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Thread: Concept Art 101

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    Concept Art 101

    So you like drawing characters, and monsters, and swords and guns and space-ships. It has come to your attention that there are people who do this professionally for movies, television, and games. You’ve got a sketchbook in your hands, and you are wondering how to get from the sketchbook to the job. What sorts of things should you draw? What sorts of mediums should you learn? Should you draw from photos? From life? From other artist’s work? From imagination?

    I can help you with these first steps. My name is Michelle Clay. I work at a company called Turbine, where I make 3D art assets for games, and (more recently) have been working as a designer building game levels. I’m not a concept artist, but I work with concept artists, and for a while in college it was my goal to become a concept artist. I graduated from RISD’s illustration department in 2000. So, I can’t tell you an awful lot about how to get a concept art job once your skills are ready for that, but I can tell you quite a bit about what you need to do to bring your skills up to that level.

    This thread is a classroom. I will be posting information and assignments. As far as possible, I will assume that all you have at your disposal are a sketchbook and a pencil, but a few will involve color. The assignments won’t be any particular order. Feel free to skip to the assignments that will help you the most! If you want to participate, feel free to post your results here. Or post your questions or comments. Or, if you are a professional concept artist, feel free to share your knowledge!

    For those interested, over in the Employment Discussion forum I have a similar thread on the games industry. The information there is more advanced and specialized, and includes assignments that require 2D and 3D art programs, but some of it is fairly low-tech, too.

    Okay, here we go. . .

    Table of Contents

    What is Concept Art?
    From Life to Imagination
    Assignment #1: From Still-Life to Imagination
    Assignment #2: From Self Portrait to Imagination
    Assignment #3: Half-Imagined Environment
    The Use of Photography in Illustration
    Assignment #4: Concept Art from Found Photographs
    Assignment #4: Concept Art from Your Own Photographs
    Art Direction
    Assignment #5: the Art Direction Game
    Perspective, From the Beginning
    Assignment #6: Cube Contortionism
    Assignment #7: Cube in 3D
    Atmospheric Perspective
    Assignment #8: Atmospheric Perspective Still-Life
    Assignment #9: Atmospheric Perspective From Imagination
    Perspective from Life
    Assignment #10: Furniture from Observation
    Assignment #11: the Back of the Building
    Color
    Color Assignments
    Assignment #12: Night and Day from Observation
    Assignment #13: Night and Day from Imagination
    Skin Tones
    Assignment #14: Self Portrait in Arbitrary Colors
    Drawing Humans
    Assignment #15: Researching Anatomy
    Assignment #16: Adding Bones to a Mastercopy
    Assignment #17: Constructing Humans from Spare Parts
    Still More about Drawing People
    Assignment #18: Sniping
    Assignment #19: Figure Drawing Class
    Assignment #20: After Figure Drawing Class: Costumes
    Assignment #21: After Figure Drawing Class: Spare Parts
    Some Ideas for Still-Lifes
    Power-Leveling for the Busy Artist
    Composition
    Assignment #22 - Studying Existing Compositions
    More About Composition
    Assignment #23 – Finding Compositions Within Compositions
    Assignment #24 - Non-Representational Composition
    Assignment #25 - Build a Composition with Perspective from Life
    Assignment #26 - Build a Composition with Perspective from Imagination
    Assignment #27 - Build a Composition with a Character from Imagination
    Communication
    Assignment #28 – Mood, Non-Representational
    Assignment #29 – Mood, Representational
    Assignment #29 – Acting, Facial Expression
    Assignment #30 – Acting, Body Language
    More on Perspective
    Setting Goals for Yourself
    Assignment #31 – Analyzing Art
    What Should I Include in my College Portfolio?
    Value
    Assignment #32 – Many Ways to Render Value
    Assignment #33 – Making Value Decisions
    Assignment #34 – Shading Non-White Objects
    Assignment #35 – Fun With Value
    Digital Painting Example
    Acrylic Painting Example

    Last edited by Seedling; July 10th, 2007 at 01:47 PM.
    I think you are awesome, and I wish you the best in your endeavors, but I am tired of repeating myself, I am very busy with my new baby, and I am no longer a regular participant here, so please do not contact me to ask for advice on your career or education. All of the advice that I have to offer can already be found in the following links. Thank you.

    Perspective 101, Concept Art 101, Games Industry info,Oil Paint info, Acrylic Paint info, my sketchbook.
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    What is Concept Art?

    Concept art is a subset of illustration.

