Everyone has dream projects or dream companies, and it is extremely important to have those. Many of my career decisions were decided based on them. However, I’ve also learned to place personal growth and happiness in priority. There is a level of craftsmanship and creativity I want to achieve with my work, and it can be done with or without my dream company."– Sketchshido
As indicated by his statements throughout the interview, Sketchshido perfectly outlines how to achieve amazing milestones in one's career while still remaining true to personal goals that emphasise committed application and perseverance. A risk-taker from his earliest forays in artistic study, Steve is a freelance concept artist with practical advice to share and a remarkable portfolio which make him an asset to this community. For all his achievements, Sketchshido retains an important humility that echoes his own feelings on his mentors and those he has been privileged to be inspired by. It is this praiseworthy attitude that has undoubtedly been the backbone of his development, and it will in turn fuel your enthusiasm for the knowledge he imparts.
Thanks for chatting with me, Steve! Let's explore your artistic background and development: When did you discover your passion for art and what steps have led you to your current station?
Thank you for inviting me! I'm excited to share a little bit of my journey with readers. I've always been an art kid that drew in class and took occasional art classes outside of school. I never took it seriously until I was a senior in high school, facing the difficult decision of "what the hell do I want to do for a living?" Honestly, I didn't know about the concept art industry back then. Originally, I wanted to be an animator, mainly influenced by manga and anime. However, there was no patience in me, I couldn't sit there and draw for even just 4 hours straight. My studio teacher at the time saw this, and advised me to look into product design. At first, it was a great fit because it was a study that allowed me to express my ideas quickly without worrying too much on the craftsmanship. This somehow led me to study at Art Center College of Design as a product design student.
A couple of years went by, and I found myself in another critical decision point. While the design program was fun, it wasn't really structured the way I wished. I love to draw and imagine, yet product design limited me from doing these for as long as I wanted. To fight this, during my last term at Art Center I took an advanced car drawing class with the transportation design students. At first, I thought this would enable me to draw more, and it sure did, but it wasn't meant for a guy who had never drawn a car before. It was by far the most difficult class I’ve taken, simply because most people were 2-3 years ahead of me. This was when I had to seek help online, and ran into the FZD channel on YouTube. At the time, I thought it was the most magical discovery and felt like I'd finally found what I wanted to do.
After communicating my thoughts to my mom (she is awesome, by the way), she fully understood my situation. I was fortunate enough that my family supported my college education, but we were by no means wealthy. My options were to either finish my last year in Product Design, or spend one year in FZD. Transferring to entertainment design at Art Center was not an option, because my family simply couldn't afford it. At the time, the choice was clear and I picked what I truly wanted to pursue. In hindsight, it was a pretty immature decision and I got extremely lucky.
After FZD, I returned to Vancouver to work on various projects with local companies. Recently, I've transferred to a more full-time freelancing position while doing personal work on the side. I’m definitely in a pretty interesting situation, because I can’t work in the US due to me not having a college degree. However, if I did finish Art Center as a product graduate at the time, I don’t think I would have gotten any concept artist jobs despite having a degree! It’s life, and you just have to deal with it."
What are the main themes that you like to examine in your art, and what effect do you wish to have on the viewer?
Theme-wise, I’m definitely more of a Sci-Fi concept artist. I think that due to my product design background I’ve always been drawn towards mechanical machineries. That’s not to say that I’ve not done other subject matters, though. I generally enjoy my job (most of the time!).
To be honest, I haven’t really thought about what I want my viewers to feel when looking at my pieces. As a commercial concept artist, I hope they find production values in my pieces, that’s for sure. At the end of the day, I’ll be pretty happy if they just find it cool."
Your role as a concept artist is one that many others have as a future dream career. Can you share some details on the nature of your profession, its specific challenges, and your creative process on bringing such remarkable concepts to life?
It’s a cool job, for sure, and work often doesn’t feel like work. Back when I was working in studios, there were times that I actually looked forward to Mondays more than Fridays. Don’t judge me. However, the reality is that this job is just a job, and I often work on stuff that I don’t particularly enjoy.
In short, what I do as a concept artist is to visually present an idea. The idea can come in the format of dialogue, texts, napkin doodles; it doesn't matter. My job is to make it visually and functionally pleasing in the format of a drawing or painting. Another aspect of the job that beginners overlook is that the production has to move forward. Therefore, a concept drawing has to be clear enough for the 3D modeller to work from, even if it means beauty has to be sacrificed. It's about finding a healthy balance between your artist side and your technical side.
The best part about the creative process is that you can be pretty damn creative about the process. It can change from day to day, and that's where fundamental skills kick in. While I don't have the most solid fundamentals, I know enough to piece the puzzle together. Try to not stick to one method of designing, and explore the techniques of people you look up to.
