FAQ

It seems like only yes­ter­day that I wanted to be an illus­tra­tor and didn’t know quite how to go about achiev­ing this aim, so I know how it feels to run into walls, to have ques­tions and not know­ing who to turn to or how to ask them.

As it was the self­less­ness of oth­ers that allowed me to learn the skills of illus­tra­tion and lets me live the life I do, I feel it is only right that I pass this favour onto others…and hope­fully they will pass it onto oth­ers down the road also.

To facil­i­tate this trans­fer of knowl­edge, I have col­lated ques­tions that I am asked on a reg­u­lar basis and the cor­re­spond­ing answers I typ­i­cally give. Some are taken from inter­views I have done, some are excerpts from my blog posts and oth­ers are writ­ten from scratch.

I sin­cerely hope that some of this infor­ma­tion helps you and if you have any fur­ther ques­tions, feel free to con­tact me via the con­tact page.

QUESTIONS


1. What do you do in your job?
2. What tools do you use?
3. How do you work?
4. What is con­cept art?
5. Who are your favourite artists/influences?
6. How long does it take you to do your work?
7. How did you teach your­self?
8. How did you get started with illus­tra­tion and con­cept art?
9. Do you think I can become a con­cept artist?
10. How long have you been work­ing pro­fes­sion­ally?
11. What part of this job makes you enjoy it so much?
12. How did you develop your style?
13. If you could do it all again, what would you have done dif­fer­ently in your career?
14. What advice would give to an aspir­ing illus­tra­tor / con­cept artist?
15. What are your aspi­ra­tions for the future?


1. What do you do in your job?

I typ­i­cally spend my day gen­er­at­ing visual designs and illus­tra­tion for film, tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tions or video games. I design / illus­trate things such as vehi­cles, char­ac­ters, envi­ron­ments and crea­tures. Since I run my own busi­ness, I also have to under­take tasks such as finan­cial con­trol, mar­ket­ing and busi­ness administration.

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2. What tools do you use?

When I’m illus­trat­ing, I tend to mainly use Pho­to­shop, some­times Painter, but not so much these days as I find that I can emu­late just about any treat­ment I can get in Painter with PS.

I find that with each iter­a­tion, PS con­tin­ues to get bet­ter and better…perhaps I am just biased as I have used PS for a long time, about 14 years now. I sup­pose it would be the same with Painter if I had used that since the begin­ning haha. For cer­tain illus­tra­tion styles, I may also use a vec­tor pro­gram and for this I use Adobe Illustrator.

These days, I’m also incor­po­rat­ing a lot more phys­i­cal media into my work, you just can’t beat the tac­tile feel of putting pen­cil to paper, or paint to can­vas. Also, look­ing at the mon­i­tor for too long can drive you insane, so I like to get away from it if I can.

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3. How do you work?

The process gen­er­ally begins with some­one email­ing me an assign­ment brief, I deter­mine the work­load to get the job done, mak­ing sure to clar­ify expec­ta­tions with the client.

I then shoot back a quote to the client, engage in some nego­ti­a­tion and then typ­i­cally begin deliv­er­ing sketches early in the process to deter­mine design details — there will usu­ally be a cou­ple of iter­a­tions to get to where the client is happy.

Once they are happy, I start on the final ren­der­ings begin­ning with a value ren­der­ing fol­lowed by the colour passes.

Depend­ing on the job, I can work 100% at the mon­i­tor with my Cin­tiq, or I will do some sketches on paper with pen­cil and pen. I some­times also use phys­i­cal media such as ink or paint to get cer­tain effects.

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4. What is con­cept art?

Con­cept art is a spe­cialised sub-category of gen­eral illus­tra­tion used in the pro­duc­tion cycle of video games and film. It helps to deter­mine and then guide the rest of the visual pro­duc­tion, so it is pri­mar­ily a pre-production discipline.

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5. Who are your favourite artists/influences?

I tend to look at a wide styl­is­tic range of artists, I think it was one of my own art heroes Joao Ruas who said he did the same in order to dif­fuse the impact of any one par­tic­u­lar artist that you like — some of them have such strong styles that you can be really swept away and become a copy­cat. For instance, there are a lot of Ash­ley Wood apes.

Per­son­ally, I par­tic­u­larly like Rock­well, William Bouguereau, Sar­gent, Michae­lan­gelo, Rem­brandt, the Leyen­decker bros, Alex Ross, Syd Mead, Frazetta, Loomis, Jon Fos­ter, James Jean, Sebas­t­ian Kruger, Joao Ruas and Kozyn­dan amongst a whole army of others.

It is a pretty eclec­tic mix, and apart from the dif­fu­sion of style, I find that it helps in my field not to be too focused on any one par­tic­u­lar style, which lets you cre­ate work for more projects. Another thing, is that I tend to get bored quickly with just being immersed in one style.