    What is illustration? Dictionary.com says this of the word “illustrate”:

    1. to furnish (a book, magazine, etc.) with drawings, pictures, or other artwork intended for explanation, elucidation, or adornment
    2. to make clear or intelligible, as by examples or analogies; exemplify
    3. 3. Archaic. to enlighten
    4. to clarify one's words, writings, etc., with examples: To prevent misunderstandings, let me illustrate.

    So, an “illustration” is art that communicates something.

    There is much of fine art that falls into the category of illustration. Any imagine that tells a story or represents an object is illustrative, whether it is communicating something as complex as a scene from the Lord of the Rings, or as simple a thing as “a horse” or “a man”.

    What makes concept art different from illustration is that the audience isn’t the person who reads a book, plays a game, or watches a movie. The primary audience of concept art is other artists, and other people involved in the making of the final product. Concept art is the blueprint that is used to make more art. It is also used to communicate with the holder of the intellectual property rights involved in a project, and it can also be the leverage that is used to get funding for a project.

    If you want a formal education that will prepare you for being a concept artist, then study illustration.

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    From Life to Imagination

    So you’ve got your sketchbook. You’ve been having fun drawing Spider Man, and you’ve had some folks tell you that you should draw from life, but dang it, still lifes are dull! Why bother with them? How is a drawing of a shoe supposed to help you to draw better superheroes?

    These assignments should help you to answer those questions.

    *********Assignment #1: From Still-Life to Imagination************

    Pick a real-life object to draw. It can be a shoe, a car, a tree – anything that is available to you for direct observation. Take your sketchbook to it and draw it. Leave space on the same page or a facing page for the second part of the assignment.

    Using that first drawing as a guide, draw the same object from the same position – but change it somehow. Add an imagined element. If it’s a car, you could change the curves of the lines to make it look like it belongs in a science-fiction movie. Or turn it into a hovercraft. Or give it a crazy flame paint job and fins and monster truck wheels. Or make it steam-punk, or aquatic, or turn it into a thousand-year-old rusted wreck.

    By doing this in two steps, you have both the benefit of direct observation, and you get the challenge of coming up with something from imagination and communicating that thing.


    ********Assignment #2: From Self Portrait to Imagination************

    Self portraits are hard! They are also the best way to prepare yourself for drawing one of the most difficult and yet ubiquitous subjects that every illustrator must draw: the human. If you want to be an illustrator of any stripe, then you must learn to draw people. Don’t be afraid of messing up; just try it and keep trying it until your results don’t stink.

    For this assignment, set up a mirror and draw yourself. No, don't use a photograph, use a mirror. All drawn? Great! Now add some invented element to your drawing. It could be a crazy hat, or a plate-mail shirt, or a crazy facial tattoo. You can turn yourself into a Klingon, or add faerie wings.

    Whatever you add, the challenge will be to make the imagined elements look like they belong in the drawing. It should look like the entire image was drawn from observation.


    *********Assignment #3: Half-Imagined Environment***********

    This assignment is just like the Self Portrait assignment, except instead of drawing yourself, draw a landscape or interior space. Add in an element from imagination. For instance, you could draw a hallway in your home, but draw in a giant crack across the floor filled with lava. Or draw the buildings along your street, but give them turrets and towers and cannons. Or draw a field with trees, and add a herd of invented animals.

    Once again, the challenge will be to make the imagined elements look like they were observed along with the observed elements.

    Last edited by Seedling; December 15th, 2006 at 11:25 AM.
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    The Use of Photography in Illustration

    There are four ways in which photography can be useful to illustrators: direct copy, inspiration, reference, and inclusion.

    There is a lot of talk on conceptart.org about using photographs as “reference” when what is actually meant is “direct copy”. Since the invention of the camera, many famous artists have made museum-quality art by copying directly from photographs. But what gets overlooked by novice artists is that A. these artists took the photographs themselves, B. these artists already knew how to successfully paint the subject, and C. these artists were in most cases not concept artists.

    Copying photographs is a shortcut for illustrators who have already mastered a subject and who need to hurry. For a novice, a habit of copying photographs is a crutch that will hinder your progress.

    But this does not mean you should never go near a photograph. On the contrary, it is through photographs that we are allowed to see parts of the world that would never be visible to us otherwise. Use photographs for inspiration liberally!

    By “inclusion” I mean using a photograph directly in your art. This applies to collage, and also applies to making photorealistic textures for 3D models. Inclusion isn’t useful to you if you are trying to learn the basic skills necessary to a concept artist.

