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.
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?
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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Gene Parola, the author of 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 Deborah Bond-Upson of Awesome Stories have commissioned me to paint Lehua. Above are my early thumbnails for the project. The final paintings will be included in a second print of the book and also online at Awesome Stories. We are also currently looking into whether to include these thumbnails throughout the book.
Lehua’s story is about the shift from Hawai’i’s native religion in favor of Christianity and the place of this fictional young leader in that period of cultural transition. I highly recommend it. It’s compelling, romantic, very historically accurate, and a good read for young adults. Click the image below and you’ll be taken to first edition of the downloadable book on Amazon.com.
The overall shape, the silhouette, is the primary and most powerful way to identify an object, type of person, or creature. The ability to quickly pick out meaning from silhouettes, such as whether the thing we saw would help, nourish, or hurt us. Shapes are a kind of language that we learned first to identify, and eventually to communicate with. As artists, we need to learn this language and, how to manipulate it, to design effectively. Likewise, one helpful tip for testing if your design is clear is to look only at its silhouette and see if you (or better yet, if someone nearby) can tell what it is.
Silhouettes are created not only by strong, clear, shapes, but also contrast between those shapes and their background. That’s where negative space comes in – the shape that is not the subject itself, but what surrounds and contrasts with it.
Above are examples of strong silhouettes created by masters from the Golden Age of Illustration. From left to right are examples from JC Leyendecker, NC Wyeth, and Mead Schaeffer. At that time, artists were creating art for periodicals which needed to be quick reads (as opposed to paintings that would hang on a wall and be admired for a length of time). That meant that the artist would need to create silhouette shapes that viewers/readers could recognize very rapidly. They are great to study from.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned about creating strong silhouettes (and therefore strong paintings) is to put dark things against light things and light things against dark things. That’s why Leyendecker tended to use white backgrounds, many artists like NC Wyeth choose to shape clouds around key subjects, or shine light behind them as Mead Schaeffer did here. And where shapes overlap, such as in Leyendecker’s painting, there is clear contrast – the lady’s pale skin against the gentleman’s coat. Leyendecker also made sure there were holes in the silhouette shapes, such as the crook of the gentleman’s arm and gaps between him and the lady and the lady and the flowers. NC Wyeth and Mead Shaeffer in these examples also placed different colors against each other to create clear silhouette shapes. Shapes, and character gestures, can be pushed and pulled to character traits as well – the lady in Leyendecker’s painting on the left has a larger head than is realistic, but it emphasizes her sweet child or doll-like traits.
Angelo Bronzino (1503-1572), who’s real name was Agnolo di Cosimo, was a Florentine Mannerist era painter. The painters of this era were known for breaking the established rules of Renaissance Europe painting and emphasizing artifice over nature. Stylistically, his work has an intellectual sophistication and seems to emphasize compositional tension and instability (such as the way the lady in the lower right holds her book open) rather than balance as in earlier Renaissance painting. Though realistic in their rendering, his execution of Mannerist painting feels detached and unemotional, even cold. At times the expressions on his noblemen portraits (often belonging to the great Medici family) seem stoic or haughty. The arrangement, poise, and quality of rendering of all details clearly communicate the wealth and nobility of his patrons.
By creating these compositional master studies, I learned how Bronzino arranged his sitters in regal postures and the values and colors behind them to focus the viewer on the shoulders and face. I also noticed the same elements repeated, such as the scrolling curved-arm chair and narrow black book often used as props. I spent less time on each of these studies as I have with previous ones, challenging myself to capture the composition and important details and textures with less time. It provided excellent practice mimicking shape and values as well as edge control.
An animated .gif of the process.
Notes: Armor was arguably most elegant in the late 15th century – it’s my favorite period for all things hammered into metal suits. Both Italian and German armor were popular (and used by both Spaniards and Britons). But German armor, like German clothing fashion at the time, was sleeker than the Italian styles. The fluting, as seen here, both highlighted how closely this style of plate fit the contours of the body, and lent strength to the overall structure. This particular set of gauntlets allowed the knight to move his fingers independently of each other in battle, rather than knitting them together into a metallic mitt.
Patterson, Angus. Fashion and Armour in Renaissance Europe.
Photo Reference from Historic Enterprises.
Though born to American parents in 1856, John Singer Sargent began painting under a leading French artist named Carolus-Duran, who emphasized painterly freedom and study of the works of Frans Hals, Rembrandt, Sir Anthony van Dyke, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and the Spanish master Diego Velázquez. Though he painted and won acclaim for genre scenes and subject pictures, the demand for portrait commissions defined his reputation.
Through these studies I got a feel for how he wove impressionist techniques he may have learned through association with Claude Monet while focusing with more realism on key areas like the face and hands in these portraits. Sargent’s impressionistic style compliments the realism and enhances it. I also enjoyed his exquisite use of color, especially his blues and greens that are reminiscent of Claude Monet’s palette.