• Admin

How To Become A Successful Concept Artist

In this essay we are going to look at how to become a successful concept artist. In order to do this, we must first break it down to get a better understanding of what a concept artist truly is and what their career involves.


The origin of concept art is a topic that has been widely debated. Some people suggest it goes as far back as the first car designs, or perhaps even when animation began. However, it is more than likely that concept art became popular when Walt Disney began working on their animation work in the 1930’s. The quality of the designs was so incredible, and inspirational, it is no wonder concept art appeared to creep up on the world of art. It was not long before concept art was then used in films, anime, for production design and so on.

Photo Link

The image above shows a quick sketch for the film “Snow White.” With its unique features and quirky details, the design is brought to life and appears to reveal some magic and fairy tale which then creates a perfect theme, therefore capturing the attention of the public audience.

Photo Link

This is a colour image of a still taken from the same film, “Snow White,” and as you can see, the concept artists had to bring something unique and special to the film in order to to hold the attention of the audience. The concept artists had to contrastingly work both in detail to bring the characters to life and to distinguish them from the background, whilst also keeping some simplicity in the design. This image also shows a great example of how a concept artist might work using colour and shading, which is vital to any concept artists' work.


Here we will look at how a concept artist produces such high quality designs, and we will do this by breaking the subject down further.

A common problem with being a 'concept artist' is that it is very labour intensive and time consuming, especially when working on a final design. This is because a final design must be presentable to the client, and if the client does not like it or it does not match their specifications, you have to start again from scratch. This problem affects character designers that work in the more traditional mediums, as well as those that use more digital techniques. So in order to avoid this problem, there are a few steps which can be taken, as shown below:

Thumbnail Sketches

Rough Sketches


Final Sketches

Final Design

So, when working to please a client is the key objective, or perhaps even in your own design work, following these steps will ensure you will make fewer mistakes. We will now discuss how each of these steps can help.

Thumbnails Sketches

Thumbnail sketches are an important first step in creating any almost any artwork, but this is especially important for a concept artist because it helps you formulate an idea. This is a quote from Mark Romanoski taken from a YouTube video from 10th January 2011:

“The first thing I do is, I sit down and draw what are called thumbnail sketches. I’m not trying to draw correctly. I’m trying to think creatively, I’m trying to come up with ideas. I’m thinking about movement, I’m thinking about position, shapes. I’m just scribbling I’m not concerned about anatomy. I’m not concerned about proportions. I’m not even thinking about making it into a correct drawing. This step is not what this is for.”

Rough Sketches

A common mistake that young artists make is that they begin drawing straight away, hoping for a perfect drawing because that is what they think they want. However, what you end up with is something quite flat. The process of doing those sketches is very important to go through and something that should not be rushed, because it is here that the quality shines through on a finished piece. It is here that you need to think carefully, you may even do a thousand sketches of the same drawing in different positions, and this will help you to figure out what works and what does not. This is done by using light and shadows, shape and action but nothing in too much detail. Never limit yourself to one single sketch in the beginning, even if you think it is fantastic, you must keep working on it until you know for certain that it is perfect. .

Photo Link

Ralph Maquarrie usually made sketches in miniature, for example the Darth Vader sketches, because he was an artist working for the film industry. This meant he had to go through this process quickly because it would cost a lot of money to spend a long time on perfectly drawn characters and scenes for a real life film. However, the important thing to note is that he still followed this process.

George Lucas used Ralph Maquarrie’s sketches or small paintings to show the film crew what he wanted, and if there had been thousands of drawings, sketches and ideas, these would get lost like a needle in a haystack, because there are so many other things to consider when producing a film.

Photo Link


This is a crucial part of the process for any concept artist. The reason for this is because without references, you cannot draw a subject. If you do not understand how something looks then clearly you will make mistakes. Making mistakes means only one thing: starting from scratch. It also means you will receive letters from critics detailing what went wrong in the design, and therefore wasting peoples' time unnecessarily. Obviously, you can guess the shape of something, but you need to see it before drawing it so that you can observe all the details. This is why seeking references from books, life models or even through the Internet is important (although the Internet is not always a great resource as there are a lot of images that have been edited and/cropped or distorted in some way).

References help character designers, as well as almost any other artist, to guide them through their drawing, to get the proportions right, to get the small details right, and also for inspiration.

Walt Disney used “Live Action” when drawing humans and animals. What this means is that they drew their animals and humans directly from the primary source itself. They used real tigers, lions and other animals to observe when working on their drawings, in fact they even recorded them and had other people draw from the same thing, to get different perspectives.

Recording the animals or humans in this way helped massively, because no animal or human can hold a position or perform a sequence for too long. Then, the recording could be played back many times to catch the finer details as well.

Final Sketch

A final sketch is a final piece showing a piece of artwork with attention to the lighting and any other intricate details, according to what the client has requested, and if changes are to be made they can be accommodated here, before the final design is completed, and this will guarantee a satisfied client and a great piece of work.

Photo Link

Photo Link

The final outcome or 'design' is the final piece of work showing colour and composition, and any changes made after this stage will cost the client more money if they had previously agreed with the final sketch. Concept artists need to go through the sketches, composition, shapes, shadows, colouring, lighting and any further details before they finish a piece.


