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15 Tips To Improve As An Artist
by Neil Gowland on 07/24/13 04:33:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Introduction

Over the course of my art career I feel like I have steadily improved year by year with no great change, however over the last year or two I have become more disciplined in how I approach life and my job and I feel like I've made my biggest improvement yet. I thought it might be good to document some of the methods of improvement that I try and stick by in the hope that someone else finds it useful and inspiring.

1 // Don't Be Intimidated By Talent Around You

Obviously everyone wants to be one of the most talented artists within their studio so it's easy to feel intimidated when you feel someone else is more talented. Instead of being intimidated, you should embrace this as you'll progress so much faster with talented co-workers. People that no longer have any peers to look up too, will often find that their skills will plateau as there's no one around them forcing them to go above and beyond what's expected of them.

2 // Work Hard And Get The Job Done During Core Hours

In my experience most game artists that are new to the industry will often work many more hours than veteran employees even when there's no real reason too. They'll often make a task stretch for as long as possible (you'll find this is easy in an art career as art is never truly finish :-) but this has a negative impact on both you and your co-workers. Firstly you'll get burnt out, your production will drop and you'll begin to resent your job and it affects your co-workers because management will soon start asking why all employees aren't putting in as much effort as the guy stopping back every night. The best thing to do is work hard, get your job done and leave on time. You'll feel better because you're more refreshed and your employer will be happy that your meeting all your deadlines.

3 // Do Personal Work Even If You're Employed

Once you land an industry job it's still super important to continue practicing your work in your own time. I see people coming into the industry all the time and most give up doing personal art because in their opinion they've made it and their dreams have become a reality but I've got three solid reasons why this is a bad idea. Firstly the industry is incredibly small so the amount of jobs available compared to the amount of people wanting a job means that there's always someone willing to take your place and often for half your wage. Secondly one day you'll want to move onto another company and quite frankly a portfolio of 100% professional work is unlikely to cut it (this is especially the case if the games you've worked on haven't been that great). It makes it look like you've become complacent and no employer wants this. Finally you've got to remember why you wanted a job in the games industry in the first place. Most likely it was because you loved doing art and in my experience 90 percent of the time working on your own projects is more fun than working on someone else's.

4 // Find Time To Give People Feedback

Becoming a better artist isn't exclusively about doing art all day, everyday. There are other ways to hone your skills. One of my favourite ways is to give other artists feedback, often on www.polycount.com or other game artist forums. The reason I think giving feedback is important is that it subliminally trains you in Art Direction without really knowing it. The ability to suggest improvements to other people's artwork is an important skill in this line of work.

5 // Don't Get Lazy

This is my biggest gripe with most people in the games industry and I hate to see it. People get lazy, both with personal work and professional work. Essentially this is down to becoming complacent with their job and they start to see their role as exactly that, a job to pay the bills. Laziness results in finding every excuse under the sun to not work on your own personal projects. Do yourself a favour and treat everyday like it was your first and put in 100% effort. After all this is the job you most likely dreamed of as a kid.

6 // Find Time For Family

Being a games artist can be a pretty demanding job but don't let that affect your family life. I see people struggling all the time with relationships because they let work become more important than family. Often people don't realise this is happening but it's obvious when you take a step back and view relationships from a different perspective. Being in a healthy relationship will keep you happy and this will bleed through into your work.

7 // Don't Be Afraid To Fail

The number one issue I come across with people not reaching their full potential is the fact that their scared to fail and often hesitating to try new things for fear of failing. Everyone will fail at some point in their career and the quicker you learn to relieve that pressure and be comfortable with the thought of failing, the more free you will be to live up to your potential. Obviously making mistakes is bad but no one is perfect. What is most important for an employer is that you learn from your mistakes and don't repeat them.

To progress as an artist you need to be undertaking projects and tasks that are outside of your comfort zone, tasks that you're scared of failing. The type of tasks that have you nervous because you've never done it before or last time you tried the task, it didn't go to plan. This is the fastest way to progress because when you successfully complete a task, everything you've learnt gets stored in your brain and that knowledge will be with you for the rest of your life.

8 // Make Sure You Finish The Projects You Start

There comes a time in every projects lifespan where you're sick of the sight of it, normally it's because it looks quite bare and you feel like you could do better, however constantly restarting projects is bad. You'll start getting a reputation of never finishing anything and you won't have anything in your portfolio. Always put in the effort to finish projects. I guarantee you'll be surprised at the end result and you'll be happy you stuck with it. After all an average piece of finished art is 100% times better than an amazing piece of unfinished art.

9 // Experience Different Types of Studios

Obviously most students straight out of university almost exclusively apply for AAA Studios because they are the studios that make the cool games. However I recommend that people be more open minded about what studios they work for. Ideally you should try a bit of everything throughout your career such as small independent studios or large publisher based studios because they all have their own set of advantages and its not necessarily obvious which one you'd prefer. For example independent studios are normally much smaller teams so you'll often feel like you can play more of an important role where as at a publisher based studio it's easy to feel like just another cog in the machine.

10 // Try Some Different Roles

If you're employed at quite a small studio chances are you'll be encouraged to help out in other roles that you're not necessarily specialised in. I would advise everyone to embrace this as it will keep you're job feeling fresh, you'll expand your knowledge of the different teams and because your not doing your main job at work, you'll more than likely undertake more personal projects at home. While I specialise in environment art I've had several chances to takes on different roles (Particle Artist, Level Designer), it was during these periods that I've done my most successful personal projects.

11 // Compare Yourself To Artwork In Commercial Games

While it's human nature to compare your artwork to that of other artists around you, You will get much more benefit by comparing your artwork to the artwork released in commercial products (especially those products that are released by companies that you aspire to work for). The reason for this is that the artwork in these games are essentially showing you how good you have to be to work for that company and you can also be sure that it runs on the platform it was designed for. I often see people doing some incredible personal art but technically it would never be viable in a commercial product.

