We all want to have a lucrative, powerful and meaningful career. Some people like sciences, other public relations, or marketing, business, etc… But there is also another kind of people, which are more about creativity and artistic development. If you are one of these people, becoming a concept artist can be a very good idea. It will enable you to harness your creativity, all while having a lucrative career that also pays well. But the main challenge for a lot of people is figuring out how they can become a concept artist in the first place.
Next, I will list one by one the steps you gotta follow to become a professional concept artist.
So, How you become a concept artist
- Learn drawing fundamentals.
- Learn about color theory and digital painting.
- Learn about design principles and production pipeline.
- Decide which style are you more comfortable with.
- Focus on the type of concept art you like the most.
- Build a Professional Portfolio
- Reach out to other artists and network with them.
- Send your portfolio to different studios every few months.
We will analyze each of those steps more in depth in this article, but first let’s speak about some interesting facts.
Why I know this is the best way to become a concept artist
I´ve been a concept artist for almost 10 years, and before working as a full-time professional I worked 2 years as a part-time freelance concept artist and illustrator. I´ve been in the trenches and I understand very well how difficult can be to land your first job in the entertainment industry.
The reality is that it can take a lot of time to master this job, just like any other one out there. You can try to become a concept artist even if you have limited design experience. However, the lack of any design experience is the dealbreaker here, so you want to improve your design skills before you pursue this path.
Why is that? For starters, you need to be very good at creating concepts, and that means no one will wait for you to spend days on a single concept art. Your employers will want you to deliver the final product as quickly as possible. And let’s face it, you can’t do that as a newcomer. You do need to test and improve your design skills as quickly as you can if you want to pursue this job.
WHAT WILL YOU DO AS A CONCEPT ARTIST?
The concept artist job is quite refreshing and full of creativity. You will most likely have to work in the entertainment industry. But you may have to wonder who really needs concepts. Well, it depends on a variety of factors. Video game companies, movie creators and digital entertainment companies, in general, need a concept artist. It’s the type of job that will always require some new and fresh ideas from you.
Concepts are used by these companies in order to create game worlds, movie sets and so on. While they don’t need to be entirely accurate, you are expected to create concepts that can be used as the primary inspiration for video game creators and movie directors. And while you will have some indication as to what your clients expect, you have to realize that it will take quite some time until you reach the results that you expect. It’s well worth the effort, especially if you’re the type of person that’s creative and which never goes down from a challenge.
SHOULD YOU START YOUNG
Just because you feel that it’s too late, that doesn’t mean it’s true. In fact, you can become a concept artist at any given time during your life. I know this very well, in 2007 at the age of 29 I took the decision of changing career paths and I spent the next 2 years practicing my drawing and digital painting skills like a mad man. 2 years later I started working as a part-time freelance artist. In 2012, 4 years into my concept art journey I landed my first full-time job as concept artist in a video game studio.
Even adults can become concept artists, there’s always the option to do that. As long as you are a creative person, with a passion for drawing and painting, and you always push the boundaries in what you do, the results can be more than impressive. Sure, it’s hard to find the best solutions and to pursue your dreams no matter what happens. Even if it may end up feeling late at one point, that doesn’t mean it’s true. If you follow your heart and focus on your dreams, nothing can stand in your way.
Now, let’s analyze the steps we mentioned in the beginning.
It all comes down to having a good understanding of anatomy, perspective, and fundamental composition principles.
It’s also a really good idea to draw from life. The focus here has to be on making your own artistic vision and then you have to bring that to reality. While it does seem a bit challenging and sometimes even boring, it’s also the type of approach that can do wonders for you most of the time.
Learn how to measure objects, how to transpose those measurements into your designs and so on. Creating your own vision based on what you see is a priority. But as we mentioned above, learning from what other people say and how they describe things can also be handy. Life drawing is, however, one of the best ways to practice as you prepare for the concept artist jobs.
My main goal with this blog is to provide you with some valuable knowledge that will help you on your journey. If you are starting you can check my article on “How to draw the human body”. This tutorial will guide you on the basics on how to draw a human body from the 3/4 view, which is the most common view for creating character concept art.
If you are more advanced I have other tutorials like “How to draw a Space Marine” where you will learn not only how to draw a heroic figure, you will also learn on how to dress a character in an armor. For drawing characters in dynamic posses my tutorial on “How to draw Batman” will help you in that matter.
If you are interested in more drawing tutorials you can visit our Drawing Tutorials Section.