There isn’t a simple way to advance in a career as a concept artist because it’s based on your own designs. The only thing a concept artist can do is to constantly improve on his designs and the area in which he wants to go to. To do this an artist must do a lot of research into that specific area. For example, if you are inspired by blood, skulls and macabre or morbid themes, then you look into those areas of scary movies and books and let your imagination flow, and from this you can gain some insight into how it has been created. However, because concept artists work in many different areas, such as film, gaming, and animation, it can be more difficult to research.

Films: In the film industry it is vital for a concept artist to understand the right mood and the right type of lighting, whilst also trying to keep the concept art unique and simple, to capture the audience's attention. Concept art mostly goes into character design, because the characters will be the focus of the design work. Details are especially important to focus on here, for example how the characters look physically and what could be modified, the anatomy of the character to make sure the actors can move around freely must be considered, and also for the actor to be able to get into the role of the character more easily. A fantastic example of this would be Star Wars, because they have used hundreds of characters, most of which were created and brought to life using computer software (CGI), with the remaining characters created using actors, costumes and make up.

Gaming: The world of gaming is a much harder place to get into if you are following a career path of character designer, because it means you need to know about modelling and creating your designs in 3D. This is a vital part to any concept artist because they will be responsible for the outlook. Thousands of drawings must be made to look at the environment and characters and looking at these details from all angles is very important. If this is not done correctly, it will be hard to create the right value and the right model and not look flat. It is also important to keep to the same style throughout the entire game and understand that every detail counts as games are trying to become more realistic. For a concept artist in creature or character design its important to follow these steps:

  • How a character/creature moves

  • How their clothing moves

  • Vehicles they might use

  • Weapons they might use

  • Facial expressions

  • Interactions with other characters

  • Involvement with their environment

For an environment concept artist, each environment must be unique and suitable for all characters, whilst also creating the right feel for the player. As a concept artist in this area, as in many others, you must consider the importance of lighting.

Animation: Being a concept artist in the field of animation is very similar to being one in the areas of gaming and film, in that must be kept really simple. The movement of the characters must still be fluid and the characters and environment must be kept simple because the audience does not have enough time to look at every detail. Each shot lasts only for a few brief moments, and the focus is again on showcasing the emotions and expressions of the characters

The key role to get into any industry is by having a unique outlook and style, which is a rare talent. If you paint like everyone else, and you do things like everyone else then you won’t get anywhere because it has been seen before, but by having something different can lead you to different areas and become successful, so it is best to know which area you want to get into.


After consideration, being a 'Character Designer Concept Artist' is a great career path, especially if it is the main area of interest. But to do so, it is vital to understand character design by looking into lighting, clothing and anatomy. Creating the design in digital rather than hand drawing will give an upper hand and will certainly be easier in all industries. This is because any changes that need to be made can easily be carried out without starting from scratch. Looking at what other artists have produced, alongside cultural influences and historical factors will help to understand your characters, focusing more specifically on anatomy, to get the desired outcome with regard to expression and intricate details, which in turn, creates something unique. Also, considering the background of a design is important because it gives the character a place in that world, somewhere they belong, and can help to create the right effect. It would be a good idea to experiment with different landscapes, and to slowly build them up using the same themes as with the characters.


The idea of becoming a concept artist is a good start, but how does one become successful? Many will tell you to start a web page, others will say to start a blog and maybe YouTube videos. Another really good starting point would be to sign up to some 'online forums'. The reason for this is because forums to tend to be rather big and tend to have a broad range of artists and clients from across the world, and from all walks of life, who will all appreciate different styles of work, and admire different aspects on an artists' work because of their own outlook on life. People can relate to your artwork, and react to it. It is subjective, and what they take from it will be different to the next person. You can also showcase your work to more people in this way. The biggest forum has to be http://www.conceptart.org as it contains a large collection of work from many artists interested in similar ideas, and you can get really good, or really constructive feedback from these artists. Another good website is http://www.deviantart.com which is good for displaying work and all sorts of work is shown here, again giving another perspective. To be well known you simply need to have something new, but also you need to link your work to other sites, for example your own web page or YouTube channel. This creates traffic so that more people will look at your work and be connected with you.


We have looked at of making a career out of being a successful concept artist, including some history of concept art, and looking in detail at the process of creating work in this field. The most important thing is to sketch, a lot, and to keep on learning, because no matter what a concept artist does, they will always be able to learn something new and find new challenges. Concept artists who work with either more traditional or digital methods face common problems, for example they both need to consider lighting, composition, time management, organisation, sketches, and colouring. You need to be skilful and persistent with drawing in order for your talent to shine through your designs. Also, don't be afraid to simply to get your work out there, because you are not only opening yourself up to feedback, you could be inspiring others or bringing someone joy from admiring a piece of work.


Ralph Mcquarrie Interview

Darth Vader Thumbnail sketches

George Lucas Interview

Star Wars and Disney Concept Artist William Silvers ArtInsights

Different Concept Artist

Bobby Chiu

Ken McFarlane

Character Design Article

Video Games

Comic Book Characters

William Silver interview