I'm in full on "concept artist" mode for my personal work right now, so I've been thinking a LOT about design and about story. I've also been seeing what other people are doing in these areas.
...I have come to the conclusion that many, many people who post art online are incredibly boring and shallow. Don't let that be you.
You're probably either agreeing with me right now, wondering what I'm talking about, or taking offense. It's nothing personal, believe me. People are just a bit too focused on technique. It's understandable - when you're starting out, you feel like you can't draw, you can't paint, and if only your mark making was like <xxx> artist, you'd get work. A friend of mine shared one of her inspirations with me yesterday, all all I could think was, "Dear GODS, I've seen this SO MANY TIMES before." Sometimes it seems like every starting artist wants to be a clone of about 3 different people...the people vary, but at any given time, there seems like a "boy" inspiration, a "girl" inspiration and a "weird" inspiration.
At the same time as students are focused on other artists technique, young artists tend to get what little extra-curricular entertainment they have from the industries they want to work in...so they ingest a constant stream of the newest cartoons, video games and movies. Almost all of their entertainment seems to be visual in nature too.
I used to know a teacher who laughed that every term he was getting a "brilliant" "new" idea from multiple students - a FPS game where the character is half-angel, half-devil (the mom was ALWAYS the angel) blasting his way up Dante's ladder in an attempt to get to heaven. Yeah. I can see it. The students were 18 or 19, and all they'd done is watch anime and play video games. They literally didn't have a well of ideas to dip into.
The most successful people I know are driven, yes, but they are also not boring. You can talk to them about art, or about data analysis, or the news, or philosophy or animal husbandry or a host of other things, and they know at least a bit. I had a teacher in my illustration program who said it was an illustrator's NUMBER ONE JOB to know stuff. In his mind, more important than being able to draw was being able to contextualize things. You don't have to like Justin Bieber, but if you want to be an effective editorial illustrator, you probably should know something about him.
Here's a fun exercise - Give me a story based around a country in a Brexit-like situation, with a well-rounded, minority female for a lead, and a world based on 13th century Spain. Can you think of something? Have you paid attention to the Brexit situation? Do you listen to the #gamergate and #BLM movements enough to have some idea what MIGHT work for the character in terms of design and motivation? Can you tell me anything about the castles of Spain vs Germany vs England? Maybe you wouldn't want to *play* such a game, but if an AD offered you a 6 month gig designing it, I'd hope you'd be able to sound intelligent when you were talking to them for the first time.
You don't know how many times I heard "All these theory and cultural classes are bullshit! I should be painting!" when I was in art school....yeah? Well I know the difference between Art Deco and Futurism, and if an AD asked me to make a background for a cartoon inspired by Cubism, I could do it.
What was the last book without pictures you read? How often do you pay attention to world news? Listened to any good science podcasts lately? All the best concept artists do this stuff all the time. It makes them better at what they do. It gives a depth to the well of ideas they can draw from. If you don't know the first thing about different kinds of castles, it makes it MUCH harder to do research on appropriate elements to put in your painting.
You don't have to be a master of everything - but the broader your education and knowledge base is, the better chance you have of succeeding in this industry. You are being hired for your ideas - make sure you have some.
Thanks for reading, as always, I really appreciate it any time you share this with your friends or people you think would benefit.