Hints and Hacks For Doing Conceptual Art in the Video Game Industry
should preface this by saying that, despite the gratuitous mugshots
on this website, I don't consider myself anyone special. Loads of people
out there make a living doing what I do, and many of them do it better.
But it's been a little over twelve years since I started, so I feel
at least somewhat justified in taking inventory of the philosophies
and techniques I've gleaned thus far. I consider this a "living
document", to be edited and expanded not only for the inquisitive
beginner, but for myself, as I tend to forget what little I've learned.
A lot of it is fairly basic stuff that will come as no surprise to the
veteran, and is rooted more in opinion and personal experience than
fact. I'm interested in hearing
your opinions, too.
Art Vs. Production Art
Some would argue that these are pratically the same thing, since both
are steps toward the same end, and since both are the concept artist's
lot. I try to make a distinction, since each requires a slightly different
art" takes a nebulous idea, for which there could be infinite looks,
and narrows the choices, placing one aesthetically "in the ballpark."
There's still a lot of room to play around, but the space is smaller
-- less intimidating. As a concept artist your goal, via exploration
and elimination, is to craft a singular, coherent vision. Unless you
manage to "knock it out of the park" on the first "pitch",
this typically involves some iterative work in the form of thumbnail
sketches. [see Steps, see also Thumb
when you've arrived at a strong piece of concept art, some further fleshing
may be required. This is where "production art" rears its
slightly-less-glamorous head. Orthographic (front/side/back) modelsheets,
color comps and carefully planned/referenced blueprints are the order
of the day here. To continue the baseball analogy, you are basically
telling the next person "at bat" when to swing and how hard.
How far you go with a production piece is determined by the amount of
information you included in the initial concept, as well as the amount
of faith you place in the interpretive abilities of those who will work
Remember : if you didn't put it in the concept, you can't complain if
it doesn't make it into the final product, so be descriptive and don't
assume anything! My very first art director once commented that I was
merely providing "the implicaiton of detail." He was right.
What's considered an acceptable level of detail for one person may not
be acceptable for others, so, deadline permitting, it's always best
to err on the side of more detail. "Detailing", in this case,
doesn't mean adding layer upon layer or superfluous, masturbatory glazing,
but rather going in and clearly defining the forms that will make your
concept read and translate clearly.
"Use what you're comfortable with." is what most people will
tell you, but each type of media has its advantages and disadvantages.
There are things you can do traditionally that computers will never
be able to fully emulate, and digital trickery that would take you a
million years to do by hand. By being open to both you will increase
workflow and stave off boredom.
Note : You don't need an expensive desk or studio loft to do awesome
work, so grab the bare essentials and get drawing already!!!
My weapons of choice...
Blue pencil (Sanford Col-Erase "Blue") - This can be knocked
out completely in Photoshop by adjusting the blue/cyan levels.
Black pencil (Prismacolor Verithin "Black) - waxy and doesn't smudge
Lead holder, HB lead (smudges quite badly, but goes on dark and precise),
Regular pencil extender
Regular pencil sharpener
Prismacolor Cool Gray markers (and black)
Circle & ellipse templates
White out pens, gel rollers and white colored pencil (for highlights
Artist tape (to keep paper from falling off the table)
Clipboard, copy paper and carrying case (for drawing on-the-go)
ALVIN "parallel glider" (basically one of those rolling rulers
-- totally awesome and indispensible, comes in a number of sizes, soooo
much easier than a t-square)
And in the digital realm...
2 Monitors - The more screen real estate you have, the less your weary
eyeballs will have to squint.
Wacom tablet - Cintiq? Not yet. My wacom tablet still gets the job done
for digital drawing!
Scanner - Scan things in at at least 300 dpi.
Photoshop - Painter has a rotating canvas and loads of organic brushes,
but Photoshop has so many more handy selection / image manipulation
3D Program - I use Lightwave because it's what I learned first. Being
able to generate and work over rough meshes of things you have to draw
over and over, or even simple perspective grids can save you loads of
time. It's kinda cheating, but let's be honest : perspective isn't fun,
and keeping work fun is key to preserving your sanity. Google has also
released a free version of Sketchup,
which is probably the least complicated, easiest-to-pick-up 3D application
Additional sustenance (optional, but they help)...
The unoffical sponsors of www.autodestruct.com!
1) Think ~ It's easy to gloss by this stage, but by gathering
all the information you need to start concepting something and mulling
it over for a few minutes, you can save yourself headaches later. Talk
to others. Consult documentation. Look at reference.
Don't go in blind if you don't have to. Conceptual art is nothing without
Thumbnail ~ These are small, quick, gestural sketches meant to get
yourself thinking about different possibilities. What works? What doesn't?
