J’ai déjà mentionné ici que je suis maintenant une collaboratrice du webzine Drink And Draw Montréal. J’ai commencé une série d’entrevues avec des illustrateurs québecois, mes deux premiers invités sont Nicolas Francoeur et Donald Caron. Vous pouvez les lire ici:
Entrevue avec Donald Caron, maître de l’horreur
Entrevue: Nicolas Francoeur
Je vous prépare plein d’autres surprises pour les prochains mois.
I already mentioned here that I am now a collaborator on the Drink And Draw Montréal webzine. I started a series of interviews (in French) with quebecois illustrators, my first two guests are Nicolas Francoeur and Donald Caron. you can read them here:
Entrevue avec Donald Caron, maître de l’horreur
Entrevue: Nicolas Francoeur
I’m preparing a lot of other surprises for the upcoming months.
I recently posted about resources for the aspiring illustrator. On top of my list was the DIY Art School blog and I thought it would be nice to have more insight about it. Joe Wilson is the author and I’ve known about Joe from Conceptart.org for years but I only met him at Illuxcon 2 years ago. Despite being a very busy guy, he graciously accepted to answer 10 questions for me.
So Joe, I thought I would start with a few questions about your academic background just to see where your views in DIY Art School are coming from.
-Did you go to a school with diverse programs alongside art or to a dedicated art school?
I went to a dedicated art school. There were some additional basic classes you could take, but I actually felt like my high school education was pretty strong (I took a lot of college level classes), so I skipped all of the non art courses that I could. I don’t regret skipping them. They didn’t offer the kinds of additional classes that I really would have found useful, like some kind of finance class, or marketing for example.
-What did you learn in art school that you think would be the hardest thing to learn for someone being self-taught?
Perhaps how to give and take artistic critique. I think one nice things about art school is that you are constantly putting your work up in front of your instructors and peers. Learning how to talk about it. How to take the criticism constructively without falling into the trap of being defensive about your work. Learning how to really listen to feedback about your work is so very important.
Of course I believe you can still develop those skills without art school, but you do have to work a little harder to find a good replacement.
-What did you do in art school that you wish you hadn’t done or you wish you had done on your own?
I’m going to alter this question slightly to “What do you wish you had done differently?” I really wish I had spoken up more about the classes that just weren’t teaching me something valuable, because now I look back at those classes and think “what the hell? I was paying a lot of money for those classes, and some of them were complete bullshit.” Of course I didn’t know that at the time, because how could I know any better? You have to already know a lot about art to know that the teacher sucks. When you don’t know any better, you think the failing must be on your end, or that there is some lesson being taught that you just haven’t grasped yet, so you try to keep an open mind and follow along. It’s only years later when you know better (and are maybe still paying those student loans) that you look back and say “Man, that class was a fraud. I was almost literally robbed.” If I had it to do again, I’d either have learned it all on my own, or I would have at least been loud and vocal about the classes that weren’t teaching me something I found valuable.
-You mention on the blog that you made some very good friends in art school. Are there things you learned that you wouldn’t have without them?
There were a lot of things that I probably learned from my friends. It was a great creative soup of different people, with so many finding their own areas to excel, and you learn a bit from everyone just from seeing what they did that worked (or didn’t work). A little friendly competition was great too. There would be times when someone would have a breakthrough of understanding. Sort of graduate to the next level, and if you have a little competitive nature in your personality, it makes you push harder to catch back up, or to nudge ahead of them if you can.
All of that was great, but in an absolute sense, was there anything that I just wouldn’t have learned on my own? Probably not in artistic sense. There were maybe a few life lessons, or lessons about getting by in the art field. There were artists in my classes who were as good as I was, some easily better, that in the end never really attempted a serious art career. It helps you realize that a successful artist isn’t just the guy with great skills, but the people who really WANT it, and for who something else really won’t ever make them happy. It keeps you on your toes, knowing that no matter what your skills are, no one is going to come knocking down your door to discover you, YOU have to make it happen.
-If someone is going to pick and chose the classes they want in a school instead of doing the whole program, do you have tips on how they can tell which classes are the best?
If you are talking about it from a DIY art school stand point, I’d say focus on classes that are things you can’t easily do on your own. You can sit at home and do a still life, but it’s a lot harder and less practical to get a model to regularly come by and pose for you. Life drawing would be a great choice to take a class, and would easily be the first I recommend.
