I would tell any artist out there that mentorship will be able to help you grow your skills much more than any free online tutorial can
Veerle is a Character Concept artist from the Netherlands. She loves crafting characters and conveying emotions and stories.
1,360 Words written by Veerle
~6 Minutes to read
Hi! My name is Veerle Zandstra, I am a character concept artist and illustrator from the Netherlands. From a very young age, drawing has been my biggest passion in life, and I was fortunate to grow up in a creative family that fully supported my artistic dreams.
My love for drawing really kicked off when I watched Avatar the Last Airbender on Nickelodeon when I was a young kid. I would spend hours drawing the characters from the show, and I’d even write my own little stories in that universe. This show still has a big influence on the work that I do.
Initially, my dream was to become a 2D animator, so I studied an animation course at art school. Slowly throughout the years, I started learning that my passion was actually in pre-production and made the switch to concept artist. I spent this time studying an extremely broad spectrum of topics such as environments, characters, and props. After four years of art school, I went to study game development for two years in Belgium, with a focus on graphics production. This sparked my interest in wanting to become a character concept artist specifically, and I found my artistic niche!
Painting characters, with their own unique emotions and stories, is what I love to do most. Especially strong and powerful female characters, a topic close to my own heart.
Miko was the first of the two characters I worked on during the mentorship. I wanted her to appear cheerful and young, while also strong and determined.
A major problem I struggled with, and still face from time to time, is truly understanding my worth as an artist. I think we all know what imposter syndrome feels like, but it can be especially difficult dealing with it while you are working your first paid job. I was tempted to say “yes” to every single opportunity that came on my path, leading to almost burnout. This internal struggle of me trying to prove myself constantly was unhealthy. I am glad that my first full-time job was an in-house position because I got a lot of guidance from my art director and colleagues. This experience has taught me a lot and made me feel truly valued within the team. It has helped me slowly overcome the initial (and irrational) fear of not being good enough.
Another challenge I faced, was learning how to properly incorporate my art career into my life. Like many other artists, the work we do is not only our job but also our passion. Keeping your “work”-work separate from your personal work and personal life, was difficult at first. Art was all I could think about, all I wanted to do. But you need to take breaks from it and pursue other hobbies and interests as well, in order to keep a healthy relationship with it. I used to feel guilty for spending my weekend nights at parties, instead of painting at home. It took me a long time to realize that taking a distance from work from time to time, is the healthiest thing to do.
Miko - early sketches
These are some of the design sketches I have done for Miko. I did these after a few rounds of feedback on my previous sketches and turned out the most expressive.
The main reason I decided to sign up for a course at CGverse is that it felt like I had hit a blockade in my art progress. I already had some professional working experience and I was not a novice artist anymore, however, that did not make me want to stop improving my skills. I found it difficult to see the main flaws in my own work and often ended up focusing on the wrong parts of the design process. Personally, I learn the most when someone guides me, points out those flaws I have missed, and teaches me how to improve them.
I had already given other online courses a try, but those were the pre-recorded type without personal feedback. They were absolutely educational, but it is simply not the same as having an actual teacher you can ask direct questions to.
While searching around for a mentorship program, I came across CGverse and was quite impressed by the courses they offered. The description of the stylized character design course perfectly matched what I was looking for, so signing up was an easy choice.
This demon was the second character I worked on. It was a fun challenge to design a creature, which is a little outside of my comfort zone.
With the guidance of my teacher David Ko, I designed two characters in two months. Spending one month on each design was definitely a much longer time than I was used to, but I was glad about this amount of time since I was doing the course next to my full-time job.
We started out by creating a mood- and reference board for my characters. Some of my biggest inspirations are Avatar the last Airbender, Ori and the Blind Forest, and Breath of the Wild, so my ideas were based around east Asian folklore, set in nature and with a little hint of magic. When I started sketching, I had the idea to create a shamanic girl and her demonic archnemesis.
I did a lot of research into Asian folklore and different countries’ clothing and aimed to develop a unique style. The first character I developed, Miko, is a young and cheerful girl, so I wanted her design to express that, by using bright colors and a cheeky expression. Her archnemesis, a monk who transformed into a demonic creature, needed to match her design style, but still feel like her exact opposite. These were a bunch of fun challenges I needed to tackle.
The classes were divided into feedback rounds for each of the three students and ended with a personalized homework assignment for the next class. David really understood what was needed for us to make a good next step within the design process, and guided us very well.
This mentorship was a very positive experience for me. I can clearly see an improvement in my designs and I have felt more confident in my skills since.
I learned so much about the process of character design, specifically how to give a character life. One of my initial struggles with designing characters was that I had a tendency to simply design costumes and that the characters themselves had little “spark” to them. David has taught me to directly think beyond clothing and introduce a pose, expression, and possibly some secondary items to the designs as well.
Another major learning point was knowing how to push a silhouette, in order to make a design really pop out. David would do a lot of paintovers on top of my sketches to explain his thoughts and often managed to help me push it further than I would have been able to do by myself. Looking back at my old art, I can see a very clear difference there.
It was tough at times, working from 9 to 5 while spending my evenings and weekends on the mentorship, and having classes at 4 AM, but the results were absolutely worth every minute. David was a very kind teacher, and a bit strict at times, when it was visible in my work that I had not spent as much time on my homework as I would have liked. But that was exactly the necessary push for me to stay motivated and excited.
A few extra sketches of the demon, to deepen his personality
I would tell any artist out there that mentorship will be able to help you grow your skills much more than any free online tutorial can. For many years I watched YouTube tutorials and while I did learn from those, I simply did not know how to apply the knowledge effectively. Without the guidance of a teacher, whom you can ask questions directly and who will give you personalized feedback, it can take a long time to see results in your work.
What I really appreciated about CGverse was the time that was invested in conversations with me to get to know me and my artistic goals, so that the mentorship could be tailored to me. A lot of attention was put into achieving those goals, by helping me break them down into smaller steps. I felt truly supported by my mentor, and it was clear that he was excited about seeing the improvement in my work.
All of this personalized attention is what makes CGverse quite unique, and for this I would recommend anyone who is considering signing up, to just go for it!