have it Holger! We hope you find this useful and best of luck with your journey and career!
For all you curious cats out there who have questions, please sent them to contact at runfreakrun.com and we’ll try to get back to you as soon as possible.
Smiles and love,
Kaija and Silver