TA Q&A: Meet our digital painting technical assistants

Art: Niwa Jongkind

9minutes read


This month, we're featuring our amazing Concept Art and Illustration Technical Assistants: Penny Gaubatz, Molly Brown, and Niwa Jongkind! If you're new to CG Spectrum and haven't had met this trio of awesome, they're here to support you throughout your studies, give inspiration, and ensure you get the most out of your time at CG Spectrum!

Hi Molly, Penny and Niwa! Tell us about your journey into art and what inspires your creations.

molly-brownMB: I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. The moment I could hold a pencil is when I started trying to make 'art'. From a very young age, my family introduced me to horror. This can especially be said for my mom, who loves everything horror and Halloween. My first horror movie was Sweeney Todd when I was five years old. It’s been downhill ever since, haha!

Some of my favorite pieces of media I grew up on and still heavily influence my art to this day would be the Alien movies, the Dead Space games, Annihilation, Ex Machina, Prototype, The Thing, Resident Evil, The Evil Within, Silent Hill, Ghost in the Shell, Berserk, and many more! 

Almost everything that stimulates the creative part in my brain is remembered and influences, consciously or subconsciously, my art and stories. –MB

leah-fairy-design-molly-brownLeah Fairy Design, Molly Brown (Portfolio - Content warning: nudity, horror)


penny-gaubatzPG: There has never been a time in my life where I didn’t appreciate art, or that it didn't have some kind of influence on me. Ever since I was a toddler drawing was my favorite thing to do. It was easier for me to pick up a pencil and express myself through shapes and forms than speak eloquently or find definite solutions to things like mathematics or other subjects.

Growing up in a household that didn't encourage or approve of art as a legitimate future was crushing through my younger years. But I always found a way to overcome obstacles and reject the idea that I was not allowed to create or be creative. I would lose myself in video games and books which only spurred me on further.

Movies and music have been extremely big motivators for me to continue being creative. I love watching anything from early films to modern cinema and listening to music from decades past to today’s artists. One of my favorite musicians is David Bowie, and some of my favorite films are Hellboy, Lord of the Rings, the Alien films, and Vertigo.

Respecting many different art forms has helped me stimulate the senses and combine them to stay inspired! –PG

penny-gaubatz-noir-private-eye-for-hireNoir Private Eye For Hire, Penny Gaubatz, created for the Introduction to Concept Art term 1 android assignment (Artstation)


niwa-jongkindNJ: I’ve been drawing since the age of 3. I was inspired by my older brother's drawings and paintings. I was home-schooled until I was 11 so I'd spend most of my time drawing hundreds of pictures at home. I used to end the day with a big pile of scrunched-up paper, which were all the sketches I didn’t like.

Growing up in New Zealand, The Lord of The Rings was a big influence on my art, especially with the landscape constantly reminding me of Middle Earth. –NJ

According to my parents, I watched the trilogy for the first time when I was 2 years old; great parenting! The stunning world of Middle Earth stuck with me, I was always trying to replicate it through my drawings. I also went through a good 5-year phase of doing manga-style art. My love of anime formed when I watched Naruto for the first time. I have about 3 folders of my old Naruto drawings from around the ages of 8 - 10.

As I got older my style transitioned more towards realism, this was when I discovered digital art and became very interested in environment concept art. I was inspired by video games such as Oblivion and Skyrim, they completely changed my perspective on what was possible for artists and motivated me to keep learning.

niwa-jongkind-ar-pharazons-fleet-at-umbarAr-Pharazon’s Fleet Arriving at Umbar, Niwa Jongkind. Niwa modeled almost the entire city of Umbar himself before completing this piece in Photoshop. (Artstation)

How did you find CG Spectrum and what has your experience been like so far?

NJ: I found CG Spectrum at the start of the New Zealand lockdown in April 2020. I hadn’t really thought about studying as I knew that the mainstream tertiary education in New Zealand didn’t offer what I was looking for. However, when lockdown came around I remembered that online schools were becoming a pretty big thing, and what better way to spend my time stuck indoors?

Studying with CG Spectrum through lockdown was a life saver. It gave me a strong sense of purpose everyday, and something to pour my pent-up energy into. –NJ

Not to mention how amazing it felt to see my progress after every assignment. The Advanced Concept Art Course gave my work a massive boost. I’ve never learned so fast in my life. It is honestly crazy to look back at the work I did before starting the course, I feel like a completely different artist. It is all thanks to my mentor at the time Brian Huang, and the other digital painting mentors.