Determine things like scale and silhouette at this stage. Be loose,
and don't get bogged down with little things. READ MORE ABOUT THE
PRACTICE OF THUMBNAILING IN MY NEW SECTION, "THUMB
3) Contour ~ This is a streamlined "wireframe" version
of your design (sometimes a blown-up thumbnail). These help you figure
out what all the main masses are via their outlines, while not getting
bogged down with every single detail. Work on making your design "read"
at this stage. Figure out where and how things will overlap.
4) Render ~ Get around to everything that you didn't do in the
contour drawing, popping in small details, pinning down
surface materials and choosing value/color. Know to stop rendering once
all these things have been established.
5) Manipulate ~ With today's digital arsenal, no drawing need
ever be "finished." You can scale, hue shift and work into
a piece endlessly while keeping its core look intact. It's important
to be bold and commital, so consider this step more play than a necessary
measure. You just might come up with something cooler on accident! Which
brings us to...
The Lovemaking Model (TM)
get off on completing projects. We crave the life-affirming boost of
accomplishment and the relief of closure. Our natural anxiousness to
see results often tempts us to b-line to this apex, cutting every corner
and skirting every hurdle in our path. When a client demands near-immediate
results there's little room for romance, but in general I find the end
product suffers if one goes into their work with a "cut-to-the-moneyshot"
mindset. Even this final, dizzying release is, on its own, a short-lived
high. And so, because I believe it's important to savor EVERY aspect
of the process, I propose The Lovemaking Model :
-Flirt // This goes hand in hand with the thumbnailing
step. When you flirt, you're putting a part of yourself out there for
the fun of it, just to see if it's well received. Not every idea you
flirt with need turn into something serious. Keep it playful, and don't
get too discouraged when an idea doesn't make googly eyes back at you.
Keep trying until you find one that truly turns you on. Forcing yourself
into a long term relationship with an idea you're not attracted to dooms
// Once you've found that "special someone" in idea form,
get to know it a little better by doing additional studies, digging
up reference and asking yourself questions like, "How am I going
to woo this piece? What methods will I employ to assure a lasting compatibility?"
Come at it with a plan rather than hurtling toward your honeymoon. This
may sound tedious to some, but being thoughtful is often its own reward.
-Foreplay // The chemistry is right. The mojo flows. Time to
bed your concept! But you don't want the fun to be over TOO quickly,
so ease into things sensually. This would be your underdrawing, the
foundation upon which you'll be building for...oh, however long you
care to take. Tease it. Massage it. Give it a little slap on the butt!
Once you're good and primed, it's time for...
-The Main Course // This would be your contour, value and color
treatment. As most of your planning is already done, this part can be
fairly mechanical. So, technically, can intercourse, but no one likes
to think of it that way. Keep it sexy! Take pleasure in building your
momentum, and for God's sake don't do anything that could potentially
break the mood! You'll be forced to start over from the beginning or
worse yet, abandon the notion alltogether!
-Climax // Add those finishing touches! Get your just dessert!
-Afterglow // Take a quiet moment to rest and reflect on the
act. What satisfying moves might you try next time? What fumbling blunders
will you avoid? The great thing about drawing is that, like lovemaking,
you can always find ways to enhance and prolong your enjoyment.
Public Service Announcement : Always practice
The Random Factor (TM)
Some of the best things in life aren't planned; they just sort of
happen. Here are some ways to introduce randomness into your work.
lots of thumbnails on a single page. You
will create odd gaps that will influence the shapes of what you fill
them with. These are shapes you wouldn't arrive at if you did each thumbnail
on its own page.
-Blot down marker, overlay phototextures or mess around with custom,
chaotic Photoshop brushes. Picking shapes out of the mess can result
in some very happy accidents.
-Take a finished drawing into Photoshop and use the scaling/deformation
tools to come up with new and odd variations. "Warp"
and "liqueify" are my favorites, but I've seen people do some
pretty neat stuff with the smudge tool and miscellaneous filters.
-Flip a book open to a random page or do aimless internet searches.
It's amazing what life will just hand you when you're not looking for
-Draw directly. That is to say, try letting your pencil (or what-have-you)
fly aimlessly, and don't fret about an underdrawing, or getting things
right. You're just looking to generate randomness, plucking diamonds
from the rough.
The Coolness Gene (TM)
artists are often faced with the all-too-open-ended task of "just
make it cool." This is, of course, subjective and baffling, but
in the abscense of specific art direction one must nevertheless attempt
to isolate the "coolness gene."
People often associate "badass" with big, bulky, powerful
proportions. Does what you're drawing look like it would blow over in
a stiff wind, or would it stand firm? 9 times ouf 10, "flimsy"
doesn't cut it. Go for solid!
- psychology of shapes / We associate certain shapes with certain emotions.
