I spent a moment by a creek in Yosemite lightly sketching the light illuminating the trees and winding along the surface of the water – you can see the whispers of my pencil marks in lighter areas. Then I sat cross-legged on the sandy shore with my travel watercolors on one knee and my sketchbook in the other and quickly laid down the basic light blue of the sky and turquoise color of the light shining through distant trees in the background. I focused on the major shadow and light shapes and a simple color palette, keeping the paper very wet so that the colors would bleed together. The final stroke was a big wash of blue along the right side and bottom right corner to glaze in the shadow I was sitting in. Plein air painting forces me to work quickly to capture the impression, and as a result, it helps me be fully conscious the moment and soak in natural beauty of the landscape.
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Regardless of where you are in your career, your skill level, or experience, there is something for everyone to take from the Game Developer’s Conference. I met a range of people from game developers and artists, to CEOs of major companies who are interested in how the game industry will impact their businesses, to recruiters and HR representatives, to news media, to students and fans of games, and probably bumped into a few executives of social media like Facebook along the way.
This was my second time attending GDC, and the first time as a professional, so I was amazed at how much more I got out of it than I had two years before when I came as a student. Not only was there much more going on Su-Th, but the International Game Developer’s Association (IGDA) busted out with its amazing services, including but not limited to, a new Advocacy Track available to everyone, plus a survey designed for improving the careers of game developers. Being surrounded by so many passionate and creative people for the full week left my Willpower bar fully charged.
Now that I’ve recharged my Health and Stamina bars back to their normal levels, and am back into my normal workflow, I’ve scribbled the top take-home lessons I’ve taken from this year’s GDC. Many of these tips can be applied to attending any professional convention, particularly to people just learning how to network or just getting into an industry.
Decide what your main goals are and organize your time around them. Here are my suggestions for how to go about achieving them at GDC:
Networking. If you are coming to GDC to meet people, then spend time volunteering through either GDC directly or through IGDA, spend time in the career center and expo floors chatting with everyone you meet, and connect with everyone else by using the #GDC hashtag on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and the GDC event app. Also keep in mind that the indie game developers are very approachable. Your goal is to give away all of your business cards and to get as many, or more, in return. But first, take a moment to look at their card and remember their face, you’ll need to connect them later (more on how to use business cards below). Bonus if you’re invited to private parties.
Career Development. Go to the Career Center early and get in line for portfolio reviews. Some of them allow you to sign up for an appointment, but for most of them you have to wait in line. When your review is over, ask if you can follow-up with changes that you’ve made to your work. They might give you a business card. If they do, then remember to send them a thank you email for their generous time and attention. If you do take their advice, revise your portfolio, and follow-up, they could become a mentor.
After each review, jot down what you learned and take out any pieces your reviewer said you should nix (easier to do with an ipad than a printed folio). Then give yourself a week to mull on what you learned. Lauren Panepinto wrote a great article on Muddy Colors on how to do this in her article The In-Person Portfolio Review. Your goal is get career direction, decide what skills to work on, and where to take your portfolio. It’s fantastic if you get a job right away, but that’s pretty rare.
Tip: Some studios treat portfolio reviews like job interviews, and will give you feedback based on what their studio is looking for in artists to hire; others will give you general advice that will help your overall development as an artist. That’s why, if you’re looking at how to improve your portfolio in general, it’s better to wait until you can see the whole spread of feedback from a variety of studios and find the patterns. Alternatively, if there is a particular studio you want to work for, then you’ll know exactly how to tailor your portfolio for them.
Skill Development & Evaluating the Competition. If you’re already employed, focus on the talks and panels that are relevant to your career. Major studios often outline what they want their employees to attend, but there’s usually room for a little extra outside of your specialty. Check out the Expo floor for new innovations in game technology too.
Loot. Speaking of technology, there is a lot to see on the Expo floor and a lot of swag to take home. I got an early preview of Unreal Engine 4 but missed out on the Oculus VR before Facebook bought it. I’m told it was an amazing experience. Also, some indie game developers will let you download their games for free or at discount that week, so be sure to meet up with them. Lastly, check out the GDC store.