Brian created such an awesome learning environment; always super fun and motivating. Seeing him paint over my artworks in Photoshop is what really sparked the learning for me, I was always left feeling confident about what I needed to improve.

I felt so pumped after every call with Brian, restoring my motivation for the piece I was working on. I can’t stress enough what a privilege it was to be taught by industry professionals. –NJ

My CGS experience has been phenomenal! I’ve learned so much, and there are so many resources available for feedback and critique, which adds to the community-driven atmosphere at the school.

niwa-jongkind-hidden-city-red-fallHidden City of Red Fall, Niwa Jongkind (Artstation)

PG: During the pandemic, I was working as a Graphic Designer/Illustrator for a custom apparel company before being put on indefinite furlough. I decided to make use of the spare time to get back into drawing, but had lost hope of continuing in an art-related field, and was doing it more for the sake of filling time rather than passion. Then one day, I was going through some of my favorite hard copy games and remembered how much fun I used to have copying the concept art that sometimes appeared on the inside booklet. I used to have dozens of notebooks filled with characters I thought would be cool in video games.

I played with the idea of going back to school, and one day while researching online, CG Spectrum popped up! It seemed to be the most authentic and career-focused college available, with a roster of mentors befitting the Golden Globes. I couldn’t have made a better decision than to quit my full-time job and recommit to a goal I had nearly a decade ago - to become a Concept Artist.

I wanted to help build worlds, create characters, and help tell stories that could one day influence someone else like me. –PG

A big thanks to the Open Session mentors and my current mentor, Eric Wilkerson who is steadfast, candid, and a big motivator. Without his guidance I’m sure I would’ve hit a brick wall by now! 

penny-gaubatz-iguana-beast Wandering Off, Penny Gaubatz (Artstation)

MB: I found CG Spectrum through my parents. I was extremely unhappy at my college at the time, because the work I was creating was not at all helpful in the career I was looking to pursue. I wanted to create characters, environments, stories, comics, all things concept art related, but instead I was creating maps for parks, typology books, and fake concert tickets. I felt more like a graphic designer at that point than a concept artist or illustrator. My dad found CG Spectrum and reached out to me to see if I was interested. I thank my parents for everything I’m doing today. Without them, I think I would have just remained miserable at college, creating work I was never passionate about.

My experience at CG Spectrum was great! My mentor Brian Huang provided me with great critiques, pointed out what I did well, and pushed me to do things I never thought I could do. –MB

One of those things was getting into 3D to push my concept art even further. Now I find myself using Zbrush and Maya almost every day to create characters I never thought I could.

molly-brown-mushroom-creatureMushroom Creature, Molly Brown (Portfolio - Content warning: nudity, horror)

What does your role as a technical assistant involve, and what do you most enjoy about it?

PG: As a TA, I actively engage with students, encouraging and sharing whatever insight I might have on their work and process. This can be done through personal video sessions, direct messaging, or sometimes quick paint-overs offering suggestions to polish the artwork further. 

I am extremely passionate about being a TA. I love communicating with other artists and discovering the stories and motives behind their unique designs! -PG

NJ: The goal is to break that fear of sharing work and ideas, and give everyone a confidence boost. The other side to it is giving constructive and helpful feedback. Nothing feels better than helping someone else improve their art, and seeing the difference every time they post. I’m constantly blown away by how well the students take on our feedback and make swift improvements.

For me, the role as a TA is about building a sense of community in which all artists at CG Spectrum feel comfortable and supported. –NJ

MB: It almost doesn’t feel like a job, as I’m enjoying interacting with students and creating cool challenges. Helping other artists ultimately influences your own art, and allows you to understand your own process and fundamentals to a greater extent. 

What I enjoy most is helping someone with their art, and watching the piece progress until the final result. Seeing how excited and proud the artist is so worth it. –MB
You run fun weekly art challenges for students. How are these designed to help students improve as artists?

PG: The weekly challenges are design prompts for anyone going through creative blocks, or just needing the extra push to make something fun and practical in their spare time.

MB: So far, a lot of the challenges have focused on fundamentals surrounding material, anatomy, composition, and form design. These challenges urge students to go back to basics, as well as take on something more challenging.

They also give students a good idea of a brief they might have to fulfill as concept artists: working from a written description, exploring the idea with sketch variations/silhouettes, and then rendering the one the client likes most.

