What is your background as an artist?
Well time has really flown by. I am realizing that I've been working over 20 years now professionally as a digital and traditional artist. I have spent 16 of those years in the video game industry as a generalist, character art lead, art director and concept artist. When I started working in video games, "artists" usually had to do a little of everything except animation but sometimes that as well. As game production teams have gotten larger, artist roles have become much more specialized. I realized about a decade ago that I ultimately enjoyed concept art and illustration the most so in the past 8 years that has been my focus despite some career detours along the way. Ultimately, I feel that all the detours I have taken have helped to provide perspective which has proven very useful in a production environment as I have developed a deeper understanding of production pipelines, common pitfalls in game production, etc.
What educational experience/background did you have coming into CGMA?
I have a BFA from the University of North Texas in graphic design with an emphasis in Illustration. I have been fortunate to have had some great mentors in concept art and illustration and have learned a lot "on the job". I feel incredibly fortunate to have rubbed shoulders in my career with some phenomenal artists who graciously have allowed me to learn from them. That said, you really never get to the end of the learning. If anything, the process just exposes how much one has yet to learn. I think that is where CGMA comes in for me and some of the great instructors there have helped to gel certain principles in concept design for me.
Do you have professional experience?
I started working as an illustrator in 1993 and worked in traditional mediums at that time. I felt fortunate in the late 90's to get a job at Dreamworks Interactive which later became EA Los Angeles which launched my career in video games where I've been ever since. I currently work as a concept artist for Spacetime Studios in Austin and I am working on a mobile MOBA title.
Why did you decide to take CGMA classes?
Ultimately, I just wanted to get better as a concept artist. Sometimes, you just need the discipline of weekly assignments and following through especially when working a full time job simultaneously. I found that taking classes through CGMA positively impacted my full time work and vice versa.
Why is receiving professional feedback important to you?
I guess one could plow through and learn to be a professional concept artist the hard way maybe with the background track of Sinatra's "I did it my way". It's true that you can learn a lot by watching free resources like YouTube videos and experimenting on your own. My question is why would you want to do that to yourself and your career long term? . Especially when you can shave off years of dead ends and bad habits by getting fine tuned, custom feedback that only a professional concept artist reviewing your work can provide to you.
What classes did you take and why did you choose them?
I have been mostly on the environment track so far. I did also take some fundamental classes because I wanted to get a more formal understanding of perspective drawing, etc.
How did taking classes help you refine your craft and help you along your artistic journey?
I think it's really impacted the way I think about concept design. Not so much that, the information I've learned was all new to me, but I think the instructors have helped to clarify issues that I had perhaps not thought through fully or just differently. One area that CGMA has helped me with specifically is speed. As a concept artist, you really have to work fast most of the time and getting to the desired result quickly is super important. It's easier for me now to use workflows that help me get to the end goal quicker.
What was your first big gig and how did you get it?
I think my first big gig in video games, was working for Dreamworks Interactive. I sort of had stars in my eyes and kept feeling like at any point somebody at the top would discover my lack of credentials and I would be escorted off of the property. Not that I lied to get the job mind you, but it's just one of those feelings you have when you are starting off I guess. I was fortunate in that I knew a few older, wiser artists that were working there and somehow they seemed more confident in me than I did in me. I worked on Medal of Honor Frontline and Clive Barker's Undying during that time.
Why would you recommend CGMA to another artist?
I think CGMA is great in several ways. First and foremost, as a student, you are taught by working professionals. I've always felt that being taught by working pros is the best way to learn and the instructors that I have had via CGMA so far have had great backgrounds in the entertainment art field. Secondly, no matter how advanced you are as an artist, it's easy to rely on what you think you know instead of pushing yourself into uncomfortable areas that can help you grow as a concept artist. I think the classes and instructors at CGMA have helped to push me out of my comfort zones. Finally, I think it's super important to develop the discipline to keep working on your personal work and if taking a class helps to keep you accountable to accomplishing that then I think it's well worth it for one's career.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I think in closing I would just say that it's really important to maintain curiosity as you develop as an artist. Surround yourself with artists that are better than you. CGMA is a great avenue to do that. Learn from the more experienced and less experienced alike. Don't be afraid to learn the conventional way to do something even if you might at first think it's boring. Expand your wings by experimenting with style even if it is not natural to you. It's good to be style agnostic in a way but understand it's also good to be willful and make deliberate art direction choices that give your art work a style emphasis. Don't be afraid to dream big and be original. There has never been another you. Make the most of it in your art and don't be afraid to fail spectacularly because ultimately you will succeed if you keep at it.
We would like to thank Jon for sitting down with us and sharing his CGMA experience. To see more of Jon's artwork you can visit his website at https://www.behance.net/JonGregerson.