Getting Your Feet Wet as a Student. If you’re strapped for cash and it’s too late to sign up to volunteer, or can’t take the time off from school, go on Friday to Student Day and get a taste of the GDC experience. There are talks like “Killer Portfolio and Portfolio Killer” designed just for you. Between those talks, make it a point to get your portfolio reviewed, not just by the panel at Portfolio Killer but on the Career Center floor too. You’ll get a better sense of what will be expected of you when you enter the industry.
Prepare, prepare, prepare. At least two weeks before GDC, choose your favorite piece(s) for your business card, design your card, and order at least 200 high-quality prints so they will arrive about a week before the convention.
Tip 1: Don’t spend so much, or order so few, that you’ll shy from giving them away. There will be raffles on top of hundreds of people to meet, so don’t be stingy. When you’re starting out, it’s important to meet as many people as you can and collect their cards so you can build your network and get referrals, if not job offers. The point is to get beyond the firstname.lastname@example.org email barriers to a real live person. And sometimes you’ll bump into people unexpectedly who can help you out in other ways. I met a CEO of a major travel company who offered to help me out the next time I’m flying somewhere…probably to another convention.
Tip 2: Your cards should be just like your handshake, strong and confident. Several of my professional artist friends recommended Moo because they print photo-quality cards and allow you to order up to 15 different images on the backs at no extra charge. I had 3 different kinds printed – a character, an interior environment, and a creature – and found that people loved having a choice. Infact, I bumped into a teacher from Japan who wanted all three so he could use them as examples in his class.
Oh, but make sure not to get those half-sized stick business cards. They look cool, but are easily lost. Instead, make ones that are easy to write on.
Tip 3: If you’re an artist, don’t be caught without a portfolio. Pick your strongest 8-15 pieces and cull the rest. Either print or download it to an iPad (preferably an portfolio app like Portfolio for iPad) with images sized at 300 dpi – which will allow your reviewers to zoom in on the details. Don’t count on there being wifi on the Expo or Career floors, even if they did provide it to attendees it would be slowed to a crawl with all of the traffic going through it.
Tip 4: Don’t clutter your portfolio with process work, but do tell a story. If you’re also a concept artist like me, either create a separate section with your works-in-progress, comps, and thumbnails or else include them on the bottom or sides of finished paintings. Read more tips here by Gavin Goulden, Lead Character Artist of Insomniac Games.
Tip 5: Prepare about 25 copies of your resume on high-quality paper for HR and recruiting departments.
Tip 6: Update your LinkedIn profile and your website (more on LinkedIn below). Also prepare to tweet a lot, and it doesn’t hurt to snap photos and share them on your social networks.
Tip 7: Wear sensible shoes, pack a water bottle in a plastic zip-lock bag, a light hoodie, your charger, and a roll-up shopping bag. Needless to say, you’ll be walking a lot, want to keep your water and food safe from your resumes, and be aware that San Francisco won’t give you shopping bags for free.
Tip 8: RSVP early for parties. If you’re under 21, check ahead to see if you’ll be allowed in before you’re turned away at the door.
Volunteer and sign up to volunteer early. I had an amazing experience volunteering for IGDA and now consider them my chosen family in the game industry. Volunteering is an excellent way to meet new people in the industry, both to form lasting friendships with other volunteers and organizers, and to meet people you wouldn’t have thought to talk to otherwise. When you step up to give back to the community, you are demonstrating that you are a problem-solver to both attendees and the organizers. That in turn helps your resume and application for scholarships (if you’re still in school). Plus your volunteer group can give you a head’s-up on social events, deals, and networking tips. Speaking of deals…
Sign up for deals with Uber and Lyft to get you around safely at night, especially if you plan to drink at after-parties or are traveling alone. Embark iBart is also a great app to have if you’ll use Bay Area Transit.