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6. How long does it take you to do your work?

It really depends on fac­tors like the style, the qual­ity required by the client and the com­plex­ity of design. Some things can take half an hour, some things will take a week.

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7. How did you teach yourself?

It’s weird, but when peo­ple hear that you’re self taught, they kind of assume that you’re some genius. To be hon­est, it’s not really as impres­sive as it sounds as I didn’t just kind of sit there and fig­ure all the tenets of art mak­ing from scratch on my lonesome.

What self taught in my case means, is that I learnt from instruc­tional books and DVDs from places like the Gno­mon Work­shop. Once I began learn­ing, I found that there was a huge gulf between what I knew and what I needed to know, so I formed a check-list of skills and basi­cally tried to work through them as quickly as pos­si­ble. These skills range from things like per­spec­tive, tonal shad­ing to design aes­thet­ics, colour the­ory and anatomy.

I sup­pose that may sound daunt­ing for some peo­ple, but it’s really not too bad as I had the advan­tage of form­ing my own cur­ricu­lum, rather than fol­low­ing some­one else’s set struc­ture. For some, this won’t work because of their per­son­al­ity — some folks need to be exter­nally dri­ven by some­thing like a dead­line, but I find it much more expe­di­ent to teach myself some­thing dri­ven by my own desire. One thing I do have going for me, is that I’m a pretty reg­i­mented guy, so that helps me stay focused.

Don’t get me wrong though, it wasn’t all smooth sail­ing, and you’ll want to think care­fully before you take the self-taught route — there were a lot of days you just bang your head on the wall and want to give up, and with­out exter­nal pres­sure it can be easy to slack off. But it’s like any­thing, you per­se­vere if you really want it bad enough.

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8. How did you get started with illus­tra­tion and con­cept art?

I was always into cre­at­ing art­work as a kid, but was told by my par­ents that you can’t make a liv­ing from doing art­work so I nat­u­rally didn’t inquire into mak­ing a career out of it. It didn’t occur to me until I had fin­ished uni­ver­sity in Com­puter Sci­ence and Busi­ness Man­age­ment that peo­ple got paid good money to draw for a liv­ing in the enter­tain­ment field and in video games. I was pretty naive about the whole process I suppose.

Up to that point, I had been work­ing in some mind numb­ingly bor­ing jobs, as a ware­house man­ager and a sales guy for a logistics/storage com­pany, this was back around 2002–2003. One of the things I know about myself, is that I can­not take bor­ing rou­tine, ask­ing me to sit in a cubi­cle for 50 years doing the same thing, sounds like a night­mare to me. So after a year, my sub­con­scious started to look for alter­na­tives before I realised I needed a change.

Chance had me stum­ble across con­cept art on the CGSo­ci­ety and ConceptArt.org forums and I decided to teach myself all the skills needed to be an illus­tra­tor and con­cept artist, spend­ing 6 months learn­ing from DVDs and books and was lucky enough to land a posi­tion after that period of time. It’s one of those cases where not know­ing how much I had to learn was a good thing, it wasn’t really daunt­ing and was just a heck of a lot of fun.

Oppor­tu­ni­ties fell into my lap, and I had the balls to go after them when they did.

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9. Do you think I can become a con­cept artist?

With­out even know­ing any­thing about some­one, I’d say in a vast major­ity of cases, peo­ple can do just about any­thing they really put their mind to…it’s just that most peo­ple don’t really know what they want, or they think they want some­thing when all they are really after are the brag­ging rights.

Con­cept art is no dif­fer­ent to any other field, there are lots of wannabes who love the idea of what con­cept artists do for a liv­ing, but who aren’t com­mit­ted enough to make real sacrifices.

So yes, I think almost any­one can become a con­cept artist. Will that per­son do what is nec­es­sary though? That’s another ques­tion, and only one they can answer themselves.

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10. How long have you been work­ing professionally?

Around 7 years now. Time really flies!

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11. What part of this job makes you enjoy it so much?

Every day is dif­fer­ent and being a free­lancer or con­trac­tor this is even more pro­nounced than an in-house con­cept artist.

There’s noth­ing worse in my mind than doing the same thing over and over again, or not being chal­lenged in my role from a cre­ative stand­point. I find a lot of enjoy­ment in con­tin­u­ally refining my design, illus­trat­ing and busi­ness skills and every minor or major step for­ward is exciting.

It’s also a real buzz when you see your work in a mag­a­zine or know that you con­tributed to a title.

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12. How did you develop your style?

As I men­tioned in a prior ques­tion, I look at a huge vari­ety of dif­fer­ent styles and artists, rang­ing from really old school guys from the Renais­sance and ear­lier, through to the illus­tra­tors, graphic artists, vehi­cle design­ers and archi­tects of today. They all have their own unique aes­thetic and if I look at their work and say “Oh hey, that’s cool!” I will file it away men­tally for use at some later stage.

