Occasionally (always) I get asked what I’m looking for in a portfolio. 

Usually (always) I say, “It depends on the position.”

Generally (again, always) its about a Concept Artist position.  Because its more or less the Holy Grail of art jobs.

Every Concept Artist job post read more or less between the lines something like:

Responsibilities:  Make crap up.  Get paid. 

Rock and roll.

Aside: I know I said I’d talk about game design stuff but this came up again for the second day straight and its on my brain.  The design stuff is a big tangled web of stuff I’ve written down in a lot of different places I need to coalate and it won’t make any sense if I just brain barf it at you.  It’s not a complicated issue but I’ve never “taught” it so its not in any order out of context…


I’ve reviewed almost every artist portfolio that has come in the door at Kiz since I started,  as such I’ve seen a LOT of Concept Artist apps.  There are a few things I look for specifically in a Concept Artist, and while they may seem simple they are key.

1. Variety of style and genre:  While I like to see at least one group or series of elements from the same story make sure you include at least a few different looks.  If the studio you’re applying to does a lot of varied titles (assuming video games here) show breadth, if they focus on one style give them that style.  Personally I want to see breadth regardless, especially if its all really good, because I want capable artists.

2. Solid anatomy:  Characters are the least important part of your portfolio anyway if you’re starting out.  The senior artists will be handling almost, if not all, of the character work as characters tend to be fewer and further between than environments and props.  As such, nothing irritates me more than weak or derivative anatomy (looking at you anime).  Do all your characters look the same?  Work on it.

3.  Good hand:  By hand I mean the way an artist draws/paints/makes marks.  This is different from style, and while the two do mutate each other from piece to piece an artist with a strong hand is more confident in the basic creation process so less energy is invested in the execution.  This isn’t really a right/wrong issue but it certainly factors into how I judge a portfolio. 

Ok, those are pretty straight forward and honestly you’d expect them in any portfolio along with the usual, keep it simple, only your best work, etc guidelines.  And I expect everyone to have a handle on those, because your classrooms and the entire internet are full of suggestions on these things.  So here’s the nitty-gritty…

The key to being a good concept artist, and what you have to get across in your portfolio is good ideas.

It just isn’t good enough to be able to draw.  Everyone can draw, the industry is full of artists that can draw.

My mentor, Tyler Tunney, used the word ‘solutions’ for this same issue.  He wanted to see how you’d resolved the problems in a given task and turned them into strengths.  This sort of thing is particularly an issue in theatre design where you have so many physical limitations, but they certainly come into play in game design as well.

Richard Tyler Tunney

As a concept artist, more than in any other position in the art pipeline, you are the first line of problem solving.  A critical thinking brain is essential and any way you can communicate how smart you are helps your case.

Perhaps the most important mantra Tyler drilled into my head… one I’ve more or less hijacked and recycled daily during my time at Kiz… is “Go too far.”

I’ve retranslated that into, “Give it more zazz.” 

If the script/design-doc/story/whatever calls for a large robot; the correct answer is not a robot one head higher than a man.  That robot should be three-four stories tall, with extra arms, shooting fire, in space, at a mutant octopus.  You see where I’m going.  (I smell a really sweet remake of the Odyssey!)

Darth Vader is not just a guy in a black hat twirling his mustache.  He’s a cyborg-samurai of death and evil.  He has zazz.

It’s not uncommon for me, when working with less experienced artists or artists I haven’t work with much, to say something to the effect of, “Make this so crazy it looks wrong.  And then make it crazier.  That’ll be just good enough for me.” 

Does that sound insane?  Yes.  Does it work?  Every time.

I have been working on some sketches for additional characters for the Mouse Game.  I’m still weak on what the story is going to look like but this is giving me some chess pieces to start swinging around cosmogonic space and its starting to take more shape. 

The Hero definitley needs a second costume for after his rebirth.  I’m actually a little surprised about how “feely” this project has turned out as I generally have everything in my head very quickly.  I’ll post sketches soon.

Venture Bros. 4.2-4 airs tonight.  I’m stoked. 

I have coffee to keep me up because I’d much rather sleep off my sorrow about the Colts. 


Filed under: All TalkJob Talk

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