So, My name is Nikola Angelkoski. Concept Artist living in Skopje, Macedonia. For those of you who don't know where is Macedonia, It's a small country in the Balkans (right above Greece). My journey doesn't start with me going to artschool. I was studying to be a Marketing Specialist. I was many of those people in my country who believed that higher education could bring you higher payed job (keep in mind that the average salary in Macedonia is 250 euros MONTHLY). Without any thought I enrolled in the first semester of that school without taking a minute and think what I wanted to do. 2 years passed. And I had a huge fight with one of my professors because he was grading us randomly without any effort to view our papers (almost every University in Macedonia does this in order for you to keep paying for your facultaty). And thats when I lost it... I remember that day I was crying like hell thinking will I be one of those suits and ties people that come misserable in monday with arround 300 euros salary trying to raise a family but wasn't going to be able to come near the end of the month and have enough to pay my bills.
As I continued my studies I was determened that I wasn’t going to be “another brick in the wall”, not anymore. I started looking into other fields I was interested but I remembered since I was a kid whenever I felt bored or my introvert self was trying to avoid conversations, I was drawing. So thats where I started to look. First thing I wrote on google was: “proffesion for artists” and I don’t know how (was it faight or not) but there was a link for the “FZD” Youtube channel where he talked about the braketrough into the industry (I can’t remember the name of that tutorial but, Feng, you changed my life that day).
So I started planning. Making sure I had the right tools to start practicing. Every day after my facultaty studies I would go home ignoring my friends and family and stayed up until 3 in the morning everyday just so I can be a sponge and learn new stuff from him. But at that time pen and 1$ notebook was all I had. And I couldn’t explain to my parents why I needed new notebooks every 2 weeks because I was scared to confess to them what was my plan in life. So the only general thing I needed for that time was buying the cheapest drawing tablet I could find.
I remember I was 21 when my dad came back after 1 year working abroad in Montenegro. He gave me 50 euros and I knew where exactly I was going to invest those money. So I bought the first thing I thought was the cheapest a genuine tablet with almost none pressure sensitivity (that thing lagged like hell). The first thing I draw on that tablet was a joker trying to test out my "mad skills" at that time. I knew that thing didn't look like something a pro would do but I enjoyed every minute of it.
One year passes and my ex at that time told me one of her brothers friends works from home for a site called freelancer.com. To me the idea of working from home with no socks was absurt so I tried it. I remember I was applying everywhere I saw stuff under the tag “concept art” with the 3 pieces I had at that time. One night it was arround 1 in the morning I was going through youtube looking at speedpainting videos from artist I didn’t knew if they were in the industry or not but I applaud at their skill. And 1 singe emaill message got me yelling that morning saying that I got the project. The task was: make a character concept for a mobile game, price: 5$. At that moment the money wasn’t the least of my problems because I was happy and I did that character concept like a boss with no corrections and got approved. I remember it took me 8 days to complete it. Once I recieved that payment I knew, It was time to focus on what I want not what others in my society think I need. And I dropped out.
For a time I didn’t tell my parents that I was not going to study Marketing anymore. I even lied to them I needed money for my “books” so I can purchase like 5-10$ tutorials so I can expand my knowledge. Work on Freelancer.com was going good. Still doing those 5 to 20 dollar gigs so i can earn 50 dollars and transfer that money to my bank account. One day I went all out on my parrents. Yeah they yelled but I didn’t care. I was trying to reassure them that everything is ok, I was earning money and I even showed them my bank account saying I had 60 dollars on it (in Macedonia if you show your parents you found ways to earn money you can be forgiven, strange country I know).
A year after I was so scared to raise my rate I found one client (after month of wasting my bids) that agreed for me to do an environment concepts for a mobile game but the problem was I needed to make like 5 environments and he specificly asked I need you to mimic this artist and it was Maciej Kuciaras work. (Keep in mind that at that time I wasn’t familiar with the concept photobashing). Yeah the genius me tried to fake realistic rocks using brush strokes. I failed week after week until the client canceled the project and gave me the meanest review anyone can recieve, saying: he has no proffesionalism in his work, he is just an wannabe artist.
At that point I wasn’t painting for like maybe half an year or so. Every image I saw on deviantart at that time made me more misserable than I could think. On top of all that my parents were up on my head again (yes many people in Macedonia still live with their parents). My dad at that time worked in a restaurant near a VFX studio called FX3X. One of the workers there was a supervisor on the paint department and my dad talked to him. Days after there I am at the restaurant talking with him talking about what I wanted to do in life and my experience so far. I just told him I want to be a concept artist. He told me look to get a job as a concept artist you need to know people far up the branch. If you’re interested in cinematic stuff apply at our studio maybe they will consider you.
3 months later my application for a practicant was accepted. I got really excited because i was watching videos for vfx brakedowns and though “maaan I want this”. At that moment my dreams for concept art was nearly crushed and I decided I was going to do something related to the industry rather than nothing. I know my dumbass thought paint was matte painting. Turns out you were the garbage man on the greenscreen (removing markers, ropes etc.). And i thought ok firs I need to prove myself here that I can do this and then move to another department. We were 11 practicants and only few would remain for the position. I was doing every practice I was given, even trying to find a good video for tracking because I knew that was my weak side at that time.