    And what about that abused word “reference”? Reference doesn’t mean copying. It means using the information contained in an image to better understand a subject. For instance, if you are going to draw a manatee, and you don’t happen to have either a live manatee or model of a manatee on hand. The next thing to do would be to find photographs of manatees, and use those images to gain an understanding of the shape of a manatee in 3D. Using that 3D mental image, you can then draw a manatee from any angle, in any pose.

    ********Assignment #4: Concept Art from Found Photographs****************

    Pick a subject, such as a llama, or an antique car, or a preying mantis. Use either the library or the internet to find photographs of that subject from different angles. Study the subject until you feel that you have a good understanding of it. Then, draw the object from a perspective not used in any of your reference photographs. Refer back to the photos at any time for information you might need, such as the shape of a preying mantis’ leg joints, or the proportions of the car’s wheels to the car’s length.

    ********Assignment #4: Concept Art from Your Own Photographs*************

    For this, you will need a camera.

    Hunt down an interesting subject and photograph it from several angles. Repeat the previous assignment using these photographs that you took yourself.

    If you ever intend to use photographs as a part of your art-making process, then you need to get in the habit of taking your own pictures. The internet is full of pictures of the darndest things, but the quality is often awful – and you do not own the rights to those images. So get yourself a camera and learn the basics of photography.

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    More to come, later. . .

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    Nice, great incentive!

    I gotta tell ya, when i was reading the first post, and saw your name, I was listening to Futurama in the background, and the VERY same second I read your name, Fry introduced Michelle to his unfrozen girlfriend. Made me shiver!

    [url=http://galleryonefone.blogspot.com[/url] This would be my gallery in Sweden

    This would be my Pleine Air blog
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    Many many thanks Seedling, I can tell already this is going to be a truly great thread.

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    Seedling!! You´re great! I´ll take part on this class of yours! Thanks a lot!!

    My website

    Facebook Page

    New CA Sketchbook

    " The scientific and generally accepted-in-art term for this is "You're fuckin' screwed, dude..." " Ilaekae - May 16th, 2009
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    Woot! Thanks guys! I look forward to seeing what you come up with! :-)

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    Art Direction

    There are many myths about art. One of them is that art is a noble solitary endeavor. It is only sometimes noble, and in the context of illustration it’s rarely solitary. Many artists emerge from their education without ever really having confronted the idea that as an illustrator you have to work with other people who will be telling you what to do. The result is an uncomfortable clash of egos, disillusionment for the illustrator, and a headache for the art director.

    So instead of waiting for your first experience with art direction to be an upsetting one, you can try it out now, as a game.


    ***********Assignment #5: the Art Direction Game*************

    Draw something from imagination. It can be any subject whatsoever. Don’t spend any more than about an hour on the drawing. This is about getting an idea down on paper and then iterating on it.

    Got it drawn? Good. Now, you will need a D-20. Or, for those of you not acquainted any of the wonderful geeky games that require 20-sided dice, instead write the numbers one through twenty on scraps of paper and drop them into a hat.

    Now roll the die or draw a number from the hat. Look up that number on the chart below.

    On a fresh sheet of paper, draw the same subject again. But alter it according to the directions below according to the number you picked. Don’t spend any more than an hour on the drawing. Do some research before you start if you do not know what the directions are asking for or if you need to get your thoughts in order.

    Go!

    1. Make it creepy.
    2. Make it in the style of Art Nouveau.
    3. Reduce it to utter simplicity.
    4. Double the number of interesting details.
    5. Redraw it in the style of a Chinese ink painting.
    6. Add foliage.
    7. Add horns, spikes, or other pointy bits.
    8. Replace one of the major elements with something cute.
    9. Replace part with an element of Japanese architecture or culture.
    10. Replace part with an element of African architecture or culture.
    11. Add an element of Gothic architecture.
    12. Draw it again, as if it has been destroyed by something.
    13. Add defensive elements.
    14. Remove the item or character of primary focus, and focus on the secondary elements.
    15. Pick one of the items or characters involved and redraw only that, in detail.
    16. Draw the same subject from a different perspective.
    17. Make it high-tech.
    18. Make it low-tech.
    19. Add a character or creature that interacts with the main object of focus.
    20. Re-arrange the elements of the picture, or draw it in a different pose.

    Try doing another iteration or two on your subject. Or pick a new subject. Or, have a friend write up a new list of twenty instructions for you to test yourself with. Have fun with this.