Going for harsh? Introduce more sharp angles. Going for soft? Smooth
things out with curves. Sweeping, fisheyed shapes = grand. Compact,
contrained shapes = small. Decide what kind of visual impact you want
your piece to have before you start it, and lay down shapes accordingly.
Camera angle / pose can make or break a piece in terms of its overall
coolness. Dynamism will always be more impressive than a static, straightforward
approach. Determine lines of action -- the thrust(s) of your subject
matter -- as well as lines of rhythm, the eye's movement within your
-"anchor point" / "focal point" -- What's the most
important part of your design? The part that all other parts are secondary
to? The part you really want the viewer's eye to land on before
anything else? Figure this out, and you'll know what to play up and
what to play down. Emphasize the cool, and remove the suck!
-"thick to thin" Giving shapes a subtle, if not blatant, taper can make
something straight and dull look cooler.
into small" Putting bigger objects next to smaller objects adds more
interest than when two objects of equal size are placed adjacently.
A symmetrical design will be boring if it's comprised of uniform objects.
If your subject matter is uniform by nature, you would do well to introduce
-Silhouette. If you fill your drawing in with black, is the resulting
shape pleasing on its own? If not, you may want to try breaking it up
to add interest.
is in the details, and sometimes little accents/touches can make all
the difference -- lend character to something that would otherwise be
devoid of it. Think of objects/characters/scenes as telling a story.
Can you sum your drawing up in a few words, or is there more going on?
In terms of visual interest, there's a big difference between "frog
man with an axe" vs "bandaged, hunchbacked frog man with an
axe bejeweled with human skulls."
You will be able to tell when what you're working on doesn't excite
you. In such instances, ask yourself how you can take something ordinary
and make it extraordinary. It's problem solving. The thing you're doing
needs to kick ass, even if it's just some incidental prop you don't
even care much about. Don't be afraid to scrap a design and start fresh
if something isn't working. If you can't get excited about it, how can
you expect others to?
Even under the most ideal conditions, *some* of your drawing's energy
will be lost on its way into the game, so by cranking up the "cool"
beyond what you feel is required, you'll assure an eye-catching end
The Power of 3
thinking of ways to improve a drawing, consider the magic number 3.
-3 distinguishing physical features
-3 main masses (large, medium, small)
-3 material breakups (skin, leather, fur, etc.)
-3 depth layers : foreground, middleground, background
-3 dimensions of space : x, y, z
-3 tiers of elevation
-3 dominant values (dark, mid, light)
-3 dominant colors (warm, cool, neutral)
-Rule of Thirds : This is followed by splitting a canvas into thirds
horizontally and vertically and assigning your focal to a point where
two of the interior lines interesect.
-3 "reads" -- primary read (overall impression), secondary
read (additional info), tertiary read (more fun details to notice --
So often, we set our own performance limits internally. "Oh, they'll
never go for that." or "Oh, that's too ambitious. I could
never pull that off." Sometimes these voices are right, and sometimes
they aren't. Try not to stifle your creativity if you don't have to,
and be mindful
of the following :
direction // If you're given a specific inkling of what you're supposed
to be doing, it's best to keep within these parameters for the sake
of timeliness and obedience. You may provide alternate ideas, but only
after your art director's requirements have been met. If you're asked
for a green dragon and deliver a purple unicorn, you're going to get
-Game engine limitations // Concept artists are often given carte blanche
at the beginning stages of pre-production, but it never hurts to know
just how much the technology you're dealing with can handle. i.e. Can
the neo-gothic building you're drawing really be built with 27 flying
buttresses? Can the spider boss have a dozen legs, or will some cranky
animator make you slice off six of them? In the absence of these limiting
factors, thinking big and reigning in is always a good policy (as it's
generally easier to start with something grandiose and pare back than
to start with something miniscule and tack on), but with the right expectations
you're less likely to be disappointed.
-Deadlines // Do what you can in the time you're given. If there's no
cap, take it easy and don't stress. If they need it yesterday, try to
reach an acceptable stopping point as soon as possible. Your inner critic
may hate the state in which you leave a piece, but know when to move
on. If it bothers you that much, you can always return to it in your
free time. This is where the game industry has its creative people by
the short and curlies : We all want to be proud of what we do, so we'll
put in longer hours to get things "just so." Try to realize
when you're doing something for your own appeasement vs. someone else's.
Culinary experts will tell you that, when serving a plate of food,
"the first bite is with the eye." The food itself may be delicious
and nourishing on its own, but the way it's presented effects how appetizing
it is. So it is with concept art! Getting
people to "swallow" your ideas occasionally takes some seasoning
large and reduce. Stuff shrunken down looks tighter. So after you've
figured it out on a small thumbnail scale, blow that sucker up. After
you're done working big, reduce it by 20%-50% and watch people marvel
at your attention to detail. Oh, if they only knew!
