Updated June 1, 2020
For a quick-and-easy reference, here are the top 12 tips for how to become a concept artist:
Master the fundamentals of drawing and painting.
Practice using the proper tools.
Unleash your passion.
Draw for your audience.
Create something bold, original, and unique.
Tell the story through details.
Flesh out the character design and its intent.
Seek out and accept feedback.
Expect rejection and revisions.
Whether you’re just starting out or have been drawing for several years, Pluralsight provides some great insight into 12 areas you can focus on to eventually achieve the concept artist job of your dreams.
1. Master the Fundamentals of Drawing and Painting
If you’re just starting out, fundamental areas of drawing and painting should be your focus. You need to learn how to control your hand and teach it to do what you want with a drawing utensil before you can actually begin to improve. First learn how to draw line and form to use as tools when creating your characters. Then begin to explore shapes and how they play a role in the characters you create. In the later stages of your fundamental education, you should primarily focus on anatomy. These extremely important fundamental art skills are vital to your success as an artist.
2. Practice Using the Proper Tools
There is a lot of value in learning how to draw using the traditional tools of pencil and paper. The tactile feel of gliding your pencil across the page helps your brain make connections that may have more impact than simply thinking about a concept. Experiment with pencils of different hardnesses and paper of different weights. You may be surprised to find a combination preference that is unique to you and your signature artistic style.
You’ll also want to use a digital drawing tablet. You don’t need to invest a lot of money in one, and you don’t even need any fancy accessories such as an extra stylus. Just start out simple and upgrade later when you find your progress is being limited. Play around with different drawing software (Illustrator, InDesign, Photoshop, etc.) to find the right fit for your goals.
3. Get Inspired
Every artist knows that it takes a spark of inspiration to fan the flame of fierce creativity. As a concept artist, your spark may come from admiring the work of other concept artists. However, don’t stop there. Possible points of inspiration can come from anywhere.
Here are a few ideas to get you thinking:
Go for a walk in nature or in an urban area.
Visit a museum of any type (try an archeology museum or toy museum).
Listen to music that is different from your preferred genre.
Sit on the ground and play with young children—they have the best imaginations!
4. Unleash Your Passion
If characters are your passion and becoming an amazing character concept artist is something you desire, don’t feel that it’s an unrealistic goal. Artists who have been successful at becoming concept artists let their passion drive them and motivate every character they create. You too can tap into your passion and apply it to your own work.
Here are two tips for doing that:
Make it a point to draw anywhere and everywhere. Challenge yourself to create a new character every day for a month. By the end, you’ll be surprised at what you’ll have learned.
Don’t be afraid to do things differently. For example, mix it up by switching mediums. If you primarily work on the computer or tablet, move to paper (and try different types of paper). Use acrylic, watercolor, and oil paints. Break out of your box to find new ways to create characters.
5. Draw for Your Audience
The people who ultimately decide whether or not your character is successful isn’t the modeler who creates a 3D version of it or even the art director who approves it. The audience who views your character in its final, finished form will decide.
Because of this, a character designer must always think about what that audience finds appealing. Who are they? What are their likes and dislikes? If your audience consists of Saturday morning cartoon kids, then a simple, colorful, and whimsical character might be the way to go. If, on the other hand, you’re designing a character for the next big comic book movie that’s targeting adults in their 20s and 30s, realism will probably be received better. By putting yourself in your audience’s shoes from the very start, your design will be much better received.
6. Create Something Bold, Original, and Unique
As a character designer, it’s your job to create a solution to the design problem you’re presented with. The solution will come in the form of a unique character concept. This is where creativity comes in.
With all of the different and inspiring artwork that surrounds you, you may often feel like a sponge that is soaking up all of the ideas and wringing them out into your concept. However, this method just doesn’t cut it when it comes to learning how to become a concept artist at the top of your game. To do that, you’ll need to be an innovator and generator of original ideas for characters, environments, and vehicles. This comes through the process of trying something new, failing at it, and learning from the experience. It’s only through pushing yourself to do things differently that you’ll find new and exciting ideas to incorporate into your designs.
7. Tell the Story Through Details
What is it visually about an interesting character that draws you in and makes you examine them closely, taking in all the wonderful details? When you look at a character who has depth, you’ll find things that tell a story. It could be the clothing they wear, the hairstyle they have, or a specific facial expression. These intentional, carefully placed details are meant to clue you in on who the character is and what their history might entail.
In a production environment, every character you create will have a story behind them. Your characters will be more successful if you take the time to familiarize yourself with this story and think about ways you can influence your design with it.
8. Flesh Out the Character Design and Its Intent
There’s a definite difference between a character sketch and a character design. If you draw or paint a character once in a single pose, it’s a sketch. Character design, however, is so much more than a single version of a character. Think of it as a journey where the correct path is rarely visible from the outset. Only after you’ve traveled through the design process can you look back on it and connect the dots along the path.
Even after the final look of a character has been determined, there are a number of additional pieces of art that must be created. With character design, you may expect to produce:
9. Seek Out and Accept Feedback
It’s really easy for artists to lock themselves up and separate themselves from other creative individuals as they work. Unfortunately, if you do this, you’re not only preventing any possibility of receiving valuable input, but you’re also saying that your answers are always the best.
By seeking out feedback on the work you create, you can expect to get new points of view you may not have previously considered. Do this strategically. Accept feedback from artists whom you respect and who can identify with your work.
When you’re ready, build your first concept art portfolio. Here’s what to include:
10. Expect Rejection and Revisions
Many artists fall in love with the work they create, which is understandable considering the amount of time that they spend on a design to get it just right. The reality is, in a production environment, another person must love your work as much as you do for it to be approved for the next step.
How can you avoid the crushing disappointment of a rejected design, especially since putting your heart into your work is so important as an artist? The solution is to love the process, beginning with the first step and ending with the last. Don’t let rejection or revisions detract from the journey and its value. Remember, the character produced at the end is the result of the entire journey.
11. Be Patient
The one thing you absolutely must keep in mind is that learning how to become a concept artist doesn’t happen overnight. It requires a lot of time, practice, sleepless nights, and passion. There will be peaks and valleys along the way. There will be times when you feel stuck and like you’re not getting any better. There will also be times you want to throw in the towel. It’s times like these when you must adopt the mindset that failure is not an option. Identify the problem and harness the power of your own creativity to fix it. Then continue on the journey.
12. Keep Learning
Techniques, tools, and technology are ever-evolving, so always continue learning and growing in your art. Regularly go through art tutorials and character tutorials to freshen up your skills in a variety of different software programs to help you keep on top of the competition and achieve success as a concept artist.