    Art direction can either be an annoying limitation, or it can be a challenge that gives you opportunity to flex your creative muscles, demonstrate your versatility, and have a bit of fun. The difference between those two states is your attitude.

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    Thumbs up

    Keep up the absolutely wonderful job Seedling, your post has really helped me out!

    I will try to do some of your assignment. Don't excpect much tho, I'm new to this, but hey, we all have to start somewhere, eh?

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    Yeah great thread....Bookmarked.

    I wanted to mention that one of the most famous artists in 19th century art was fond of the then new technology of photographic reference: William Bouguereau!

    ---- -
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    abrahadabra
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    Great thread. Way to go Michelle!

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    E-GADS Seedling another information thread!

    LOL at the d20 idea. Very nice. That's a good idea, even though it makes me giggle. Although I would've put something funny on number 20, like naked ladies or explosions or donuts.

    But, as a semi-serious note. Combining d20 rolls works too. Like 1 + 5 + 7 + 17+ 18....in fact, I'd kinda like to someone do that.

    But I have an idea, if it's alright to share.
    A friend of mine cooked this up one day. Create a list of "jobs" or qualities or types, whatever it may be. He did like Knight, Pirate, Ninja, Dragoon, Undead, Long Range, Samurai...and I think Dark. So, you take this list and draw them all on their own and then combine them together, and draw all the combinations. So he would have: Knight, Pirate-Knight, Ninja-Knight, Dragoon-Knight, Undead-Knight, Long Range-Knight, Samurai-Knight, and Dark-Knight.

    But there isn't a rule that it has to be jobs like Knight or Samurai, it could be anything. Mixes of cultures (Greek, Egypt, Chinese, Raver, Heavy Metal, etc. I acutally do Greek+Heavy Metal alot). You could personify color then mix them, so who/what would Green be and who/what would result as a mix with Red. Come up with races of aliens and become a mad, art, geneticist and combine them. Fun, crazy, and sometimes, strangely sexy.

    Have this been said before, I kinda got a feeling of Deja Vu...
    Well, if it has been said, it was said again.

    Great thread!

    Last edited by Beonarri; November 5th, 2006 at 11:17 PM.
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    Great thread. Thank you for your excellent efforts to educate on professional level art.
    I'll be attempting these excersise.

    LadyHydralisk:

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    What wonderful info and tasks, a great read and for sure I ll try that out!!

    Great job and much appreciated. Whats more ---- you care heheheh!

    Cheers!!

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    I wish somebody would hand you the powers of a mod. as reward for all of your effort.
    Great info, thx a lot
    (although I'm still waiting for the Salary part, he he)

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    this thread is the bomb. it answers all the questions that have been in the back of my mind for ages, and is helping me on from where I am stuck right now!
    cheers, n.

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    Thanks everyone! I'll keep adding more when I can.

    Quote Originally Posted by blacky
    I wish somebody would hand you the powers of a mod.
    Haha! No thanks. I have all the power I want. ;-)

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    Seedling, what was the link to the assignments thread you started? I had done one of your assignments a few weeks ago and I wanted to post it up.

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    thanks for this new thread seedling....i finished the first assignment today and will try to do another one tomorrow.....maybe during class. this stuff is great to practice one's traditional drawing skills and can be accomplished in a short amount of time....really nice stuff

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    this is awesome, exactly what will help me along, i cant even talk haha, thanks again! subscribed!

    Do not, ever, under any circumstances, not have fun.


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    Perspective, From the Beginning

    You’ve probably tried some basic perspective by now – you started with a cube, and perhaps you went from there to a street scene or a castle. And at least one person has told you that you’ve got the perspective wrong. It’s hard. How do you get from a basic understanding of perspective to the point where you can sketch out a complex scene with accuracy and ease?

    Let’s go back to that cube and do it a step at a time.

    (Need to learn the basics of perspective? Try Perspective 101.)



    ***********Assignment #6: Cube Contortionism*************

    Draw two or three cubes sitting on a plane. Each cube should use two-point perspective, and just to keep things fun, none of those cubes should use the perspective point used by another cube. In other words, whoever left these cubes lying on the living-room floor didn’t line them up neatly.

    Don’t do any shading just yet. Focus on getting the perspective points at the right distances from one-another to make your cubes look like proper cubes, and not like funky rectangles.

    Once your cubes look like cubes, subtract rectangular pieces from one of them. Make it look like the Borg’s version of Swiss cheese. Make sure every hole is drawn properly in perspective.

