Concept artist Mel Cummings on ScreenSkills mentoring programme

Find Your Future

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ScreenSkills matched Manchester-based concept artist Mel Cummings with a mentor – and the process helped her fulfil an ambition to work across film and television as well as games.

“I’d been working in video games as a concept artist for five years, and I wanted to make the move into film and TV.  It was 2020 and my work had been paused because of lockdown and I just had this moment where I realised I never wanted to work only in games. The aim was always to work across film, TV and video games, but I felt like I needed someone to help me see what I needed to do to make that transition.”

Searching the ScreenSkills website for information on bursaries, she came across the ScreenSkills Mentoring Programme and decided to apply. “I hoped a mentor could help me with contacts, mindset and direction. I was hoping to gain some insight, as I wanted to work in the art department.  I needed some encouragement on finding a way in. I had felt I was in deep doing stuff for myself and I just needed someone to see where my strengths were that I didn’t see myself or where I couldn’t see that they were as good as they were and just to encourage and direct me.” 

As a freelancer Mel had often felt as though she had to handle her career development on her own, but mentoring gave her another pair of eyes. She was mentored by art director and production designer Rosalind Gregoire from July to December 2020 and believes that Rosalind will be in her professional life for a long time – although the formal ScreenSkills mentoring process takes place typically with six hour-long meetings over six months. 

Mel says: “It was invaluable to get feedback on my work – including it being better than I thought it is.  I now understand that it doesn't have to be perfect and that there is also value in work-in-progress and sketches. My mentor provided the first review of my portfolio in five years and helped me understand how to better present my work.  I also learned some new skills, like InDesign and Blender, and gained a new eye for detail. One of the more surprising benefits was the confidence I gained from the mentoring partnership. My confidence grew exponentially. Through it I realised that I’d lacked confidence in my abilities and my work.”

With renewed confidence and the portfolio revamp, Mel secured a job as a concept artist on a Marvel production, Secret Invasion, and from there to much larger-scale video games projects including the Battlefield franchise and PubG. She is also now a visiting university lecturer in concept art.

Mel believes that she would never have known how to move into film and television without ScreenSkills’ mentoring support.  “Mentoring has absolutely speeded up my career progression.  Before the mentoring partnership I had no idea where to go or how to get there.  As well as supporting me, my mentor gave me a different perspective.  Before the mentoring partnership I was working on games across lots of small indie studios – then I went to working on a Marvel production, which is amazing!”  She then returned to working on video games – “but they are games which are part of a massive franchise and I hadn’t worked on such a big games franchise before. The mentoring has led on to things on another level and I have that confidence in my own work and I can put myself forward for these things."

When Mel was growing up, she didn’t know people working in the screen industries. “Most of my family are in education. No one else you can find is an artist professionally.” She went to university to study transport design. “The turning point my my story was when I was in the university library and there was a particular book by the concept artists Syd Mead, Scott Robertson and Feng Zhu and they were working in film and TV and that was when I realised what I wanted to do.”

Her degree has ended up giving her a special skillset for what she does now, even though, when she left university, she didn’t want to do transport design at all. “I was so burnt out designing vehicles. But the more I ran from it the more I thought, there’s a gap in concept art for people who can design functional vehicles that look like they could work so that’s what I have ended up specialising in – it’s really interesting.”

Mel has volunteered as a mentor on the ScreenSkills mentoring programme since her own experience. “There’s so much power in mentoring for people who are seeking direction and it’s so accessible through ScreenSkills. We all need mentors. There’s so much information out there, I just went through the crazy mountains and valleys trying to work out what I wanted to do. It’s great to encourage others, Had I had a mentor when I left university it would have made a massive difference to me. I wouldn’t have spent a year-and-a-half trying to figure out how to make that first step. If I can help people not spend that one-and-a-half years’ journey by themselves, that’s great.”

She wants others to know that they don’t have to get stuck in their career because there are people who are willing to help. By taking part in the new Find Your Future campaign, Mel says: “It’s been nice to give back and share what ScreenSkills has done to help me.”

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