Work the whole. This is to say, do everything on your page to
a near-equal level of polish before passing it off. If half of your
drawing is super-tight, but the other half is loose, it will read as
"unfinished." If, however, both halves are sort-of-loose,
the drawing will have the appearance of being "finished" even
though it really isn't.
Adjust line weight. If you're doing a line-based drawing, beefing
up the outer-most outlines (but not where your lightsource is super-bright)
will pop your image off the page, drawing attention to it as needed.
Also, when doing techy stuff, people seem to be impressed by straight,
parallel lines. If you've ever heard someone say "I can't even
draw a straight line!" you know that the ability to do this knocks
certain people's socks off. People are funny.
Spot black. Blacking in super-shadowy areas grounds your image,
giving it increased heft and presence. Adjusting your line weight and
spotting black will help you get away from the "coloring book"
look. (Not to say that such a look can't be done gracefully.)
your pages. The bits you like, make larger and more contrasty.*
Those you don't, push to the background. For a moment, play the role
of a graphic designer and ask yourself if what you've done is something
that could appear in print, or on the web, as part of a promotional
campaign. Frame and crop, move things around, flip and rotate. What
you want is something that doesn't appear crowded, but also not sparse.
Don't be afraid to resize your canvas as needed, or expand to multiple
documents. *Fun fact : art directors will often gravitate to
whichever thumbnail is largest on the page. Don't ask me why. They should
tone/color. As much as a barren contour drawing may explain the
basic forms, additional rendering is sometimes needed to draw attention
to a design or convey essential properties. "This torch is powered
by Smurf farts, so the end glows blue and leaves a smelly vapor trail
when waved around." People are innately drawn to colorful,
flashy things. Most, I've found, will forgive (if not completely overlook)
the shortcomings of a drawing if it's got a pleasing color scheme. I'm
not saying it's right. As someone who should know better, you should
be wary of "guilding a turd", but more often than not, all
this extra rendering reads as "Wow, this
person really went the extra mile."
And since not many studios develop black and white games, you're just
saving yourself the trouble of coloring it later. Just make sure the
time you spend glazing doesn't cut into the time spent exploring other,
potentially better design possibilities.
Add captions. As a concept artist your primary goal is to communicate
ideas visually, so keep captions and other explanatory notes brief,
if you must resort to them. In this field, it's better to show than
reference. Including bits of photographic reference (even if you
didn't use any) can help when trying to drive home things like functionality,
scale and surface material. It also conveniently fills dead space on
a page, giving the impression that you thought things through more than
you may have actually done. Some people like to integrate photoref *into*
their actual concepts. [see my section on "reference"]
Show scale. Someone is always bound to ask "Hey, so how
big is that?" Don't leave them scratching their heads. If it's
an environment or vehicle, throw a dude in there. If it's something
minute, juxtapose it with a human hand, or a quarter -- something identifiable.
Doing this early on can help keep things in proportion.
Add callouts. Sometimes you'll wind up with something tiny or
muddy that doesn't read well and needs more definition. Rather than
zooming way in at a larger resolution, it's often quicker to draw it
larger, off to the side. Callouts can be good for showing something's
functionality, like if it has a different physical state, or some basic
Number your designs. Multiple designs on a page? Numbering them
makes it easy to for people to tell you which one they like, and gives
them the option of "frankensteining" them together. "Gimmie
number 5's flippers with number 10's dorsal fin." So much art
direction happens through email, so this saves people the effort of
pointing to or highlighting what they want.
"The library! The library! / It's a place where books are free!
/ The library! The library! / It's a lot better than watching
On a good day, concept artists are called upon to come up with stuff
that doesn't exist in the real world. But even then, to make something
alien look "correct", it does more good than harm to find
a terrestrial equivalent. It's easy to assume you know what a chariot,
emu or steam-powered locomotive looks like, but unless your memory is
freakily photographic you'll need to hit the books, the web or even
your own backyard.
an informed idea of how things look/work adds plausibility/functionality
to your designs, and helps you assign colors and surface materials you
otherwise might not have. But it's also good to let your imagination
have a crack at it before and after analysing your ref, otherwise you
risk getting tied to it. Anyone can copy a picture, so invent! (Picked
that up from an Ian McCaig Gnomon DVD.)
When gathering reference, ask yourself the following :
my ref match the setting/time period of my project?
-Does my ref provide helpful cues about materials and color palate?
-Am I learning anything from this ref?
-Does what I'm looking for exist someplace nearby, and if so would it
make more sense to observe it there, or take my own photograph? (Using
the first hit on a Google Image Search is sometimes too obvious.)