Otherwise, take classes for things you have made a good honest effort in, but still have trouble with. If you are having trouble moving beyond drawing and into painting, maybe you need that extra feedback on where you are going wrong. Remember though, if you decide to take a class, make sure you get what you came for! If the instructor expects you to just show up and paint and isn’t actually helping you where you want help, make sure you ask. Don’t sit back and assume they’ll know where you are struggling and need more help. Corner them and ask a few extra questions.
Lastly, look for classes taught by artist’s you admire. A lot of well known professionals are doing intensive seminars or classes, and they will pass along some information that you just won’t get in most art schools.
-What was the biggest shock you got when you finished school and you tried to get work “in the real world”?
Before art school I think I would have shocked to know that very very few people who graduate art school are anywhere near ready to be employed. By the time I graduated I think I knew I wasn’t ready. I didn’t even try to get work because I knew I still needed to build a better portfolio. Maybe I would have been shocked to learn I still needed years of maturing and improving my skills, but I don’t think even completely occurred to me. I kind of just thought I needed to keep doing portfolio pieces, not realizing that I should have continued working on fundamental skills with most of my time and effort.
-Is there one thing you do in your art career that gets you thinking:”if everything was as easy as this, my job would be a piece of cake?”
Haha nope! No, in reality, art is hard work! It’s fun as hell and incredibly rewarding, but none of it is a “piece of cake.” Not if you are constantly trying to improve. Maybe the closest to that is when, at the painting stage about mid way through, everything is more or less in place and your biggest problems are solved, and you just need to put in the hours to finish it. At that stage things are almost reflexive. Your brain is still solving smaller problems, but it’s only taking a small percentage of your brain power so you can easily divide your focus. I like to stream Netflix on my other computer at this stage. I’ll watch a lot of documentaries. I’ll also watch horror movies- good or bad it doesn’t even matter. Actually I take that back, bad is probably better, as a GOOD one I’ll save until I can focus on it. I’ll rewatch something while working though. Anyways, that’s probably the easiest part of the job, when the big problems are solved and I’m just relaxing watching something interesting and putting in the hours to get it where it needs to be.
-Is there something you have to do in your art career that you wish you could just give away to an assistant and never hear of again?
Paper work. Contracts, tax forms, invoices… bleh. On the art side, I find pretty much every stage fun and interesting. I guess you have to love the process to do well in this career. Actually, if I had an assistant, I’d make a bigger effort to get back into working traditionally, at least some of the time. Then I could have someone do the board priming, transfer my drawing, clean brushes etc. That might actually be pretty nice.
-You mentioned getting portfolio reviews from professionals as being critical to an artist’s development. Can you recall a review you have received that changed how you look at your art?
Sure. Probably every review helped change how I saw my work. My first professional portfolio review was from Dan Dos Santos. It’s an interesting story. I knew Dan’s work because, well you can’t love this genre without having seen his work. He has done so many book covers and his work is so visually striking that’s it’s probably impossible to NOT know his work if you’ve been in a bookstore down the fantasy isle. Anyways, my friend Cynthia Sheppard was contacted by him to do some modeling, since he had found her profile on Myspace. Cynthia wasn’t yet an illustrator, just a very multi talented young lady I was good friends with. She gave me a call and told me all about what a very outgoing and nice guy he was (I’m pretty sure Dan’s influence cemented her interest in taking her art more seriously, and well, you can see where she is now!). I didn’t even know Dan lived just a few towns away. It turned out that a couple of my friends actually went to high school with him. So, having a couple of names to drop, I contacted him and asked if there were any upcoming events where I could meet him and talk with him. He suggested we just meet at a local bar for a couple of drinks. He was nice enough to not only look at my portfolio and give me a very good review, but he brought his laptop and a small Wacom and gave me a couple of quickie paint overs to show what he was talking about. He really helped me hone in on some areas where my work was lacking. Before his review I was flying pretty blind actually with no idea how to improve. There are things he brought up that I still think about every time I do a new piece.
I could list a lot of other portfolio reviews that have helped. Different artists see different things. Some will see things I never even thought about, while flaws I really struggled with seemed to be of no concern to them. As special shout outs I’d say that a review with Jon Schindehette at NY Comic Con early in my career, and a couple of extremely valuable reviews from Jeremy Cranford at Illuxcon, were both very transformative reviews for me.
-Last question, what is your favourite thing to paint?
