Featured Pro Portfolio: Sandra Duchiewicz

Sandra Duchiewicz is a London-based concept artist and illustrator who specializes in fantasy creatures and characters. Her credits include the Total War: Warhammer trilogy, Deathloop and Trials of Fire.

Check out Sandra’s ArtStation-powered portfolio website. 

While she takes advantage of a lot of the ArtStation Pro benefits, Sandra says the blog feature is her favorite. She recently posted her first article on job hunting for concept artists and already has a couple more articles planned.
In this interview, she discusses common challenges for artists, her view on social media and more.

How did you get your first professional job?

I studied at place that didn’t respect digital mediums. They considered concept art and mainstream illustration as a lower type of art – “commercial art” compared to contemporary high gallery art. So I understood pretty early that in order for me to break into entertainment industry, I would need to work on my portfolio alone and in my spare time between university assignments.

I found a bunch of cool people online with whom I started to collaborate. At first, it was on amateur game projects, then on indie games and later at start up companies making card games. All of these projects eventually got cancelled but they did help me to create a body of work that later became the core of my portfolio. Thanks to that early work, I started working for Fantasy Flight Games and Paizo. Eventually after almost two years of freelance grind, this portfolio got me a full time position at Creative Assembly.

At the time CA hired me, my portfolio was 100% fantasy characters and creatures and they were mostly known for their historical titles. I took the job thinking that I would be working on historical games only. My first day at work,  Chris Waller brought me a huge stack of Warhammer Army Books, and said: “Ah, forgot to mention – we are doing Fantasy Total War. This is your research. Welcome on board!” It was a huge surprise to me and I couldn’t be happier. Sometimes perfect projects for you are disguised as something else. It’s worth having a leap of faith. Life is funny like that.

What do you think is one of the largest obstacles for artists today?

A couple years ago, I would say that competition was biggest challenge. Concept art became some sort of a”hot job” in the industry. Aspiring artists are gaining knowledge much faster than the previous generations thanks to easier access to learning materials. But if you know where to look, you will see there’s a huge number of job positions that are appearing everyday around the world. The main obstacle for artists to actually get hired is not the competition but being open to relocation.

We live in a globalized world where there are lots of opportunities available to us if we are willing to abandon our old way of living. The amount of choice we have these days can be a bit paralyzing. At some point, you’ll be presented with many opportunities but you need to make your decisions wisely. Relocating for a job is not only a change of your work place. It’s also a huge change of your lifestyle, your social circle – it can be like a hard reset of your whole life.

Another challenge I see is the rise of internet art celebrities. Some people are drawn to this industry not because they want to create good art, but because they want to be famous and loved. They think that being famous is somehow a golden ticket to get showered with job offers. These people focus too much on becoming famous instead of becoming useful in the production pipeline. Social media has a huge influence over how people are portraying themselves.

I’ve been mentoring students that feel like they are not good enough because they don’t have a certain amount of followers on social media. Some of them are not present online at all because they are scared of being judged and compared to other more established artists. It’s heartbreaking to think that young aspiring artists are evaluating themselves in these kind of merits. They are literally competing with everybody else for the crowd attention from such early stages of their careers.

I’d like to remind young artists that those numbers don’t represent their ability to get hired. They need to acknowledge that social media is a tool and not something that defines them as artists in any way. All artists deserve to voice their ideas, develop portfolios and apply to jobs. Their skills are valuable and with a little bit of patience, research and practice they will find their place inside the industry. Their follower count on social media has nothing to do with it.

What do you do to promote your work and get jobs?

I’m not that good at self promotion. I don’t know how to use Instagram, Twitter or Facebook properly. Researching how to do it usually becomes a busy job of posting everyday to all platforms. Doing that doesn’t seem manageable to me with my already packed schedule. Generally, I am quite passive and just accept offers when they land in my mailbox.

I believe that social media presence does not represent if you are professional or not. It’s usually just a metric to see how popular and mainstream your ideas are. I do not depend on it in order to find projects to work on. There are a bunch of other tools that I use and that I always recommend to friends and students:

  • LinkedIn (that I joke: is more useful than your diploma)
  • Glassdoor (to see what companies are like before applying to work for them)
  • Kotaku and RockPaperShotgun (to be up to date with industry current events, acquisitions, game releases, announcements and trends)
  • Gaming job lists like gamedevmap.com or GameDevJobList put together by Mitch Dyer.

Most of my recent projects I got directly through LinkedIn, ArtStation and networking with Art Directors at industry events. Connections like that are much more valuable than social media followers in terms of gaining job offers and career progression.

 Tell us the story behind one of your favourite pieces in your portfolio.

I think my favorite artwork in my current portfolio is Panshee. It represents everything that I love in the fantasy genre: forest themed mystical creatures where you can’t tell if they are evil or not. It has this sense of mystery that many of my favorite books and games have had so it feels nostalgic to me. Also, it was one of the first artworks that I left quite sketchy.

Before this one, I was always super conscious of rendering everything to a high polish. I really love this loose style but my clients prefer more defined and polished designs. I guess it doesn’t really work as a portfolio piece if none of my clients want art like that from me but it was still a little milestone in my approach to art. In the future, I hope I can find time to do more art like this!

See more of Sandra’s work on her portfolio website. Find out more about ArtStation Pro websites here

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About the author

Sierra is the Editor of ArtStation Magazine.