Skip to content

So – I’m working on a book. But not the kind you’d expect.

November 15, 2015


Hey all. It’s Sunday afternoon Monday afternoon here and I’m just taking a break from some work-work.

I don’t usually post just to chat about life, but I’m in the middle of something right now, and I wanted to talk a bit about it.

I’ve been working on a big illustration job for the last few months. It’s an art book – but not about travel sketching or watercolor or any of the things I usually talk about here.

It’s about my old life as a video game designer.


I’ve been slowly retiring from game design for about five years. Other than sketching designs for the Dragon Age games made by old friends at Bioware, I haven’t been looking for this kind of work.

I worked as an art director and conceptual artist for about 20 years before that. When we moved to Montreal from San Francisco, a goal was to escape the bounds of commercial art and go full time with my own drawing and painting.

That’s sort of a silly thing to say, because game designer is a great job. It’s creative. It’s very rewarding financially, that’s for sure (in the corporate version – not so much the indy space). And you work with some really great people. It’s a highly sought after position, so everyone involved is at the top of their game. No pun intended.

But I think an artist can only work for someone else for so long, before the desire to be on your own becomes overwhelming. If you’re lucky enough to be in a position where you have creative control, you can get some satisfaction. But there’s always market forces at work. If you’re making entertainment, it’s driven by budgets, sales, and whatever was the most recent mega-hit.

The trick is to navigate all that without just pandering to the fans. It’s very easy to slip into a mindset of just making the goreiest gorefest ever. Or putting a scantily dressed young woman in peril. Peril she usually escapes by dint of cheerful mass murder.

For me – I always loved the storytelling and the fantastic characters in our games. But I liked making up the stuff in the world more than I liked playing the games themselves.


The thing that brought it all to a head for me was when I started drawing on location. Video gamers are not known for their love of the outdoors. But I accidentally discovered I liked it. Liked being on the road, discovering new places, and digesting them through drawing. When I draw a place, it’s like I’m consuming it and will carry it around forever. Eating it up and chewing on every fascinating detail. It’s a kind of sorcery that expands your experience of world.

For whatever quirk of my personality, sketching unlocked that rampant desire to explore. Before location drawing, you’d have had to drag me away from my comics and D&D books. After becoming a sketcher, I’m finding it hard to stay home for two days in a row.


But here’s the other side of the coin – I think I have a unique perspective to offer.

There are lots of books / courses / videos on digital art. Both 2D and 3D. But being the sketch artist – the idea generator –  it’s totally different from being the artist that makes the playable game content. There’s fewer places to learn about the thinking that fuels the whole process. And most of the books that do come out on concept development tend to be painting technique books disguised as design training. Teaching you how to draw well is not the same as teaching how to think for a living.

Concept art is a mindset. A kind of analytical hyper-creativity that isn’t about perfection, or skill of execution – but more like the polar opposite of artist’s block. You have to train the ability to be a fountain of ideas. A fire hose of concepts. There’s no such thing as ‘Sorry, just couldn’t come up with something today’.

You have to be able to produce a viable idea by the next morning, and keep doing it all week long, week in, week out. It’s hard work, but it’s also exciting. Knowing there’s a whole team of sculptors, animators, and programmers depending on you to invent something cool. And an army of gamers waiting to enjoy it.


So that’s why I have a video gaming book under way.

It’s written for students that are trying to focus their art school experience into this career. Or working artists that want to change fields from something more industrial, to something more creative.

Like my previous urban sketching book, it’s going to be very hands on.There’s much more doing, than reading. The goal is for anyone who actually completes all the work, to end up with a professional portfolio. A body of work that could get them started in the field. Depending where someone is with their drawing skills, it might take a bit longer. But there’s a kind of wax-on-wax-off learning that I prefer. If you just have fun doing everything in the course, you’ll discover you’ve mastered it without even trying.

But I didn’t start writing this entry to pitch you the book! I’m already regretting how much I have to talk about classes and courses in order to keep this blog alive :)

Mainly, I just wanted to say what was up with me. Because this is what I’ll be doing for the next few months.

The book’s completely written, and I have a publisher involved with the design and layout. So I’ll be spending the entire winter just making the drawings.

Unfortunately, that’s going to slow things down on Citizen Sketcher. Even more than it has for the previous months. I’ll still be talking to many of you in my Craftsy courses every day. And I hope to get out drawing at least once a month at our regular sketching group. Just to keep my sanity!

But if you feel things have been a little slow on the blog this fall – that’s the reason why.

We have big plans for next year’s sketching though! So let’s just get through the winter until painting season begins again. I can’t wait!



27 Comments leave one →
  1. hamiltonadrienne permalink
    November 16, 2015 5:07 PM

    Now, all is explained! I was wondering where the fascination with gargoyles and the like on buildings and in particular in your book came from! I am sure your book will be a huge hit but please please don’t give up on the travel style sketching and watercolour as I have learned more from your teaching videos in this area than anywhere else.

    My expression at my age is “in the deep dark ages” I raised a son, now known as Jonathan Zawada, living in LA – he is also a (professional) artist as he has always been, and also has a past/present in the commercial area. I believe if you looked him up and had a look at his drawings you would find something in common.

