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What Does A Lead Artist Do?

An artist is one of the most important people in the creative process. They work hand-in-hand with other departments like marketing, design, code, and production to bring ideas into reality.

In the film industry, artists often collaborate with directors, writers, producers, and cinematographers to tell stories visually and in the gaming industry, they collaborate with designers and developers to create amazing games.

What Does A Lead Artist Do

Lead Artists typically oversee the creation of all artwork and 3D assets. This includes everything from creating storyboards and visualizing sets to designing props and creating key art.

In addition to artistic talent, it takes good communication and leadership skills to succeed in this position. An artist needs to be able to explain what he or she is doing to others and take care of their team both in planning and career growth.

Skills a Lead Artist Should Have

Working as a Lead Artist myself for the past years I have concluded from my experience and from seeing other really talented and experience lead artist work, that there are 5 pillar skills that every lead artist should have.

That does not mean they have to be fully developed in all of these pillars but actually strive to work on them and learn skills towards achieving them as we are all work in progress.

Here are those 5 pillars:

  • Communication
  • Organization
  • Inspiration
  • Accountability
  • Creation

let’s talk more in-depth about each one of those.

1. Communication

As a lead artist, one of the main things you should be doing is communicating whether it’s with your team by explaining their next tasks, explaining to them a certain art workflow, giving them feedback on their assets, or communicating with other departments within your team this could be production or design or any other department based on the industry you are in.

Part of communication is active listening, this means you should always focus on what is being said or discussed in front of you, and always take notes as we are all human and we forget.

Keeping a notebook and quickly jotting down important points or things to do will help you follow up on certain tasks and be in control as there will be a loooot of information thrown at you.

Artists in general have the tendency to sit at their desks and dwell on their tasks all day, as a Lead Artist you should get out of this introverted behavior and go and talk to your team, follow up with them see if you can offer support.

2. Organization

When you are leading a team of 10 artists or so things will get out of hand quickly and this is where your organization skills help a lot.

as a lead artist, you should collect data and learn from previous experiences in order to make good estimates on when an asset would be finished and do some projections as the production team will ask you about those numbers sooner or later.

Documentation is crucial, start it as early as possible and treat it as an MVP ( minimal viable product) in the sense that it a constantly updated structure and encourage your team to contribute in that as this will give your team a sense of control on how things are done inside the art department.

3. Inspiration

Working on projects, especially long ones will suck all the fun out of some artists within your team, some assets will be redone 2 or even 3 times, and then comes the polish stage where they would work on that same asset again…

As a lead artist part of your job is to motivate and inspire your team members, artists are emotional and most got into art in the first place because it was their hobby and they find it fun and cool to do, so try to challenge your team members to give them tasks they are excited about 

4. Accountability

bit by bit I am seeing accountability absent in today’s team management, and it’s one of the main pillars every team should have.

If a project or a department fails to achieve certain goals then “it’s not ones fault” if someone isn’t doing his job “no need to point fingers” and so on and so forth that big teams fail to achieve their goals and finish their products because of lack of accountability.

As a lead artist, it’s your responsibility to manage your team and estimate properly for your department on a sprint-by-sprint basis or on a project basis, if your team falls short in achieving their goals you should take one for your team and acknowledge the mistakes done and learn from them and document what happened so it doesn’t happen again.

Establishing a quality bar, especially for artists is crucial as this department’s result is visual, this will keep the art consistent and always on a certain level.

5. Creation

yes, you heard it, it took me some time to get it in mind as well, after doing all the management work I just mentioned as a lead artist you should find the time to contribute as an artist as well.

You are not expected to give the same load of work a normal artist does as a big chunk of your time would be spent on managing and giving feedback and being sucked into lonnng meetings.

One piece of advice is to pick a small task that you think you can manage to finish early on in the sprint and book weekly days in your calendar in order to work on that task and finish it, slipping into doing only management is very easy but you should try to avoid that as keeping up with new industry tools and tricks is crucial for you as leader of your team.

How To Become a Lead Artist?

Leading art departments are looking for people with at least 3 years of experience as senior artists. Many companies nowadays don’t even ask for degrees anymore. 

I would advise you to start as early as possible with a Junior artist position and start your career path as an artist. From junior, you will be a regular artist and from regular you get to be a senior artist.

Making the switch from senior artist to lead artist is the tricky part here because there are 2 directions after senior level. Either you go with the expert approach then you get to be the principal artist or the management approach where you get to be the lead artist.

This comes down to what the artist feels like doing next and where he finds fulfillment and enjoyment if you enjoy working on your assets and doing research on new techniques and sharing your skills more then probably you want the expert path.

If you feel like you enjoy seeing the success of other artists in your team and find yourself planning for future tasks and talking with production about ways to make better estimations etc.. then you are probably a better leader. 

Going into the management path I do advise taking some leadership courses as this will put goals in your mind on what to strive for and what traits you should work on.

How much does a Lead Artist make?

The average annual pay for a Lead Artist in the United States is 65 k USD. This figure represents the average hourly wage for a full-time employee earning 40 hours per week. 

The median income for a Lead Artist is approximately 55 k. Half of all Lead Artists earn more than this amount and half earn less. In 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there are 5,400 Lead Artists employed nationwide.

As an entry-level position, Lead Artists typically earn around 55 k per year. However, some Lead Artists start off making considerably more money can go up to 100k per year.

It also depends on the industry and the country you are in, for example, lead artists in the US make more money than Lead artists in Europe but if you consider the number of hours US artists put versus the EU then you would understand why they make more money.

Most Lead Artists work 40 hours per week. However, many Lead Artists work more than 40 hours per week. Some Lead Artists even work up to 60 hours per week( don’t do that, as you will burn quickly ).

Conclusion

Becoming a lead artist is not a short path to take and its not for every artist, I say that all the time to all artists in my team, as I know lots and lots of artists that don’t even want to be lead artists as this will take from their art creation time.

As I mentioned earlier artists are attached to what they do and they do it for the fun and the passion they have for this industry so if you find yourself not wanting to take more management responsibilities then it totally fine.

But if you feel you want to help others succeed and find enjoyment in planning and having a bigger overview of the art department’s progress then you are probably Lead artist material 🙂