Tips for starting artists

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I often get requests by new artists if I can take a look at their work and give them advice on what to focus on. Most of the time the same questions come up, so today I want to write about them and hopefully help some of you out there.

Should I niche or become a generalist?

You should do both. You want to stand out as the best at one thing. But also have the knowledge to understand, collaborate and work on art in general. So let’s say you love making characters. Then learn and grow yourself to become a character artist. Sell yourself as the best character artist so the world knows you for this. But when you’re working in a studio, doing production work to reach the next deadline. You are also capable to step in and help with environment art, or tech-art like shaders. You understand how other artists think and why they do things. Even better would be if you also understand how programmers or managers do their work.

What should I learn next?

If you’re new, you need to get your hours in. You need to get experience in making art. You also need to make the common mistakes, and learn from them. My advice would be to explore different types of work and methods. And don’t stay too much in comfort zones. Some things you could consider and do:

  • When starting a new art piece, use a different method or rendering platform. If you have never done a certain method, even if it seems inefficient. Try it at least once to learn from it.
  • Make masterpieces that are perfect. But also learn to do quick iterations. If for example you finished a three week character piece. Then the next week, do one character per day. And yes that means you will need to rethink what the end result might be. One day is short. How can you still make a good looking character in one day?
  • Try different art styles. Realistic, sculpted, hand-painted, abstract, high-poly, low-poly, etc. Go online and see which art styles are most common. And go and make them.
  • Reduce turn-over time (how long it takes to finish a project). So you can test things faster. For example, instead of making a full human character. You can also make 20 different ears or eye’s. This is also good to “attack” something you are weak at. Perhaps you suck at making tree’s. So then go make tree’s. Iterate fast.

Is the art process I am doing correct?

At the end of the day. The end result in the game is what matters. The process you use to get there doesn’t matter that much, especially when you’re new. Since you need to get your hours in. Though when working together with others. A standardized process is highly recommended. It improved efficiency and when giving your work to someone else, less time is needed to explain the work.

Slowly over time the industry is standardizing things. Which is good, but be aware that this might also bring limitations. So don’t worry too much about this, do you research on how others do things. And explorer, make your own experiences and discoveries.

What about using tutorials?

These are one of the best to learn from. Short and focused learning. Especially now since the world is so digital and a lot of artists are uploading their own tutorials. As mentioned above, you want to explore different aspects of art. Different methods, art styles, etc. Through tutorials you can quickly learn how other artists are doing things. However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that once you completed a tutorial. That you now know enough and should continue that method forever. Keep exploring other methods. Find your own way of doing things, find your own art styles.

Is my portfolio good enough for the game industry?

Obviously this is different per person and per portfolio. Though here you can find some general tips.

Creative skill vs Production skill

Beware that there is a difference between being able to create an object in 3D, and designing an object. Most 3D artists focus on the first. Which I don’t blame them for, since making good art in 3D does take a lot of time and knowledge. But the side effect is that many 3D artists are lacking a bit in the creative design department. So my advice is, make sure you find a good balance between the know-how of building a model. And actually designing a model. Learn the basics of designing with pen and paper, or drawing on a tablet in Photoshop. And how to do fast design iterations in 3D with blockout or silhouette phases. Learn to look at shapes, composition, colors, lighting, etc.

Some other tips

Don’t forget about references. Always use references when designing and building. Don’t think that this is stealing or that you should “know” everything there is to know. Do you think that your mind knows how everything looks, that you are a living encyclopedia? Use google images.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. If anything, go and make them on purpose so you can learn from them. If you’re a perfectionist. Do challenges like one character a day for a week. You are then forced to not be perfect. You must focus your efforts on the important parts of your characters.

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