    To the second cube, try adding rectangular extensions. To the third, try whatever you like.

    Then draw a sun into the sky and use it to cast shadows from your abused cubes. See if you can get the shapes of the shadows on the ground to be shaped accurately. No blob shadows allowed.

    I know, it’s not as exciting as a full city-scape with flying cars, but you’ll get there. . .



    ***********Assignment #7: Cube in 3D*************

    Draw another cube using two- or three- point perspective. Add some rectangular holes and extensions to it. Keep it simple, and don’t fuss with shading. Now, on the same page, draw the same cube again, but rotated around to another position.

    Are you familiar with 3D modeling programs? The way they work is that in the center of the 3D space is your model. The virtual camera that you look through to see the model gets rotated around, so that you can see the model from all sides.

    With this exercise, I want you to do the same thing in your head. Build a mental image of your cube-shape. Understand how it exists, not in two dimensions, but three. Then, use your sketchbook to capture what you imagine.

    The drawing isn’t the important part of this process. The important part is holding a 3D image in your mind, and using your paper and pencil to communicate that shape.

    This is what concept artists do when drawing characters, environments, and other things destined to exist in 3D.

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    Last edited by Seedling; October 18th, 2007 at 10:11 AM.
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  34. #24
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    Thanks for the nice comments, everyone! I’ll just keep adding stuff here as it comes to me. Feel free to make requests or throw fruit.

    The first person brave enough to share their efforts gets a cookie! Or a beer, if you’re old enough. :-)

    Azurathus – Not only does everyone have to start somewhere, but I’m fairly certain everyone has to start at the beginning. ;-)
    LadyHydralisk – glad to be of service! I will have to study up on Bouguereau one of these days.
    Justin O. – Thanks. :-)
    Beonarri – If you would like to make up an alternative d-20 list and post it here, I think that would be spiffy.
    HunterKiller – Thanks!
    Mike C - :-) I’ve discovered “late” in life that I love to teach. I don’t think I could do it in front of a classroom. This is about the most perfect setting I could ask for.
    Fooxoo – I care very much, and I love being able to share what I’ve learned. :-)
    Blacky – Salary? Heehe. . . if you want info on what concept artists get paid, you’d better ask an actual concept artist.
    O D T – oh goody!
    Thaelys – it’s in my sig. . . I look forward to seeing what you’ve made!
    Tec – rock on! *happy dance*
    Jdeegz – aww, thanks. :-)

    I think you are awesome, and I wish you the best in your endeavors, but I am tired of repeating myself, I am very busy with my new baby, and I am no longer a regular participant here, so please do not contact me to ask for advice on your career or education. All of the advice that I have to offer can already be found in the following links. Thank you.

    Perspective 101, Concept Art 101, Games Industry info,Oil Paint info, Acrylic Paint info, my sketchbook.
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  36. #25
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    as a tattoo artist i think these excersizes could help anyone and everyone that has anything to do with art . im doing the perspective stuff tomorrow if its slow at the tattoo shop

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  37. #26
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    sankyuu! *bookmarks*

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  38. #27
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    Great thread Seedling. You can postmark that imperial pint of Guinness to New York

    Anyways, I started sketching this but then the bulb on my scanner blew out, so I had to use photoshop. Which I just basically started using to paint, so please excuse my noobieness. I learned tons about painting, composing a single object, and I realized the more my technique improves, the more free my imagination becomes. Thank you for this opportunity.

    First I painted up a Ficus bonsai I picked up from Walmart, then I did the alien planet version. All crits more than welcome. Thanks!

    Last edited by max xiantu; February 20th, 2007 at 10:59 AM.
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  39. #28
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    Seedling, that's the game thread you have in your sig. Didn't you make a seperate one a while back, just for assignments?

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  40. #29
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    Wow, great thread How could I have missed this?

    I might give some of your assignments a shot. But I should probably start by reading it all lol.

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  41. #30
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    W00T! Max, the beer's in the mail! :-)

    Thaelys - Oh, you mean the practice thread that I keep forgetting to check back to? ;-)

    Pesmerga - It's new and easily overlooked. ;-) Thanks!

    I think you are awesome, and I wish you the best in your endeavors, but I am tired of repeating myself, I am very busy with my new baby, and I am no longer a regular participant here, so please do not contact me to ask for advice on your career or education. All of the advice that I have to offer can already be found in the following links. Thank you.

    Perspective 101, Concept Art 101, Games Industry info,Oil Paint info, Acrylic Paint info, my sketchbook.
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