TA-challenge-rat-briefTA challenge brief: Bomb detector rat (example by Niwa Jongkind)

ta-challenge-rat-noora-klaavuEntry from our Concept Art Course student Noora Klaavu

ta-challenge-rat-oliver-harbourEntry from our Digital Illustration Course student Oliver Harbour

ta-challenge-bomb-rat-henry-wongEntry from our Concept Art Course student Henry Wong

What do you think makes the CG Spectrum community so special? How can students make the most of it?

MB: What I love most about the CG Spectrum community is just how motivating and driven it is. There are so many active students on here that are constantly creating and striving to do better, it’s inspiring. Plus, everyone’s extremely kind and willing to help if you feel like there’s something off about a piece or are encountering a technical issue. 

NJ: The fact that the school is based online is unique and special. The Slack channels make it so easy to contact anyone within the school. There are people here that can help with almost anything: writing CVs; self-promotion; portfolio arrangement; commissions; all you have to do is ask! 

Some art spaces can be very competitive. But at CG Spectrum we’re all trying to uplift one another, and all progress to the point that any of us could land a job in the industry. –NJ

Not once have I seen a comment that was rude or out of line. I genuinely believe everyone wants the best for each other.

PG: Make the most of your time here by attending as many Open Sessions, webinars, and in-person (video) meet-ups as you can. Do not shut yourself off to this community and possibly stunt your ability to network and gain new insights into different areas and workflows. Talking with your mentors, listening to their stories, visiting other departments' channels, and posting your WIPs for the community to critique are all good ways of getting the most out of your monthly/yearly payment.

Some of the information you find may not seem useful now, but you will be thankful for the experience it gives you later on. Oh, exploring the job channels and reading some of the application requirements and expectations are a huge plus!

niwa-jongkind-helga-the-viking-chieftanHelga - The Viking Chieftain, Niwa Jongkind (Artstation)

What do you wish you knew when you were just starting out at CG Spectrum?

NJ: When I started at CG Spectrum I was a bit reluctant to post in the community, and when I did it was always my best finished pieces. I wish I knew how quickly many of my challenges would’ve been solved if I had been posting progress shots and asking for feedback on specific issues.

I’m all for promoting finished art, but it doesn’t have the same learning effect as when you show parts of the process. Often those crucial pieces of feedback are more relevant towards the early stages of an artwork.

My message to new students is to trust in the CGS community: someone always has the answer you’re looking for. I’ve never been a part of such a kind and supportive group of individuals. –NJ

MB: I think the biggest thing I struggled with was interacting with the community at first. I was anxious and new, so I sort of shut into myself and mostly just reacted to pieces other artists were posting. Had I sent my work in and asked for critiques right from the get-go, I would’ve improved a lot quicker. Of course, my mentor was amazing, but getting the opinion of a wider audience is also exceptionally valuable. I’ve never had an unpleasant experience in any of the channels when showing my work and asking for advice. Everyone is always so kind and informative. 

molly-brown-1200x630Velarius, Molly Brown (Portfolio - Content warning: nudity, horror)

PG: Make relationships with your peers from the start. Also, keep in mind that the assignments can be applied to your own creative style. The instructions act as a framework of expectations to be interpreted in your own way. When I first came to this school I was trying so hard to be by-the-book with the prompts and lessons that at some point I felt I wasn't allowing myself to explore creatively. I was almost ‘copying’ the example images in the lessons directly instead of conceptualizing my own spin on it. So in a nutshell, have fun exploring your own unique new ideas! 

It's nice to be reminded that you're at a school with a community of like-minded artists wanting to learn how to be the absolute best they can be, just like you. –PG

penny-gaubatz-vincent-priceVincent Price study, Penny Gaubatz (Artstation)


Say hi to your TAs in the Slack community, or connect with them here: 

Penny Gaubatz: Artstation and Instagram @pj_batz_art
Niwa Jongkind:
Artstation and Instagram @niwa.j_design
Molly Brown: Portfolio and Instagram @deadlymelodic (or watch Molly's webinar on Creating Horror Creatures)

Want to join an inspiring and supportive community of artists? 

One of the benefits of studying at CG Spectrum is becoming part of a vibrant and supportive community of peers and mentors who are actively working in the film and games industry. Our unique online community offers an abundance of additional value through regular webinars, career development sessions, networking opportunities, weekly challenges and so much more! Explore digital painting courses and we look forward to welcoming you to the CGS community.