Meanwhile, you are developing your drawing skills is imperative you start learning about how to use light to create volume and depth. This is known as value. Once you understand how light works, you need to understand color theory and how it works using complementary colors.
Because of the nature of the job, knowledge of digital tools like Photoshop is mandatory if you wanna become a professional concept artist. For some projects, especially in the film industry, concept artist need to know also 3D programs like 3DS Max, ZBrush or Blender.
In case you want to read about being a concept artist and how to get started, Scott Robertson wrote a series of books named “How To Draw” which are very good for you. I will recommend the book called “How to Render” (clicking here you can find it on Amazon), where he explains you in detail how light and reflectivity works over different surfaces. This is a key factor when trying to paint all sorts of materials( skin, leather, metal, etc…)
“Color and Light” is another great book by James Gurney. The book has awesome tips and tricks on how to make your paintings more appealing to the viewer. How to place the light sources better in order to accent the drama of the scene, how to structure your compositions to create a clear focus of attention and how to manipulate your values to achieve more depth and balance in your paintings. All this artistic observation is done from a rational and sometimes almost scientific approach. If you are interested in the book you can check it in Amazon clicking here.
If you are thinking about learning from an online school, you have several options online. Let’s analyze them and check the possibilities.
ONLINE ART SCHOOLS
When it comes to art schools, you have several options out there. I wrote an in-depth article about The Best online Art Schools, feel free to check it.
The thing to note in this situation is that not all of these schools are accredited, so you may get good results from some of them, bad results from others. You have to figure out which one works for you, so try to keep that in mind if possible.
Ideally, you want to take your time and see what works for you from a design standpoint. Of course, you can still go to online schools for designers. You will notice that these online schools are actually more affordable than other options out there. Sure, it all comes down to personal preference, but most of the time these will end up being the better way to acquire design skills. It’s certainly not the ideal thing to do, but it can do wonders, and that’s exactly what you want.
CG Spectrum or CGMA are good examples of online schools with great instructors that even use live chat. But if you are looking for affordable alternatives Udemy and Skillshare can be good alternatives, especially if you are a beginner on a budget. If you are interested in learning which courses from these platforms are the best, in my opinion, you can check my article about “The Best 11 online art courses if you are on a budget”.
You can also go to free sources like ConceptArt.org and also visit Subreddits on Reddit that pertain to art.
It doesn’t matter how you choose to learn; the idea is to focus on doing it the right way. It’s certainly not going to be a walk in the park. But while it does have its challenges, being a concept artist can indeed pay off a lot. It’s a wonderful opportunity and one that you will end up enjoying a lot in the long run.
To become a proficient concept artist you will need to acquire the habits of an industrial designer. In reality, a concept artist is more designer than artist. You will work in a production chain where you will provide designs and ideas to the production team.
Knowing about the language of shapes and volumes and how to use this knowledge for creating interesting designs, will be a key factor in order to become a successful concept artist. Understanding which shapes are more suitable for certain designs will make your artwork more appealing to the viewer. Let´s see an example
- If you are designing an attack vehicle, like a space ship, and you want to convey the idea of aggression and danger, your vehicle should have the triangle as it ?s main shape. Triangles are used to represent danger in our society, like in traffic signs for example, but also in nature, like the shark’s fin and head.
Once you understand the psychological meaning of each shape and how to combine them you will be able to create outstanding and innovative designs.
Another aspect you should become very familiar with is the concept art pipeline or production pipeline. This pipeline exists for 2 reasons:
- To make sure there are certain steps an artist should follow in order to produce the best design possible.
- Also to give the possibility to an art director or producer to validate each step of the production, allowing them to have a clear view of the whole process and the ability to intervene early on, in case the artist is deviating from the original idea.
This process can vary depending on which company or studio are you working on, but in general it will include several, if not all, of the next steps:
- Thumbnailing. Is the first step, and the artist usually creates simple thumbnails to provide lots of quick ideas regarding the main shapes and volumes of the character, item or environment need it.
- Sketching. Once the concept artist knows which thumbnail is the chosen one, he or she will move forward polishing the thumbnail, defining and detailing it. The goal here is to have a first glance on how the final design should look.
- If the sketch gets validated by the management, then the concept artist will create several variations of the sketch, exploring new shapes and ideas. The concept artist will keep the original sketch as the base design and will explore newer ideas trying to make them fit this original design.
- Rendering. Applying color to the design will be the final step in the process. Sometimes management will ask for several color tests to ensure the color palette chosen, for the final art, is the right one.
