What brushes do you use and what are your settings?
For the most part I just use the Photoshop default round brush and chalk brush. I have my “opacity jitter” set to “pen pressure” under “other dynamics,” or “transfer” if you are using newer versions of Photoshop. You can also download my brushes here.
What kind of tablet do you use?
I have a few different ones that I use on different occasions. I have an Intuos 3 and an Intuos 4 (large). I use the Intuos 4 when I am working at my desk and the 3 when I am working on my laptop. I also have an Asus EP121 tablet PC that I use when I want to travel or not sit at my desk all day. For the past several years I have been doing all of my work on the Asus. Before that I used a Fujitsu ST5112. I now currently use a Wacom Companion.
How do you flip your canvas?
You can define your own keyboard shortcuts by going to edit – keyboard shortcuts.
I see you wearing gloves sometimes, what are they?
I wear Handeze Flex-Fit gloves to help with my carpal tunnel.
I heard you teach an online mentorship. What is that all about?
You can find all of the information on my Enliighten site.
Will you work on my project for free?
No, this is my job. This is how I support my family and pay my bills. You wouldn’t expect a mechanic to change your oil for free or a dentist to clean your teeth for free, I shouldn’t be expected to work on your project for free.
If I send you cards, will you sign them?
If you live in the US, yes I will sign your cards. Please read this post before you ask me about signing cards.
Why aren’t you updating your Enliighten site anymore?
Unfortunately with work and my other projects, I simply don’t have time to continue to produce free tutorials. If I have extra time, I will try and produce more free content. I actually lose money on my Enliighten site because I have to pay for hosting, the time spent making free videos, etc.
How do I become a better artist?
Practice, dedication, and hard work. I am sorry to say, but if you want to be a professional artist be prepared to embark on a long hard road. In this day and age people are always looking for immediate results with little to no effort, but in order to become a better artist you will have to work hard. Reaching a professional level can take years, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t see improvement right away. If art is something you are really passionate about, keep at it and don’t give up.
Do you need to go to art school in order to become a professional artist?
This is another topic that everyone asks me about. Do I need to go to art school to become a professional artist? The short answer is no, hell no. I’m sure all of my teachers are shaking their heads right now, but it is the truth. Basically what it boils down to is do you want to experience going to an art college or would you rather just stay at home? Everyone is different in what they want to experience or achieve and everyone learns differently.
As for myself, I graduated with a BFA in traditional illustration from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco back in 2004. I had a great time there and I learned a lot. Did I need to go there? Absolutely not. Did I want to? Yes. You have to ask yourself, do you want to experience the college life? Things like living in dorm rooms, meeting and hanging out with people that have similar interests, going to class and being pushed to be a better artist by your fellow peers, meeting and learning from industry professionals, attending figure drawing workshops, making industry contacts, the list goes on and on. The downside, of course, are school loans. Art schools can be very expensive and it is very common to go $100k in debt. Do you want to spend the next 20 years paying that off? Some people think it is worth it while others think it is a waste. Again, it is up to the individual.
I will say this, you will never be asked for your diploma or even where you went to school. Clients are only interested in your ability, not where you came from. I’ve worked with almost 20 different clients, and none of them ever asked me about or required that I have a degree. I also know tons of industry professionals that are either self taught or they dropped out of school.
With the internet at our fingertips we have the ability to learn anything and everything. The amount of reference material, online tutorials, online classes, and just plain information in general is staggering. You can go to an art forum or social networking site and talk to legends like Brom or Todd Lockwood. What I’ve noticed over the years is that people are getting better at a younger age, and I think it is because of the amount of learning material that is so readily available on the internet. Nowadays you can find 18 year old artists that are freaking amazing, and I’m not talking about this being a rarity, but rather this is becoming commonplace. Just go to CGHub and look at people’s profiles, it can be very daunting.
BUT, and there is always a but, teaching yourself requires a lot of dedication and focus. Are you the type of person that will push yourself to draw every day, all day long? Are you going to go out of your way to learn and better yourself, or are you going to sit back and play video games? Some people need the motivation and inspiration a school can offer. They need that outside force telling them they have to finish their homework by 3:00pm tomorrow.
I know everyone says this and it sounds so cliche, but your college days are probably some of the best days of your life. Do I sit around and reminisce of my college days? Sometimes, yeah. Let’s think about it. You are probably around 18-19 years old, you move out of the house for the first time to a new place, possibly a new state, you are meeting new people and going to school for something you love, and a lot of people aren’t worrying about rent or jobs.
Most students will probably get a school loan, while the rest might be lucky enough to have a college fund. Either way, you probably aren’t worrying about how you will pay your bills. If you have a student loan, yes you have to pay it back with interest…but seriously, how many 18 year old kids are sitting around stressing about paying back their school loan, not too many. I know a lot of people that were excited about their school loans because that meant they could take that money and buy a new computer.
