Concept Artist

When I got started as an artist in the games industry, I had a great mentor that taught me about the different strengths that artists can have. Some are great project starters. Others excel at putting the finishing touches on a piece of art or a project.  Yet others find their niche in the middle.

The ideal art production curve.
The ideal art production curve.

It’s important for every artist to have a specialty and to be fast and good in at least one phase. When an artist is getting started, their production curve tends to be flat. As they learn, they work their way into a nice curve like you see at right.

When an experienced artist begins a project, they tend to begin with a lot of momentum. this is represented by a front-loaded curve. As time passes the number of small tasks increase and the artist’s focus widens as all the elements are in rough draft phase and then the artist starts bringing the parts together.

As this happens, the artist starts going through a revisions phase that feels like it’s getting out of control since the number of elements is high and things can be disjointed at this stage. The project momentum appears to be slowing. With an experienced artist, they recognize this phase for what it is and resist the feeling of panic  and stress that can build. Eventually a threshold is crossed and the project comes together.

The project is reviewed at this stage and ideally, after a round or two of guided revising, the art asset quality reaches the needs of the overall project. At this point a wise Art Director and an experienced artist let go and move on. Ideally.

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.” — Leonardo DaVinci

Most artists want to do perfect work, and when they launch into a new project it is with this challenge — to do the perfect job. This motivation is usually just part of the burning fire within an artist to compete with others and with her/himself. If you supervise artists and they don’t want to be perfect or do perfect work, you either need new artists, or they need some time off to rejuvenate because they are burned out.

This drive for perfection will push an artist to want to keep polishing art beyond the “Meets the Needs of the Project” line. A good Art Director will clearly define this line and inform his team when they reach it. All good right?

An inexperienced Art Director, Manager, or even Executive can be tempted to insist on “Perfect”. They don’t realize or recognize that there is a law of diminishing returns that generally happens when the artist pushes toward perfection. The more time goes by, the less efficient the efforts generally become. Hours and hours of time and money are wasted this way.

Often the problem is the “Meets the Needs of the Project” line has not been defined adequately, or the stakeholders are not on the same page with where the line is. Other times outside agendas get in the way. Whatever the reason, leaving the line vague and undefined is a good way to demoralize an art team and push a project into quicksand.

Don’t let this happen to your art staff or your projects!