-Will this ref "contaminate" my thought process, impairing
my ability to come up with something unique? (Unless instructed,
it's good not to stay married to your reference, lest you wind up copying
-Do I have a sufficient amount of ref for what I'm doing, or can just
start drawing the damned thing, already? (There's a fine line between
useful reference gathering and procrastination.)
When integrating photo-reference into a piece, ask yourself the following
-Is this going to leap out at the viewer or otherwise detract from
the image's overall consistency?
-Am I using this as a subtle textural element, or is it meant to
be substituting something really common that no one in their right mind
would draw, and has little to no bearing on the real subject matter?
(i.e. lightposts surrounding a central building)
-Is this reference super-easy to find, or will I be called out for being
obvious by someone who stumbles upon this same photograph?
-By not "disguising" a copyrighted image well enough in its
appropriation, am I committing plagiarism?
-Am I saving time by this, or am I just being lazy?
"...To be a DJ you've got to do your best / have your
own kind of style not like the rest."
No matter how many influences you have or hours you practice, there
will probably be some defining funk to your work that you won't be able
to completely shake. This can be a curse (as most mistakes we make come
from bad habits and ignorance), but also a blessing. In such a competitive
industry, it's good to have your own unique ace-in-the-hole, some angle
you're pushing that others aren't. Lock in on what makes your work special
and play that up. We come from different places, have different lifestyles
and undergo almost constant change. Let those things enhance, and never
restrict, your style.
That said, every project has its tone, and every client draws from
their own well of inspirational materials. Part of your job is finding
out what those things are as soon as possible, and making sure your
stuff caters to it. Smart employers hand-pick their art staff based
on how well they think they'll fit a certain stylistic mold, or indeed
a diverse range of molds, but ulimately it takes some adaptation on
your part. Before taking a job, ask yourself if you're willing to be
"chameleonic", or if you'd be better off somewhere that's
more inclined to let you be you. Play to your strengths, but know that
getting outside your comfort zone can bring about growth.
Style can also be dictated by your artistic "voice", i.e.
what you're trying to say with a piece. For instance, if you're doing
something with an undercurrent of spookiness, you might go for something
choppy/angular vs. something smooth and rounded.
"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion,
butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance
accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders,
give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem,
pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently,
die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."
-Robert A. Heinlein
There are many facets to conceptual art, but all revolve around people,
places and objects. Some artists focus on "hard surface" vehicle
or weapon design, others make beautiful, moodily lit environmental matte
paintings, while others do amazingly lifelike characters or storyboards.
To be marketable, it's good to know how to do a little of everything.
Telling people, "I only do character concepts." because it's
what you most accel at may land you the best, most fulfilling position
out there, but usually, for every awesome end-boss that needs designing,
there's also a slew of doors, light fixtures and wall panels. It's great
to have a clear strength, as not many set out to become a "jack
of all trades but master of none," but wearing a few different
hats will round you out as an artist, not to mention open doors of opportunity
that would otherwise be closed to you.
It would follow that every video game developer, conceptual artists
included, is a hardcore gamer who stays up on all the latest titles
and scrutinizes them through a microscopic lens. But anyone who's worked
at a video game company knows that inspiration is also drawn from many
other areas : literature, film (not a day goes by without hearing a
reference to some movie), traditional animation, comics, illustration,
I have little to say on the subject of staying au courant as
far as gaming is concerned. I am not an avid gamer. But I enjoy watching
others play games, and spend a healthy amount of time thumbing through
gaming publications and browsing websites. It's good to keep an eye
on what the competition is doing on a purely surface level. A more intimate
knowledge of these projects' inner workings and/or first-hand gaming
experience can only improve on-the-job competency, as well as strengthen
bonds between coworkers.
Some people look to their own lives for inspiration. They travel, meet
new people, do new things. The entertainment industry provides canned
experience, but your own experiences are often the most enriching. The
phrase "write what you know" applies to drawing, too!
The all-too-common "I can't think of anything to draw!" malady
can usually be solved by temporarily switching gears to some unrelated
task you'd rather not be doing. Monotonous manual labor works well.
Usually your brain, in its boredom/frustration, will rebel by coming
up with fun ideas. Oddly enough, the best way to force inspiration is
by not forcing it.
I sort of skipped college, and wasn't encouraged to do much drawing
in public school (except by one really awesome teacher who, oddly enough,
didn't even teach art), but I've had very supportive family and friends,
and consider myself a perpetual student.
Here are some things I've found have improved my skills :
-Recreational drawing // The act of drawing is ultimately your best
teacher, because you can't get good at anything without doing a lot
of it. Find time to do this even if you draw a lot during your workday.
Keep it personal, exploratory and meditative. If you don't view drawing
as something fun/sacred, you may have picked the wrong profession.
