Blueprints for a new build, outlines for essays, playbooks for sports—each of these is a preliminary plan that sets the stage for something bigger to follow.
This same practice is used in art. Whether it’s sketching a drawing, chalk outlining a large mural, or developing concept art for a motion picture, artists and visual creators use pre-planning techniques to prepare for the larger works they’ll ultimately bring to life.
You might be more familiar with some of these examples than others. For instance, you might be wondering: What is concept art? And why is concept art important?
Keep reading to find out more about this unique art form used in media entertainment!
What Is Concept Art?
Concept art, simply put, is a form of visual art used to design media before it goes into production. Concept artists illustrate the initial designs for characters, landscapes, and more for films (animated and live-action), comic books, and video games.
In fact, more often than not, concept art is used to design and build entire worlds portrayed on screens. Concept art is the blueprint, the outline, the playbook for the visual design. Look at a concept artist’s work, and you’ll see the step-by-step, line-by-line development of the world being created.
Concept Art Basics
Now that you know what concept art is, let’s look at how to create concept art!
It goes without saying—hopefully—that the two basic skills needed to become a concept artist are drawing and imagination. Concept art is drawing-heavy and relies on illustrative skills to portray something well enough that a producer, director, or investor can envision what the item will look like in real life or in post-production completion.
Concept artists also need to have a fruitful imagination that can create concepts and visions. Oftentimes, concept artists are responsible for bringing someone else’s rough sketch or ideas to life on paper or computer illustration.
How to Make Concept Art
How to make art is such a difficult question to answer? How does anyone create things from their imagination and make it a reality? It all depends on the artist and their own unique vision, process, and skill set.
Perhaps, the best way to answer this question—how to make concept art—is by understanding general nuances everyone in the field needs to know.
As graphic novelist and Skillshare instructor Ira Marcks puts it, “Concept art is a way to mix my real-life experiences and imagination, and push my art to more evocative and expressive places.” In other words, to make concept art requires imaginative expression and pushing art to its boundaries.
Beyond this conceptual process, though, most concept artists utilize digital drawing tools and concept programs—such as iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, the Wacom Cintiq touch, and Photoshop—to create concept art bring their ideas to life.
The best way to think about a concept drawing is as a sketch—the first stage of concept art. Artists, whether they are architects, interior designers, engineers, or concept artists for films or video games, come up with initial concept drawings that simply show the shape or the general composite of the final product.
Concept drawing is often less detailed and quickly sketched so that an artist might be able to make several versions for one project.
Concept Art Examples
Let’s take a look at some concept art examples—some of which even went on to become huge Hollywood blockbusters!
Star Wars Concept Art
One of the most famous concept artists of all time is the man behind a galaxy far, far away: Ralph McQuarrie. McQuarrie was hired by George Lucas to bring his vision of a space-fantasy film to life on paper. In fact, it was Ralph McQuarrie who designed iconic characters such as Darth Vader, Chewbacca, and C-3PO. He was also responsible for designing famous landscapes, spaceships, and props.
Skillshare instructor Ira Marcks uses a painting by Star Wars concept artist Ralph McQuarrie to examine the extreme detail, tone, and choices made in designing this landscape shot.
Fantasy Concept Art
Fantasy concept art is exactly what it sounds like: concept art is created as the preliminary design and creation of some sort of fantastical film, show, comic, or video game. These concept artists imagine a world different from reality and create characters, settings, props, and elements to fit in this new realm.
Some acclaimed fantasy concept artists include Feng Zhu, Natasha Tan, John J. Park, and Claire Hummel.
Harry Potter Concept Art
The main concept artist for the Harry Potter films was freelance British architect Andrew Williamson, who was tasked with visually bringing J.K. Rowling’s world-renowned series to life on the big screen. Responsible for making the wizarding world a welcoming and eye-catching place for muggles, Williamson deftly used his architectural background to draw the magnificent buildings, settings, props, and vegetation only known to magical folk.
Concept Art Environments
Artists who create environments are responsible for imagining, designing, and illustrating whole worlds. Using color schemes and lighting and shading, artists are able to set the mood of the scene, affecting the audience’s emotional response to the visuals. Without environmental concept artists, imaginary landscapes, buildings, and props would fall short of the exquisite details necessary to transport viewers.
Superhero Concept Art
Bam! Pop! Pow! Superheroes are definitely having a moment in popular culture right now with all of the Marvel and DC big-screen adaptations. Before a superhero can light up the silver screen, however, concept artists spend plenty of time designing everything from their suits to their gadgets and the world in which they reside. Even taking a comic book from paper to film requires a concept artist to envision how the characters and props will look in “real life.”
Video Game Concept Art
Very similar to concept artists for films, video game concept artists are responsible for designing and creating entire worlds. Concept artists will take detailed instructions from creators—whether they are filmmakers or game developers—and build the visual world from those cues.
Concept Artist Jobs
You’ve seen some visual examples and read about some concept artist jobs, such as working on a film, television show, or video game. Wondering how to get a job as a concept artist yourself? Let’s look at some other concept artist jobs specs, including a typical concept artist salary and the importance of building a portfolio.
How to Become a Concept Artist
This is one of those fields in which your skills, creativity, and portfolio matter more than your education.
As we mentioned already, to become a concept artist, having the ability to draw is an almost necessary skill. Concept artists should have a good understanding of and grasp on depicting human bodies, not necessarily in intimate detail but in the general form.
Because they are often responsible for developing whole worlds, concept artists should also be able to draw architectural structures and environmental landscapes. It is also important for concept artists to understand the effects of colors and curating color palettes on affecting the overall mood of a scene.
In addition to being masterful artists, concept artists, particularly in today’s digital world, should be able to navigate and use concepting tools, such as Photoshop and Zbrush.
Concept artists should not only regularly practice and hone their craft, but they should study art as well. Studying creations by the great concept artists of acclaimed films and video games can prove a useful technique for improving one’s own portfolio.
Studying how concept artists created their own worlds and used light and shadow and colors to fabricate depth and mood is a great way for aspiring concept artists to improve.
Find Jobs for Concept Artists
Just like any other job, looking for jobs at the companies you’re interested in is always a great place to start. And networking within the industry itself is even better!
Aspiring concept artists often network at fairs, expos, and festivals hosted by industry professionals. Those interested in finding jobs as concept artists can look on affiliate sites run by large networks such as the Concept Art Association.
But before you do, remember that building a personal portfolio of work to show prospective employers is vital to becoming a concept artist. A portfolio showcases your best work (even if it’s just done on spec), your niche talents and special skills, and your preferred illustrative medium.
Average Salary for Concept Artist Jobs
Sometimes jobs in the arts fail to be lucrative enough to make a living wage. Concept artists’ salary, however, averages $73,687 per year, according to Glassdoor.
Concept artists’ salary will vary from job to job. However, it can be a steady income that allows you to follow your artistic passions!
Whether you want to be the next Ralph McQuarrie working on blockbuster films or join in the niche world of video gaming, concept artists are so important to media and entertainment! Without them, we wouldn’t have the vivid, awe-inspiring games and movies we know and love today.
So pick up your pencil (or charcoal, or digital pen) and begin your journey as a concept artist!
Make Your Own Concept Art Characters!
Imaginative Drawing: Developing Concept Art Characters