    I hope you are, down the track, planning on more on Craftsy as I play and replay them every time I become “stuck”. Kind regards Adrienne Hamilton


  2. Beaumont Nancy permalink
    November 16, 2015 5:45 PM

    I love this post Marc, All of them actually. So hooray for you! We all seem to have so many paths to explore. I am so glad you are on mine in whatever capacity you can be, whenever you can.

    I signed up for one of your crafty classes and have yet to work through it (sooo glad it doesn’t expire!). So I can certainly understand how something else that’s bright and shines can divert ones attention. (although going through radiation for 7 weeks is not all that exciting, nor does it shine, unless you count the equipment).

    I’m not going anywhere and I am willing to bet neither are 99.9% of your followers, I will be here whenever you knock on my e-mail box.

    I’m excited to see what is in store for us in the new year.



  3. Francisco Garcia permalink
    November 16, 2015 5:51 PM

    beautiful stuff. great idea and no doubt incredibly rewarding to do. Good on ya to continue finding ways to maximize your commercial art past, and share the experience of moving away from it . I work as a compositor in the visual effects industry and enjoy learning how to paint water colour on the side. I’m always a bit envious of people who can dedicate themselves full time to art, commercial or not. You have to be that dedicated to ever hope of consistently creating strong work. On the flip side there is something to be said about not taking things you enjoy too seriously to the point of needing to sell your creativity beyond a point of comfort. A concept artist may be too stressful of a position in the gaming pipeline for some, in film there aren’t that many “concept artist” positions available. Sounds like a great book in the making with your experience.

  4. Rene Wojcik permalink
    November 16, 2015 6:11 PM

    Good for you Marc….thanks for sharing your life and dreams. I often wondered about your background and now I know. Keep up your teaching aspect; you are so good at it.

  5. Stephanie Sepate permalink
    November 16, 2015 6:16 PM

    Luv this. And mostly luv how he transformed into his current Citizen Sketcher stage! 🎨

    Sent from my iPad


  6. November 16, 2015 6:17 PM

    Bravo Marc!!!–thanks for letting us know where your creative talents are taking you. I’ve been following your blog since I discovered you on several years ago. I’ve learned so much from your generous sharing of drawing techniques online and from the Craftsy course (2 more to go.) I now lead a urban sketching group and your blog is a constant reference. So thanks for helping me make my senior days creative and challenging.
    Wishing you and your wife continued fun in your creative explorations!

  7. November 16, 2015 6:37 PM

    Thank you for keep us posted in advance. I wish you success in your new project on the way.

  8. Randall Laue permalink
    November 16, 2015 8:26 PM


  9. Beverly permalink
    November 16, 2015 8:47 PM

    Wow, things we don’t know about people. What a great book you have planned. Looking forward to continuing with my Craftsy class and hope to one day have some in-person lessons with you or be able to travel on a workshop.

  10. November 16, 2015 9:21 PM

    Great post Marc. Looking forward to the book.

  11. November 16, 2015 9:44 PM

    Are you sure you didn’t just spend time in the halls of Parliament using your “People in Motion” techniques? — Larry

  12. November 16, 2015 11:45 PM

    Great column! I have traded graphic design for painting, and getting the work out there is not an easy task (I think it takes a coupla decades to get up and running). So I am a kindred spirit!

    • November 17, 2015 8:56 AM

      How is it going for you Ellen? I’m always looking for examples of people making it work :)

  13. November 17, 2015 12:10 AM

    Sounds fantastic Marc. Wishing you every success – a great project for your cold Winter months. Hoping to visit Montreal in September…

    • November 17, 2015 8:55 AM

      That would be tremendous to see you in MTL. I’m going to be working on a project out of town in late Sept, so I hope we won’t do ships-in-the-night.

  14. Sue Edmondson permalink
    November 17, 2015 2:26 AM

    Marc, I love your work and your words, and will miss not hearing them so often- although I have your Craftsy videos to watch and your Urban Sketcher book to keep me going :-) I do hope you enjoy the next few months of doing something different, and that you come back to the fold (of Urban sketchers) soon!

  15. Gina B. permalink
    November 17, 2015 9:43 AM

    You are so amazing!

  16. November 17, 2015 10:26 AM

    Marc, you are such a breath of fresh air, no pun intended! Thank you for sharing more about the breadth of your creativity. You are truly an inspiration.

  17. dmhenley permalink
    November 17, 2015 7:18 PM

    Inspiring – thank you

  18. Treva Boyd permalink
    November 17, 2015 8:14 PM

    Wow! Will see my grandsons soon and cannot wait for them to see your work. The passion shows!

  19. Graciela Solanas permalink
    November 18, 2015 3:34 PM

    Sure it’ll be amazing!you’re so good!!!!!

  20. December 23, 2015 7:22 AM

    Cant wait for this one Marc. When will it be available?

    • December 23, 2015 9:55 AM

      Well, I’m working with a publisher, so it goes out of my hands in the new year – I expect mid-2016? I will let you know of course! :)

  21. V.Milchevski permalink
    July 28, 2016 6:02 AM

    Hey Marc,
    It’s mid 2016 already. Any update you can share?
    Can’t be the only one interested ;)

    • July 28, 2016 2:11 PM

      I’m know rite! I should have said a long time ago! It’s coming out in October – so really soon. I don’t have the design back from the publishers but it should be any day now. Looking forward to posting final pages.


  1. Internal Travelogue: Working from Imagination | Citizen Sketcher
  2. Internal Travelogue: Imaginary People | Citizen Sketcher

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: