What to learn to become a concept artists?


bittersiha asked via tumblr:

hi!!! i saw your reply to bones!!! did you have any ideas for my questions?? what do concept ppls need to study really hard to make it in the industry in todays world?

The job of a concept artists is to turn ideas into images. So, you need to have access to ideas, need to be able to translate them into images and also should technically be able to do this in large volumes, while being readable and having the necessary emotional impact.



I rather recommend my students to think of flow instead of speed, because time is just one of two resources an artists has to watch out for. The other is creative energy. If you get stuck on properly drawing a hand for example, you will not only spend a lot of time on getting unstuck, but also a lot of creative energy. Both could be better spent on turning more ideas into images, instead of turning a cluster of lines into a properly drawn hand. If drawing and painting is exhausting and frustrating to you and you run out of creative energy, it’s as bad as if the clock runs out.

Practice drawing, so you don’t get stuck as much on execution problems. Prepare image references, so you don’t get stuck on wondering what to draw next. Learn to photobash and don’t be shy to trace or use other shortcuts to skip over problems when needed.


I also teach my students to rather think priorities than speed. Practice creating stuff under super tough time restrictions. Get yourself an egg timer and do 2-3 minute sketches and 10 minute speed paints. The first ones will suck balls because it feels like you never have enough time for anything. But over time you will learn to prioritize the things that matter most to you in that design high enough to squeeze them into the time window. You will be forced to use shortcuts, to start with the important stuff, to skip the unimportant stuff. You will not get significantly faster in your movements – there is a ceiling to that – but you will learn to use the time and speed available to more effect.

readable WIPs

A character design goes through multiple phases before we have a clean model sheet. For example: Reference collection, thumbnail, sketch, color sketch, detailed greyscale painting, colored painting. There are other steps depending on how you prefer to work. The thing is that you need to learn to make each step presentable to the rest of the team. You have to learn that a WIP step is a piece of concept art already, something to talk about, to evaluate and only if everybody decides that the design so far is cool enough to bother finishing up, …we go on.

Understand how to make moodboards out of images from the web, how to make expressive thumbnails or silhouettes… and so forth.


empathy & psychology

Why do we fear X but not Y? Why do we find place X welcoming but place Y hostile? Why do people without eyes make us uncomfortable? Why do certain colors appeal to us and others not? How come certain nudity arouses us but other repulses us? Learn how humans are wired, learn about psychology, so you can make your audience feel something and articulate what your characters and creatures feel.

how stuff works

Anatomy, growing patterns, mechanics, materials, physics. Do you know if the antlers of deer are branching or forking? Do you know how wooden houses are constructed? How armor is attached to the body of a warrior? Do you know how a bullet travels through a gun before it is launched from the barrel?

Knowing how stuff works enables you to go beyond what kind of references you find online. It allows you to create your own creatures, objects, buildings.

symbolism & culture

Artists, epochs, mythology, body modification, traditions, nationalities. Learn about how humans create images to say who they are, to explain the world and to communicate with each other, so you can successfully communicate cultures in your work.

BTW, nobody expects you to have all this knowledge in your head… but you need to have this knowledge available somewhere (books and web sources) and train yourself to spot and read those things. I recommend starting a pinterest account, it is a visual bookmarking tool, which has been invaluable to my work since I started it.

Further reading:

Here is an article I wrote on concept art, that might be helpful to you.
Also check out my pinterest board to see how I use it.

Get some second opinions. Concept art is not a science, it’s an art. Different people have different expectations. 


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