The 5 Step Guide to Creating Your First Piece of Concept Art
Picture drawing the initial ideas of an action-packed movie or a fantasy video game. The futuristic scenery, the post-apocalyptic cityscapes or magical landscapes.
Imagine having the tools and the abilities to bring all that to life. To turn creative vision into visible art, that sets forth the creation of every other aspect of the game or movie.
That’s what concept art does.
It brings to visual form that which doesn’t exist yet.
It’s like creating an overarching visual design for a project to help bring it to fruition. A process that unfolds before all the pieces of that medium are brought together to make the final product.
By doing so, it also helps reduce opportunities for errors and eventually time and money.
Concept art, in essence, visually depicts an idea, mood or design that is used across media including films, video games or architecture. It’s not a mere illustration.
Making concept art is an iterative and imaginative process. You don’t hit the bull’s eye right away. It requires a certain dab of patience, several iterations and a whole lot of creativity.
You have to be able to work and re-work on the same piece of art that you’ve created again and again till its best version shows up.
It’s a constant visual support and reference for makers or a movie or say a game. What a concept artist creates will define the mood, characters or style of that movie or game.
It’s probably one of the most creatively challenging professions since it demands constant flow of ideas to figure out what does and doesn’t work for a project.
But you only need the right amount of grit, passion and a dynamic portfolio to make a successful career out of it.
Here are five steps to create your first piece of concept art.
All great concepts start with a plan
A lot of you might think starting to sketch right away is the answer to a great concept design. Of course you have to sketch. But not right away.
The art is the preliminary vision of the final product. It has to support the project narrative at all times. More importantly, art is the language you use to communicate those ideas that will determine the final product.
Say you’re designing a character for a game. It’s always better to begin with jotting down what exactly you’re trying to make. It’s definitely going to give you more clarity.
You can start by making a simple table or list of what you’re going to make.
While making it, ask yourself –
What genre are you designing for? Is it fantasy? Sci-fi? Maybe it’s horror. What species or gender does the character belong to? Is it a fiesty witch, an ugly gnome or a majestic dragon?
Does your character have a specialty? Maybe it’s a sword-wielding warrior, or a nimble archer.
It is not restricted to making a character. You can make a concept sketch for the landscape of a movie.
But the important thing to note is creating such a list or a table. Because this helps overcome creative blocks during the process of creating your concept art.
It helps you refocus when necessary and work purposefully throughout the process.
Create different versions of your artwork. Remember this is an iterative process. It also helps you understand what a certain project demands in terms of composition and overall design.
Having the right tools
No two-ways about this one. If you’re going to create your concept art, you’re going to have the necessary tools for it.
You can create your work using the traditional pencil and paper. Or you can go digital with a Wacom tablet (called the digital version of pencil and paper). It takes time to become comfortable with digital tools, but they provide more flexibility and options.
There are platforms including the industry standard platform – Photoshop. Even if you like traditional methods more, advancements in technology demand that you change accordingly as well.
The platforms provide you with several tools as well as scope and flexibility to help you improve your artwork.
For instance, there are plenty of brushes to choose from. Start with the basic ones including the hard rounds or the soft brushes or even the common ones without texture for painting.
You could move on to texture brushes later for a more refined piece. Or maybe to give more texture to certain aspects of your work.
And there are a whole lot more for getting different aspects of an artwork made. Cloud brushes, forest brushes, particle brushes (for smaller and more detailed ambits of your work) and so on.
If you choose to go the traditional painting route, you won’t have access to such brushes. Digital tools also allow you to easily make several copies or several versions of your work.
Once you’ve chosen the tools and theme to work with, you can get to concept sketches.
A concept sketch is one of the first steps towards exploring and communicating the ideas of a project by turning them into an informal visual form.
It is the first informal rendition of how a particular character in a game might look or of what shape and size a spaceship in a movie about inter-galactic wars will be.
A lot of the concept sketching often begins with creating ‘thumbnails’ (or thumbnailing).
This is a sure-shot way of letting your creativity flow and generating ideas endlessly before finally settling on what works.
In fact, it helps you flesh out the ideas you don’t like. And work with various shapes, tones, locations or features without really being too harsh on yourself.
It’s about creating several rough silhouettes of your work before choosing one to refine and create an in-depth version of.
You can refer the thumbnails to fellow artists, directors or the clients you’re working for more feedback.
You can learn more about the importance of thumbnailing here.
Refining the art
This is the stage where you start refining your work. The thumbnails you created have to make sense to add to the project narrative.
If you’re creating a mystical dragon, it’s time to ensure those thumbnails start to look like one.
You don’t have to get down to excessive detailing right away. But you certainly have to twist and tweak your thumbnails so that they start making sense.
You have to begin figuring out what path your design is on. The style elements, the shape and size of your character or object have to be more visible at this stage.
Maybe you’re creating a character wielding a hammer as a weapon. The shape of the hammer, its dimensions – all has to be figured out.
With that, you have to begin creating variations of your work. This allows for more room for experimenting with your work. You could enhance certain elements of your character. Or create versions where some elements don’t exist. Or even add new ones.
The process is rigorous and demands constant re-evaluation of what you’re doing. It also gives you time to fix something that doesn’t work well. Or add something that might work just right.
Final details: Of Value, Lighting and texture
The finishing stage of making a concept art is all about those details that give your work its essence.
Value is often of utmost importance. It pertains to the lightness or darkness of colour in a given piece of art. This imbues an artwork with its spatial illusions/ sense of space.
Usually, thumbnails and sketches are done in a few shades of grey. Your final piece of work has to be more detailed.
Working with values adds more depth to your work.
Lighting and texture of the art piece are also crucial to defining the values of the work. This works well to add more readability and realism to your work.
They are essential to develop mood in a piece of concept art. They make storytelling through the medium more efficient.
Concept art depicts ideas meant to be used for mediums including movies and games before they’re brought to fruition.
It represents an overarching design for a project in a visual form and works as a point of reference for the project.
But to consider it a mere illustration is wrong. Because it entails conceptualising ideas according to the project narrative.
Creating concept art is an iterative process. And it essentially involves,
- Knowing the theme on which to work. Having ideas to work with helps prevent creative blocks during the process
- Having the requisite tools to enable creating the art.
- Starting to work on concept sketches with the theme in head and the tools in hands. This usually involves a crucial process called thumbnailing
- Refining your artwork through several iterations
- Adding value, lighting and texture to your work to give it depth and better readability
If you need help taking your Concept Art skills to the next level, be sure to check out MAGES’ Concept Art courses here.