After 6 months we recieved our final test. I know people were leaving for the day and I was still there (sometimes until 1 in the morning) trying to solve the problems because the shot had too much motion blur and I was trying to fix it using hand painting (frame by frame). After that test we all got called and I got the job. My first task wasnt until 3 months later because we still needed to polish our knowledge arround nuke. I seriously can’t tell you how much graditute I have towards that supervisor and every member of that department trying to help us out.
When I got the first task (it was for Passengers). I remember I had 3 days to remove one marker and I stayed from 9 in the morning to 2 in the morning just so I can be on time on the corrections. The shot got returned 13 times to me until it was finished. And I was ok with it, scared but at least I felt the tension on short deadlines. So normally I practiced.
I was about 1 year there when I started to notice many people were not happy with their salary (I’m talking about people high above the ranks). Now… I cannot talk about the issues because of my contract but in short people are getting payed the same ammount of money as same as someone working in the bakery. And normally I didin’t had a saying about this but I noticed the attitude the ceo’s had I wasn’t diggin it. I really think that their way of talking and listening to the needs everyone on the team got me to hate that company.
So there I was again bitter and down because I was going to get stuck on low payed job without the studio giving you the chance to show what you worked on. And somehow I got back at just watching concept art videos from the FZD channel (not painting just watching). One of my friends at that time was working on a personal project and they needed a concept artist so I thought that would be my steam off from the anger at the studio. It was a fun time I was learning new stuff as I went along and at that time I got introduced to Gumroad.com and it was my knowledge heaven.
1 year and 7 months after I couldn’t take it anymore in the studio my story ended in FX3X. And my joy for concept art was bigger than ever. I remember I was doing website mockups (trying to copy someone’s work from behance) just so I can earn something to have somekind of money in the pocked and get tutorials. My first proper introduction for photobash was there. Not only that but I know I saw Anthony Eftekhari’s profile and he had a free video talking about cinematic composition. If anyone needs help with composition, watch that video Im serious. I faced problems and gained knowledge at the same time and I did my first photobash painting.
That first photobash painting got featured here on CGSociety. People started following me, I was getting recognized and I couldn’t be happier. And from that day forward I was doing personal concepts (3 pieces per week) and I wasn’t posting it all I was learning from myself because I didin’t had the money for tutor nor I was comfortable to share my work with proffessionals at that time because of my negative critique on freelancer.com
Few months later I got introcued to Sasha Horan. He is a person that runs a studio named “Hatchfox Studios”. The project was Athena an FPS game and he gave me the chance to work on it. Now just so you know. This project was a revenue share and I dropped all just so i can be full time on it. We developed somewhat of prototype but it wasnt good enough for the investors. I was jobless plus I had no money to sustain myself.
At that time I was applying at big studios and every single one of them returned to me: “thanks very much for being interested in working with us. Right now there is no opening in the area of your expertise.”. At that time I didin’t understood my whole problem with the visa thing. Turns out we Macedonians or people in general from the balkans are payed wayyyyy less abroad. Funny thing was I never saw that as a problem. I just thought ok I need better protfolio.
I was working part time in a bar as a waiter trying to get some earnings to survive out there and applied everytime I saw an opening. Even Sasha helped me with sharing my work and applying in my name. He is still one of the people that believed in me after all this time that I was worht something.
I remember it was arround december 2017 I was down in a hole thinking If I should apply in another studio for vfx in Macedonia called VHouse (has the same payment and I had to take be a practicant for 4 months AGAIN). But my will wasnt going to let me go away from my goal of getting into the AAA industry as a concept artist. I saw a job posting on conceptart.org for a position for volontiers to work on movies. I thought well why the hell not I’m not getting anything at the moment, might as well have fun. And I got the call and they told me you got the job and they told me I was going to be payed 2000 euros… monthly…(Now I know how much people in England earn for these this position or anywhere in the world but this was a whole new level for me). I know I was doing every task and another one and stayed way above the night sometimes even I didin’t sleep because I had the best couleges and I was working with an actual team of artist with experiences. Sadly we were finished in 2 months and I was back to applying again.
I dont know how but I never checked my CGSociety profile for views or “Badges” but I was constantly posting and got featured 5 times I think. I was getting more facebook invites from people I didin’t even know. Thats when I recieved multiple job offers (not big time but small projects). and I work for some of those projects today.
After that I got talking with one of my friends Stefan who runs an academy for 3d and games called M3DS Academy. At that point I never knew people in my country knew about me let alone to find people interested in this field of work (yes we were a "hands full" of concept artists/illustrator when I started). But this was diferent I never saw so many people interested In working as a concept artist. So normaly I started volonteering there. Few students werent sure if they wanted to even learn this and I completely understood that I was just trying to share my experience with them.
I know I shouldn’t be giving my knowledge for nothing, but I don’ t want any young person full of dreams to go trough the roller coaster I had in my country. I even gave public speaking trying to comfort and show inspiring artists around in my country that YES even if this bullshit goverment holds us back, there are people that make it!
Next week in that honor we’re holding a CGWorkshop (the first in my country) where I will be giving a 1 hour live demo showing some the techiques I picked up while working as a concept artist. The theme will be Cyberpunk and Im planing to share it with you all for free.
Thank you for reading this post random guy/gal. I hope this will give you motivation to continue working and try be on the top of that mounting surrounded with proffesionals arround the campfire