Despite being the moderator of the writing forum, I've mostly been working as a concept artist recently, specifically designing people and clothing for 3-d artists to model. If you'e never seen my art work before, I work in an anime style and design clothing ranging from primitive to medieval/regency/historical/fantasy to retro/urban/punk/pimp/goth.
Have a look at my samples page! :)
So, first I'll try to define what it means to be a concept artist (And before you start arguing, consider that my employers are always pleased with my work, so I must be doing something right! ;) ). This is from a post of mine in a thread in the art forum where someone was asking how to become a concept artist:
Concept art is not about drawing style. It's usually some sort of pencil or tablet sketch with color applied by pencils, markers, or CGing. Any standard method of producing art will work, and theoretically you should match your technique to the project's requirements or only take on projects that match your style - for example, since I draw only anime style I don't do projects where the designer wants realistic looking characters to be designed.
So if concept art isn't about technique or media, what is it about? It's about 1) Psychology/communication and 2) Gathering, dissecting and remixing ideas.
1) Psychology/communication - as a concept artist you often end up working with a designer who 'knows what he wants when he sees it', has half a clue how being an artist really works, and will not give you all the info you need to do a sketch that will make him happy. A good third of the work involved in being a concept artist is getting the designer to answer simple questions and indicate his preferances until you can figure out what will make him happy. One approach to this is preparing a portfolio with samples of specific things - I have one with about 40 clothing designs, another with about 40 faces, and 10 or so monsters, so I can just ask whoever I'm working for to look at the appropriate collection and indicate his favorites. A second approach is asking the designer to provide concept art from an existing game/anime/whatever and describe to you what is great about that example and what should be different. The third approach is simple 'list of options' questions, like, "Do you want the X to look tattered, sad, mean, fluffy, sleek, cute, disdainful, etc.?"
2) Gathering, dissecting, and remixing ideas - this is the true artistic part of making concept art. As a concept artist I find it very helpful to think of things in parts and categories. For example, say I am hired to design a monster. There are only so many kinds of monster body shapes: snake, sphere, flat geometric shape (like a fish), peanut shape (like a horse), big front-small back (bison), and small front-big back (kangaroo). You pick a number of feet to stick on this body, and a type of foot(hoof, cloven hoof, paw, webbed foot, fish fin, shark fin, etc.) Then you do the same with the tail, horns/antennae, nose, ears, etc. until you have an animal. Try to make it look harmonious, not like a failed attempt at a Frankenstein's monster.
So as a concept artist, what you should be doing is collecting a lot of reference images (I have two illustrated books of animals, a stack of vogue and elle magazines, and several folders on my hard drive with images of poses, men, women, faces, clothing, hands, different kinds of animals, architecture, etc. I love google image search!) You need to be able to look at these images and mentally dissect them to identify their different elements, then choose elements that you like to make a new combination of your own. You need to figure out which elements are particularly good for making your drawing have a particular attitude, because concept art is all about attitude - If you design a character I should be able to make a good guess at what that charcter's personality is from their pose, facial expression, color scheme, and clothing/hair/accessories.
Now onto the specific project. I am currenty working on a contract to provide roughly 200 outfit designs for a MMORPG. These designs are to be in batches of 30 per culture, split into 15 for each gender. And, here's the hard part, the pieces must be able to be mixed and matched. As I begin this journal I have just finished the first batch of 15 male outfits (for a desert culture) and am starting the female clothing for that culture. The first batch of 15 took me maybe 40 hours to do, and I expect the next to be a bit faster because I'll be reusing a lot of the elements from the first batch to keep a consistent 'deserty' look between the male and female clothings of the same culture.
The game project already had a male and female model, so the first thing I did was ask for screenshots of this model from the front, side, and back. (I only ended up using the front view extensively, but I know I'm going to need the others when the modeller starts working on my designs and needs clarification on how some of the designs should look from the other views. So really I'm not completely done with the first batch of 15 beause I'll still need to do those additional drawings to aid the modelling process.
Anyway I took the front view of the male model, printed him out, and used my light box to trace his outlines and make a simple lineart blank to draw my clothing designs onto. I love my lightbox! IMNSHO every pencil and paper artist should have one. Mine is a LightTracer and it was inexpensive and is sturdy, and because it has a flourescent light bulb it doesn't run unpleasantly hot. Oh, and in case you care, I draw with Bic mechanical pencil on standard printer paper.
Right. So I drew myself a blank, scanned him, cleaned up the image in Adobe Photoshop (Gimp is a free alternative), and printed out lots of copies to sketch clothes onto. The Male Blank The Female Blank IMPORTANT! Make sure you take time to contemplate the anatomy and proportions of your blank to make sure you're happy with them before printing them out! I could't change much because the model was provided to me, but I ended up making adjustments to the pecs, crotch, and knees on the male and the chest and shoulders on the female before the clothing looked good on them.
Okay, this concludes entry 1 for my journal, reply if you want me to write more. ;)