Illustration and Concept art: What is the difference?

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Whether you are an aspiring artist trying to decide which path you wanna follow in your career, or you are just an art lover trying to understand the difference between Illustration and Concept Art, this article is going to give you a clear answer.

I´m going to explain to you the main differences between these two art forms, that even their shared commonalities in terms of artistic techniques and styles have very distinctive and differentiated purposes.

So, what is the difference between Illustration and Concept art?

The difference between Illustration and Concept Art is the purpose of each art form. The Illustration focuses on producing images that communicate a certain narrative. A good example could be the cover of a book. On the other side, Concept art focuses on creating designs to be used in media production. A good example of concept art could be the design of a character done for a video game production.

As a professional Concept Artist and Illustrator, I understand sometimes can be difficult to differentiate between both. The purpose of this article is to clarify which are the main differences.

But, before we continue talking about their differences, let ?s first understand the definitions of Concept Art and Illustration and which are the commonalities between them.

What is Concept art?

Concept art is an artistic form of representation used to convey ideas for being used in video games, animation, movies or other entertainment media. These ideas will be used to define the final product”. Concept art is used in the entertainment industry to create world-building artwork used to inspire the development of media products. 

What is Illustration?

Is a visual representation of a narrative ( like a text, briefing, argument, etc…), designed for integration in published media, such as posters, flyers, magazines, books, teaching materials, video games, and films. 

Which are the commonalities between both?

The main common point between Illustration and Concept Art is that both need a strong knowledge of the art fundamentals in order to be created successfully. Things like anatomy, perspective, color theory, and other artistic principles are common to both disciplines. 

Concept artist and illustrators are both trained in the use of those principles. But this knowledge is not the only thing both disciplines share. The use of similar painting tools, like digital programs, is another threat shared by the two of them. We will speak more about the use of digital tools in concept art and illustration down below.

If you are interested in knowing more about how to Concept Artist and Illustrators learn their skills, you gotta check my article on the best schools for Concept Artists.

Now that we know which are the definitions and similarities between Illustration and Concept Art, let’s focus on the difference between both.

Other important differences 

The difference between Concept art and Illustration is not only the final purpose of each one, but also the exclusive use of digital tools like Photoshop, Clip Studio Paint, or even 3D software like ZBrush or Maya for Concept art compared to the Illustration field where the artist can use traditional and digital techniques.

This difference is based on the necessity of the film, gaming or product development industry where concept art is a byproduct consequence of the designing process. Concept art always takes part in the early stages of production. Once a design is created by the concept artist and gets validated, a 3D artist will create a final product based on the design. Depending on the industry, maybe other artists will be involved in the creation process of this product, like texture artist, animators, etc…

The use of digital tools makes the way easier, the sharing process of files between different artist. With traditional mediums, like acrylics or oils, this sharing becomes much more difficult. Certainly, you can create a design in traditional and then scan it and convert it into a digital image. But this option will slow the process. 

Another inconvenient is the necessity of quick modifications in the design. With traditional art, doing changes on a design can become a slow process due to several factors like the capability of digital tools to do quick modifications on an image( scaling, rotating, etc…), waiting for the paint to dry after the retouches, rescanning the design, and others.

In any industry time and efficiency is key in order to create a successful product. The use of digital tools helps shorten the production times making the whole working process easier and more efficient.

Why is the use of traditional tools more common in Illustration?

First of all, we gotta understand that an Illustration is the final product of itself. Editorials and entertainment companies hired illustrators because of their artwork. If certain illustrator has a portfolio that matches what a company is looking for, the way the illustrator works is not as important. As long as his artwork can be converted into digital format does not matter how this artwork has been created.

Certainly, illustrators face the same issues in terms of modifications and deadlines, then concept artists do. This is why lots of them use digital tools like Photoshop for that matter, making the whole process easier, but still, there are lots of artists that work very efficiently using traditional mediums or even a combination of both.

Another factor to take into consideration is the difference in work environments. Illustrators usually are freelancers who work from their own studio at home, meanwhile concept artist work usually at the company’s studio. As you can imagine is easier to find and artist painting using oils and canvas at home rather than in a company’s office, because of space and logistical limitations an office presents.

Of course this situation can be totally the opposite, a concept artist working remotely and an illustrator working in an office, but generally, illustrators are work mostly as freelancers because their job is usually shorter in nature. Once the illustration is done, the artist detaches himself from the editorial process. On the other side, the concept artist needs to be more in touch with the production pipeline. Usually, 3D artists will need some help from the concept artist when converting into 3D the original concept. This help can come in the shape of corrections, feedback, turnarounds of the design, detailing props, etc…

Conclusión

I hope this article helped you understand the main differences between both artistic formats. The best part of understanding the goal of each one of them is to realize that both can be performed by the same artist, because of the shared principles. As long as the artist understands this, he or she will be successful creating amazing concept artworks or illustrations.

If you are interested in developing your artistic skills for concept art or illustration, don´t forget to check my article on “The Best 11 courses if you are on a budget” The article gives you a good description and analysis of some courses that can help you develop some of those artistic principles we have been speaking about in this article. Also, all the courses on the article are quite affordable, so I think it is worth it to check them out.

Author: Toni Justamante Jacobs, Concept artist and Illustrator.

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