If you’re shy or just anxious, keep in mind that everyone around you loves games and is there to meet people. Take a deep breath and turn your anxiety into enthusiasm by chatting up the people around you. Your heros will never be as available to talk with you as they are at GDC. And when in doubt, find the quiet person in the room and rescue them with easy questions. More on how to do this in Use This Simple Trick to Approach Anyone.
Tip: Wear geek signifiers to help break the ice. I did well with a Zelda t-shirt.
If you’re burning out then sit down and eat something, rest at your hotel, or go to the Expo floor. Take care of yourself and avoid making a bad impression or taking a portfolio review the wrong way. The important thing is to have fun meeting your goals, and you can’t do that if you’re depleted.
When the convention is over and you have your spread of business cards, it’s time to follow-up and expand your network. Start by downloading a business card reading app to help you update your address book. While you’re doing this, set aside all of the cards belonging to people you need to follow-up directly with. These are your portfolio reviewers, your mentors, recruiters, HR executives, indie developers who might be looking for a new member of their team, and people who you had interesting conversations with. Then plug all of your new contacts into your social networks. Most importantly, import them into LinkedIn and invite them all to connect with you.
While we’re talking about LinkedIn, if you’re looking for work, then it’s time to upgrade to the Job Seeker’s account. LinkedIn is great for finding jobs, reaching out to recruiters, getting advice from industry professionals in your network, and endorsements. Many recruiters and HR experts use LinkedIn in place of resumes to find new talent. The Premium level comes with a lot of benefits. For one, it allows you to reach the 3rd-degree contacts of everyone you met at the convention. Two, you can send InMail to everyone you can’t reach that way or isn’t on the OpenLink network. Three, you can see everyone who’s checked your profile and invite them to connect. The Job Seeker’s account marks you as looking for work in searches and allows you to see both salaries offered for certain jobs and how you measure against the competition.
When you’ve done that, go back to your stack of cards and follow-up on each of your new contacts with tailored emails. Use the notes you scribbled on their cards to remind you about what you want to talk about.
Then, if you’re an artist, after your 1-week rest is over, review your notes and decide what changes to make to your portfolio. Once you’ve made your changes (this will probably take about a month) follow-up with the generous people who reviewed your portfolio, and ask for another review.
In conclusion, I want to give a heartfelt thank you to everyone who made GDC happen, who took me on as a volunteer, connected with, and advised me. You all made my experience at GDC amazing.
If you went to GDC this year, what were your goals and what did you learn? What other suggestions would you give to newcomers? Or if you didn’t attend, are you thinking of going next year?
Props designed for the Waystone Inn from Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle | Personal Work
Value and color comps for an alley in Tarbean from Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle | Personal Work
Color variations for Kvothe’s design from Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle | Personal Work
Thumbnails of Kvothe from Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle | Personal Work
Thumbnails of Treasure Island | Personal Work
Thumbnails of Lehua | Lehua, Ka’ao a ka Wahine [Lehua, The story of a Woman]: A Hawaiian Noblewoman Comes of Age at a “Changing of the Gods.” and Awesome Stories
Earlier this week I posted this painting “Cursed by the Cthaeh”, a portrait of Kvothe Kingkiller from Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle. Today I want to show you how I made it. If you think this painting came easy, it didn’t. It’s been a long time coming, and here’s the full story.
Step 1: Understanding the Concept
I try to research the subject I’m illustrating because starting out well-informed leads to both inherently better visual storytelling and clues that readers familiar with the story will recognize. For those who haven’t yet read this series, I highly recommend both The Name of the Wind and Wise Man’s Fear. They’re excellent reads and I find there’s more to uncover each time I read them. Without spoiling anything major, I’ll just hint that it’s a tragic story of Kvothe’s rise and downfall, and his downfall begins at this moment when he meets the Cthaeh in its tree. Other elements include a cloak made of shadows, a pin of silver pipes, light blue flowers in the tree, red butterfly wings below the tree, an ancient sword, a lute, and of course Kvothe’s flame red hair.
