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In need of some honest critique

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Constantini triangle
I've been trying to break into the industry as a concept artist since I graduated 5 years ago; to date, I haven't received a single reply with over 600 applications and am therefore in need of some down to earth critique.


It's been so long since Ive been at this that I'm very unsure if I can actually cut it or if maybe I lack the talent required for this career path. Any advice is appreciated, and I thank you in advance for taking a look at my portfolio!


  • BagelHero
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    BagelHero greentooth
    Honestly, that seems weird. My eye isn't great for concept art stuff that isn't character/prop work, but your work looks... pretty solid?

    You do have a large number of pieces... Might need to trim the fat?

    •   The raqay - lab piece has a lot of high-frequency elements and it makes it hard for my eye to rest... even though there is some appeal here, it just doesn't feel quite up to scratch?

    •  Summit - Hatun Urqu is really striking, and grabs my attention, though there's sorta a tangent between the contour of the leftmost mountain and the geometric structures-- it would be nice to have them breaking that silhouette a bit more so they feel a bit more like they exist in real space and protrude around the curve of the mountain. The pre-production work is excellent, here, and shows the idea well.

    • The I-no piece feels out of place. I don't think it works here, really. Ancient Egypt Art Test feels a bit out of place too. Maculata seems rough, and it's old. Maybe cut that one.

    • The sense of scale and depth in Rare Specimen is kinda lacking. I feel it's weaker, but it could be a matter of taste.

    • the hoverbike is pretty sick B) I also really like the RPG characters and the Overwatch fancharacter. Though it seems like you tend towards environment work I have a hard time calling these weak or out of place... but I'm biased.

    • Concourse is honestly kinda better than some other stuff that's higher up, I'd move it to the top somewhere

    • Office and Smoggy are old, and while they have some good points, it doesn't feel to me like they fill holes in your work or stand out so strongly they should be kept around. I'd rework or toss these. The April '19 Sketches could probably stand to be hidden and replaced with an up to date sketch log like once every few months, if you really want to include them.

    • The metroid fanart is fun :3

    • Your resume doesn't really feel succinct, despite you not having any statements/goals or whatever on it. Other people who actually hire will hopefully have better insight but I'm leaning towards maybe removing some of your decade-old hotel work history, or maybe boiling it down, at least on the resume you hand to entertainment roles. My personal taste is a slightly smaller font/spacing but given everyone reading on mobile devices these days I'm sure thats fine enough. Probably not usually a deciding factor anyway. :)

    In terms of general critique, I feel like depth and scale lack a bit in a lot of your work. The Monastery, Favelas, Summit, and Hanging maze are a bit better with this; but the clarity of focal points can be a little obscured and sometimes things are detailed too consistently, meaning it becomes hard for my eyes to find what I'm supposed to look at.

    This is just my 2c. I would go over your portfolio with a critical lens, and also consider the kind of jobs you want and are applying to, and your competition and remove and plan new work accordingly. I have to assume you've already been doing that though. It's strange that you've barely heard back from anywhere, really. I'd heard concept roles have a higher bar generally but... Eh, even so. I don't think you're a lost cause for sure; you seem like you're doing the right thing and maybe you just need to tune things up a little bit. Good luck in the future!

  • Constantini
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    Constantini triangle
    Hey Bagel,

    Time is precious and I appreciate you writing up something that thorough tremendously.

    I think some of those pieces that need axing were way overdue, so I'm moving my personal stuff to its own folder and axing the pieces you mentioned as I must agree with their lack of place by my current standards.

    Some of the other works you mentioned as being better in terms of depth are all also my more recent pieces; so at least I'm glad those are a visible step up. I haven't drawn much if at all past June because of work stress and covid depression(plus general fatigue from job hunting) but perhaps I can use these as building blocks for my future work. I did want to expand a bit on the favelas series as I think I was on to something there.....

    I'm aware there's plenty for me to improve at so I can always keep going that route, my core issue which is now becoming extremely mentally and emotionally distressing is that fact that I can't seem to elicit any response at all. I've had a couple reviews(one with a seasoned art director) who also mentioned that I should definitely be able to get junior work, but this has been over a year ago and I'm still in the same scenario where it seems as if I haven't moved one step forward in 5 long years.

