Vlada Monakhova

Hi Vlada, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. Can you tell us about yourself?

I’m a concept artist and illustrator currently working in games and animation.

How did you get into making game concept art? What has your experience been like?

I’ve actually started out as a tattoo apprentice and artist after feeling like I would not be able to break into the industry with my outreach and skills. I lasted about a year — the training and draftsmanship expectations were brutal, but it was the customer service aspect that I had a hard time keeping up with — and decided to take some time off and try again. It took about a year from there to build up a concept-worthy portfolio, and I got my first remote contract shortly after starting to contact small studios for a gig.

Starting out was hard! When you don’t know anyone and no one knows you, building a client list means a lot of cold-emailing and watching Twitter like a hawk for every potential remote opening. I still feel like hopping into freelance before getting decent studio experience was not the best decision, but it definitely taught me a lot about time management and accountability.

Are there any specific tools that you use to create your art?

I use Photoshop and Clip Studio Paint for most of my concept and illustration work, with the latter being about 90% of my process at this point. I like to sketch in traditional media, and it’s important to me that the tools I use digitally can closely reflect my natural drawing process. I also like to experiment and bash together thumbnails in Alchemy, or doing things like pushing around ink with a straw and doing an automatic drawing. There are lots of cool exercises early Surrealists used to implement that can really stretch your creativity and help come up with shapes you wouldn’t otherwise. I like finding meaning in mess and I really think it’s important as a concept artist to tap into that vein of things that have not been done before.

As someone who has experience in this field, do you have any recommendations for someone starting out?

Get ready for this to take time. The barrier of entry is higher than ever and it will only get higher: start early, draw a lot. You really need to love drawing to do this, it has to become a basic need if it isn’t already. Look at entry-level and junior portfolios: this is your competition, and you need to be better than them.

Also: take care of yourself! It’s so easy to get stuck in a grind and hit burnout. Get a side job, do part-time, draw when you can but don’t give up your hobbies or social life. There is a fetishization of crunch culture even among younger artists, and it really needs to take a back seat. You can’t make good art if making art is all you ever do. You need to find a way to have a fulfilling life and experience things that bring you joy — you won’t be able to bring that joy and energy into your art otherwise, no matter how well you can draw and paint.

You recently were a panelist at Press A to Start for a talk on Character Design: Creating Meaningful Relationships Between Players and Characters. How was the event?

I loved it! As someone that works remotely and with rapid deadlines, it can be hard to connect with another side of production, so chatting with writers and developers about character design has really inspired me to make more meaningful work. The audience feedback was amazing, and I’d love to keep doing more things like this. It’s important that students and developers understand aspects of game design they aren’t specializing in so they become better collaborators in their future endeavors.

Character Design: Creating Meaningful Relationships Between Players and Characters panel at Press A To Start 2019.

Are there any franchises you would love to work on?

Less a franchise, and more a genre: I’d love to work on a horror game! Horror is a genre with so much potential for character development and storytelling and is very hard to get right. I’ve been really digging into what makes a design terrifying without losing its heart or dignity (Dark Souls/Bloodborne are a good example of this). I love making monsters, and I love making monsters that scare us because of how relatable they are, exploring how they hold on to humanity in spite of fear and struggle. As someone that’s loved all things horror since I was a very little kid, I think I can bring a very rich background to a project that’s interested in being more than just a jump-scare factory.

Do you have any future game development plans?

Currently, I’m focusing on really beefing up my portfolio, which has allowed me to take time and think of all kinds of personal projects I’d like to concept out. I’m sketching a lot for a Ghibli-like dark Slavic fairy tale RPG and a Lovecraftian setting starring a Nordic fishing village in the early 90s. I’m also currently working on and posting my redesigns of Neverending Story characters as bad-end game bosses and having fun with working out their fight mechanics along with their visual design.

Lastly, what are your thoughts on game development in Alberta?

I’m very excited to see this scene grow! Last year alone has been amazing and welcoming, and to see so many talented people starting so many cool things. The game dev community here has really become my second family, so many folks are working tirelessly to raise each other up and continue supporting our bursting dev industry. It’s endlessly inspiring and surprising to see just how much talent has gathered here, and I look forward to seeing where the future takes us.

Thanks for taking the time to be our June 2019 Community Spotlight member.

Vlada is a concept artist out of Edmonton, Alberta. You can find her portfolio at https://www.artstation.com/vladadraws.

Follow Vlada on Twitter, https://twitter.com/vladadraws

Craig is the creator of Alberta Makes Games.
He created the Calgary Game Developers meetup group in 2013 and is a director for both Calgary Game Developers Association and Interactive Arts Alberta.

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