I find it very inter­est­ing how dif­fer­ent artists tackle dif­fer­ent prob­lems and if I am not used to a cer­tain sub­ject I’ll usu­ally try to prac­tice some­one else’s tech­niques. At some point though, I started to rely on my intu­ition a lot more, as opposed to hav­ing a bunch of books of my favourite artists lay­ing around the table. I think this grad­u­a­tion is impor­tant, oth­er­wise you’ll always be a pas­tiche of all your favourite artists.

It’s at this cross roads that your train­ing, your influ­ences and your own per­sonal cre­ativ­ity comes together…and when it comes together right, it feels great and I sup­pose that’s how my style comes about.

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13. If you could do it all again, what would you have done dif­fer­ently in your career?

Not too much to be hon­est. I’m at a great point in my life and career and I have a lot of grat­i­tude for all the sit­u­a­tions — good and bad that I have been put into. I think we can learn from the bad as much, if not more than the good and I find that I con­tinue to improve because of the unlike­li­est things. I sup­pose I just have a very pos­i­tive out­look on life itself and it helps me to weather storms more eas­ily these days.

At one point, I was think­ing about giv­ing up art, this was a cou­ple of years ago when I had been work­ing as an art direc­tor and senior con­cept artist 3 years into my career. I put down my pens and pen­cils for about 6 months and was actu­ally work­ing towards becom­ing a police offcer, I took it very seri­ously and I trained my butt off for it.

Dur­ing this time to earn a bit of money, I was deliv­er­ing food for restau­rants and spend­ing some time car­ing for older indi­vid­u­als and peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties as I had wanted to do that for a while to, you know, give back to society.

At that point, I wasn’t in a good place men­tally, the games pro­duc­tion com­pany I pre­vi­ous worked at, had a crappy envi­ron­ment and really tainted my whole love for what I did.

When I began deliv­er­ing food, I started to take life a lit­tle less seri­ously, it was good to get out of high stress envi­ron­ments and just chill out doing some­thing sim­ple like drop­ping food to cus­tomers. I began to read really great biogra­phies between deliv­er­ies and that really helped me to gain a bet­ter per­spec­tive on my life.

When I wasn’t work­ing, I was spend­ing time with the older folks and peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties. This really put into per­spec­tive how lucky I was and that in the grand scheme of things, I was really blessed and that giv­ing up on some­thing I had worked really hard for (my art) would just be a huge waste.

I got back into my art slowly, one free­lance job at a time and now 3 years on, I love my career and my life more than ever.

So, given the wrong mind­set, that was a poten­tially crappy sit­u­a­tion — I wasn’t mak­ing much money and I was in a bad space men­tally, but from that place I was put into sit­u­a­tions that I would oth­er­wise not have been put into, and that really turbo charged my men­tal­ity and thirst for life again.

Would I have been bet­ter off not going through that sit­u­a­tion? I’m not sure I would be.

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14. What advice would give to an aspir­ing illus­tra­tor / con­cept artist?

Prac­tice your ass off and con­tinue to improve…concept art is one of the most com­pet­i­tive roles to land in the enter­tain­ment indus­try, as there aren’t a lot of these posi­tions avail­able and a lot of artists want to get into this job.

One of the things I do for my stu­dents is put things into con­text – every year, when they grad­u­ate, they are not just com­pet­ing with their class mates for the jobs, they’re not just com­pet­ing with every grad­u­ate of every art school on earth, they are also com­petit­ing for very lim­ited artist posi­tions with expe­ri­enced pro­fes­sion­als between jobs as well.

And that is just for reg­u­lar pro­duc­tion art positions.

At my last in-house job, there were about 120+ devel­op­ers at it’s largest…there were a grand total of 2 con­cept artists for the whole stu­dio, now imag­ine the com­pe­ti­tion to get those jobs. This is indica­tive of the indus­try as a whole and becom­ing a con­cept artist is not an easy under­tak­ing, but it is worth­while and enjoy­able as hell if you are will­ing to make the sacrifices.

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15. What are your aspi­ra­tions for the future?

I’m look­ing to grow my busi­ness and illus­tra­tion skills this year, to spend more time with fine arts and to expand my skill set with dis­ci­plines that can help bol­ster my artis­tic breadth – using more 3D pro­grams, doing matte paint­ings and sculpture.

I’m also going to be teach­ing dig­i­tal paint­ing at RMIT in Mel­bourne again this year and they will prob­a­bly be expand­ing my role in the fol­low­ing year.

After that, I plan to head to the US for a few years to hope­fully work on some large projects, then to move back to Mel­bourne and start my own design school with some tal­ented friends of mine and to push my own IP along. Excit­ing times ahead!

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