    I do feel that your take on my current folio has been uplifting, something I can very much use, so thanks :)
  • birb
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    birb interpolator
    I'll echo Bagel and point out scale, composition and level of detail as the main aspects blunting your work. You're pretty good, but these aspects—key in environment art—need further attention here.

    Buckle up because this post turned out long!

    Scale, composition, level of detail

    Their importance lies not only in making the image more pleasant and readable, they're the issues you as a concept artist will provide solutions to, guiding the work of 3D environment artists. While 3D artists and level designers will fine tune scale of assets and secondary points of interest to guide the player through the level, your job is to provide the foundation that will be fine-tuned. This, I suspect, is the reason you're struggling; you got a portfolio with a strong environment art bent yet without showcasing that solidity they're looking for in environment concept art.

    The good news is those 3 aspects can be learned. Scale is a matter of perspective: Study it, do exercises from life and 3D compositions, and pay particular attention to key proportions such as doors, windows, usual building floor heights, vehicles and trees in relation to people.

    Studying composition is a mix of reading resources on the subject and studying masters' works. When it comes to game art you should also throw in resources for level designers: Which strategies you can use to keep a player on the right path? You need to be aware of their existence and use them when appropriate. Fortunately there's a lot of overlap with composition geared towards regular art, so it won't be a steep learning curve.

    Finally, level of detail, aka me giving a dumb name to a sub-discipline of composition because it's such a pertinent name.

    You want eyeballs on what matters. In an environment everything else can be gradually simplified just like lower poly/resolution models so they describe the objects and contribute to the image without overwhelming the viewer. This one is more about readability than creating art geared towards game, because game artists are also humans and will struggle to work with an image which is too busy. When an art director needs some prop in high detail they'll request an annotated version or a new separate concept for that prop, so don't sweat over defining that brick on that wall 100m away from the viewer, specially if there's a section of the same wall closer because material and looks can be inferred from the closer section. A good mental exercise is to ask yourself if you'd be able to model and texture the scene from the concept: If the answer is "yes" and it looks good, you can relax on the out-of-focus details.

    To improve again study the work of masters and other environment artists to see how they go about tackling this, always asking yourself why and how they increased or decreased the level of detail in this or that part of a painting.

    But wait, there's more! These 3 aspects are the musts for environment art yet aren't the only things that can be improved in your work. Do you want to make an impact and make it hard to people pass over your portfolio? Work on your colors.


    Yours are good right now; you pick nice colors and the majority of your work falls into the "solid" category of shading. But your coloring is very by-the-book: Only the sufficient to the describe the inherent color and shape of a given subject, nothing unexpected, very little atmosphere or daring lights and shadows. If the ambient light of the image is green your perspective fog is green without any contribution from secondary lights and bounced colors, if there's a strong top light the highlights sit squarely on the top of the subject, in most cases without flattening it but without further describing volume or materials. You walk really short distances on the hue scale, both in isolated objects and on the whole composition.

    You're on the very edge of doing better, of using colors in a way there's an "oomph" mesmerizing hook to your work that will not only make it memorable but also help in game art: Painting environments is not only about describing a place, it's about mood too. Although secondary when compared to scale and composition you'll make the job of lighting artists and those responsible for post-processing far easier if you describe those things in your paintings, and it's clear to me you already possess the technical knowledge to do so.

    I've got two past critiques concerning rim lights and bounced colors that should be enough to clarify what I'm going on about. I also wrote something specific about your work, if you don't mind.


    I picked a Raqday piece to show what happens when applying those 4 points. Because it seems to be a desert, not an overcast scene, I went harder on the saturation, using a lot of conspicuous blues on the shadows just to show you that can. Note how I tried to redirect attention to the natural focal point—yellow building in the middle—with the the contrast, separating planes through hue jaywalking.

    The grayscale thumbnail trick is a fantastic way to check the composition. The resulting dreamy palette isn't entirely appropriate for this scene, you'll want to use even more greens and squeeze these blues into bounced ambient lights instead of using gradient fills like I did, but I'm lazy. =)

    Scale and composition alone alter the impressions a painting passes. EG: You can further narrow the composition by highlighting what the painting already suggests—that the guy in the center is an opponent—by removing him from the same plane of the guy turning the corner at the left by altering his scale and hue. As a bonus it'll make the buildings look more grandiose in comparison. In case you want to make the POV more intimate you can shine a literal light on the guy in first plane. Just keep an eye on your details quota, doing this steals focus from the center and can easily make the painting too busy. Here's what it looks like with toned down colors so they're not so distracting:

    By the way this is the perfect point of a painting to add selective touches of black/near black and more/less saturated brushstrokes to make stuff really pop.

