Concept Art Vs. Production Art

The Lovemaking Model (TM)
The Random Factor (TM)
The Coolness Gene (TM)
The Power of 3
On Limitations
On Presentation
On Reference
On Style
On Specialization
On Inspiration
On Education
On Starting A Sketch Group
Things To Just Go Ahead And Draw A Million Of

On Pro-Bono Work
On Giving/Taking Criticism

On Humility

Other Quotes
The 10 Commandments of Conceptual Art

Hints and Hacks For Doing Conceptual Art in the Video Game Industry
Updated 11/09/09


I 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.

~Paul Richards

Concept 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 approach/mindset.

"Concept 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 War]

Even 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 from it.

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 much
Lead holder, HB lead (smudges quite badly, but goes on dark and precise), lead sharpener
Platic eraser
Regular pencil extender
Regular pencil sharpener
Mechanical sharpener
Prismacolor Cool Gray markers (and black)
Circle & ellipse templates
French curves
White out pens, gel rollers and white colored pencil (for highlights and coverups)
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 tools.
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 out there.

Additional sustenance (optional, but they help)...

The unoffical sponsors of!


"Everything in stages..."

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 a concept.

2) 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 WAR."

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)

Artists 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 you both.

-Court // 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 safe concepting!

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.

-Draw 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 it.

-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)

Concept 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 subject matter.

-"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.

-"big 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 some asymmetry.

-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.

-God 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 product.

The Power of 3

When 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 -- "garnish")

On Limitations

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 :

-Art 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 smacked down.

-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.

On Presentation

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 and garnish.

Work 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.)

Arrange 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 know better.

Add 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 tell.

Add 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 animation.

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.

On Reference

"The library! The library! / It's a place where books are free! / The library! The library! / It's a lot better than watching TV."
-Cursor Miner

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.

Having 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 :
-Does 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 it verbatim.)
-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?

On Style

"...To be a DJ you've got to do your best / have your own kind of style not like the rest."
-Dimples D

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.

On Specialization

"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.

On Inspiration

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, music, etc.

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.

On Education

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 :
The Natural Way To Draw : A Working Plan For Art Study by Kimon Nicolaides

-books which have helped me draw humans...
Anatomy For Artists : A New Approach To Discovering, Learning and Remembering the Body by Anthony Apesos
Drawing People : How To Portray the Clothed Figure by Barbara Bradley
The Art of Figure Drawing by Clem Robins
Drawing The Head & Figure by Jack Hamm
Dynamic Anatomy by Burne Hogarth
Dynamic Figure Drawing by Burne Hogarth
Henry Yan's Figure Drawing, Techniques and Tips by Henry Yan

-4 books focusing almost purely on gesture drawing :
Drawn To Life Vol. 1 by Walt Stanchfield
Drawn To Life Vol. 2 by Walt Stanchfield
Force : Dynamic Life Drawing For Animators by Michael D. Mattesi
Force : Character Design From Life Drawing by Michael D. Mattesi

-books on composition
Mastering Composition by Ian Roberts
Drawing Scenery : Landscapes and Seascapes by Jack Hamm


-books on cartooning
Action Cartooning by Ben Caldwell
Fantasy Cartooning by Ben Caldwell
How To Draw Stupid by Kyle Baker
Cartooning The Head & Figure by Jack Hamm

Books I've had pitched:
Relational Aesthetics by Nicolas Bourriaud -- design theory
Hertzian 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.

-Figure 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 work.

-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 granted.
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* Of
*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 on.

-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!) :

1) the pistol
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)
-spider bosses

On Pro-Bono Work

"Give 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 blacklist them!)

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]

On Giving/Taking Criticism

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."

-Give 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.

On Humility

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 infectious!

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 journey!

Other Quotes

"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

"Here's the universal equation : the easier it looks, the more study, the more practice, 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 Lichtner

"For 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 perspective.
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...

-Craig Richards
-Mary Richards
-Kurt Richards
-Ann Debruin
-Bob Larson
-James Daly
-Mike Meister
-Josh Jay
-Jerry O'Flaherty
-James Hawkins
-Andrew Trabbold
-Isaac Owens
-Vinod Rams
-Nick Southam
-Toph Gorham
-Mark Nelson
-Jeff Moy
-Charles Morrow
-Paul Adam
-Christian Lichtner
-Joe Madureira
-Phu Giang
-Nick Reynolds
-Wendy Hawkins