Step 2: Sketching
I began with a very rough figure drawing, pictured in the upper left. By this point I had already done the research into the clothing I wanted to reference and just needed to add Kvothe’s personality and mood into this scene. He’s a heroic character, so I began with a hero’s pose and used a wonderful cloak reference to visualize my first idea. I decided that it wouldn’t make sense for him to stand there posing under the tree, so I revised the sketch and drew him walking towards us and away from the tree. Above, you’ll see my transition from that first rough sketch of Kvothe into something more refined and finally loosely sketching out the Cthaeh’s tree behind Kvothe.
For the tree reference, I researched ancient gnarly European oaks and java willow trees. They have powerful twisting branches and roots that seem to reach everywhere, like dead spider legs or octopus tentacles. Placing the tree and Kvothe together like this makes it look like the tree is trapping him in its roots and branches, and as if knot in the tree is the Cthaeh’s eye or portal through which it speaks to those unfortunate souls who draw close enough.
Step 3: Value and Color Swatches
One of the best pieces of advice I learned about composition was to clearly define the foreground, middle ground, and background clearly with both value and color. I experimented with a few graphic combinations and settled on No. 4 and F. Placing Kvothe as the darkest shape against a light background centers the focus on him and places the Cthaeh’s tree further in the background while allowing me to hint that the tree has symbolically cast a shadow over him. And one of Kvothe’s most iconic features is his hair, so I chose my colors to compliment it. I also decided on a color for the ground plane that was in the same family as his shadow cloak because I wanted it to feel like it was melting into the ground.
Step 4: Setting up Value Structure and Basic Color
At this stage, I wasn’t worried about perfect mark-making or blending, just setting roughing out the color and values. I kept to a dark pallet for Kvothe and played with a gradient for the background.
Above, I brought the tree sketch back in and adjusted its placement in relation to Kvothe.
Next I played with ideas for the tree, letting a swirly mist creep out of it, but in the next step I discarded the idea. Kvothe also went through some changes here. I received great feedback from my mentor, Chad Weatherford, that I would tell the story better if Kvothe were looking over his shoulder and visually reinforcing his relationship to the tree. I also went back to my references and chose a specific actor to “play” Kvothe in my mind’s eye.
Step 5: Color!
At this point I stopped selecting colors from the pallet and just sampled them from the canvas with the color picker. I spent time developing the mid-ground and background, the tree, and underlying colors. I also began to mask out part of Kvothe’s shadowcloak to reveal the ground and roots behind him. Lastly, I painted out an extra tree branch so that the two remaining ones would make a frame around Kvothe’s head and I could let light break through the tree branches to draw more focus on him.
My background is with traditional paints so I like to work from dark to light. At this stage I brought in some lighter colors, especially around Kvothe. Then I added a few photo textures of roots, bark, and moss into the picture on Overlay layers and continued to paint over those. I also decided to open up Kvothe’s body still more to the tree and switched his posture. Here, his right foot and left hand are forward as he walks towards us. I was also mindful to switch which side his sword hung on and continued to render and develop him, including his wonderful flame-like hair. I used a layer mask to vanish more of his shadow cloak and added rim light not only to illuminate Kvothe but to add a lost and found line where the edge of his cloak ends and catches the light.
I added more overlapping foliage and rim lighting and defined the edge of the hill. I also drew on other colors from the scene to suggest distant parts of the forrest and to unify Kvothe with his environment. I think the faint conte-like marks give it an ethereal quality, which is perfect for a scene that happens in the fae realm.
Step 6: Lighten it Up
It was time to bring in the lighter values and unify the piece, revealing more of the underlying colors. I did this in layers – there’s a gradient of color that fades from dark and more opaque from the bottom to lighter and more transparent at the top, which also helps unify Kvothe in the foreground with the rest of the scene. I also lightened up the tree and the background behind it to reveal more colors, but was mindful to make them lighter than Kvothe in order to stay true to my original value plan. Lastly, I softened the texture of the canopy of leaves in the background and faded some of the branches out to show more depth.