So you are now in this new place, going to a new school, meeting new people, living off of a school loan so you don’t have to worry about rent and you probably don’t have to worry about a job right now either. Most of my friends didn’t have jobs including myself, although I got a few jobs later on. Sounds pretty good right? If you do go to school, be sure to take advantage of it. Ask questions, make friends, make contacts, attend every workshop possible, and go to class with a good attitude. What you put in is what you will get back. Oh yeah, try to find out which teachers are the good ones. Every school has good and bad teachers, so you definitely don’t want to get stuck with the bad ones.
Did you attend and art school?
Yes, I graduated Cum Laude from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco in 2004 with a BFA in traditional illustration.
How did you come up with the name Daarken?
In the early years of my career people always mentioned how dark my art was, both in terms of mood and palette. I also tended to spend my time painting dark and evil characters and creatures, so I only thought it natural to coin the name “Daarken.” I added the extra “a” just to be different and cool. Mike is a very common name, so it is more likely that a client will remember someone named Daarken as opposed to someone named Mike.
How did you get into the industry?
About three months after graduating I got a phone call from Fantasy Flight Games and Wizards of the Coast asking if I wanted to do some freelance work for them. I have been very lucky in that I have never had to go out and find work, my clients always contact me for work. In 2007 I received an e-mail from BioWare Mythic asking me if I would like a full-time position as a concept artist. I flew out to Virginia for an interview and I was hired soon after. After three years of working at a staff position, I decided to go back to freelancing full-time.
What is a typical day like for you?
(Note – This was my old schedule) Well, I usually wake up around 10-11am. Working from home means that I get to keep my own hours. After walking the dog and eating some chicken nuggets, I start working and usually work all the way until 3-4am. Working 12-15 hours/day is pretty typical for me. I usually don’t take weekends off, so I clock anywhere from 80-120 hours/week. I’ve been on that type of schedule for almost 5 years now. I think in the past 5 years I have probably taken less than 10 weekends off, it is pretty crazy.
In terms of what my day is like when working with clients, I usually get a commission in an e-mail. This can be anything from a character design for a video game to a book cover. I typically have a few weeks to turn in a sketch and then another few weeks to turn in a final. This varies from client to client. Sometimes I might only have a few days or hours to turn in a sketch. Concept art for movies and video games usually have a must faster turnaround. Clients usually want to see daily concepts or even multiple concepts each day.
Illustration work is usually much more relaxed…usually. Most of the time I just turn in one black and white sketch, wait for feedback, and then take my painting to final. Most clients only see my black and white sketch and then the final, no color comps or any WIPs. Again, concept art is different. Turning in daily WIPs is pretty common for concept art.
I want to get my name out there but I’m not having much luck. How should I promote myself?
Back in the day people had to send out mailers to clients, but those days are long gone. With the rise of the internet and social networking, self promotion has never been easier. The first thing you want to do is join a few art forums. Art forums like cgsociety.org and conceptart.org are packed full of professionals. Not only can you start building a name for yourself by posting your work, but you can also start networking with professionals in the industry. Be sure to comment on other people’s work and socialize.
You will also want to start building your own portfolio site that you can direct prospective clients to. There are a lot of template portfolio sites out there, but I would suggest learning a bit of html and building your own. Be sure to start social networking as well. Get a Twitter and a Facebook account. Linkedin is also a great resume site.
What are video game companies looking for in a concept artist?
Versatility. Concept artists need to create things that have never been seen before, so they need to have a vivid imagination and a knowledge of how to paint just about anything. Most of the time you won’t find a concept artist that only draws people, or only draws environments. Typically you will need to be able to draw characters, creatures, interiors, exteriors, environments, fixtures, weapons, textures, icons, etc. The more versatile you are, the greater you are as an asset to the company. When a wave of layoffs comes around, you can bet the first people that go are the ones that can’t adapt to any situation.
Your portfolio should include finished paintings as well as sketches and thumbnails. The thinking process is very important as a concept artist, so clients are going to be looking for that. Some turnarounds might also be nice.
Knowledge of 3D usually isn’t a requirement, but it is always a good thing to learn. Again, the more skills under your belt means the greater asset you are to the company. If the company really needs you to know 3D, they will usually train you on the job. Google SketchUp is a simple and great 3D program to learn for beginners.
As a young artist I still have a lot of learning and developing to do; what do you think is most helpful in developing your own style?
Trying not to, haha! Young artists shouldn’t worry about trying to find a style. They need to focus on learning the fundamentals of art and building better foundations. You need to learn how to walk before you can dance. Style will come with time, so just worry about learning the basics of drawing and painting. If you look at artists that have a very distinct style, go back and look at their art when they were in school or even early in their career. I can guarantee you almost every single one did not have their signature style back then. Growing is part of being an artist, so I don’t think having a style that never changes is necessarily a good thing.