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.
Last edited by Seedling; July 10th, 2007 at 12:47 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.