Talk with an Artist Ep.1 | Catan

Catan is a Chinese-based concept artist who is currently working for Tencent. In this interview, Catan will talk about the choices he made as an artist and his opinions on the concept art industry.

Talk with an Artist Ep.1 | Catan

Catan is a Chinese-based concept artist who is currently working for Tencent. In this interview, Catan will talk about the choices he made as an artist and his opinions on the concept art industry.

Check out Catan on his ArtStation | Instagram !


Hi Catan! Before we start, tell us a little about yourself.

Hi, I’m Catan. I like cats and my surname is An, so I just named myself Catan.
I am a concept artist who has just graduated from Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts and worked in the industry for almost a year. I majored in visual communication but I’ve also been learning concept design for 3 years. I aspire to be an excellent concept artist in the industry.  

First off, please share your art journey with us!

I’ve loved drawing since elementary school. I think I got into fine arts in middle school and made up my mind to go to an art school for college in high school.
I was exposed to concept art in my freshman year of college. Two of my favorite hobbies are gaming and drawing, so I decided to also learn concept art in addition to what I was already majoring in because it’s the perfect combination of the two.
Although I’ve made my education plans in advance, I still suffered a lot. Like I mentioned before, I mainly majored in visual communication, so learning game concept art simultaneously on my own was quite painful (it’s very hard to change majors in China). But that also pushed me to draw every day so everything worked out in the end.
Samurai Duel

Was there a special moment when you realized you truly wanted to do concept art?

There wasn’t anything special. I just loved playing games since I was little and really enjoyed the content and designs. I dreamt of playing my own game and seeing my own designs coming to life in games some day. Besides that, the prospect of the concept art industry seems promising, so it only encouraged me.    

The concept art industry is very competitive and sometimes it’s hard to keep improving when it comes to art. Have you ever had any hesitations or regrets about your career choice?

It’s not just concept art; every industry has competition and you just need to keep improving. The intensity of competition just varies at different stages. Everyone should strive for improvement, regardless of the circumstances.
So don’t let these things get to you and make you stray from what you really want.

You’ve been working at Tencent for almost a year. What are you mainly tasked with? Share something about your first year of work experience.

I'm mainly tasked with environmental concept design, and sometimes key art. I spent most of my summers doing internships during college and interned at Tencent in junior year, so it was relatively easy to adapt to the workplace. I’ve also gained a lot of experience and skills outside of art, such as knowledge about engines and the creative process of game design. However, it was difficult to balance out work and personal practice, so I combined the two. I treat work as practice and practice as work. This has helped me achieve both efficiency and quality, and made sure I can improve both at work and during practice.

After working in the concept art field for a year, do you have any different/new insights or thoughts about concept art industry as a whole?

Mentioning this industry, you can’t avoid the phrase “hustle culture”. Personally, I think that the CG industry still has a prospective future, but things are changing too fast. The current trends will soon pass. It's what the design industry is like. Only a few mature, rendered designs can stand the test of time.
This year has been relatively stable in general, but there are still many challenges such as the recent emergence of AI art generators. But I think as long as you have the ambition to progress, to become an irreplaceable asset, your prospects can only go upward.

Is there anything that you wish you’d known?

I wish I had a mentor or instructor. To me, learning everything by myself was very difficult. Later on, I realized that if I had signed up for a concept art class from the start, I probably would have been able to learn a lot more skills and build experiences earlier and more easily instead of learning the hard way.

Share your current accomplishments or goals!

My current goal is to have the project I've been working on be published on time, to accomplish my tasks to the best of my ability, and to improve my overall skills. My future dream is to become an outstanding concept artist and maybe start a side job like opening a Japanese restaurant?

Outside of work, what do you do to improve your professional skills? How much time a week do you spend on practice and personal projects?

Improving artistic taste and learning from masterful movies, games, artwork & CG websites are some most common ways. Recognize what you are lacking and improve. There are a lot of tutorials on YouTube and other platforms, and we should always know that we are never too old to learn.
In terms of time management, I never bring work projects into my personal life because I want to maintain a healthy working cycle. I’ve never set a fixed time for daily practices but I will draw everyday after work when a sudden inspiration or enthusiasm appears. However, I’m always learning new skills and solving problems that come into my life.
Also, I might start working on my art book at the end of this year.

What skills are you trying to improve on? Do you have any plans?

I mainly want to improve on secondary skills such as learning new illustration softwares and extensions so I can work more efficiently. Basically, you will improve and learn when you solve problems.
I’ve also stashed many tutorials and lessons that I plan to watch.
Traveler Series

What are some reasons and inspirations that made you create the Traveler Series? What choices/compromises did you make?

It just so happens that I wanted to create a concept art series, and I had a dream about a huntress riding across a misty continent with her magical orb, which later became my inspiration for this series lol.
The trade-offs you make depend on how you want to manipulate the look of the piece. I keep the overall picture clean and readable, using composition and color hues to enrich the piece without having too much visual information. I also avoid using primary colors, and instead use a desaturated color palette to emphasize the mood of the piece.
Traveler Series

Your works are often extremely rich in expression and narrative elements. Do you have any tips or advice on how to create a narrative or mood for illustrations?

Look more and think more. In my opinion, thinking and learning from others' work is much more important than just blindly drawing; it’s only through these actions that you can improve your artistic taste and differentiate the good from the bad. You can always figure out your style, or how you approach drawing if you’re willing to devote time toit; but developing good artistic taste requires not just time, but pondering, asking questions, and forming your unique understandings of art. Then, devote your effort to learning, practicing, and you will eventually improve.
Traveler Series

Are there any practices you would recommend to aspiring environmental concept artists?

Spend time learning perspective, watching good movies, and learning composition and lighting from masterful shots. I learned the best composition and lighting from great movies and animations. I would also recommend The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell in terms of inspirations.
physical sketches of the Traveler Series

Thank you so much for doing the interview with us! Last but not least, we want to ask you our special question: what’s the best decision that you’ve ever made?

I’ve never made the BEST choice. Every choice comes with pressure and challenge. All I can say is that I don’t regret any choices that I have made so far.
character concept art for Traveler Series