Taking the Initiative: Tips for Students from Concept Art Award Winner Airi Pan

LightBox Expo was recently held for the first time in California, and with it, the Concept Art Awards made its debut. Among the competition’s several winners was Airi Pan, who received the award for Best Student Environment Concept Art thanks to her imaginative piece “The Griffin’s Nest.” Her colorful and stylized illustration for Neon Genesis Evangelion was also a finalist in the Fan Art category.

While in elementary school, teachers often communicated with Pan through drawing to cross language barriers. This helped encourage her to continue drawing, and now she studies at Art Center College of Design.

Going Beyond Artistic Improvement for Academic Success

Pan shares that academic study is rigorous at ArtCenter, describing classmates pulling all-nighters. On the flip side, Pan says it inspires a lot of dedication from students who want to improve and camaraderie from alumni who want to help them.  

While doing schoolwork is important, Pan says students have more to consider if they want to succeed. 

“It’s not enough to just do your homework and become a better artist, you have to meet and greet people because recommendations will be the golden ticket into getting your whole leg through the door, rather than just a foot. If anything, you can consider ‘making connections’ as the perfect excuse to go to that party and actually indulge in fun for once.”

Illustration for a school project during the first term at ArtCenter.

Advocating a “Just-Do-It” Attitude 

Pan had never entered a competition before the Concept Art Awards. Her winning illustration was actually somewhat based on a learning exercise. On the ArtStation page for part of Pan’s contest entry, she said it was her first time trying photobashing

When she took her efforts to teachers and other professionals for feedback, they criticized them for amateur mistakes, like questionable colors and using a texture with a resolution that was too low. But Pan had already submitted her work to the competition and couldn’t make any changes. She assumed the judges would have the same criticisms and dismiss her.

Pan says she was dumbstruck when she heard her name announced as the winner instead. She had no idea that she would end up on the podium with Into the Spider-Verse concept artist Robh Ruppel presenting an award to her. 

This experience may have bolstered Pan’s tips for students who want to enter their work for competition. She offered advice that boiled down to simply giving it a shot.

“You just gotta do it!!! I totally thought my pieces were going to get disqualified because one piece was anime and the second piece was two artworks merged into one, but I guess I was proven wrong. You never know what will happen, so be like Shia Lebouf and just do it!”

Despite receiving criticisms on what ended up being an award-winning piece, Pan still advocates getting feedback from others. She adds that this can be especially important when learning new art techniques. 

“Get critique from a pro. Tutorials will only take you halfway. Getting a proper critique is the only way you’ll learn exactly what you did wrong. Sometimes if my class ends early, I’ll ask my teachers for critiques on my personal work, and then run off to teachers that I had never met beforebut I respect their work, and force-feed my work to them.”

Concept Art Award Winner “The Griffin’s Nest” in its entirety. The entry combined two illustrations into one piece of art.

The Benefits of Drawing in Multiple Styles

“The Griffin’s Nest” is part of a larger series called Hunter by Pan. It’s specifically part of a series that’s shifting toward a more realistic style with a greater focus on environment art. Pan says this shift was based on her admiration for artists like Eytan Zana, Lownine, and John Park. Though she had admired them since high school, she hadn’t learned about photobashing until she started attending ArtCenter. Once she tried photobashing, she felt closer to achieving the style she had always wanted.

The initial look of the Hunter series.

However, Pan’s art remains wonderfully diverse. For instance, her Evangelion piece, a Fan Art Finalist in the Concept Art Awards, strikes a startling and vibrant contrast with her winning “The Griffin’s Nest.” She hopes that having more than one art style will make her more hireable.

“As a student who dreams of working at both Disney Feature Animation and Naughty Dog, which are two polar opposites, I suppose two different styles are a must. I definitely think certain styles fit certain work. I would not submit my stylized pieces to Naughty Dog, or my realistic pieces to Pixar. Even Craig Mullins adjusted his style to match the production for Spider-Verse. But no matter what, your skill will translate into each style you have, so being a good artist in general is paramount.”

Fan Art Finalist in the Concept Art Awards focused on the critically acclaimed anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Though her work won at the first Concept Art Awards, Pan isn’t content to rest on her laurels. She says it’s back to the grindstone for her, determined to continue improving and excited to see her art evolve.

Follow Airi Pan on ArtStation for updates on the evolution of her portfolio.

Ready to kickstart your career? Unlock ArtStation Plus and get unlimited access to ArtStation Learning and more!

  • Share this article

About the author