Step 7: The Finishing Touches
The final details are best seen in close-up. Until this point I had worked zoomed out so that I could see the whole piece at once, but when it comes to the details like these, and the three most important areas of the piece, I zoomed in and spent more time rendering. In the first close-up you can see how I refined Kvothe’s expression and facial features, particularly shaping his nose and the crease between his brows. In the next close-up, I added details like the red butterfly wings on the ground and light blue flowers in the tree (both were story elements from the book, and both colors I drew from elsewhere in the painting). I thought about adding a live butterfly either on Kvothe’s shoulder or by the “eye”of the tree, but it was too distracting. Finally in the last close-up I finished the “eye” to give it more character.
Edit: I came back to this piece after additional feedback I received from Cynthia Sheppard and added more warm yellow light into the background of this piece, rounded out the rim light, adjusted Kvothe’s chin, and the color balance. Then for fun, I added dappled light patterns. The result is updated at the top of this article.
This week in Noah Bradley’s Art Camp we’re studying figures, gestures, and flesh tones, and one of the assignments is a long digitally painted color study of a full figure. I highly recommend this class to anyone who wants to level up their digital painting skills, especially for professional illustration or concept art.
I chose to reference Jenni, from Art Models 7: Dynamic Figures for the Visual Arts. This book is full of amazing model reference photos in dynamic poses and comes with a CD in which every gesture is photographed from 360 degree angles. She posed with another model, Misha, as if slain by her, but I concentrated on just Jenni and painted Misha out. I included the reference photo below so that you can see not only how closely I matched it, but also the quality of the photographs on the CD. I highly recommend adding this book to your collection.
Tracing is not allowed in Noah’s class, and we’re only allowed to use photographs later in the program after practicing drawing from life. In this I referenced a photo, while I studied the relationships between the different shapes. It was fun to try drawing Jenni with her face upside-down – and this time I didn’t flip the canvas vertically to check my work – I wanted to practice painting people from different angles.
Sometimes I practice figure drawing and painting when the models are clothed so that I can study how they drape on the model and the different materials and textures people weare. But nude figure studies are also helpful for studying all of the musculature and what’s going on underneath the layers of cloth. So it’s a trade-off. This particular study is also preparation for an personal project I’ll be making later, based on a nightmare I had recently, for which I’ll need a nude reference.
Happy New Year!
Today I conducted my first annual review on 2013 and made plans for 2014, as suggested by blogger Chris Guillebeau of The Art of Noncomformity in his essay How to Conduct Your Own Annual Review. A personal Annual Review an alternative to New Year’s resolutions, and for good reason, only 8% of people keep their resolutions.
The truth is that New Year’s resolutions like “Lose weight.”, “Save more money.”, and “Get better at drawing people.” don’t work because they are vague and not measurable. There’s no benchmark to measure “enough” by, nor is there a deadline or reward. Resolutions have no objective goals and deadlines, systems to make the changes happen, or consequences that lead to results. They are merely the resolve to change. Even setting more specific objectives like “Lose 20 lbs.” or “Revise my portfolio” aren’t enough because ultimately we can’t completely control the outcomes of our long-term efforts; we can only control only our actions that lead to those outcomes.
The process of a review takes time, and for good reason. A full review guides you to go deeper and deeper, defining the theme for the year; your priorities by category; goals for those priorities; and finally to the next actions to take, due dates for those steps, and metrics to gauge success. And it’s flexible enough to adjust for how you work best and adapt when your goals change throughout the year.
It took me about two weeks to do mine while juggling other projects, and I plan to start it in mid-December next time, but I think it will save me much more time in the long run because it forced me to focus my efforts and get real. It helped me see where I wouldn’t have enough time to fill lower priorities, and where I was neglecting other higher priorities. For a freelance artist who need to manage their own time between deadlines and find that elusive work-life-balance, I’m finding it an extremely useful tool.