-Identifying mistakes // By spending time on a piece we get used to
seeing it a certain way, and so must always strive to "see it through
new eyes." Mirroring an image, or flipping it over and looking
at it reversed through a strong lightsource will give you a glimpse
at flaws that may not have been previously apparent. The same is true
of stepping away from a piece for a while and returning to it later,
or toggling between two pieces. You get a fresh perspective each time.
This doesn't mean you need to second-guess every nuance -- just don't
barrel through a piece without occasionally pausing to evaluate it.
-Instructional books and DVDS // Read/watch when you aren't drawing,
as even the dullest book/video can usually yield some useful nugget.
Take notes if it helps you.
-Web portfolios // Nowadays every artist worth his/her salt has a website
and/or blog. Look at them and try to see what makes them tick!
-Forums // Forums are a great place to learn and get crits. Putting
your stuff out there is not only good for letting others see it; it
helps you record progress. (Note : unless you're some godlike savant,
progress will be slllloooooooooooooooooooowwwwwwwww.)
-Trade magazines like DRAW!, SKETCH and IMAGINE FX feature exclusive
art,interviews and tutorials by various badasses.
-1 book that has changed my attitude towards drawing in general :
Natural Way To Draw : A Working Plan For Art Study by Kimon Nicolaides
-books which have helped me draw humans...
For Artists : A New Approach To Discovering, Learning and Remembering
the Body by Anthony Apesos
People : How To Portray the Clothed Figure by Barbara Bradley
Art of Figure Drawing by Clem Robins
The Head & Figure by Jack Hamm
Anatomy by Burne Hogarth
Figure Drawing by Burne Hogarth
Yan's Figure Drawing, Techniques and Tips by Henry Yan
-4 books focusing almost purely on gesture drawing :
To Life Vol. 1 by Walt Stanchfield
To Life Vol. 2 by Walt Stanchfield
: Dynamic Life Drawing For Animators by Michael D. Mattesi
: Character Design From Life Drawing by Michael D. Mattesi
-books on composition
Composition by Ian Roberts
Scenery : Landscapes and Seascapes by Jack Hamm
Cartooning by Ben Caldwell
Cartooning by Ben Caldwell
To Draw Stupid by Kyle Baker
The Head & Figure by Jack Hamm
Books I've had pitched:
Aesthetics by Nicolas Bourriaud -- design theory
Tales by Anthony Dunne -- userbility versus enjoyability
-Online tutorials // Virtually every discipline out there has a tutorial
somewhere on the web, just waiting to be found.
drawing classes and other observational drawing // Keeps you thinking
and not falling back on familiar subject matter.
-Other art classes // Expensive, but often worth it, as they opens you
up to new methods and media. "If you always do what you've always
done, you'll always get what you've always got."
-Tracing exercises // Sometimes the mere sense memory that comes with
tracing over an image can be helpful. However, I only resort to this
when I'm REALLY trying to digest a particular subject matter, and am
usually supplementing it with observational drawing. Don't pass off
traced drawings or photos as your art. It's just tacky, not to mention
a total cop-out. Keep it for practice.
-Emulation exercises // Is someone doing something you like? Attempt
to dupe it, if not directly then selectively. In so doing, you may gain
useful new techniques.
-Games, like films, often put out "art-of" books packed with
concept art, production art, storyboards and other informative process
-Human resources. // Your peers and mentors can sometimes provide more
insight than any of the resources above. Soak up their knowledge like
an eager little sponge, and don't just shyly observe -- ask questions!
On Starting A Sketch Group
Avid readers have book clubs, aspiring authors have creative writing
workshops, knitters have knitting circles -- it just makes sense for
people who share an interest in drawing to have a similar ritual. There's
the social/networking aspect, but ultimately it's one more excuse to
stay in practice. Sketch groups give participants a friendly environment
to trade inspiration, techniques and critiques with others. You can
do this online, but nothing gives you a fresher, more humbling perspective
than fellowship with real people -- hearing their stories, seeing their
work in front of you. Your struggle is theirs. It's comforting.
Here's some advice on starting your own sketch group :
1) Find a place that will not only accommodate your numbers but be sympathetic
to your cause. Once you've found that place, be very, very nice to its
proprietors. Venue is the biggest lynchpin, and never to be taken for
2) Keep the format simple. Unless your group knows each other very well
and is unanimously up for doing themed drawings, challenges or exercises,
it's best to leave everyone to their own devices. Some structure is
occasionally good, but my experience is that most people already have
their plates full; the last thing they need is another deadline. This
is everyone's time to create and explore as they see fit.
3) Don't keep attendance. Let people come and go as they please, show
up or not show up. The less formal and guilt-trippy, the better.
