How To Get Mind-Blowing Portfolio Feedback At CTN Animation Expo

Detail from Florian Satzinger's Marquis Art for CTN Animation Expo 2012

Detail from Florian Satzinger’s Marquis Art for CTN Animation Expo 2012

Several of you have emailed me and asked how to get the most out of CTN Animation Expo.

MY ADVICE: Focus on building long-haul relationships with a few of the many talented artists who are there to help you pursue your dreams.

One great way to begin building a relationship with another artist at CTN-X is through a portfolio review.

It gives you both something to talk about and there’s a bit of emotional security in this familiar ritual.

Plus, even just one thoughtful remark or question from an experienced artist who can communicate clearly will work wonders.

So today, I’ll shine the spotlight on eight of my favorite artists who give mind-blowing portfolio feedback.

I honestly believe that if all you do is find these eight artists at CTN-X and have a conversation about your portfolio, your entire trip will be worth it.

One Thoughtful Question:

You don’t need an entire list of questions to ask these artists.

In advance of your meeting, just think of one thoughtful question for each of them, ask it and then just listen, receive and encourage them.

You can ask the same question to most of them.

And that’s all you’ll need to do to get the most out of CTN-X.

Artists who are trying to break in often psych themselves out because they think they need to “impress people.”

…but that’s a losing battle because you have no idea what will or won’t impress anyone.

Forget about “impressing” people and just focus on building relationships.

All you need to do is get the conversation started.

…and all you need to get the conversation started is one thoughtful question.

One thoughtful question is all you need to get the most out of a meeting with your art hero.
-Tweet This Quote

My Thought Process:

I only included artists who I’ve actually seen or heard give portfolio feedback.

…and who will actually be at CTN-X this year.

For example, I bet Pascal Campion and Louie Del Carmen give awesome portfolio feedback but I’ve never been close by when it was happening.

Because I can’t honestly speak from first-hand experience about their portfolio reviewing skills, I didn’t include them on this list.

Sherm Cohen:

Sherm Cohen

Sherm Cohen invented awesomeness.

Sherm is one of the most generous and inspiring people I have met during my time working in the animation industry.

Scratch that. Sherm is one of the most generous and inspiring people I have ever met.

Sherm is a great cartoonist and, as his IMDB page proves, a versatile visual storyteller. Sherm is also a director and teacher who really knows how to communicate.

He’s one of the fathers of SpongeBob and he also worked on Ren & Stimpy, Kick Buttowski, Phineas & Ferb and he’s currently working on FishHooks.

Sherm gives thorough, actionable portfolio feedback that will make you want to leave the Expo immediately and just draw for the rest of the weekend.

If you drop by his booth, you’ll likely get to meet his wife Doris. She’s so precious I want to hug her until her head pops off.

If you’re a Character Designer or Story Artist and you want to experience baptism by inspiration, drop by and meet The Sherm.

John Nevarez:

Jose Lopez and John Nevarez are fantastic communicators and super-nice guys.

Jose Lopez and John Nevarez are fantastic communicators and super-nice guys.

John and I worked together on Tinker Bell back in 2007, before he got his current gig as a concept artist at Pixar.

There I was, this fanboy who had just become a Visual Development Artist by accident and John, one of the best draftsmen I’ve ever met, treating me like a peer – a fellow fanboy.

His kindness and humility are legendary.

Save your John Nevarez meeting for when you’re feeling overwhelmed because talking to John will just make everything better.

He’s one of the artists who taught me about the idea of gestural environments which my long-time podcast listeners will probably remember. His drawings are like nothing you’ll ever see. …and his portfolio reviews are enlightening.

I think the awesome photo of Jose Lopez (left) and John Nevarez (right) was taken by Louie Del Carmen.

Jose Lopez:

(Find Jose’s photo in the section about John Nevarez above.)

I don’t actually know Jose very well but every time I talk to him I feel like we’ve worked together for decades.

Jose is the Character Art Director on Transformers Prime and his advice about how to succeed in animation will transform your career.

Eh? See what I did there?! Clever, I know.

Puns aside, I’m totally serious. Jose’s advice on how to break in and stay in will challenge and inspire you.

Jose and I are doing our CTN-X Character Design Portfolio Review Panel for the second year in a row. The CTN team has selected several portfolios for Jose and I to review during a panel discussion on Sunday afternoon.

You gotta join us for that. We had a buh-LAAAAST last year.

Florian Satzinger will join Jose and I this time around. I’m super-jazzed to meet him and ask him about the MacGuffin of every Character Designer’s artistic pursuit – Appeal – because his work is all about appeal.

I’m hoping to drop that question on him during the portfolio review panel so everyone can hear his response. Florian is the artist who drew the crazy CTNX birds at the top of this post.

Lora Innes:

Lora Innes

Drop by our booth T75 and meet my Paper Wings co-host, Lora Innes.