Monsters I think my childhood love of “monsters” started with Star Wars, Scooby Doo (and a ton of other cartoons), various movies, Dungeons and Dragons, and an early love of reading. I couldn’t get enough of that kind of thing, especially if it included fantastic monsters. Actually, I don’t think I’ve yet properly established my love of monsters. I haven’t been good about defining myself “as a brand”, but if I did, I’m very sure “Monsters” would be part of that defining.
-Thank you very much for your time Joe, where can readers see your work?
My portfolio can be seen at www.joewilson-illustration.com/
Also, it’s not a fully created site or portfolio yet, but I’ve been putting together something to target concept art specifically. If people are interested in seeing that portfolio as I build it, it can be found at joewilson-conceptart.blogspot.com
Alex Weldon is a freelance artist who has mostly worked on indie titles and who is now preparing to launch his own Flash games. Here’s a little insight on what he has to say about being a game artist. You can see his website here: www.benefactum.ca
Hello Alex, can you tell us more about your academic background?
I came to art later in life. My university degree is actually in
Astrophysics, of all things. It sounds weird, but it makes sense when
you look at my family. Both my grandfathers were scientists, but my
parents are both artists. My father did a degree in Mathematics
before becoming an animator at the National Film Board of Canada, so
there’s a neat parallel there.
After university, I taught English in South Korea for two years. I
got into writing while I was there. When I came back, I was trying to
figure out how to make a living at writing, and ended up taking some
journalism classes. I didn’t enjoy them very much, but I loved the
graphic design class I took as an elective. Oddly, the guy teaching
that class also had a physics degree, which probably helped.
I switched into a certificate program called Graphic Applications in
Desktop Publishing, and got into graphic design that way. From there,
it wasn’t much of a stretch to start working on my drawing skills as
How did you become interested in game art?
I’ve been an avid game player since childhood. I started creating and
modifying games quite early on, and have been doing so ever since.
Given that, once I started doing art and design for a living, it was
pretty much inevitable that I’d start getting interested in game art.
How did you score your first freelance gigs?
As a designer in general, or as a game artist?
As a designer, I got my first few freelance gigs both through words
of mouth – friends of friends and so on – and by simply walking
around town with my portfolio and a stack of business cards and
asking to talk to owners and managers of places. More recently, I did
a whole series of contracts for a board game publisher who, although
my games weren’t right for his company’s style, liked the art and
asked me who I’d hired to do it. When he found out that I was the
artist, he offered me some work on the spot.
As a computer game artist, I haven’t put much effort into looking for
work actively, since I’ve been busy enough with my own projects. The
contracts I’ve had have all come to me just by being an outspoken
and, I hope, helpful member of the IndieGamer forums. Once a month or
so, I’ll get a private message there from someone who appreciates the
advice I’ve been offering and wants to know what sort of work I do,
what I charge and so forth. Some of those turn into jobs, some don’t.
Here is a list of freelance expectations that Alex posted on the indiegamer.com forum
As a developer, if I was to hire an artist, I would expect the artist to:
Take constructive criticism without getting too defensive.
Work within the technical constraints of the project.
Indulge my preferences insofar as they do not conflict with their own aesthetic sensibilities.
Explain clearly and politely to me their reasons for disagreeing with my ideas, when they do.
Ask me before doing anything that goes against something specifically stated in the spec.
Be proactive about offering advice on stylistic decisions and suggestions for letting the art influence the gameplay.
Be able to make minor decisions on their own, but ask for clarification if there is a major choice to be made that I didn’t include in my spec.
Give me their honest best guess about how much the job will cost, and do everything they can to stay on budget.
Let me know if they think the current course of action is going to go over budget for reasons beyond their control, provide an estimate of how much more I should expect to pay, and suggestions for how we can get back on budget if I can’t afford it.
Fix their own mistakes on their own time.
Expect a certain amount of revision to be necessary.
Do small bits of follow-up work (e.g. fixing a mistake we both missed, or providing me a layered PSD if I discover I need it) and answer questions for free even after they’ve been paid.
Answer emails promptly.
Set their own reasonable deadlines, and meet them.
Be willing to sign a contract, and give me the exclusive rights to the work.
Link to the game if they use the work in their portfolio.
Be upfront about any references they might be using, so I can veto anything that seems to be bordering on copyright violation.
As an artist, I expect a client to:
Respect my experience and judgement.
Pay a rate that is in line with what other, non-artist freelancers of comparable education and experience can expect.
