The Rising Star Mentorship: an invaluable encounter in your career

One winner of our annual Art Competition gets a prize that can’t be bought, and one that becomes more precious the more you invest in it – an Atomhawk Rising Star Mentorship.

As artists and designers, we never stop learning about the world and ourselves, using that life experience to make better work. We can access formal courses, infinite webinars, and online resources to sharpen our skills. But, sometimes, the most valuable input must come from a real person – a mentor who truly sees you on your unique journey to become the best artist you can be.

A mentor is someone who helps you refine your skills, make better decisions, and gain new perspective on your life and career. A good mentor’s experience will guide and inspire your work now, and your career.

The value of effective mentorship has always been known in the art world. During the Renaissance period, before art education institutions opened, students of art (known as garzoni) would live in a master’s workshops, starting their training with menial tasks, such as preparing panels and grinding pigments. They’d progress to drawing skills, first copying drawings made by their masters or other artists. Their masters would guide them to paint in their style, so they could contribute to commissions. Eventually, the students would go on to develop their own style, and take on students of their own.

Last year’s Forgotten Creation competition saw Charlotte Kügler win the Rising Star Mentorship. The judges were particularly impressed with the storytelling, care, and detail Charlotte invested in her entry illustration. She was the ideal candidate to take advantage of a mentorship with an Atomhawk artist. As well as the mentorship, Charlotte received a Wacom Cintiq 22, courtesy of Wacom and Escape Technology. Other prizes included store credit from art education experts 3dtotal and Proko.

After initial chats with Charlotte to gain a sense of her goals, we paired her with Artur Zima, Atomhawk’s Environment Discipline Lead. Artur has led a rich career working at many gamedev studios as an artist, and is a master of crafting truly epic sceneries with compositions and mood that let you lose yourself in their sheer scale. It’s no surprise Charlotte created something magical with Artur’s guidance and experience!

Let’s find out how the mentorship went.

Please tell us about your experience with the Rising Star Mentorship.

The Rising Star Mentorship has been such a great experience for me, I had an absolute blast! I had the opportunity to work on a project that pushed my comfort zone and thanks to the mentorship I felt confident enough to tackle it. I couldn’t have hoped for a better mentor than Artur; it was amazing to talk to him, be able to ask questions and receive lots of helpful tips and feedback.

After two years of working on my portfolio by myself it was an extremely inspiring and motivating experience for me ?

What was one or two key learnings you took from the sessions with Artur?

The biggest learning I am taking away is how to undertake a big and complex painting. Artur helped me break it down into manageable chunks while not getting lost in the process. The painting I worked on during the mentorship is the most complicated one I have attempted so far and now I feel more ready to push my comfort zone some more.

The second key learning is scale. Before the mentorship I struggled with large scale paintings and making my environments feel grand and epic. Artur showed me how to make use of texture, atmosphere, distribution of detail and more to create a realistic effect of grandness. All those were super helpful – I can already see improvements in my work in that regard and am looking forward to exploring this topic in the future!

For those participating in the Atomhawk Art Competition next year, what advice would you give to them to succeed?

Personally, I love to start with a story. I let myself be inspired by the theme, explore ideas that go into different directions and try to think outside the box. Because there are so many participants in the competition, trying to come up with something more unique in order to stand out was my way to go – even if it’s not the safe road. I used my story as a guideline to create some nice visual storytelling and composition as well as to design the environment. This approach helped me create a coherent image where all aspects fit together and complement each other.

Please take us through your artwork’s key stages.

The first step was to come up with an idea for the painting. Artur and I brainstormed together with the help of the 5 Ws (What, Who, Why, When and Where) and figured out the worldbuilding and a framework for the painting.

In the end we decided for me to design a small city by a lake with a big ancient bell tower as the focal point. Based on this I collected references and assembled them in a moodboard, which I kept expanding during the course of the project.

The next step was to do a lot of sketching in order to explore different ideas and develop a design direction. I sketched out architectural designs for various kinds of buildings, the bell tower and also drew some thumbnails to explore the layout of the city and possible compositions.

Parallel to the sketching process I started modelling a blockout of the city in Blender that would define rough terrain shapes and the layout of streets and houses. It was a difficult process to bring structure into a big bunch of buildings but after some iteration and feedback from Artur I was happy with the result.

Based on the blockout I also painted some colour thumbnails to explore different moods and lighting scenarios.

Now it was time to turn my sketches into 3D buildings. Artur recommended a modular approach to be able to produce the large amount of needed buildings, so I started modelling modules of windows, doors and other details based on photos. Afterwards I used a procedural geometry node setup by Julien Gauthier to model my buildings which made the process faster and more efficient.

In total I constructed around 30 different buildings that would later populate my environment and created a variety of procedural shaders that I applied to the buildings.

Finally, I also built the bell tower which was the most complicated building in the project. Most of the shapes were unique which meant that I could not make use of my modules but built everything from scratch.

Now it was finally time to exchange my placeholder geometry with the previously modelled buildings.

Step by step I replaced all the buildings, added trees and foliage, modelled streets and town squares, textured the terrain and put in smaller assets like ships and street lamps. It took forever but seeing everything come together made it worth the effort!

When everything was in place I adjusted the lighting and rendered the scene.

After the 3D work was done I was excited to jump into photoshop to start the paintover. First I played around with my render passes in order to create atmosphere perspective and tweak values and colour.

Afterwards I simplified shapes in unimported areas and added clouds and fog. I also painted in weathering and other details to give the scene some more life.

When I was done reworking all areas the project was finally finished!

From all of us at Atomhawk – amazing work, Charlotte!

Mentorship can be a powerful tool for an artist, which is why we created the Rising Star Mentorship as part of the Atomhawk Art Competition. The mentorship is designed to enable an artist to hone their skills under the guidance of an industry professional.

“Being Charlotte’s mentor was a very rewarding experience,” said Artur, when asked about what it was like to be on the other side of the Rising Star Mentorship. “Being able to offer suggestions, steer Charlotte in the right direction and to see the amazing progress each session really made it worthwhile for me. It was fantastic to see Charlotte’s skills and the work develop over such a short period of time, despite the fact that this type of image was out of her comfort zone.”

For making the most out of your mentorship, this is what Artur had to say: “Charlotte put in time, thought and effort into her work during but also outside of our sessions. Taking feedback on board and thinking about how to push it even further certainly elevated her work. That is something I would advise to any mentee – immerse yourself in the process, push yourself outside of your comfort zone and take advantage of the limited time you have to your mentor’s expertise to expand your skills!”

The Atomhawk Art Competition is run every year in July! If you would like to be notified of this year’s theme 24 hours before everyone else, join our Art Competition Early Access mailing list.