Regarding the style, I always encourage the new artist to learn and practice realism. Not because I want everybody to pursue this style. To be able to draw a realistic figure gives you a basic understanding of the rules of nature and proportion. With this knowledge is way more easy to develop and pursue other styles, like semi-realism, manga or all the different types of cartoon. I’ve been always a big fan of this quote “ For breaking the rules before you need to know them”. Picture the realistic style as the rule or standard and the other styles as ways of bending this rule.
If you like cartoon or manga from the get-go, you can pursue this style from the beginning, but leave some room for practice using real models and real-life scenarios and assets.
Once you have a good knowledge of the basic drawing and painting principles you can follow the style you are more comfortable with and vary your designs. You can try to draw characters, vehicles, environments and so on. Also, you won’t be restricted to a certain item. The only thing is you just have to make sure that you always try something different. As long as you practice often, you will be able to master the fundamentals in no time. Yes, it’s not going to be a walk in the park, but with enough focus and commitment, you will be able to improve your skills. From here to become a good concept artist, it will be one simple step.
With time you will discover in which areas you feel more comfortable and which are less interesting or at least not as easy to grasp. Some concept artist focus on character design, others on environments or even vehicles are weapons. You will need to be knowledgeable and proficient in both 3, but most probably you will excel in one or two, and who knows maybe in all three. Employers will hire you based on their needs, if their projects need tons of environment design they will look for somebody who excels in this area. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that you will not have to do some character or vehicle design if necessary. This is why I’m telling you to become a versatile artist.
The life of a concept artist starts with the stuff that he or she creates. If you want to get hired as a concept artist, then you need to show off samples of your work everywhere you can. Ideally, you want to make sure that you create a great portfolio with all the information you need. It’s very important to create various types of concepts, so people can see that you have no problem with any topic.
If you just focus on concept cars, for example, those that see these concepts will believe that you are focused solely on cars. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you have to show that you can handle some other stuff too.
Aside from having a blog or website where you can add these things, also try to join a variety of art communities online. From DeviantArt to WetCanvas, Pinterest, CGSociety, Pixiv, and ArtStation. These are places where you can showcase your art. Plus, Reddit will also be a good place where you can get unbiased opinions from other artists. The best way to improve is to practice as much as you can. Even if it feels hard to do at first, you always have to try and push your boundaries to reach the next level. Of course, it can feel challenging and cumbersome at times. But being a good concept artist does require a lot of work and commitment. Yet it’s something that you can do if you have the right focus and you know exactly what you want from your career.
Is always advisable to seek the opinion and help of professional artists who are already working in the industry. Try to find artists that inspire you and try to ask for their opinion regarding your art. Listen to them carefully, accept their opinions and critiques and try to use their knowledge in order to get better in your craft. Sometimes their opinions will force you to do things that will take you out of your comfort zone. Is in those cases, where you will need to use all your will power, but I can almost guarantee you if you are persistent and follow their advice you will become a better artist.
In the last years I´ve been teaching concept art classes in a Video Games Bachelor Degree, and I can say without a doubt the difference between successful students and the ones who are not improving their skills, is not the hours of work, is their willingness to step out of their comfort zone and try to do things different from what they are used to.
It will probably take you a few years of practice and study to become a professional artist. During this time is good that you send every 4 to 6 months your portfolio to different studios and companies. In the beginning they will ignore you almost completely, but don´t worry just keep coming back to them sending new material and showcasing your latest creations so they can see your improvements.
Also, doing this will make your name known around and recruiters and art directors will get familiar with you and your art. Eventually you will become good enough that they will consider you when a new job opening appears.
Being persistent and don’t stop following your dream, of becoming a concept artist, after the first rejection is the toughest moment for an aspiring artist. If you can overcome this feeling of defeat and you can focus yourself on achieving your goal, success is almost a matter of effort and time.
USEFUL TIPS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Here you have some tips and recommendations regarding choosing the right equipment and ways of improving your art skills.
PURCHASE THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT
Becoming a concept designer is not that hard as long as you have the best equipment pieces. What you have to notice about this is you do need a good starting point and a proper budget. Even if you are a beginner, you still need to purchase some high-quality products. After all, they will last for a lot more time, and in the end, that’s the thing you need to consider.
Nowadays concept art is all done in digital. You will need a program like Photoshop ( which is the industry standard every studio has it) or one of its many alternatives, but remember if your goal is to work on a studio you will need to know Photoshop for sure.