Be polite in their criticism.
Understand that only reasonable revisions are included in a quote.
Be clear about their expectations and the technical constraints of the project.
Not change their mind on important issues without good reason, and be apologetic and willing to pay more if they find they have to.
Understand that the result might not look exactly like what they had in their head, if they weren’t able to describe it precisely in their spec.
Give my advice serious consideration.
Not ask for my opinion on something if they don’t actually want to hear it.
Understand that I have a style, and that my work is still going to look like my work, regardless of the genre.
Allow a reasonable time for the job, taking into account possible unforeseen circumstances.
Answer emails promptly.
Pay immediately when the work is done, without being asked more than once – being proactive and saying “I think we’re done, how much do I owe you?” is even better, but not obligatory.
Give credit where credit is due. In game, preferably.
Allow me to use the work in my portfolio.
Give me a favourable reference and recommend me to others if they liked what I did for them.
These lists are rather thorough what do you think is the most important for a freelancer
looking to have return business?
Staying in touch and being a good communicator. The most common
compliment I get from clients is that they’re impressed with how
quickly I answer emails, and how clearly I answer questions and
communicate my own thoughts on the project.
Honestly, I don’t think that’s good advice only for artists, or even
freelancers in general. Communication skills are so important, and
they’re harder and harder to find in these days of Instant Messenger
programs and Blackberries. No matter who you are, if you’ve never
taken classes in business writing or public communication, you stand
to benefit from doing so.
Can you tell us more about the specific requirements of doing art
for video games as opposed to other uses (like, say, graphic design
or board games)?
Well, every type of design has technical limitations. If you’re doing
print design, you’re limited by the physical size of the document,
the kind of paper, the printing budget, and so on. If you’re doing
web design, you’re limited in your font choices, and you’re stuck
with the aspect ratio of a normal monitor, etc.
For computer games, the limitations have to do with the gameplay. I
was doing some pixel art the other day for a platformer, and wanted
to turn the character to face outward just a little bit, so you could
see more detail in the face. I realized, however, that to make the
perspective work, the feet would also have to be turned towards the
viewer, meaning that the toes would be lower than the heels. This
isn’t compatible with the very flat, 2D nature of traditional
platformer graphics – drawn that way, either his toes would be
sticking down into the floor, or his heels would be hovering in the
air… so I had to rework the pose to allow his feet to lie flat.
It’s really important for developers to be clear with their artists
about these sorts of technical constraints. Left to their own
devices, artists will just do whatever looks best, but the
aesthetically best choice won’t always be the best fit for the
gameplay. The trouble is that sometimes you only realize these things
later on, when you start trying to put the art into the game. That’s
where experience comes in – the mistake I made with that platform
character is the sort of blunder you’re only going to make once. Game
art is still something I’m learning as I go along; I’ve really come a
long way in a year.
What led you to start making your own games?
As I said, I’ve been inventing games – and modifications to existing
games – since I was very young. Until recently, though, I only made
them to play with friends and family, and had no real intention of
making any money off of them. For a long time, people have been
telling me that I’ve got a talent for games, and that I should try to
make a living at it, but it always seemed like a pipe dream to me.
I might be an idealist, but I’m not completely unrealistic; I know
that everyone and their cousin has “a great idea for a game,” and
that publishers must be bombarded constantly by people pitching their
ideas. Until I got into design, I didn’t see any obvious way to
differentiate my ideas from everyone else’s.
Becoming an artist changed everything, since now I could illustrate
my own games, and approach publishers with something much closer to a
finished product. Two of them, called Duck & Cover and Toil &
Trouble, are essentially ready for the presses – even the boxes and
rule booklets are designed, and I put together spec sheets to get
quotes from a printer. If a publisher’s interested in picking them
up, they could be on the shelves in a matter of a month or two, which
I imagine will make a big difference to them. I plan on going down to
GenCon this summer and demoing them for any publisher I can corner
for a few minutes.
Do you do art differently if it’s for your own game as opposed to
doing it for a client’s project?
Much more slowly! There’s a time limit when you’re working for
someone else; they have a budget, and you have to make sure that you
get the job done quickly enough that the money you’re earning is in
proportion to your time. You just can’t afford to be fussy and waste
hours fiddling with details that no one except you is going to notice
or care about.
