Environment Design Winners Interview — Dragon’s Rise: The Forgotten Realms

A view of a fantastic landscape dotted with windmills, kites, and wooden houses on stilts.

1st place Dragon’s Rise: The Forgotten Realms – Environment Design: Yuyun (Jessie) Jiang

We’re pleased to share with you this latest conversation in our series with Dragon’s Rise: The Forgotten Realms Challenge winners. We caught up with Yuyun (Jessie) Jiang, Laurène Bonnet, and Solène Michon, the top three winners of the Environment Design category, to learn more about how they approached this ArtStation Challenge. Discover their beautiful artwork while also learning new tips and tricks for Challenge success!

Top down view of a boat paddling on a river, with a blue dragon staring up at it in the river beneath

2nd place Dragon’s Rise: The Forgotten Realms – Environment Design: Laurène Bonnet

Why Did You Decide To Enter the Dragon’s Rise Challenge?

Yuyun (Jessie): “Dragon” is a theme that I am deeply fascinated with, because of their importance in myth and imagery in the culture I grew up with. I wouldn’t want to miss this opportunity to explore a world in which this benevolent creature has influenced the beliefs and man-made structures of said world. This Challenge was a good environment where I could learn and appreciate other people’s works and workflows.

Laurène: Challenges are always a nice opportunity to create something for yourself! Sometimes, it’s interesting to have some constraints and a time limit! It is moments like this that show us that we are capable of more than what we think.

Solène: I love the energy around the ArtStation Challenges (I did the Challenge last year as well). I liked being part of this experience. We joined in with several friends to keep in touch during the Challenge, providing each other with feedback to improve our submissions. For a month we’re spending our evenings together, it’s a fun time. I think I’ll join every Challenge from now on. It’s a good opportunity to gain visibility on the platform. As a young artist, I’m very grateful that this kind of event exists. It means a lot.

Light shines down into an underwater-like environment

3rd place Dragon’s Rise: The Forgotten Realms – Environment Design: Solène Michon

What Was the Inspiration Behind Your Submission?

Yuyun (Jessie): In the environment concept, I tried to envision how the existence of this airborne creature would influence the way people would build their cities and monuments.

Would people prefer to live near this creature in the cosmic river above, therefore choosing to build their cities on mountains? The combination of stilted buildings and tulou structures would be a fitting choice because they also resemble bird nests; plus, some gigantic wind wheels and dragon-shaped kites because this is a fantastic world. Would the people build monuments to depict a circle of life with a dragon at its center? They bring rain and carry the spirits of ancestors back to the cosmic river, where the vitality of the world (the rainwater) originated.

Laurène: My main inspiration was the Pre-Columbian era. I had never really drawn anything about this period before, so tackling this subject was already a challenge in itself. But it was really fun to search for references (how the houses were made, etc.) and mix them with some fantasy!

Solène: I’m a big fan of retro-futurism/mid-century architecture. I didn’t want to create a world with the generic features we think about when it comes to dragons—high fantasy characteristics—treasures, flames, and castles. I wanted it to look more like a cosy universe, so I mixed mid-century vibes with medieval materials and a stylized touch.

Magical architecture with lights illuminating a sculpted cliffside

1st place Dragon’s Rise: The Forgotten Realms – Environment Design: Yuyun (Jessie) Jiang

How did your Challenge Workflow Compare to your Regular Creative Workflow?

Yuyun (Jessie): My workflow for personal work is more relaxed, in which I meander through a variety of possibilities before locking into one. But with the time constraints of this Challenge, I need to be more precise and decisive in the direction the pieces need to go.

Laurène: It was pretty much the same! I started with some 2D concepts that I then used for reference to create 3D blockouts, and painted over everything. The only difference is that I didn’t have much time for the Challenge, so everything needed to be done in a few days. I also allowed myself to include characters in my image, even though it wasn’t asked, just because it brought me joy!

Solène:  I would say it is the same workflow, although the Challenge fills me with enthusiasm so I’m working faster. It’s always about searching for references, making sketches, rough, color keys, etc. With artists giving me feedback and the energy around the competition, I’m getting excited and I’m working faster. The Challenge is a very pleasant project to work on.

Bright cheery illustration of stylized architecture

2nd place Dragon’s Rise: The Forgotten Realms – Environment Design: Laurène Bonnet

What Advice Do You Have for Future Challenge Participants?

Yuyun (Jessie): Lock onto your world-building and narrative early and limit the amount of time you spend on the preparation work (reference gathering, sketching, and iterations). Give more time to the delivery of final images. And make the worldbuilding as interesting as you can, because this is where all the joy and fantasy lies.

Laurène: Do not fear the Challenge prompt. For every subject, you have plenty of universes to explore. Do not lock yourself in! This Challenge is a priceless opportunity to make what makes YOU feel good, so go for it! And do not compare yourself too harshly with others. Of course there are amazing and inspiring artists out there, but remember that everyone goes at their own pace! No pressure!

Solène: The more you interact with other artists, the better you get. Post every day or every two days, ask for feedback, give some to others…and if you can join in with friends, it is even better.

Streetview of a kitchen that opens into a pond

3rd place Dragon’s Rise: The Forgotten Realms – Environment Design: Solène Michon

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ArtStation Community Manager