12 // Learn How To Accept Feedback

One of the most important things for an aspiring artist to learn is learning how to accept feedback. The first time you receive some negative feedback it can be disheartened and it can take a strong personality to handle it well but it's important to realise that receiving feedback is a positive thing, even if it's not necessarily positive feedback. The reason for this being that if someone takes the time to give you feedback they obviously think you're worth the time investment and they want to see you reach your full potential.

13 // Learn To Manage Your Time More Effectively

This point is a super important one to me because if I'm honest I used to feel like I had no time to do personal artwork so therefore I didn't put in the effort to get my personal projects off the ground. However that all changed after reading a selection of great articles on productivity by Alex Galuzin over at www.worldofleveldesign.com. I recommend that you read them all but one of the most important points I took away from them is to try and find time for 30 minutes of uninterrupted work per day and after 30 days you'll be surprised at how much work you've produced. I started with this and now I find I'm always inspired to do work and find much more time than 30 minutes a day. Now I find that I get annoyed when people say they have no time. I have a full time job, two children to look after, a house to keep clean and a fiancé to keep happy. If I can find time for artwork then anyone can.

14 // Network With Other Like Minded Artists

One of the best things I've done as an artist is start posting my work on websites such as www.polycount.com and other similar websites. It can be pretty daunting at first but I've had some amazing experiences and met some amazing friends and that would have never happened had I never posted. Having had these experiences, its kept me constantly inspired because you never know what experience might be next.

15 // Try To Be One Step Ahead Technically

One thing that's always worked pretty favourable for me throughout my career is to try and be one step ahead technically. What I mean by this is try and soak in as much technical knowledge as possible, whether that be getting familiar with a game engine, learning next gen techniques, learning a new program such as Quixel DDO or Handplane or even keeping up to date with GDC talks etc. If you're the guy constantly keeping the rest of the team knowledgeable, you'll find yourself becoming much more indispensable and your showing your employer that you have leadership qualities.

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Comments


Jessica White
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This is great information for someone aspiring to break into a career in game art. I'm currently looking for ways to improve my art skills not only technically but in other ways. This was a great list of tips both in and out of school or job contexts. Thanks for taking the time to share!

Dillon Rogers
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I read this off polycount. It's really fantastic. Some of this stuff I wrestle with even outside of just the art. Someone on the polycount forums also suggested that maintaining health is also a very important part of being in this industry. If you're not feeling well or just don't have the energy, it'll affect the way you work and what you produce.

Nicholas Stringham
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Well said, well said. Thank you! Excellent write up.

Dave Hoskins
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Nice. For artists and coders maybe: Always be prepared to scrap (save for reference) any work and start fresh if something is not going correctly. It's tough, but worth doing sometimes.
Also it's easy to lose objectivity if you've been doing the same thing all day, try to work on different pieces for 2 hours at a time for example, it may also relieve any tedious tasking situations, but that depends on the particular job I guess!

Tyler King
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Good list, I think the same applies to most other disciplines as well. Programming for example.

Brandon Schapekahm
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Thank you for your perspective on making time for personal work. I have 3 kids, a wife, a dog, a house, and 2 hours of driving on top of a full time job. I have unfinished ideas floating all over in my head, as well as a canvas with half a painting that has been sitting by my desk for months. I constantly struggle with the, "I'm too burnt out to work more", but I've been getting better at finding some time each night to flounder. At the very least I write things down so I have a place to go when my time opens up.

I have fallen prey to many of the pitfalls mentioned above, but reading your words that come from a familiar place is inspiring. Again, Thank you.

Eric Deplume
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A lot of true points, nice to see it all listed out.

I spent 8 years working as artist and a lot of this rings true. That point about doing your own work at home is very important if you want to stay in the industry. Though to be honest, that is part of what I hate about this industry.

Most people go home and watch TV, read a book, etc, as an artist you have to always be doing art. You can give your all to a company, spend 12 hours a day for years doing game assets, and still come out with nothing for your portfolio. Often times your tasks will not help your artistic abilities and in many cases make them regress. You will be competing with guys fresh out of school, who spends every waking hour doing art for almost min wage. That isn't an exaggeration, I'm working with one right now.

I wish there was a point about the physical side of being an artist. I already have carpal tunnel and cubital tunnel, try keeping up on your personal art when you spend every night with your arms in pain.

But don't worry, cause unlike most people you are doing it for the love of it. And the industry will remind you of that every time they take a ___ on you.

Gil Salvado
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Thanks for the list, there are some points that I'll try to learn from. I find it really refreshing and encouraging to work on private stuff. Finally I can do what I like to do. No one's telling me how to do it. And I can show it without worrying about an NDA.

In my opinion - or it's just because of my current situation - it's quiet hard to get a job as game artist. Few vacancies and a lot of unemployed - supply and demand - it's quiet simply. So, every one is lowering their salary expectations, whereas it's getting harder and harder to make a living. And how should you raise a family with those kind of wages? I'm not greedy. I don't ask for too much. But I was only able to save a bit of money thanks to some contracts beside my actual job. And all those savings got spent, because I had a single accident and spent 11 days in the hospital. Next month I get I laid off as a redundancy. I got chosen because and hadn't had any children. Some vicious circle in my opinion.

Now, I'm trying to make a living as freelancer. At least that's something I can write as experience in my CV. Next time, I'm employed and get a job offer, I'll instantly apply. I had 3 offers in the quarter I got laid off and all were gone by the time I took my final holidays.

Ekaterina Gudkina
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Thank you very much! So well said and helpful!


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