Jobs in Games: Nordeus' Daryl Clewlow on how to get a job as Head of Art

Jobs in Games: Nordeus' Daryl Clewlow on how to get a job as Head of Art

It takes a great number of individuals working together in various disciplines to make any commercial enterprise function.

The mobile games industry is certainly no exception, offering dynamic and diverse roles to thousands the world over.

As such, has decided to celebrate this with a regular series of interviews where each week we chat to a mobile games industry professional from a different field - be it game design, art, or PR - to learn about how they bagged that job in games.

Obviously every career path is different, but the goal is to give a picture of the sorts of skills, qualifications and ambition one might need to find themselves in such a role - and how we can all learn from it.

This time, the spotlight is on Daryl Clewlow, Head of Art at Top Eleven and Spellsouls developer Nordeus.

Clewlow joined from NaturalMotion in 2016, with stints at Free Radical, Core Design, Rebellion and Blitz Games also featuring on his CV. Tell us a little about your current role and what it entails.

Daryl Clewlow: I’m the Head of Art for Nordeus. Being the head of a department is a very broad supportive role.

Essentially, I have a tactical and strategic overview of the art department and a vision on how we are going to succeed in terms of short, mid and long term plans.

In addition to planning departmental growth I'm also part of the executive team that drives decisions and shapes the wider business. So I have many hats!

I ensure we are fully staffed and capable of delivering art that hits my vision of studio quality.
Daryl Clewlow

If we just look at the art department, I ensure we are fully staffed and capable of delivering our full portfolio of game and marketing art that hits my vision of studio quality.

A large part of driving up visual quality and giving us the edge is ensuring everyone in my department is fully trained to succeed in their role.

Here at a Nordeus we have many incentives in place to support this through mentoring, regular feedback sessions and goal setting to develop individuals through to more practical training.

I'm a firm believer in traditional art training, so I teach life drawing classes each week. This year we are very training-focused and have already agreed some heavy practical sessions in figurative clay sculpting and atelier painting instructors.

Also, I aim to bring studio talks from art directors, film costume designers, puppeteers and acting coaches to broaden our mindset in terms of creating artwork.

The last part of my role is being the outward face of the art department and doing interviews such as this one to expose why you, the reader, should know about us if you are serious about appreciating top tier game art. 

And that's just the studio - I'll have to stop as I've not touched upon education and plans for the country in terms of gaming and art!

How did you first get into this job? (If senior, how did you progress into this role?)

As a more junior artist I was always less interested in the individual components of game development and more interested in the story, design and vision.

I guess this came from my fine art background, where I solely created the narrative in my artwork. So I had an interest in the broader view of game development, which is in my opinion key for an art director.

I was young and eager with drive and ambition, taking every opportunity during my career to showcase that I could take more responsibility and step up.

I mastered my domain in 3D, and started taking an interest in other areas and slowly gained experience across the art department by stepping into more senior roles.

This moved on to being a lead, game art director, studio art director and then finally departmental head.

Be aware, the more you move upward, the more you move away from your original craft, so you have to be comfortable with that.

But your skills just change, you gain experience with leadership, teamwork, soft skills, communication, organisation and strategic thinking.

Is it something you ever imagined yourself doing?

No, not to start with. Even though I was a huge gamer, I was very focused on becoming a fine artist up until graduating from university.

In the early 90s it never occurred to me that I could make a living making games.
Daryl Clewlow

Back in the early 90s it never really occurred to me that I could make a living making games.

After graduating, there was a hard reality check of how to actually make a living from fine art. I then used my traditional skills, built a new portfolio and switched to film as a practical VFX artist.

Then finally, I used those practical film skills along with my traditional grounding to retrain in digital and move into games as a junior artist, and learnt all over again from the ground up.

So it’s been a enjoyable journey through several creative industries to find ‘home’.

What did you study (if anything) to get your role? What courses would you advise for aspiring professionals in the area?

I studied fine art - in particular, painting. So this gave me a solid grounding in the art fundamentals: colour, composition, lighting, anatomy, form and function.

My education taught me how to visually communicate through drawing, painting and sculpting. And I did a hell of a lot of both life and still life drawing (and I mean hours and hours every week) before moving on to more contemporary art practices.

It also opened my eyes to the whole history of art. It taught me to look, observe and take inspiration from diverse sources that I could and would reflect in my work.

Train in the art fundamentals, learn the crafts of drawing, painting and sculpting. These skills will last you longer than any software and underpin any digital work.

Choose a good art school or university that has excellent links with industry, a good track record for placing interns and where the lecturers and speakers are industry veterans.

Is there anything about the job/industry you wish you would have known when first joining?

The industry today is very different from when I joined so for me, not really. I liked going into a new industry, and learning it was like a huge playground. But that’s just me.

Game development has got more focused, disciplined and professional.
Daryl Clewlow

Game development has changed. It’s grown up a lot, got more focused, disciplined and professional.

Now, I see a lot of juniors and interns coming into studios not quite realising what the reality of modern game development is.

For example, hitting the quality level consistently, managing your own time effectively, iterating on an idea not choosing the first one.

And the big one: learning to do the boring but basic jobs well. But stick with it; it gets much better once you’ve learned your craft.

What other advice do you have for someone looking for a job in this profession?

  • Step 1: Reality check.

Take a hard look at the skill levels required to get into the industry, see how yours match up and identify weaknesses. Portfolios are widely available to see on forums and sites such as Behance.

I still see so many graduates trying to get into the industry that are just not going to hit the quality bar as a junior or intern level.

The competition is fierce and you have to be very focused, determined and self-evaluate at every step.

  • Step 2: Build your portfolio. 

Include 10 -15 of your best pieces. Hiring managers know after the first five pieces if they are going to take your application further. The rest of the images are to look at consistency in quality.

You will always be judged on your worst piece, so make sure you keep your quality high.

Be original in your imagery and try and show your research and thought process behind each piece. We have some portfolio guidelines on our careers page.

  • Step 3: Get out there.

Get an online presence ASAP. Get your portfolio uploaded, your LinkedIn profile fully completed and start building networks.

Go to conferences and get to portfolio in front of professionals for feedback.

  • Step 4: Redo Step 1 and keep trying and improving yourself.

This is a tough industry, you might not make it first time but keep trying if you believe you are good enough.

Features Editor

Matt is really bad at playing games, but hopefully a little better at writing about them. He's Features Editor for, and has also written for lesser publications such as IGN, VICE, and Paste Magazine.


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