Lastly, try to have personal goals instead of professional goals. Everyone has dream projects or dream companies, and it is extremely important to have those. Many of my career decisions were decided based on them. However, I've also learned to place personal growth and happiness in priority. There is a level of craftsmanship and creativity I want to achieve with my work, and it can be done with or without my dream company."
Do you have a favourite painting in your gallery? If so, what would you consider to be the strengths of the piece, visually and/or conceptually?
Currently, I have two favourite paintings in my gallery. One is the World Runner: Spawn, and another is the Panda Rider.
World Runner Spawn: I learned a ton from doing this piece with a mentor named John Park. It was one of those rare pieces that came together almost exactly like how I imagined. Visually, the lighting sells the environment pretty well and the balance of shapes worked. Conceptually, it was a great introduction piece to the project, because you are looking at a soldier in the light staring into the dark unknown. On the right side, there’s the docking area that shows some of the possible equipment the players can use in the game. Overall, I thought this was a successful concept piece.
Panda Rider: This was just a blast to do. It was intended to be a gift for my friend Elle (who is an insanely good concept artist) when she got married. I clearly remember flying down to Shanghai to attend her wedding with some friends, and we were all painting our own panda concepts late in a smelly hotel room. I kept this one on my site not because it’s visually or conceptually amazing. I just had so much fun doing it."
Is there a tip or trick of the trade that helps to improve your workflow which you can share with readers?
The first rule of tips and tricks in concept art is that there are no tips and tricks! At the start, everyone will blame brushes, tools, techniques, and then eventually realize that those don’t make a painting look good. There are a lot of techniques that can improve your work flow, but that’s heavily dependent on your style of work. For example, some love to photobash and some use a 3D base. It all comes back to a strong idea, fundamentals, and taste."
What qualities do you find inspirational in your favourite artists or those you admire in the field?
This field is kind of shallow in a way that we judge people almost purely based on their art. They could be a total nightmare to work with, but the work displayed online could be very good. Therefore, I try not to “admire” the art but rather the artist.
Some of the artists that I truly admire are those good at their craft, and also willing to help others. Shout-out to guys like John Park, Ben Mauro, and John Liberto! I could go on for days if I’m strictly talking about good arts . . . there are way too many!"
As an artist, how do you deal with creative setbacks or lack of motivation?
Depends on the situation. In a professional setting with client work, I deal with it by literally dealing with it. I have a deadline most of the time, and clients or art directors would not be happy if you told them you took a week off due to no motivation. Something I found out after working is that people may find your work very good even though you yourself don’t think so. Just hand it in and get it done! It is the first quality of a professional, you get your shit done on time.
On my personal work, if I feel a lack of motivation, I take a break. Simple as that. Go exercise, play some videogames, go grab some good food, or go travel if possible.
A little tip in these situations is to have a healthy mindset. Don’t think that everything you design has to be the next big thing, and just have fun. Go paint some rocks and clouds!"
What advice has influenced you?
I can’t clearly remember if these advices were given to me, or just something I’ve learned along the way. However, here is some advice I would give to a student:
Art has a lot to do with mileage, the more you put in, the more you get back. If a professional were to work 8 hours a day, then you work 10. One day, you’ll catch up!
Do what you like, the way you like it. Currently, many concept artists face the difficulty of learning multiple techniques, softwares, and style. Some are actually curious, others probably just do it to “keep up with the industry.” If you enjoy drawing, get really damn good at drawing. If you enjoy 3D, be one of the top 3D designers out there."
What is your dream project?
At this current time, games like Bungie’s Destiny or 343’s Halo 5 are pretty close to my dream project. A Sci-Fi world that explores characters, environments, creatures, vehicles, you name it. These projects are also unknown enough that there is a lot of creative freedom. Spaceship-orientated games like Star Citizen are also extremely appealing, but they are tackling a different beast."
How do you see the DeviantArt community as contributing to your growth as an artist?
It’s a platform to get my work out there and see other people’s creation. I remember back when I was starting out, I was extremely intimidated by DeviantArt!"
What other talent do you possess that others might be surprised to know about?
Piano, videogames, basketball . . . Wait, do these even count?!
I don’t think concept art is all talent, by the way; many artists have already expressed a similar idea that talent is earned. It just comes down to how hard you are willing to work to achieve the skillset."
Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can share?
Nothing I can share too much details on, but I recently did an architectural project for a potential real-world building! This was quite the experience, because 99% of what we do are meant to be consumed on a screen or book. Never had I thought my concept may be turned into a real building.
I want to thank you one last time for inviting me, and thanks to all the readers for taking the time to finish this interview! I certainly hope it was helpful or entertaining at least!"