Mentorship and Studios

Posted: August 13, 2010 in Uncategorized

Wow, 2 posts in 1 week, that must mean I get to take several months off now?;) I’m actually scheduling time to work on the blog regularly (3 days a week). Regardless, before I head out again for another weekend adventure I wanted to touch on a couple of subjects. One I find dear to my heart, another I’m in a tumultuous relationship with.


Artists, Art Directors, Writers, Editors, Electricians, EVERYONE should have a mentor. Mentors are people that can offer you sage like advice with work related issues and sometimes with personal issues.  I have been a mentor both during my time on active duty and to some artists I’ve worked with. It is a truly rewarding experience. For all you artists out there, having a mentor will help you navigate the muddy waters of freelance and take your skills to the next level. Does anyone out there know of sites that hook up folks with mentors? Does Art Order have anything like that or does anyone know if that might be an option coming down the pipe?

So that said, I started this blog by request with the idea that I have something to contribute to the professional and amateur artists out there that want to work in games. If no one asks questions, I’m just going to run my mouth and that’s not necessarily a good thing! So if you have questions, I may not always have the answer but I sure as heck know people that will have it. 🙂


I have worked with several studios and have had both good and bad experiences.  I absolutely love the idea of studio’s as a whole but there are some things that are sticking points to me being willing to give a studio a shot. A few AD’s I’ve talked to from different companies have told me that they refuse to work with studio’s because of bad experiences. So Studio guys/gals, I’m going to shed some light on what would make you more approachable and leave clients more satisfied.

  • “I’m a dude disguised as a dude playing another dude”. I’m an Art Director trying to art direct an Art Director… anyone else see a problem with this picture? Put me in direct contact with your artist, allow me to approve the artist you’ve set to work on the art I’m contracting your studio for.
  • Don’t give me your 3rd stringer whose work didn’t make the studio portfolio.  Furthermore, if the artists can’t do work that’s a part of the studio portfolio, why is he/she a part of your studio to begin with?  I want to credit your artist individually for their work. I started something with our core book that most companies don’t by putting the artists name and the page number of the work in the credits.  So if you turn in great work, all the people out there will know your name!:)  On the flip side, if you turn in bad work they’ll know your name for not so good reasons. 😦  The idea I want to get across here is that if I get to work with your artist directly, have a great experience, credit them for their work and put your studio name in there it becomes a win win.
  • Show me you care about who works on my property. I’ve heard from studio insiders that that my assignments are being thrown around on an internal forum so any freelancer you have can take the job. If I wanted to do that I’d go to once a month in advance and put up a recruiting post and roll the dice.
  • Please read the briefs in their entirety and ask questions for clarification. I think this speaks for itself. If you’re unclear about something, ask. I like to give artists some freedom in thumbnail to have fun with composition and not have to focus on details until later stages. I am considering changing this policy. The biggie is that if you don’t use the reference/inspiration folders I send you and the final piece doesn’t look like it belongs in the setting, we will have a major problem.

PARTING WORDS: (I feel like Springer)

It’s not the AD’s or other artists you should really be concerned about, it’s the fans. Those are the people you need to impress. You were once a fan too, otherwise you wouldn’t be in this industry. My parents always told me, “Do what you love. As long as you’re happy doing what you’re doing that’s half of life.” Money isn’t everything, it helps, but it’s knowing that the work I produce reaches thousands of people (sometimes tens of thousands) and they like what I’m doing, that’s what makes a difference to me. If you’re only in it for the money, it’s going to show in your work. If I get to choose between an artist who’s fired up to do the work and a studio that’s only in it for the money… I’m going to choose the individual artist every time so, “Don’t be that guy”.  HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND EVERYONE!

Next Post: Mistakes I’ve made as an AD and Artists work that’s on my mind right now! YAY EYE CANDY!!!!

  1. Mentorship is such an important issue. I owe much of my career and it’s successes to the folks that helped mold, nourish, and guide me in my fledgling state, and in all the years since. I’ve tried to address the issue at ArtOrder, but it is a tough nut to crack. Most artists declare that they are overwhelmed just dealing with their own lives. The forums in the ArtOrder community off a very limited mentoring possibility, but it is spotty and limited at best. I have started to see a few groups that have sprung up where like-minded artists are joining together to help support one another (much like the old Art Dog community did in years past). Again, good starts but it lacks the mentorship aspect.

