When we’re students in the area of concept art we tend to look at those who came before us. This can be inspiring, stressful, or both! The concept art industry is always changing and it's common that the artist will not be part of one team forever. A concept artist assists in the pitching of a game or animation with visuals. It's a rule to make many concept iterations, for client options are important – however, it's also common for the client not being the harsh critic, but the artist themselves. Let’s talk about the value of ‘bad’ concept art drawings.
Unfortunately we won’t always be happy with our work. The usual ways of improving the situation requires either abandoning a piece or doing more work, which takes more time and may not necessarily improve the result.
The worst part is that this type of behaviour will form an obstacle in future workflows. I noticed that fixing artworks isn't going to do much when it comes to progress. There's a good chance your teacher or art lead will mention the exact same thing. Acknowledging the artworks’ flaws and moving on to a next piece has a lot more benefits than staying to fix it. An artwork is never done, that’s why it’s best to mark down the ‘failed’ artwork as finalized and continue on from there.
The art of appreciation
Failing to achieve a desired art quality-level is incredibly common. Accepting ‘failure’ requires a different mindset, but one which is essential to development. As long as you keep drawing and ask for feedback, you can force out bad drawing habits. The more you draw, the more confident you get and the fewer mistakes you’ll make as result. A term they use for this is ‘mileage’. Even though mileage / drawing a lot will work out the kinks you will never reach perfection and this is something you shouldn’t aim for to begin with. For many there’s a certain lack of kindness for their own hard work. This kindness should be observed and applied more often in combination with mileage.
Plenty might discuss the point that artist can’t take much criticism. It actually means that they need to be informed on what went right and what went wrong. That way they can move on and improve on what they’ve started. Hearing “There’s room for improvement.” can be far more beneficial than someone saying, “It isn’t terrible”. The latter approach is something that’s even used in professional settings, unfortunately. Sarcasm and reverse psychology don’t help us learn and built respect in our teams. It also should never be used for giving feedback regarding concept art.
Livescience article mentions this about professor of social psychology Jeff Greenberg. “Greenberg noted that using reverse psychology doesn't always work. It is more likely to work on people who are more prone to reactance, he said.” Which comes back to the idea that some will benefit from it, while most other potential artists won’t.
If this intertwines with friendly collegial banter it will depend on how well you know them. It breaks the ice with colleagues and it’s good to not take yourself (and your work) too seriously all the time. Yet there are plenty of instances where it might go too far and create uncertainty, bullying, and increase stress which in turn lowers creativity and productivity. Be aware of this.
It comes down to concept art needing tons of iterations and feedback. Let's look at the artworks below for now. I went through several stages in a short amount of time by sticking to the three rules I pinned in my workflow:
1. You don’t have to like the artwork, but you have to appreciate it for what it is.
2. Know your art limits and learn to steadily cross them.
3. Don’t seek perfection, seek clarity.
Appreciating something is not an easy task to do. It comes from acceptance. Many of us can tell it’s easy to drag yourself down in the hope of forcing yourself to do better on the next artwork. Even though it might be an interesting train of thought, it does require plenty of energy to keep this going. This makes acceptance a more effective way to move on to next artworks. All this because you're focused on progress, instead of beating yourself up.
The images above confirms from a personal view that appreciating the steps can help you improve. The steps referring back to the "bad" artworks. After months of 'artblock' I decided to pick up drawing again in October 2019. I would say that my regular art skills were at the level of November, but managed to push it further in December. All this by applying the rules which I mentioned above.
With all that said, I’m not advertising the idea of you looking at your own work, thinking it’s perfect. I’m a great believer in learning what others have to say. Two eyes see a lot, but four see a lot more. There might be things you’d never thought of on your own. It’s normal to get used to your own work and perhaps you feel it’s complete after you’ve been staring at it for several hours or even days. Not stepping away to get a bit of distance can create a breeding ground for overlooking things.
This all comes back to appreciating the stages of the concept. It can save you enough energy to see the artwork improve with each iteration. Perhaps you will also help yourself to get out of artblocks you might face in future situations.
Let’s get to work
Mileage, as mentioned before, is one of the most important parts of improvement. Whether you like characters, environments, interfaces or something else. It doesn’t matter. It requires the simple task of starting somewhere. The way to progress is actually quite bland. There is no real magic nor shortcuts to get better at this, but focused work can lead to magical results. Not wanting help also won't lead to improvement: you either have to ask someone to help you, or look for ways to help yourself improve. My personal preference goes to motivating myself.
In my personal studies I realized that I needed a feasible concept and number. In other words: I preferred the idea of having a solid goal that could be calculated in numbers. In retrospect it seems this was my kind of magic.
When we usually plan out our workflow we tend to go to spreadsheets. To-do lists and other fancy things are also popular, but these can take a lot of time to prepare. I looked around on my desk and chose sticky notes. I want it to be easy, straight forward and compact. There’s no need to work with things for the sake of upholding what works for other great artists. The only thing you’re planning needs to be is
- clear, organized and simple.
In the months that followed October 2019, I made several goals to make X number of artworks. Then would mark down the exact times I started and finished. I would note down the amount of time spent on it and confirm it with tally marks. Nothing pretty, nothing special. Yet all in the mindset which I mentioned earlier: appreciate your artworks.
There would be plenty of times in which I caught myself slowing down or even slacking. A short solution is just continuing and trying to be better next time. I won’t deny the existence of the concept art piece that took a little longer to finish. Some ideas and images take a little while, but time does not always equal quality and I can use the artwork for future inspiration.
This turned out to be one of the most effective ways of working on artworks. Being dependent on myself, while also making progress is a skill that takes time, but one worth investing in. I tried many things throughout the years, those from amateur artists to professionals. It worked out for a short while before I got tired of it and abandoned it all together to move on to something else. Instead I picked out the things from professionals that worked for me and combined them. Now it's my own technique that I can use for a long time. It’s basic, yet functional. With one important mindset added to it: appreciating every iteration. More energy means more energetic concepts designs. Which comes back to you: You work with techniques that work for you.
In conclusion, artwork appreciation is beneficial to the process of artistic growth. It gives room to be critical of your own work and ask more feedback. All while also finding ways to help yourself find new and improved versions of planning. This is all from personal experience.
Being hard on yourself might work, but keep in mind that appreciation and being kind is also an option.