    Your Summit piece is a perfect candidate to expand a bit on colors, hue variation and by-the-book coloring because it has three basic colors: Orange-ish red, green and cyan. They're all on the same side of the color wheel, and while the piece has highly satisfying lights/shadows and competently depicted volumes it doesn't go very far on bounced colors. Its the original color palette is pleasant, but not varying the hue on different planes is a missed opportunity to add extra depth without touching values or composition:

    Selective Color, Brightness/Contrast, Vibrance adjustment layers and Overlay, Color Dodge, Multiply blending modes are your friends! Once finishing a painting try to give another pass at color and values with them, using the Gradient Tool and masks to tweak it and a new layer of painted details on top of them to sharpen (or soften!) some parts of the painting. Give it a few hours of rest to your eyes and come back to compare the original painting with the adjusted version, seeing what alterations contribute or not to it.

    Oh, a side note: Many of your older pieces have inappropriately dramatic FOVs which don't contribute to the scene. Be careful about it because it's easily distracting.

    That's it! I hope this helps. You're good, talent as some innate ability is a lie and all you need is a little extra hard knowledge to push beyond your current limitations. Keep up the good work!
  • Constantini
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    Constantini triangle

    As with bagel, thank you for taking your time with your critique. There is a trove of helpful tips for me in there, some things I was somewhat aware of and some that are totally new to me. I will keep all of these in mind going forward; when I've got a few new pieces up perhaps I'll make a follow-up post to see where I am! For my own clarification, were you mentioning that I should detract some detail from my work or add more? I do feel like I might go a bit overboard with details so I'll take it that's what you meant. Old habits die hard; detailing can just be....FUN  :s 
    And for my older pieces, I did get rid of some a few days ago but do you think there are some more that I should ditch? I don't have a whole lot of emotional attachment to them at this point so I'd much rather curate my folio than keep some shitty old work there!

    Again, considering I've been in a big rut for over a year, this is some invaluable feedback for me. 
    Thank you, and enjoy your holiday season!
  • birb
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    birb interpolator
    I saw you thread before the portfolio update but hadn't the time to write that ridiculously long reply. You did a good job in cutting a lot of fat already, but I'd still move the Flooded Neighborhood to a different folder because it doesn't have much concept art value, has weak rim lights that don't reflect your current skill level and really looks like a go at a wraparound book cover.  =)

    If you got enough energy retouching some of the existing pieces will also bring the portfolio together while you don't get around creating new pieces to renovate it and show off your current skill. You can start to try out some of the mentioned things in pieces like Raqay - Lab (in which colors are either one exact hue of blue or not). Also, consider changing the thumbnail of the plasma rifle. The 3D is stands out in a sea of 2D artworks.

    For my own clarification, were you mentioning that I should detract some detail from my work or add more? I do feel like I might go a bit overboard with details so I'll take it that's what you meant. Old habits die hard; detailing can just be....FUN  :s 
    You don't have to ditch the details. Not everyone has the patience *coughmecough*;  this is a feature and something you can incorporate in your style. But you need to have a tight control over it to keep the composition from falling apart. I mentioned studying the work of other artists already, but as example of the how and what look for zoom in this artwork by Chase Stone.

    Look at the ferns at the foreground and the background, how the leaves catch the blue light and sparkle at first, before fading into clumps and finally a mass at the farthest point. Look at the stone structures, which still have a lot of texture at the top right but just a suggestion of a crack where stones meet, unlike the clear edge of the stones in the closest cube. And the roots, being here just to establish the setting and guide the composition, have a very nice brushwork texture but aren't realistically rendered. Take a stroll through his gallery and google his work, because although he's a narrative-focused illustrator he has a lot of much more detailed artwork that can be picked apart in the same way. Then do the same to works by you favorite artists, soaking in their knowledge. If you can find their sketchbooks it's even better, you'll get to peek at their composition reasoning as well.

    This year has been though on a lot of us, but cheer up! You're good and perfectly positioned to take the next step.
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