Hi Sketchfab! My name is Kristen Malone, I’m a 3D Artist currently in the Greater Seattle Area. While I like to experiment with different styles, I tend to gravitate towards more cute, stylized characters and props!
Introduction to 3D
I started getting into art when I was in elementary school, heavily fueled by my interest in video games and anime. For most of my childhood I was drawing purely as a hobby, filling sketchbook after sketchbook with art I was too shy to show to anyone else. I never even imagined I could potentially work as a game artist until I took a summer course at UCLA that taught game design to high schoolers. Afterwards, I realized I wanted to pursue a career in the video game industry. I enrolled at California State University, Chico and majored in Computer Animation and Game Development. It was here that I tried 3D for the first time. I found that, despite my initial struggle with it, I had come to enjoy working in 3D – even more so once I tried character modeling.
Finding My Style
While I was taught the general 3D pipeline and programs such as Maya and Substance Painter in my college courses, it wasn’t until I took a senior class that allowed students to self-direct their own projects and work on anything they wanted where I found my passion for 3D. My formal education had been primarily realistic PBR focused, but I had seen artists on websites like Sketchfab creating these amazingly charming, stylized hand painted models and wanted to try it myself. Through many online tutorials, trial and error, critique from peers, and long hours of staring at other hand painted work for reference, I completed the first hand painted piece I was happy with – Tobias.
My Tobias project was a turning point for me when it came to my artistic style. I discovered that I could be self-driven and learn outside of a class setting, which was something I struggled to do for years prior. In addition, receiving my first Staff Pick for Tobias on Sketchfab was such an important milestone for me, where I realized “Hey, I’m moving in the right direction!” I discovered making colorful, stylized models was what gave me the most satisfaction and that it was the artistic route I wanted to continue exploring.
From there I concepted, sculpted, modeled, and textured more characters and props in styles that appealed to me. Based on my past D&D characters, I created my Gwyn and Lunen projects. I’ve also made 3D works using other artist’s concepts, most notably my Matcha Dessert project based on an amazing illustration by Nadia Kim (you can find her work here). With each project, my goal is to learn something new and demonstrate more skills I’m capable of.
Challenges as a 3D Artist
After graduating college, I worked for ten months at a local startup creating realistic props for their VR projects, first as an intern and then as a full-time employee. Here I gained valuable experience creating VR-optimized assets in a small studio environment. In November of last year, I moved away from my small town in California along with my boyfriend to the Seattle area, which was a super exciting move for us since it was our goal to eventually wind up here. With Seattle being a hub for the game industry, I thought the start to my career in games was just around the corner. Unfortunately, the road to a career as a 3D Artist has been more challenging than I expected and I’m still searching for my first game studio job. I’ve come to realize that, despite doing well in school, I was unprepared for the struggle of getting my foot in the door. It’s been a humbling experience for me.
One of my biggest challenges has been maintaining motivation and inspiration while working a day job or while feeling the job-hunting blues. Personally, it was all too easy to stay isolated in my apartment every day and work on my portfolio by myself. However, I found my biggest source of motivation came by participating in communities and putting myself out there. Posting my work on sites like Sketchfab and Twitter and joining online and local game dev groups has led to me receiving critique and encouragement from fellow artists. Also, I’ve met many wonderful individuals in the field who could relate to my situation and offered advice and support, which has been incredibly uplifting for me. Since actively participating in the game dev community, I’ve gained so much knowledge, insight, and confidence in my work.
Another challenge I’ve faced is having to continuously teach myself new things while outside of a formal education. A lot of the skills and programs I use when creating my work today, such as Zbrush, 3D Coat, Blender, and Marmoset Toolbag 3, are ones I’ve had to learn on my own using online tutorials and knowledge passed along by other 3D Artists. For this reason, Sketchfab is immensely helpful for me. I almost always have Sketchfab open while I’m working so I can study textures, topology, and edge flow used by many of the incredible artists here and I’ve learned so much in the process!
A huge thank you to Jasmin, Abby, and Mieke for reaching out to me with the opportunity to contribute to Women on Sketchfab. I’m so honored to be able to share my perspective here and I’m looking forward to reading more stories from women artists in the community!