It’s really hard to be disciplined and keep that kind of excessive
fussiness in check when you’re working for yourself. I’ve spent way
too much time on my first few games, considering that they’re free
Flash titles and will only make me a few grand each, if I’m lucky. I
justify it by reminding myself how much I’m learning in the process,
but really, if I’m going to do this for a living, I have to start
knowing when to leave well enough alone and get on with the more
important aspects of the project.
Thank you Alex and good luck with your games, be sure to let us know when you release them!
Thank you too, it’s been fun.
This is an answer to Conceptart user Keckhs
Job Title: 2D artist
Name: Chantal Fournier
Company of Employment:Ubisoft
Work Address: Quebec City
Why did you choose this career? I have a degree in fashion design and decided I didn’t want to do thatall my life. When I came across an ad for a 3D school, I decided THAT is what I wanted to do. I always wanted to do design or art.
What does this job entail? Mostly, I draw and animate 2D assets for videogames. Usually for DS games lately, but I have worked on retail PC, Flash and mobile games in the past. I also sometimes get involved in evaluating the amount of work in some projects and planning work pipelines. This is because we work in very small teams. Most artists in large teams don’t get so involved in planning. I have also done some project and team management in previous jobs.
What do you generally do in a typical work day? Can you explain your typical day-to-day work routine? Are there ever any exceptions to this routine? Well, it can vary but most of the time, I draw, animate, then I test my stuff and then put it on the central server. We have days where we plan ahead, usually a few days every 2 or 3 weeks. Sometimes I do test new possibilities and prototypes instead of doing final art.
What range of salary or income do you make, and who does that money come from? What is the typical income range for someone in this career? You might want to have a look at the Gamasutra salary Survey.
What would you say are your favorite things about this job? The possibility to come up with solutions. Since we are in small teams, we do a lot of different things and we get to come up with our own solutions to problems. We aren’t parked in a corner doing always the same work.
What are the challenging or difficult aspects of this job? Sometimes, we do things no one has done before (at least that we know of) so, while it’s fun to come up with solutions, some problems are tougher than others.
Skills and Education
What skills do you think are needed for this job? The ability to communicate verbally and textually. The ability to draw. Understanding of how art assets are made and different image formats. Knowledge of Photoshop is important.
What high school classes should a student interested in the career make sure that they have in order to get into said education? Art, language, math (yes yes, you will need your high school level math to do art.)
What higher (after high school) education is needed to get into this career? An art degree, or a video game art degree, or an animation degree, or no degree. But in all cases, a killer portfolio.
Are there any institutions that you would particularly recommend? I don’t know many of them. And I don’t even work in the field I studied (went to 3D school and I worked in 2D since then.)
Is the prestige of the institution important? Most often, your future emplyer won’t even ask if you went to school if your art is good enough.
What skills and/ or education do you have that you think helped you get into this career? I have management and leadership skills, I always end up with more responsibility than I signed up for. I can easily express myself.
Getting a Job
How did you specifically get into this career? My school had interviews at the end of my education and I was hired right out of school. So this helped with connections I might not have had otherwise.
How does one typically go about getting a job in this career? By building an swesome portfolio and sending it around, by networking (IGDA and CA.org are good places.) By being nice to people and letting them know they are looking for work.
Are there any particular methods that you would recommend? Make sure your website is up to date with your best stuff. Circulate it. If you have friends in the industry, being recommended is the best way.
What is your opinion of the job market for this career today? Is it easy or difficult to get into? How do you see it changing in the future? I think it depends on the location, and on your specialty. There are way more 3D people than 2D because it is taught more in schools. Some cities have more artists than jobs and others have more jobs than artists. It might be easier to get in smaller unknown studios than in large glamourous ones.
How does a person generally progress in this career? Artists often become leads, then art director or concept artist. Then they might move to technical art directors or assistant producer.
Are internships usually available for this job? If so, where would you suggest someone look for them? Do you know of any opportunities you would recommend? I saw some companies that had art internships and some that only had more technical (IT) internships. I have to say that I never had an internship and I know little about that.
Do you have any other advice for those looking into this career? Draw as much as you can. The stuff you put in your portfolio should be the stuff you want to be doing. If you want to do videogames, do mock up GUI, isometric tiles and units, character sprites. If you want to do concept art, do turn arounds and renders in many different styles (not just space marines!) Don’t forget the enviros and props.
Have a clean portfolio site with your best stuff in it. Never miss deadline. Be nice to your coworkers and classmates, you never know where your next job will come from.