What is Concept Art?

What is Concept Art?

If you haven’t been involved in the entertainment industry closely you might have seen places where they show “concept art” that looks like this:

This is not concept art. These are illustrations and there are very important differences between these two;

While illustration is made to look good, be pretty and appeal to the consumer, concept art doesn’t. The idea of concept art is to convey ideas, to solve problems and explore in a visual way (very similar to Visual Development, for animation and movies).

Those that mean all my work has to be rough?

No. If you believe polishing your concepts can add a lot to what the design is about go for it. Just keep in mind the purpose of this exploration. This is an example of a GREAT polished concept art, do notice that you can easily understand the idea, more than a "oh it looks pretty".


A good concept artist is someone who successfully builds ideas from the ground or is able to develop further on an existing idea doing the following:

1. Readability and self-explanatory design.

This is the most important one. A concept art (the artwork, not the artist) has to be understood without the artist explaining it. May it be 2D, 3D, graphical, realistic, stylized, a drawing or refined, it has to be clear what is showing. See HOW TO PRESENT CONCEPT ART (coming soon).

In order to achieve this, be sure to be clear on your representation (drawing or whatever the media) and comment on anything that needs explanation (short text). Depending on what the concept is for, you might even go to the length of indicating “texture of a specific cloth”, “what is inside this backpack”, “what are these crystals made of and how they would look at night” .

Keep in mind that your concept will, most of the time, be a guide for a 3D artist to work on, so it’s a great idea to do turnarounds (different views of your character, animation or prop) and be specific for things such as materials or movable parts.

Another reason to be specific is because you’ll never know where your art will end up. The artists won’t be walking side-by side with your pieces. Concepts will be collected and approved by the art director, who will then discuss these concepts with production, but maybe it will end up in someone’s google search, instagram or even inside the game as a bonus.

The Art Department appreciates this and having this quality will also make your portfolio pieces more impressive.

2. Understands that most concepts will be trashed.

Yes. This is a hard way to put it, technically you would still create art pieces and maybe some will end up in your portfolio, but the reality of things is, Concept art is exploration and is our way to navigate through the project. Around 60%-80% of your work will not be used, approved or will need a rework, and that’s okay. This doesn’t necessarily mean your art is not good, you are not a good concept art or anything similar. Designs need to be seen most of the time to know if it’s working or if it won’t, concept art is our way to get to that wall and be able to make a turn, without the discards we would never get to the point we need.

3. Knows how to iterate.

I get it. You start drawing and suddenly you make something spectacular! …The most terrible thing happened; You fell in love with your drawing/design. And it was the first one. The worst thing you can do is be amazed by how you nailed it at the first attempt and move on. There are some specific scenarios when you already know how the thing you're designing looks like, but for most concept art you will be doing versions of whatever it is you are creating. So one, most likely will not do the job, even if it’s good. Try to breakdown your design and identify: what is it that you like?, is there a way to do this better, or just different? You can do variations of the thing you liked to see if it gets better but don’t forget at some point to do something completely different, this new thing might work as well or (this happens to me) be much better than the first one.

Your art director / production will see your designs and discuss/decide on them. Even if there’s one you love and know is the best one, do not put it on a spotlight, put all of your iterations at the same level, most of the time, the thing the team is looking for, might not be your best option.

4. Is not afraid of cheating.

So there’s a lot of misinformation about how “drawing” or even “art” Should be done. And there’s a lot of (mostly beginners who don’t know better) people who discredit other people's art when they find out they are not making things the hard way. “How dare you copying that person’s pose! You should invent yours!!!”. This is plain ignorance, at least. Everyone who is actively working as a concept artist is “cheating” (not really) in some or other way. And it is amazing. This means a lot more can be done in shorter amount of time. We only care about the finished product so it doesn’t matter if you used your color palette from a beach photo you found on google or if you used the shift button to make straight lines.

BUT! Do be careful with copyright and stealing someone else’s work. It is a completely different thing if you intend to pass someone else’s art as yours (but you can totally copy it if it’s only for study/learning purposes).

There’s tons of tips and tricks to help out on the process, here are a couple you can totally do:

+Copying your original design as much as you want and making changes on the copy to make iterations easy peasy.
+Copying one eye to put it on the other side and any variation of this (you might need to use the distort or deform tool for it to be perfect if your design is not symmetrical)
+Change colors using the HUE/saturation tools in photoshop or whatever you have at hand.
+Usage of photoshop filters for your convenience
+Drawing a small part of something and copying it to place it later (for example, drawing a window and pasting several times using the distort tool to match the perspective)
+Please! Do use perspective grids if you are not comfortable with perspective, this is totally okay and ends up looking better
+Use forms and selections as much as you want
+Use someone else’s brush
+Use someone else’s “style”

Just be creative and don’t let anything stop you.

A couple more of examples of very different concept art: