How to Draw Environment Concept Art

What’s the most important thing in games? Characters? Narrative? Gameplay? Yes, maybe. But would all of this make sense if you played a game without an environment? Running through an empty map with many strange polygons, don’t have an opportunity to enjoy amazing landscapes… It sounds so sad. The game will definitely lose all the vibe in a snap. 

Actually, everything starts with the environment. How can you set a character in the game world without at least a simple environment concept art? And how can you organize an epic fight with enemies without environmental design art? It sounds impossible even for us, experienced game developers. And what about the usual players, who went home after a long day and opened their favorite game to play and enjoy their free time? They would never be able to relax without an appropriate environment, that totally catches their attention. 

How to draw environment concept art

So, today, to convey an idea of the importance of environments in the game, we’ll tell you, dear reader, how to draw environment concept art and make it as cool as possible. Are you ready to dive into an unforgettable world of gaming environments? Let’s go!

Understanding the Basics

Game environments are significant elements of visual storytelling, providing a backdrop that supports the narrative, evokes the player’s emotions, and establishes the setting for characters and actions. Environment concept artists achieve this effect due to several aspects:

  • 1

    Purpose and Function

    Environment design concept art serves to visualize and communicate ideas for games’ settings, which helps establish the mood, time, geography, and cultural context.

  • 2

    Storytelling

    Good environmental art will always tell an interesting story. Environmental elements create magic within the scene and enhance the overall narrative.

  • 3

    Mood and Atmosphere

    Color, lighting, and weather conditions play significant roles in setting the mood and atmosphere of the gaming scene.

Defining main environment features for video games

Perspective drawing is the king of these aspects, a foundational instrument for creating realistic and believable environments. Its key principles are the horizon line (represents the viewer’s eye level and is the anchor for the perspective grid), vanishing points (one-point perspective, two-point perspective, and three-point perspective), and overlapping (placing objects in front of each other to create a sense of space and depth).

As a result, these fundamentals form elements of composition in environment art:

  • Rule of thirds
  • Leading lines 
  • Balance
  • Framing
  • Contrast
  • Depth
What is perspective drawing, perspective drawing importance in video game environment

Don’t worry that there is too much information about the concept art environment! We’ve prepared some workflow tips that will help you improve your work on concept art and save you time and resources!

  • 1

    Layer Naming and Grouping

    Name layers clearly and group related layers. For example, all sky elements should be kept in one group and foreground elements in another.

  • 2

    Use of Adjustment Layers

    Employ adjustment layers for non-destructive editing of colors, values, and other properties.

  • 3

    Layer Masks

    Use masks to edit specific parts of a layer without permanently altering the original image.

  • 4

    Custom Brushes and Textures

    Create and organize custom brushes and texture libraries to simplify the painting process.

  • 5

    References and Rough Sketches

    Start with rough sketches and gather references in separate layers or files to keep the main artwork clean.

  • 6

    Regular Saving and Version Control

    Save your work regularly and maintain different versions to track progress and avoid losing important stages.

  • 7

    Shortcuts and Workflow Optimization

    Learn and use keyboard shortcuts to streamline your workflow. Customize your workspace to suit your process.

How to optimize concept art environment workflow, the best tips for working on concept art environment

How to make Concept of your Environment Based on Game Genre

Life would be so easy if it was possible to use the same strategy while working on concept art environments for different game genres. However, it’s different every time so you should always adapt this process to the specific genre you want to work with. As professionals in 8 of the most popular gaming genres, we’ll explain to you how to draw environment concept art for match-3, city builders, RTS strategy, survival, platformers, tower defense, RPG,and roguelikes. Keep reading the article ;)

Match-3 Game Environment

Match-3 game design is about vibrant, whimsical landscape concept art with gem-encrusted forests, magical gardens, and candy-coated realms. Create colorful and lively environments, designed to enhance the playful and strategic matching gameplay.

How to make concept art for match-3 game environment

City-Builder Game Environment

While working on city-building environment design, include expansive, detailed urban settings with intricate networks of buildings, roads, and infrastructure. The environment should constantly reflect player progress, from humble beginnings to bustling metropolises, highlighting the city’s growth and improvements.

How to make concept art for city-building game environment

RTS Strategy Game Environment

Diverse terrains from lush forests to barren deserts, each with strategic points and resources are significant elements of a real-time survival environment design concept art. Environments here should be designed for tactical depth, with natural barriers, chokepoints, and varied biomes influencing gameplay strategies.

How to make concept art for RTS strategy game environment

Survival Game Environment

Harsh, unforgiving landscapes range from dense, dark forests to desolate wastelands — this is what we like about survival environment design. The environment is filled with threats and scarce resources, giving players a sense of constant danger and the need for resourcefulness.

How to make concept art for survival game environment

Platformer Game Environment

The main features of platformer game art are dynamic, layered worlds with floating platforms, intricate traps, and interesting backdrops. Concept art landscapes are designed for fluid navigation and varied challenges, featuring a mix of vertical and horizontal progression.

How to make concept art for platformer game environment

Tower Defense Game Environment

Path-laden environments with strategic placement areas for defensive structures should be always included in tower defense environment design. Landscapes vary from fantasy realms to futuristic settings, designed to challenge players’ tactical planning and boost adaptability skills.

How to make concept art for tower defense game environment

RPG Game Environment

While being one of the most interesting examples of video game environment concept art, RPG game art creates rich mesmerizing worlds with diverse locales, from bustling towns to ancient ruins. Environments are detailed and lore-rich, providing a backdrop for epic quests, character interactions, and exploration.

How to make concept art for RPG game environment

Roguelike Game Environment

Right now we’re working on an action-packed roguelike game Ocean Keeper with amazing unforgettable sea landscapes so we know all the hidden rocks connected with creating a roguelike concept art environment. 

Roguelikes have procedurally generated, ever-changing dungeons with a mix of hostile and mysterious settings. Environments are designed for unpredictability, encouraging exploration and adapting to new challenges with each playthrough.

How to make concept art for roguelike game environment

Concept Creation Techniques Based on Game Style

Yes, yes! You should adapt your environment concept art not only to the game’s genres but to the game’s style too. There are some of the most popular animation styles such as classic, pixel, hyperrealistic, etc, and we’ll tell you how to draw environment concept art for the most popular of them!

For the classic art style, focus on traditional art principles such as symmetry, balance, and proportion. Use detailed and realistic textures to give a sense of depth and history. And don’t forget to catch inspiration from good old games — you’ll definitely find something interesting there ;)

Exaggerated proportions and playful shapes are the main elements of cartoon art style, so you should use these components to create a whimsical and fun environment. We recommend you think about using bright, saturated colors to enhance the playful feel and add life to the scene with the help of dynamic elements. 

The retro look is our favorite look — choose the pixel art style if you want to dive into the nostalgic feel of the 80-90s gaming world. Create designs based on a grid system, ensuring that each pixel is deliberate and contributes to the overall image. Also, use small details and clever use of pixels to create recognizable and expressive elements.

Classic environment art style, cartoon environment art style, pixel environment art style

Do you want to create an environment concept art in a minimalist art style? Strip down elements to their essential forms, using simple shapes and lines. As you’ll work with a monochromatic color palette, use a restrained color scheme to emphasize simplicity. Oh, one more important detail: avoid unnecessary details.

Last but not least is the hyperrealistic style! Use high-resolution textures and detailed materials to achieve a lifelike appearance. Incorporate minute details such as dirt, scratches, and wear to add realism, and don’t forget to ensure that physical interactions and environmental effects (e.g., water, wind) behave realistically.

Of course, there aren’t just 5 game art styles in the world. There are more of them such as steampunk art style, cyberpunk art style, fantasy art style, etc. If you want to know more about something specific, text us, and we’ll give you all the necessary information.

Minimalist environment art style, hyperrealistic environment art style, cyberpunk environment art style

Tools

Okay, this is time to finally talk about the question of how to draw environment concept art. The answer is you can do it with some useful tools we really like to work with while creating simple concept art for various projects. It doesn’t matter if are you a beginner or have some experience already — you’ll find something for yourself in this list!

  • 1

    Adobe Photoshop

    Adobe Photoshop is the industry standard for digital painting and image editing with an extensive brush library, advanced layering, powerful adjustment tools, and numerous plugins.

    Pros: versatile, widely used in the industry, robust feature set.

    Cons: subscription-based, may have a steep learning curve for beginners.

  • 2

    Blender

    Blender is a free and open-source 3D creation suite with modeling, sculpting, animation, rendering, and compositing tools.

    Pros: free, powerful, large community support.

    Cons: steep learning curve, UI can be overwhelming for beginners.

  • 3

    Clip Studio Paint

    This is a versatile art program used for environmental concept art, illustration, and animation with an extensive brush library, vector tools, and animation capabilities.

    Pros: affordable, strong support for environmental concept artists.

    Cons: interface can be complex, and less known in the Western market compared to Photoshop.

The best game environment tools

And more tools for you:

  • Corel Painter — a digital art program that simulates traditional painting techniques.
  • Procreate — a popular digital painting app for iPad.
  • Autodesk Maya — industry-leading 3D modeling and animation software.
  • ZBrush — a digital sculpting tool that offers advanced 3D modeling capabilities.
TOP tools for video game environment, the best software for video game environment concept art

Sketching

One of the most important parts of working on concept art environments is sketching. This part of the concept art process allows environment concept artists to quickly visualize and iterate on ideas. 

As a professional team, we often use some sketching techniques that really boost our workflow. There are many methods to sketch, but we’ll share with you just several ones. As you know, magicians never tell their secrets ;)

Gesture drawing — we use this instrument to capture the overall form and movement of a scene or object quickly. Use loose, flowing lines to depict the basic shapes and motion from 30 seconds to 2 minutes. This is the main thing: the process should be very fast.

Thumbnail sketching — develop composition and layout ideas on a small scale. Buy yourself a small sketchbook or find a small sheet of paper and try to generate multiple ideas quickly. Create small, simple sketches to explore different compositions and perspectives. In this case, don’t try to be perfect (because you already are).

Blocking in shapes — start with simple geometric shapes (cubes, spheres, cylinders) to outline the main forms. This is the perfect practice for thinking in 3D and visualizing how the shapes interact in space.

Scribble sketching — relax and use random strokes to build up the form and texture of objects. This technique is useful for brainstorming and developing organic shapes. Tip from us: just keep your hand moving.

Suppose you want to dive into the sketching process. In that case, we recommend you additionally learn such sketching techniques as line weight variation, silhouette sketching, cross-contour lines, value sketching, perspective sketching, and layering and overlapping. Good luck!

Game environment sketching techniques, how to sketch for game environment concept art

Research and References

Sketching… Tools… This is definitely what you need. However, the true environment design art process starts with gathering references and ideas for your environment. With its help, you can better understand your project’s details, style, and general atmosphere.

When creating 2D environments, the artist often needs fewer references because the focus is on composition, color schemes, and general mood. For 3D environments, the process is more complex and requires a larger number of references to ensure accuracy and detail in the models. However, you can use our favorite reference sources whether you’re working on a 2D or 3D game environment.

Start with using search engines, such as Google Images or Bing. It may sound quite boring but actually is very underrated. Pinterest! Remember to consider this social network — you can find millions of ideas there and some examples of simple environment concept art of course.

ArtStation and Behance are very good platforms to find other artists’ works and catch inspiration from them. Also, good old classics are books and magazines. Printed publications, art books, nature journals — there are hundreds of high-quality images and detailed illustrations.

Personally, we really enjoy working with Midjourney while creating a concept art environment. Midjourney, an AI-powered image generation tool, helps visualize ideas quickly and generate additional visual content based on your references. Try it, it’s very cool!

Creating Thumbnails

If you don’t know, thumbnail sketches are small, quick drawings that help artists brainstorm and plan compositions before committing to a final piece. We want to share with you a small guide on why thumbnails are so significant for your environment design concept art. 

  • 1

    Idea Exploration

    Thumbnails allow artists to explore a variety of ideas and concepts. By creating multiple small sketches, artists can quickly visualize different possibilities and find the most interesting ones.

  • 2

    Composition Planning

    Thumbnails are essential for planning the overall composition of a piece. Artists can experiment with the arrangement of elements, balance, focal points, and perspective on a small scale before refining the composition in a larger format.

  • 3

    Time Efficiency

    Working on thumbnails saves time and effort. It’s easier and quicker to make adjustments in small sketches than in detailed drawings. 

How to create thumbnail sketches for environment design concept art

Talking details about thumbnails, there are other significant things for composition — rough layouts. Roughs are preliminary sketches that focus on the composition and structure of a piece. They are more detailed than thumbnails but still quick and loose. Their main feature is to help environment concept artists establish the basic framework of a composition, define the main focal points, and balance visual elements within the composition.

How to create rough layouts for environment design concept art

Texturing and Detailing

As you know, texturing and detailing are two more significant parts of working on a concept art environment. We can tell you how to make this process so simple in just 3 steps.

Step 1: black and white version. Concentrate on the distribution of light and dark values to ensure a balanced and dynamic composition. This will help you in defining the depth, volume, and form of the elements in the environment scene.

Step 2: refining in color. Once the black-and-white version is well-established, the next step is to refine the concept with color. At this stage, you should carefully add color to enhance the composition and overall impact of the piece.

Step 3: adding and removing elements. To achieve a well-composed and polished final concept, it’s essential to iteratively add and remove elements. Focus on fine-tuning the composition and ensuring all elements match the desired visual impact.

Texturing and detailing in environment design concept art

Why Use Stable Diffusion in Our Environment Concept Art Pipeline

For people who don’t know what is Stable Diffusion — this is an advanced generative model that can significantly enhance the environment concept art pipeline. This model allows for the quick generation of a wide range of visual ideas based on input prompts. This feature is very important during the early stages of concept development, where rapid exploration of different themes, styles, and compositions is needed.

Also, the model can produce highly detailed and realistic images, which can be very useful for refining concepts and adding textures and elements to the environment concept art. As a result, by automating parts of the creative process, Stable Diffusion can significantly reduce both the time and cost associated with producing high-quality concept art, which is necessary if you’re a beginner environmental concept artist.

Importance of stable diffusion for environment concept artists, stable diffusion main features

How to Add Atmospheric Effects

Atmospheric effects can be so different so you can choose something perfect for your project! They can include elements like fog, mist, rain, snow, dust, light beams, and more. Adding them to your environment concept art can greatly enhance the mood, depth, and realism of a scene. But how to add atmospheric effects to your environment? Let us explain! 

  • 1

    Establish the Light Source

    Identify and establish your primary light source. It can be directional light, ambient light, or point light.

  • 2

    Use Layering Techniques

    Use layers in your digital painting software to add atmospheric effects. You can use separate layers or layer blending modes such as “Overlay” or “Soft light”.

  • 3

    Creating Fog and Mist

    If you want to create fog and mist, use a large, soft brush with low opacity and create gradients to simulate the gradual fading.

  • 4

    Adding Rain and Snow

    For creating rain effects, use angled lines with varying lengths and opacities, and for snow effects — use scattered dot brushes.

  • 5

    Using Color and Light

    To make atmospheric effects look even better, adjust the hue and saturation to enhance the mood. Cooler tones suggest cold or night scenes, while warmer tones indicate warmth or sunlight.

How to add atmospheric effects to the environment concept art

Composition and Focal Points

Composition is the arrangement of visual elements within an artwork. Actually, you need composition to guide the viewer’s eye and convey the intended message or emotion. A well-composed environment concept art is balanced and harmonious. You can start your composition journey by discovering 3 main composition rules:

  • Rule of Thirds: This principle is grounded on dividing the canvas into a 3×3 grid. Important elements are placed along these lines or at their intersections. This will help you to create a balanced and dynamic composition.
  • Leading Lines: These are lines that lead the viewer’s eye through the artwork. They can be actual lines, like roads or rivers, or implied lines, like the direction a character is looking.
  • Balance: You can achieve visual balance symmetrically, with mirror-like elements on either side, or asymmetrically, with different elements arranged harmoniously.
What is composition in game environment concept art, main composition rules

To understand composition fully, learn about contrast, framing, repetition and rhythm, negative space, and hierarchy. And don’t forget about points of focus, which are also called focal points. There are specific areas within the artwork that draw the most attention, and these are focal points. They are important for directing the viewer’s eye and highlighting the primary message or theme of environment concept art.

How to use focal points in game environment concept art

Feedback and Iteration

Often the positive outcome of your communication with a client depends not on your skills or experience but on how you behave yourself with the client. Working with feedback is a very important part of the creative process because there is a need to regularly ensure that the final product meets the client’s vision and requirements. We have many years of successful experience so we want to give you some tips:

  • 1

    Be active listener

    Make sure you fully understand the feedback by asking questions and seeking clarification where needed.

  • 2

    Positive Attitude

    Approach feedback with an open mind and keep a professional demeanor, even if the feedback is critical.

  • 3

    DIscuss Solutions

    Propose possible solutions or changes based on the feedback and discuss them with the client to ensure alignment.

  • 4

    Test Changes

    Ensure that the changes improve the work and align with the client's vision.

  • 5

    Review and Repeat

    Show the revised work to the client and seek additional feedback. Also, be prepared to iterate multiple times, refining the work until the client is satisfied.

How to communicate with your clients, game environment concept art feedback

Environment Finalization

Finally, we are at the finish line of working with the environment concept art. This is the time to check everything again and ensure you’ve done your job perfectly! For that, we have several key quality assurance walkthrough points. Read this list carefully and make sure you don’t forget anything.

  • Visual consistency — ensure the artwork matches with the established art style and visual guidelines of the project.
  • Composition and layout — the composition should be balanced and follow the principles we’ve described before.
  • Lighting and shadows — check that the lighting is consistent with the established light sources and has a positive impact on the mood and depth of the scene.
  • Detailing and textures — ensure that the level of detail is consistent across the entire artwork, with no areas appearing overly detailed or too simplistic in comparison.
  • Atmospheric effects — remember that atmospheric effects like fog, mist, rain, or light rays should be well-integrated and enhance the scene without overpowering it.
  • Scale and proportion — check that all elements within the scene are proportionally accurate and consistent with each other.
  • Technical accuracy — the artwork files are well-organized, with layers appropriately named and grouped for easy access and future adjustments.
  • Narrative and storytelling — make sure that the environment effectively conveys the intended narrative and aligns with the story elements.
  • Feedback integration — conduct internal reviews to gather additional feedback and make necessary refinements.

And that’s all! Conduct a final overall quality check to ensure all elements work together harmoniously and the artwork is polished and professional. Hope your first project will be done perfectly and you will get your first positive experience ;)

How to finish working with environment concept art, quality assurance walkthrough points

Showcasing Our Concept Environment Works

We aren’t those people who prefer to scatter words about our experience. So, as an icing on the cake, we want to share with you our favorite environment design concept art projects!

We’ve created amazing environment concept art for the Blizzard-inspired project Fantasy Palia. Our backgrounds are rich in detail and color, creating an unforgettable fantasy world that feels alive and inviting. From lush forests to serene villages, each scene was created attentively aiming to enhance the game’s storytelling and visual appeal.

Working with a stylized approach, our artwork combines fantastical designs with high-quality textures. This unique style not only stands out visually but also aligns perfectly with the fantasy genre, making the game world more magical. And effective use of lighting and atmospheric effects brings our backgrounds to life. 

We always work closely with clients, incorporating feedback and making adjustments to ensure the final product meets their vision and expectations.

Our working process guarantees high-quality results that align with the client’s goals and vision.

And of course, our team specializes in creating fantasy concept art environments that are both imaginative and believable.

We understand the nuances of the genre and are ready to bring all the ideas to life!

FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions about environment concept art

To start environment concept art and quick sketching, the main tools are a tablet and a stylus!! But seriously, it’s beneficial to have an organized database of references, partially generated by MJ \ Stable Diffusion and then compiled in a program for artists like PureRef or visualized on an MIRO board. Then, you transition to working in Photoshop or another graphic editor.

To design a background correctly, you can use plugins for Photoshop, like the Perspective Tool, to sketch out the composition using a grid. We also recommend starting with rough volumes, which can be refined late or 3D fast blocking to better visualize the deeeeeep.

Indeed, it’s crucial to check your sketch in black and white solid color, as this helps to differentiate light and shadow and keeps the future work balanced in terms of contrast. It also ensures the readability of important details. This step can significantly enhance the effectiveness of your visual communication before you add color and other elements.

In order to find a good environment concept art team for your game, the first thing to consider is an experienced company like RetroStyle Games and evaluating their portfolio and testimonials. Check out online platforms like ArtStation and Behance, or explore gaming community websites.

In the concept art team, you need to look for their experience, skills, and qualifications. Consider the complexity of your game idea and whether the team has experts in the most related services to environment creation including:

  1. Game Environment Design
  2. 3D Game Environment
  3. 2D Game Environment
  4. Concept Art (which may include environmental concepts)
  5. Game Backgrounds (part of the environment)
  6. Isometric Sprites (for creating 2D environments)
  7. VFX for Games (including environment visual effects)
  8. AI Game Art (can assist in generating or enhancing environmental assets)