Mike Kent is a Professor at Algonquin College's Concept Art Foundations program, freelance concept artist, and chair of Pens & Pixels. Trained in game development and concept art, Mike began his career as a concept artist and modeler in several design firms. His passion for the arts has driven him to create Pens & Pixels, a professional arts and illustration collective, with the goal of bringing concept art and illustration to Ottawa and beyond. Mike's passion and drive come from his love of sharing and educating everyone in achieving their goal with their creative careers.
Jillian Mood, IGDA: Hello Mike! Congratulations on your recent hugely successful art jam! Why did you decide to do a jam that was specifically art only?
Mike Kent: Game jams are a great medium to help grow the game development community, spawn new ideas, network and create. Unfortunately. there is a divide between the arts and game development. The divide can get rather intense and can even be seen in the workplace. As it stands, professional artists looking to connect can feel excluded from a lot of video game events due to a lack of content supporting arts interests. So I created the art jam, built around creating and visually exploring a game world.
JM: What were the main things you learned from the experience?
MK: The top things I learned from the Pens & Pixels Art Jam are the importance of community and sharing. Artists are typically very isolated. The Internet age has on the one hand connected us, but on the other isolated us to home studios. As well, it can be hard for some artists to speak out and share their ideas and artwork in a public forum. But at the Pens & Pixels art jam, the barriers fell away, and the excitement and energy of the creative people in the room empowered everyone to start share their ideas effortlessly. The arts are always stronger when you get inspired, and you sometimes get inspired by simply talking with your peers. The art jam showed all of us how open, friendly, and excited our community is. And it taught me how impressive and dedicated we can be when brought together under a single banner.
JM: Was it a one-time event or do you think you will continue hosting them?
MK: Originally, the art jam was a test run. I could not find any strong examples of similar events. Our original plan was to see how this one played out, but the attendees were so thrilled with the result that they begged me to lengthen the next one to a full 24 hours and to host it as soon as possible. So now we plan to hold the Pens & Pixels Art Jam every year and publish the work done in an art book for the public to see our results.
JM: What was the response and feedback from the artists? What was your goal and do you feel like you accomplished it?
MK: The response was overwhelmingly positive. Most of our feedback was requests to lengthen the event and add more tasks. We kept a very structured approach with the art jam, providing the jammers with a setting, a full universe and basic plot for each team to follow. They then chose the world they would visually explore (e.g., water world, dessert world, jungle world, etc.) and were tasked with creating a list of designs and concepts. They responded to this with enthusiasm and tackled the task perfectly.
JM: What advice would you give to other art communities who want to organize a similar event?
MK: Structure and result. Artists can get lost in their creativity, or even confrontational about how good one idea is over another. Providing a structure and list of expectations can help jammers stay on task. This also helps spark the creative process, and a basic setting can help spawn the intricate web of ideas that branch-off from a core setting.
JM: Do you have any plans for combining art and dev in one jam?
MK: I do! Pens & Pixels has been talking with the creators of OJam to bring our artists together with their developers to create a full team with a complete pipeline. It will be an exciting task to try and merge our two communities. But in industry both halves are essential to game creation — it is one of Pens & Pixels' goals to try and start bringing the creative and development halves together.
JM: I understand this isn't your first initiative for the art community! Can you explain what Pens & Pixels is and your goal with that group?
MK: Sure! Pens & Pixels is a professional concept art and illustration collective here in Ottawa. We host industry events, share online content and tools with the goal of growing the concept art and illustration community. We aim to draw out our industry talent and give them a space to network, learn and create, all with a focus on the professional side of the arts community. So far we have had huge successes hosting industry talks with guest like Steambot Studios (Batman, Thief) Geof Isherwood (Marvel comics/movies), art lessons and hosting the first Artist Alley at the 2015 OIGC. As well, we hope to encourage the arts community to better merge with our local game development community in order to make Ottawa a one stop spot for industry.
Join the interview series!
If you would like to send a proposal on a subject you would like to hear about, be interviewed yourself, or nominate someone, we’d love to hear from you! Send thoughts to Jillian -AT- IGDA -DOT- org.