How Hard is it to become a Concept Artist?

So you are thinking about the possibility of becoming a concept artist. The thought of immersing yourself in the world of professionally making illustrations for video games, movies, animation, and comic books appeals to you.  

However, one of the many questions you’re likely asking yourself is: how hard is it to become a concept artist? Well, admittedly, the art and the profession can be challenging to understand and get into. 

First, there is no denying it – unless you stuff yourself with expert analyzes of art, it is difficult to understand concept art. For example, do you know the meaning of a half-filled glass of water placed on a shelf and titled “An oak tree” (A 1973 artwork by Michael Craig-Martin)? Unless you have basic knowledge of the artwork, it could be difficult. 

Being a professional concept artist is a challenge. Although it is a very incredible job, it is hard to be really good at this profession, and it is a very competitive field.  

Perhaps you think concept art is getting deeper into quibbling or maybe you already know it but you would like to know more. In any case, this article is for you!  

Here is a short guide to understanding this artistic movement. It is admittedly more opaque than others, but believe us, it is worth exploring. And who knows, maybe you’ll love it! 

What is concept art? 

Concept art is a movement that places more importance on the ideas and concepts that underlie a work of art rather than the visual aspects of the work produced.  

The purpose of concept art is simply to make visual representations of an idea, mood, or design for use in video games, comic books, films, animations, or any media before it is worked upon and turned into a final product.   

Concept art only conveys the design vision instead of specifying exactly the terms and details from the start.  

When did it start? 

Conceptual art as an art movement appeared in the mid-1960s in the United States and the United Kingdom.   

Some of its fundamental ideas and concepts, however, had already been introduced by the avant-garde movements of the early 20th century, in particular by the Dada movement and the ready-mades of Marcel Duchamp. 

Why did concept art start? 

As always, artists wanted to try something different and wanted to continue to question the nature and limits of art.   

For centuries, the object of art (the work of art itself, be it a painting, sculpture, photograph, etc.) has been the most important and most appreciated artistic production.   

It was the concept artists who went on to say that all art is essentially conceptual. They said that any artist, to create a work of art, must first have some idea of ​​what they need to do and how they want to do it.   

Concept artists decided to focus exclusively on what for centuries had only been the starting point of a work of art and turned it into a work of art in itself. 

What are the key ideas in concept art? 

“The idea becomes a machine that makes art,” a statement made by artist Sol Lewitt in his 1969 book “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art” reads. This phrase represents the basic concept of movement with the supremacy of the idea. 

The work did not necessarily have to be an object, in some cases, it was simply a set of instructions created by the artist 

Concept art has abandoned beauty, aesthetics, scarcity, and skill as a means of evaluating a work of art. 

Concept art was meant to be mentally interesting to the viewer – the artists wanted it to be provocative. 

Some conceptual works of art also questioned the role of museums and how the art market seemed to dominate art and dictate the production of art. 

The concept artists: who are they? 

The concept artist intervenes upstream in the creation of a video game, a film, or another artistic production. He may have to create characters, creatures, or even original objects. 

The role of the concept artist 

The role of the concept artist is to transform an idea into a visual creation so that it is seen and understood by the general public.  

He will use the trend book and the graphic elements designed by the artistic director to think about the aspect of the various details of the project.  

Thus, the concept artist puts in images the directives given by the artistic director, the project manager, or even the director himself, so that, all the technical and artistic interlocutors have the same vision of the universe to be created.   

His role is then to think and draw places, characters, vehicles, creatures, etc, and to give life to the atmosphere of the project. 

Concept art: appealing to the imagination 

The concept artist’s drawings must perfectly illustrate their story within the film or video game. The concept artist must therefore know how to take a step back and constantly question the coherence of all the elements that make up the universe of the project.  

Daily, the concept artist must carry out a significant amount of research. This is so that he can find sources of inspiration to produce his concept art.   

However, he cannot always give free rein to his imagination. Specifications must be respected and technical constraints exist.  

On the same project, the designer can thus be asked to modify and review his creations. This is when his work does not respect what was requested by the artistic director and the project manager. 

The skills to become a concept artist 

For you to be considered a good concept artist, or to become a concept artist, you must possess the following skills: 

  • Perfect command of drawing on paper 
  • Mastery of digital painting 
  • Skills in illustration, animation, and special effects 
  • Strong general and artistic culture 
  • Patience 
  • Productivity 
  • Good resistance to stress 
  • Fluency in English 
  • Open-mindedness 

How to become a concept artist?  

To become a concept artist, it is generally advisable to take an artistic course in an art or design school.  

At the faculty level, you can follow the Arts, Design, or Social Science to specialize in the field of concept art. Having a diploma in crafts and design can also be an access route to the profession of a concept artist. 

Specialized schools also provide training allowing access to this profession. Having a bachelor’s degree in Digital Graphic Design also allows you, through a three-year training course, to know the fundamentals of digital and technological culture.  

You will also have a mastery of the various work software essential to work in the world of video games. 

The teachings of dynamic drawing, perspective, traditional graphics combined with the learning of 2D, 3D, editing, and motion design software, are useful to access the profession of a concept artist attached to a video game studio. 

With a professional vocation, going for a degree also lets students carry out work placements during the years of training. This facilitates the creation of their portfolios and helps them enter the labor market.   

Many practical projects can be made in progress, such as the design and development of a game. These are also thought to be a springboard in the search for an internship or a job for the future concept artist. 

What are the job opportunities for the concept artist? 

The profession of concept artist has become very elitist. Therefore, the number of people wishing to occupy this position has exploded. Thus, strong competition consequently results in a very high level required to be hired. 

Professional development of the concept artist 

A concept artist will find his way more easily into other professions in the creative sectors such as illustration or character design.  

A concept artist can also apply for positions such as lead concept artist, an artistic director, or creative director after several years of experience in the sector. 

All about the concept artist’s salary 

The video game industry, in recent years, eclipsed the movie industry in terms of revenue generation. So, you expect an average concept artist to go home with a sizeable check annually.  

However, the salary of concept artists vary. Apparently, the salary will not be the same for a junior who is just starting in the profession and a senior, that is to say, an experienced employee.  

His geographic location and the size of the studio in which he is employed may also have an impact on his payslip.   

According to Glassdoor, the senior concept artist’s annual salary in Walt Disney varies on average from  $87,551 to $109,261 per year.  

However, on average, the salary of a concept artist is estimated at $52,398, according to Payscale.  

Final Words  

Concept artists are in demand due to the evolution of technology and the increased demand for video games, animations, and movies.   

However, we have to admit that to be good in concept art, you need to be skillful and keep acquiring skills in the job day after day. Aspiring concept artists will find the sector very competitive and hard to get into. But it’s not impossible.   

You need to have a perfect command of drawing on paper; have a mastery of digital painting; have skills in illustration, animation, and special effects; have a strong general and artistic culture; exercise patience and productivity, and be open-minded.