4) Communication is key. The group I belong to keeps in contact via
a mailing list, and weekly reminders are sent out with new additions,
links and general info. Some groups use blogs to exhibit their work
and stay in touch that way.
5) Don't get discouraged! It's common to have the occasional dry spell
where, for whatever reason, you're just not feeling it. In such times
it's good to look around the room and be reminded that drawing for its
own sake keeps the act personal, exploratory and, above all, fun. That's
what sketch groups are really about.
Things To Just Go Ahead And Draw A Million*
*give or take
Here's a handy list of things people always seem to need concepts for
in games. You're going to have to do them eventually, so why not get
a jump on employers by having a stack of these ready to go? Hopefully
they'll be so delighted that they'll give you something else to work
-doors (contemporary, gothic, techy)
-crates (contemporary, techy)
-wall panels (contemporary, gothic, techy)
-floor panels (contemporary, gothic, techy)
-ceiling panels (contemporary, gothic, techy)
-light fixtures (contemporary, gothic, techy -- including the ever-popular
chandelier and wall sconce!)
-building facades (contemporary, gothic, techy)
-The Twelve "Unique" Weapons (thanks Andy!) :
2) the shotgun / nailgun
3) the grenade launcher
4) the machine gun (usually gattling inspired)
5) the repeating energy gun (super-fast rounds, often lightning/plasma-based)
6) the uber gun (kills everything in a block radius and is too big for
anyone to carry)
7) the snipe-you-from-far-away gun
8) the alien gun that you can use now (usually modeled after grubs,
gall bladders or vaginal tissue)
9) the upgrade station for said guns
the blunt melee weapon (includes fists!)
11) the bladed melee weapon (includes chainsaws!)
12) the ticking time bomb ("sticky bombs" that you attach
to stuff, or a weird looking can/capsure that you lob)
-up-lit hooded statues (gothic)
-up-lit hooded statues holding torches (gothic)
-up-lit hooded statues wielding swords (gothic)
On Pro-Bono Work
them an inch and they'll take a mile."
Say you're approached to do an illustration, logo or what-have-you,
but the client can't pay you. That's fine. People do pro-bono work all
the time for various reasons. These little side projects can be fun
and challenging, but they must be approached the right way, or the fun
will be sucked out sooner than you can say "Sure, I'll do an additional
round of revisions for you!"
Rule #1 : Make sure you have enough spare time to do a good job, and
don't let it cut into your paying work (not to mention any non-compete
contracts you may have signed). It looks bad and adds stress where there
needn't be any.
Rule #2 : Only take on projects you're excited about, or have some personal
stake in. It's okay -- not to mention empowering -- to say "no"
to a job that doesn't catch your fancy. (This can apply to high-paying
freelance jobs, too!)
Rule #3 : Don't do free work for someone you know is an asshole, even
if the project sounds cool. It will only bring you headaches.
Rule #4 : "No pay? No say!" Unless your no-budget client
is a really good friend, or your mom, don't let them push you
around. You can take their advice to heart if you wish, but it's your
time and labor, so do something you're happy with and let them take
or leave it. Either way you'll have a cool piece to show for your trouble.
Rule #5 : No #$^%!@ revisions! You have better things to do than endlessly
revise some piddly side gig you aren't even getting compensated for.
Unless you want to [see rule 2].
Rule #6 : Keep communication as cordial/businesslike as possible, but
know when to give an ungrateful, greedy bastard the brush-off. (Then
Rule #7 : Honor your word. Unless you feel the deal has been unjustly
compromised, don't try to weasel out of an agreement, even a non-contractual
one. You made your bed, now lie in it! [see rules 1-3]
Unsolicited advice is often unwelcome advice. Keep this in mind
when approaching people to give even the most constructive of crits.
Unless it's your job to do so, or are administering "tough love"
to a friend, you should generally wait until asked.
When others criticize you, it's important to (a) consider the source
(b) listen to what they have to say and (c) try not to get huffy and
defensive about it. To deny that there are problems with your work is
pompous and silly, and being open to suggestion can only benefit your
work in the longrun. Everyone hates being wrong, but usually you have
to be in that position at least a few times before you can be right.
It's all part of the growing process.
-"If they pay, they have a say." When dealing with
an employer, some things are negotiable and some aren't. Challenging
your leads to keep/abandon an aesthetic can show pluck/enthusiasm, but
choose your battles and don't bite the hand that feeds you!
-Cross-reference crits. // If three or more people are saying that an
elbow on a guy you drew looks weird, then this is most likely the case.
Don't fool yourself into thinking you can do no wrong, or worse, pass
your mistakes off as "stylistic choices."
it a shot! // It's sooooo easy to make drastic changes to an image in
Photoshop. Even if you're unconvinced a scaling/color suggestion will
improve what you're doing, try it out! Give yourself and your critic
the benefit of a before/after comparison. You'd be surprised how often
the smallest tweaks can improve a drawing.
