Anyone with an interest in the arts is familiar with the age-old problem of passion versus production. The vast majority of artists—writers, painters, graphic designers, dancers, actors, etc.—make fairly minimal amounts of money doing what they love. But passion drives a true artist to continue doing it anyway. The hope, of course—even for those who don’t much care about money—is that art can ultimately become a sustainable career and a valuable skill. In the meantime though, a lot of artists look for ways to apply their skills to “day jobs” or reliable projects in the hopes of securing more regular income while plugging away on passion projects in their personal time.
For visual artists this can be particularly tricky. Paid projects tend to come on a case-by-case basis rather than in a regular, job-like fashion. So while it’s certainly possible to find income-generating freelance work, through everything from a personal network, to services like Upwork or Patreon, it can be difficult to land on the right opportunity. One area that some visual artists would do well to explore, though, is video game art.
The natural first question might be as simple as: what exactly is video game art? None other than Time Magazine declared video games one of the most important art forms in history—though to be fair this was more about the entire medium than about visual art specifically. There are after all a lot of different components to game design, and on the surface it can appear as if most of the art concerns motion animation and digital creativity. The reality though is that game art encapsulates all of the elements of a game you actually see, and all of the foundations for those elements. This means concept art, character drawings, hand-drawn settings, and all sorts of other things. Most good video games are effectively sketches and storyboards first, which means there is ample space for painting and drawing contributions. In fact, sometimes some of the most impressive modern art you can find simply browsing the internet exists as a basis for a given video game.
The next question, for anyone intrigued by the above, might be: how do you become a video game artist? Is it as simple as drawing a character and pitching that character to different game designers or studios? That could conceivably work, though it’s not exactly how it’s meant to work; the artist, in this case, isn’t the conceptual creator so much as the person who starts the process of someone’s idea coming to life. Generally, there are steps one can take toward becoming a video game artist, including developing a passion or interest in gaming, learning to draw, draw digitally, and do some graphic and photo editing, and potentially even pursuing specific programs or education in areas included in game studios (concept artist, character animator, etc.). From there, it’s more or less like any other job, in that you’ll need to peddle your skills, demonstrate your talents, and stay diligent regarding any and all opportunities. Look everywhere from official job listings to social media connections with game designers or other concept artists.
Lastly: what kind of games should you be looking into? This is actually the most exciting aspect of the discussion these days because there are so many different types of video games in the modern world. Mobile apps have introduced many of these games, coming from both high-end gaming companies and brand new, indie developers (some of whom could do with a new artists). Online casinos too have drastically expanded their offerings, such that the top games in 2018 include various online slot and arcade games rather than simply digital poker and a fruit slot machine. Here too there is a lot of opportunity for design. And of course there’s always the PC and console market to consider as well. This is generally when the “best” and more importantly “most beautiful” games tend to come out. It’s very competitive to get involved in the art for these types of games, but at the same time it makes for a wonderful day job opportunity for any ambitious visual artist. Indeed, it can turn into a full career.