A follow up Q&A to my lecture notes

Posted: January 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

“One thing I have encountered recently, is that sometimes with gaming studios-particular with concept art, is that there is a discrepancy in the artist’s I guess you could say “natural” style, or whatever the visual language it is they revert back to when doing personal work, and the different visual styles used to create a game. I’ll often see job postings asking for artists able to work in a number of different styles, from cartoon, to realistic, to photographic.”

I want to contract an artist whose style fits the product I’m art directing.  If you’re looking to get hired by a studio that says, “We want you to be versatile in style”, allot of the time they’re asking you to be a “wrist”.  I stole that term from a friend of mine that is a comic book artist and a professor.   Being a, “Wrist”, means that you’re an extension of someone else’s mind that either doesn’t know how to draw or for a studio that is trying to stretch their dollar and use you for multiple projects covering multiple genres.  This isn’t a bad thing!  If you’re not open to the idea of working in different styles/genres the odds are that you wont be submitting a portfolio that demonstrates your passion for the work or submitting a portfolio to the studio that’s asking for that.  Being versatile can be a good thing to break the monotony or it can be a bad thing if you’d rather be working 24/7 on a specific style of project.

In most cases you’ll be submitting a portfolio that should be geared towards working for company X on license X and hopefully, working for someone that empowers you to inject a bit of your own flair into the work.  When working on an established property this can be a bit challenging for both you and your Art Director.  In addition, if you’re a professional freelancer and demonstrate a knack for working on a certain type of property it will show in your work.  I’d rather work with people that exhibit a propensity to work in the style of genre I’m hiring for.

On the concept art end; Everyone wants to be a concept artist.  This means that your competition is extremely tough.  If you’re not as good as concept artist X you’re going to have a hard time breaking in doing that particular job.  Odds are that you’ll break in as a texture artist and slowly gain recognition for the work you’re doing in your sketch book and dedicating to your artistic development.  Several professional concept artists I know can speak to this.  One way to think of it is that it’s a dream gig for most artists because they’re only required to be a specialist in one aspect of illustration/design.  In many cases a great environment artist might not be as good with characters.  In the reverse a great character artist may not be very good with environments.  In order to diversify it’s best to work on tying the 2 together and seeking work as an illustrator.  In either case it’s important to focus on basic foundation skills.

  • Anatomy
  • Perspective
  • Composition
  • Value
  • Color

“I know that for freelance illustration it seems to be best to have a consistent look to your work, or to have separate portfolios- but I wonder what your take is on that for a concept artist, in particular I guess one who would be interested in a studio job. Should he/she have a variety of work on their website, and then perhaps submit a more tailored and specific portfolio to potential clients?”

On your personal website it’s totally cool to separate your work by genre.  As I said before, please make it easy to navigate  your site and look at the portions of you work that interest me the most.  If you have a break down that covers a couple of different genres like concept art, illustration, (and/or) 3D break them down by specialty.  Make it as easy as possible for someone to navigate straight to the work they are interested in.

“Also I was hoping you might elaborate on one other point, which is keeping in contact with your artist multiple times a week during a job. Generally when I have worked with clients there is a lot of conversation at the start of a job especially when working through initial stages of thumbnails, to sketches, and, if necessary color comps. However once the final sketch is approved, I find that there is generally a period of silence until a final is ready to be submitted. Personally I wouldn’t submit works in progress unless asked to by the AD, because there can be some pretty ugly stages and I wouldn’t want to scare them off!”

Drop me a line once a week.  Let me know where you’re at and if you’re struggling with anything.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Empower me to work with you and help you through artistic road blocks.  I’ve been there!  If you’re too proud to ask for help you’re setting yourself up for a very frustrating time inside the industry for both you and your boss.

“What would you like to see when communicating with an artist during a job?”

Off the bat, I have to say that I’m far from perfect and find myself having trouble sending out e-mails to everyone I’m working with weekly.  From my end, I appreciate an artist dropping me a line letting me know where they’re at.  When I get the chance to review progress I tend to get a bit concerned when an artist has not communicated with me since week 2 of a 4-5 week deadline. I’ve had artists bail on work 1 week before deadline and in these circumstances it has forced me to re-contract work.  That means the follow up artist has significantly less time and, more times often than not, the end product will not be as strong.

When an artist neglects to tell me that they can’t deliver within a week of a deadline, it means that the book doesn’t go to press on time.  The domino effect is that the product is on market a full week less and generates less revenue during the fiscal year. If you use deductive reasoning the end result is far from ideal.

After working on both ends, I found it hard to work on more than 3 different assignments at once.  As an AD working with 20+ artists and managing other internal e-mails and responsibilities is not easy.  At my peak I was managing 47 artists over 3 product lines and I will NEVER do that again.  My max comfort level is around 30 (where all I’m doing is managing those artists and don’t have to do extra graphic design work, concept art, or mid-level management things) .  I hope that helps!

If there are any other questions, comments, or concerns, don’t hesitate to drop me a line!



  1. Ty Carey says:

    I’m really enjoying reading your thoughts on these matters, Mike. I’ve a lot of years under my belt looking and reviewing art folios, but it’s always good to read such well observed and elequent points from another art director.

    Being a ‘wrist’ is an interesting term, and I thought I’d extrapolate on that area. Versatility is something a small-mid size studio really looks for in a concept artist. Being able to draw most subject matter competently is a given; being able to adapt your style to suit different art direction, and the different needs of a game design, is the real talent they’re after from a full-time concept artist. This is simply because each project may have a very different look from the last, or that the game pitches you’re working on may target different audiences. If a studio is going to pay a full time wage to a concept artist they’ll expect this ability to some degree; otherwise they’d simply hire concept artists on a contract basis to illustrate the games that suit their style.

    It sounds like a huge ask to adapt your style – but with adequate and insightful art direction (as you should get when working in-house) it takes the edge off. We expect that production artists alter their texturing styles to suit a certain license, so it’s not out of the question to expect the concept artists do the same – to some degree.

    Keep up the posts Mate!

  2. Mateja says:

    Hi Mike,

    great advices.
    Also i like those mecha designs.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s