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