    I wish there were a “Mentor” website out there…kinda like an eHarmony for mentors. You create your profile, and you are matched up with a mentor/student. A cool idea, but it’ll require everyone getting outta themselves for a while and giving of themselves with no regard for what they get out of it…

    That is partly the reason I started ArtOrder. A chance to give back. I’m glad to see that you are looking to give back as well. I know you have lots of stuff to share.


  2. Personally I think mentorship can be tricky- it requires people on both ends of the bargain to not be shy and willing to jump in and get to know each other, give advice, and ask for advice, and not feel like its a lopsided friendship. And, I think as Jon mentioned, a lot of times people get into a mode of feeling too busy where its too difficult to take the time out to meet new people.

    What I think is great is how I am starting to see some of the Art Directors (like you and Jon) jumping out and engaging the community beyond just the internal group of illustrators who are already working for you. It’s incredibly helpful as an illustrator to see what ADs like and don’t like to see in work, portfolios, the work process, and hopefully it will help you guys see better art and AD/Illustrator relations down the road.

    I think what you have to say about studios seems to apply to individuals as well, although in that case I suppose you have more control over which artist you are hiring. But I agree that making sure that artists want to work on your property is very conductive to have a good end product (although I think the artist should take responsibility for this too, and not submit work if its not something they want to work on!)

    I’m looking forward to seeing the artists you’re going to share!

    • I know that Jon, like other AD’s I’ve talked to, all are looking for different things. The hard part is figuring out what each AD is looking for since we all have different tastes. I never had a mentor or really had anyone show me the ropes with Art Direction so I’ve been figuring out things as I go. If anything I think that by sharing the things I’m learning, in many cases as trial by fire, might help out other folks that are going through similar things in their work. Thanks for dropping me a line and for checking out the blog!:)

  3. Mdvaillancourt,

    As I’m sure you’re aware, this isn’t just an issue that affects the game industry, but the video game industry, the vfx industry, and the entertainment industry as a whole.

    The days of “he took me under his wing, helped me to improve, helped me get a job” are GONE. I’ve tried my best to connect with other artists, I’ve made friends and received help through critiques, but this pales in comparison to the amount of improvement I could make if I had a mentor. I’ve contacted several artists about getting mentorship, and I’ve even offered to pay a few times. The answer has always been I’m too busy, or no reply at all.

    Actually, the mentorship days might not be gone, but it’s rare that I find out about someone who has been mentored by a bigger artist. Here’s an example though: another matte painter has become a rising star and worked on dozens of feature films in a period of only a few years has attributed his rise to the mentorship he’s received by one of the most famous matte painters in the world.

    I’m not an award winning artist yet, or a feature film matte painter, but over the course of 3 years I’ve learned a lot and I try to share everything I can through my blog: and my new podcast No matter what level you’re at it doesn’t hurt to share what you can.

    I always make myself available to my friends to try to critique their work and sometimes provide paintovers. So I wonder, why do I have so much trouble finding someone who will consistently do the same for me?

    From my perspective there’s a lot of disparity going on in the artworld. Senior artists who move on to become art directors (i’m talking about the video game and film industry here…not the “games” industry You and Jon S. work in) want top talent, but aren’t willing to mentor artists to make them into top talent.

    I might sound very over-negative about this subject, I’m not trying to be. I know that eventually I’ll become a very talented artist, I just know that mentorship could speed this up.

  4. Hey Michael. It seems that the problem with studios is that it depends on more than one person’s motivation and even when the motivation is high, it’s not created from passion, but from ambition. The quality of the finished work may be the same, but the result isn’t, and it may be seen.

    About mentoring – I never had the opportunity to be mentored. There is a section on dedicated to mentoring, but very few artists volunteer to mentor, and those who do have too many students under their wing to accept or mentor adequately any more. I try to be as helpful as I can to everyone who asks for help, but that was never consistent or sparkled a formal mentoring relationship.

  5. […] while back I wrote a little about mentoring, and recently Mike Vaillancourt wrote about the subject as well on his blog. Mentorship is such an important part of my past, and I […]

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