-The Compliment Sandwich // If the person criticizing you has any
tact whatsoever, they will usually also point out *good* aspects to
what you're doing. It's nice when these compliments are genuine, and
not just padding for a merciless crit-onslaught.
-Be gracious! // Even if you hate your own stuff (and you should
to some extent) say "thank you" when someone gives you a compliment.
The last thing they want to hear is, "Oh, I could have done that
much better." or "Oh, that's such a terrible piece."
This comes off whiny and argumentative, and you won't be as likely to
be complimented again!
-If people are giving your work a serious critique, take some solace
in the fact they find it worth critiquing. If it was bush-league-terrible,
they might only spout insincere pleasantries or completely dodge the
subject to spare your feelings. In short, don't mistake someone giving
a shit for getting shat on.
Most of the folks who go ga-ga over this kind of art are other nerdy
industry professionals or hopefuls. Even "big names" are still
nobodies to the most ravenous gamer, let alone cute groupies with hotpants
and sunglasses. Remember this when your head starts to swell, and you
adopt a faux-rockstar persona. (Even
writing this essay makes me feel dirty and pretentious. I should be
drawing, damn it!)
You'll notice a trend when examining the real badasses out there
: They're some of the most modest, giving people on the planet. Their
self-awareness, analytical nature and rabid tenacity have made them
what they are, pure and simple. They inspire not only by their output,
but by their willingness to gain and share knowledge. Their drive is
Take pride in what you do. But not so much that you grow complacent.
The minute you're convinced you're perfect is the minute you should
pack up your pencils and try your hand at something else.
With highs come lows. There will be many times when you'll be frustrated
with yourself, but don't let shortcomings and insecurities keep you
from trying. Let adversity push you toward your potential. Indentify
the line between healthy, venting self-deprication and ego-damaging
hopelessness. The old saying "nothing ventured, nothing gained"
is true, so when you've finished with the "woe is me" act,
be courageous! "...indecision brings its own delays, And days
are lost lamenting over lost days. Are you in earnest? Seize this very
minute; What you can do, or dream you can do, begin it; Boldness has
genius, power and magic in it." -Goethe
One last thing : The workplace can be competitive, but art -- at its
core -- isn't about competition. There is no "finish line."
No "right" or "wrong" way to express yourself. Enjoy
"The supreme misfortune is when theory outstrips performance."
~ Leonardo da Vinci
"Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but
when there is nothing left to take away." ~ Antoine de Saint-Exuper
"Those illustrators having the ability to express truth in terms
of tone, color and design will always be the one sought out, and will
stand head and shoulders the lethargic camera copyist, or the mere imitator
of his neighbor's product." ~ Andrew Loomis
"If there's something that you are procrastinating on, writing
a book, making a movie or asking a girl out. Do it. Today. Be scared,
be stupid but there is one thing you are not allowed to do : Give up.
// Empty your head. Empty it of all the ideas, stories, jokes, philosophies
and inventions. Put it down on paper and share it. We are on this planet
for such a short time; don't hog the magic by dying with it in your
head. Make your life extraordinary." ~ Rob Schrab
the universal equation : the easier it looks, the more study, the more
the more dedication it takes." ~ Steranko
" The single biggest problem in design is finding out from the client
what it is that they really want." ~ Syd Mead
"Wishing won't make it happen!" ~ Robert Crumb
"Be ready to draw anywhere, bust out your best work anytime."
~ Brandon Graham
"Nobody likes a whiner!" ~ Joe Matt
"'Cool' will always reign over 'correct.'" ~ Christian
me, drawing is a form of dialogue with the world. Anything that people
want to know about me can be seen in my work. I also deeply believe
that creativity is one of the best human qualities. It's one of the
very few things that elevates us in life and allows us to rise above
the banality and cruelty of everyday existence." ~ Vania Zouravliov
"Follow your love, because when you're in love, sacrifices don't seem
like sacrifices; they're just dues you have to pay." ~ Carlo Arellano
"Procrastination like masturbation, only screw self." ~ Confucious
The 10 Commandments of Conceptual Art
I Thou shalt emote!
II Thou shalt entertain.
III Thou shalt inform.
IV Thou shalt give the illusion of depth, obeying the rules of
V Thou shalt pay close attention to silhouette, letting the big
shapes do the majority of the work.
VI Thou shalt be wary of monotony,
striving always for VARIETY.
VII Thou shalt work large and reduce when presenting.
VIII Thou shalt include cues to scale.
IX Thou shalt use imagination and reference in tandem.
X Thou shalt not complicate.
My sincerest thanks to everyone who's helped me sort this stuff
out over the years, especially...