My Annual Review also inspired me to pay it forward with the lessons that I’ve learned through earning my B.A. in Psychology, working in the fields of Psychology and Psychiatry, earning my M.F.A. in Illustration, and finally working in the illustration and concept art industry. One of my “reach goals” for this year is to help others by writing a series of essays on time management for creatives, including not only prioritization systems like this one, but also how to ignore distraction, change habits, and work more efficiently. After-all, we learn best by teaching.
The Annual Review by Chris Guillebeau is a first step in that process. So check it out and plan to spend some time on it. I’ll share my review of 2013 and some of the goals I have for 2014 as an example:
What went well this year?
While I don’t have specific benchmarks to compare to, I know my artistic skills developed considerably in many areas thanks to both my formal schooling and Noah Bradley’s Art Camp, in environmental and prop design, learning ZBrush, and the workflow for developing production art for games. I produced good artwork this year! I also took control of my relationship to food and exercise and live a much more healthy and fulfilling lifestyle. Yes, I lost weight, but more importantly, I am stronger, have more endurance, sleep better, and feel good. Best of all, my focus has shifted dramatically from fixating on weight to other benchmarks and I’m finding that taking the time to care of my body sustains my artwork rather than takes away from it. Lastly, I set money aside to go to out-of-state art conferences this year.
What did not go well this year?
I’ve been spending almost all of my time working on my art and learning; so much so that I haven’t kept this blog or my Facebook account very well updated. I have a very long backlog of work to share. And the backlog has prevented me from reaching out as I would have liked because it was fixed in time and I am not. This is one thing I’ve identified that needs to change this year. I also haven’t taken a true vacation with my husband in years, or gone to many cultural events, and that is something else I want to change.
In 2014 I Will Focus On Building My Career
The main theme of 2014 for me will be emerging into the industry as a full-time illustrator and concept artist, though I will also be balancing other priorities such as sustaining a healthy lifestyle, friends and family, etc.
My main goals will be revising my body of work with a total of 22 finished pieces to revise my portfolio with and share the development process for my concept art. 15 of these are for my graduate thesis, 7 are for the months following leading up to December 2014. At the same time, I’ll be cultivating my professional reputation by posting here and to my social networks regularly and attending industry conferences. These, and my other objective-goals, have specific benchmarks such as revising my previous thesis work by particular dates, and a week-by-week workflow for completing new paintings.
To balance this, I’ve set my absolute minimums for fitness time (20 min/day, 6 days/wk) to stick to even under tight deadlines, and made it easier to eat healthfully this upcoming year by overhauling my kitchen and learning one new healthful recipe a month. I’ve also set dates for attending a few plays, going on day trips, and a week-long vacation this summer. The steps that feel like “work” have set rewards for completing them. And I’d like to give back to the artistic community in the process.
Finally, I’ve arranged to continue my growth after graduation. I’m completing Noah Bradley’s Art Camp and eLearning with ZBrush now and will continue on with Chris Oatley’s Magic Box. Later on, I’ll take classes at CGMA, Gnomon, and SmArtSchool. And I’d like to give back to the artistic community in the process. The best way to learn is by teaching.
2013 was a good year for me, but I plan to make 2014 even better, and one way I can do that is by helping you. That’s an important goal to me, and this article is a step towards that goal (not just a resolution).
Did you achieve everything you set out to in 2013? What went well? What didn’t? What are your goals for 2014 and what are the first actions you can take this week towards meeting them?
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I’ve been developing the design of Kvothe, the main character in Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle, for my thesis project dedicated to visually developing the story for game pre-production. Above are my color experiments for Kvothe as an adult. It’s helpful to make quick study of color combinations in the process of visual development before creating the final character painting. I chose these color combinations to compliment his hair, which is described as flame red. Some of the combinations are simple monochrome or complimentary, others schemes include more colors. Sometimes the simplest combinations are the most striking.
If you’d like to check out this wonderful series, start with The Name of the Wind here:
The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicles, Day 1)
…then proceed directly to book 2:
The Wise Man’s Fear (Kingkiller Chronicles, Day 2)