Drawing tablets like the ones from Wacom are great too because they are specifically created for drawing, and thus they can deliver much better results when compared to other products. Nowadays we have a wide range of options depending on your budget and your needs. Here I’m leaving you a list of tablets that I recommend or use it myself:
Wacom Intuos Bluetooth, Small Black wireless graphics tablet, with 2 free creative software downloads, Corel Painter Essentials, Clip Studio Paint Pro or Corel Aftershot. Is an affordable tablet for beginners who want to test the waters. If you are interested here is the link to the tablet on Amazon.
Following this Wacom tablet, we can enter the realm of the display tablets. The first option will be the Huion KAMVAS GT-191 Drawing Tablet with HD Screen. Is a 19.5 Inch screen tablet. More than enough if it’s your first display tablet. Is not a perfect device but the price is quite good and you are paying for what you are getting. Here you have the link to Amazon where you can find the tablet.
If you want a higher quality display tablet on a budget you have the Huion Huion KAMVAS PRO 22 HD Pen Display Tablet Monitor Graphics Drawing Monitor. The Screen has 8192 levels of pen pressure sensitivity and 10 Shortcut Keys. Here is the link to the tablet in Amazon.
Wacom Cintiq Pro 24 Creative Pen Display – 4K graphic drawing monitor with 8192 pen pressure and 99% Adobe RGB. This is the tablet I use at work. It has its pros and its cons. On the good side, I like the quality of materials and how solid it is compared to other similar devices like the Yiyinova’s or Ugees, which are built weaker, especially the stand and the screen. On the bad side, it has a little bit of parallax but is not a deal breaker in my opinion. Here is the link to the tablet in Amazon.
If you are interested in a display tablet but you are on a budget, you should read my review of the XP-Pen Artist tablet. There you will be able to read my personal experience and a couple of my student’s opinions too, regarding the tablet.
Also, you may want to get some accessories such as extra styluses. But if you go with a tablet, you receive most of the stuff you need in its package.
TIPS TO IMPROVE YOUR CONCEPT ARTIST SKILLS
Try to sketch thumbnails. These won’t eat up a ton of time, but they are perfect when it comes to testing your skills. Plus, you will be able to put your ideas into practice as you try to figure out what you like to design the most. Make sure that you avoid being too critical of your design. As we said earlier, practice makes perfect, and that’s the thing that you want to focus on here.
Pick a large canvas to work on. This will be great especially if you use a digital program or a tablet.
Keep a sketch blog. Is a good idea to use some traditional mediums for practice too. Ideally, you want to use pencils to define shapes. You can start with a shape and then go from there. It’s a good idea to try and vary designs as much as you can. This will make the design process a lot more intuitive and interesting. Plus, you can use multiple pencils until you get the right stuff.
Add some more details to your concept art. Don’t leave it barebones. Even if it’s a concept, it can be detailed. If anything, it will showcase your artistic prowess, and you want to build off that as much as you can. And even if it seems hard to do that, don’t rush. Taking your time to create the perfect concept art is a lot better than just churning through multiple designs and not having one that you enjoy.
With this being said, also remember to not overkill your paintings with unnecessary details everywhere. Try to keep a balance. Add the details to the interesting parts and focus areas.
Start using value ( greyscale) to define the lights and shadows properly. When your values are correct you can add the color on top. You can use different layer modes like ”Color Mode”, ”Multiply”, ”Overlay”, etc…
Don’t forget to adjust colors. You can always try to experiment with new types of colors in your concept art. The idea is to try and see what works for you and what you like to work with the most. Some people will like that a lot, others not so much. But you should always experiment in order to pick the right set of options.
There are no written rules in regards to what you should do as a concept artist. Some people will get to make it a lot faster than others. But there will be cases when some persons will have a very hard time completing tasks and challenges that come with this specific line of work. Basically, you need to be ready to put a lot of work into something like this. It’s a very demanding field, and it can definitely come with its fair share of challenges. But while it’s tricky, it can also be quite rewarding.
In conclusion, there are lots of steps that you need to go through to become a concept artist. The idea here is that you need to be committed, you have to try and break the boundaries and also improve your style all the time. Sure, this is a high-paying job, but it also comes with a lot of stress too. That’s why you need to make sure that you actively enjoy what you are doing. Otherwise, the return on investment will not be as good as you imagine it!
Toni Justamante Jacobs
Senior Concept Artist