Most of you know that Lora is my co-host on The Paper Wings Podcast and for the first time in the history of Paper Wings, we are attending a convention together.

Drop by Booth #T75 and meet Lora, me and a gaggle of Oatley Academy students.

One of the reasons I asked Lora to host the Paper Wings Podcast with me was because she intellectualizes her process which is rare among artists. Also, she’s basically my sister. …so that played into it.

But her awareness of her own process and her stellar communicatio ability means that a portfolio review from her is a CTN-X-must-have.

Lora’s draftsmanship is simultaneously elegant and powerful. I highly recommend that Story Artists, Character Designers (and obviously anyone who is making comics) connect with Lora for some gentle-but-fearlessly-intense portfolio feedback.

(Also, I’ll have tracing paper at the booth so I can draw over your work. But I’ll tell you right now, you’ll want Lora to do the same.)

Justin Copeland:

Justin Copeland

The energy in Justin Copeland’s ‘Avengers’ storyboards will melt your face off.

Justin is one of my best friends so if you play the “Oatley” card when you meet him you might get a hug. Bonus!

Seriously, he’s a Story Artist on the new Avengers cartoon for Disney XD. I’ve seen his storyboards for the show. They are uhMAYzing.

The action in his story sequences is visceral. His boards – they just pound with energy.

Justin understands film grammar like no other story artist I know. He thinks (and boards) like a DP.

In fact, I’ve never met a story artist whose heroes are guys like Roger DeakinsJanusz Kaminski and Wally Pfister.

By the way, every layout artist, concept artist and aspiring art director reading this should study the work of those guys. Let the work of the great DP’s inform your design just as much as the current, hot concept art does.

You’ll have to get Justin to recommend some of his other DP-heroes because I can’t keep up with him when it comes to cinematography.

My point is, if you want to get feedback on your story portfolio that will get you thinking cinematically, you need to meet Justin. He’ll be dropping by the Paper Wings booth throughout the weekend.

Jeff Wamester:

Jeff Wamester

Never look at a drawing by Jeff Wamester because the edginess will slice you in two.

Dude can drAAAAAAW!

Jeff is a Character Designer on the new Avengers cartoon for Disney XD. I’ve seen his concept work for the show. It is uhMAYzing. (I see a pattern developing: Avengers = uhMAYzing.)

Character Designers, Story Artists and anyone who draws comics need to get portfolio reviews from Jeff.

Don’t let his hypnotically-edgy drawing style fool you. Jeff’s work goes way deeper than cool style. His work is beautifully composed. Beautifully structured. Poetic, in fact.

Jeff will be at the Con-Artists booth and while you’re over there looking for Jeff, you might find Justin Copeland’s also-amazing brother Chris Copeland.

While I’ve never actually heard Chris give portfolio feedback, I bet it’s flippin’ fantastic. Just like I said about Pascal and Louie, I can tell just by talking to him about art.

(Photo of Jeff Wamester by $makepictures.)

 Stephen Silver:

Stephen Silver

Stephen Silver is a Character Designer’s Character Designer.

If you wonder why I gush so much about the people in the animation industry, Stephen Silver and John Nevarez are two of the main reasons why.

They were some of the first people I got to know when I first moved out here and so their positivity influenced my perspective on the entire industry.

Silver and I were working in the same building on the lot (The Frank G. Wells building to get specific for you super-geeks out there) when I started at Disney.

During my first couple of weeks working at Disney, Silver took me out for coffee (he paid) and talked to me for four hours about Character Design and pitching animated TV shows and about the industry in general.

Just as John Nevarez did, Silver treated me like a peer despite the fact that I had no clue what I was doing. Silver, like me, loves to talk so we would bump into each other in the hallways and just go on and on about art or technology or storytelling…

I tell you this, not just to name-drop, but to make several points. 1.) You need to just reach out to people even if they are famous because many of them will blow you away with generosity. 2.) Do the same for others. and 3.) When you’re at CTN-X, you must go visit Silver at his booth. If there’s a huge line, wait in line.

Ask him your one thoughtful question then just listen and take notes.

Christophe Vacher:

Christophe Vacher

Christophe Vacher is the Emmy-winning Art Director for Transformers Prime and he can fly.

Christophe Vacher is a FRACKING-AMAZING PAINTER.

We shared an office at Disney for a while and it was probably the most awesome office-sharing experience of my career. Love this dude.

By now, he’s won like a hundred Emmy awards for his Art Direction on Transformers Prime.

Long-time listeners of my podcast will remember my interview with Christophe. After you’re done reading this article, go give that episode a listen. Needless to say, it’s super-inspiring.

Every time I’ve heard him answer a question about painting (mine or someone else’s), he has a mind-blowing, in-depth answer. I know that by writing that I’m raising the bar super-high but considering that he’s also a gravity-defying martial artist, he’ll clear it.

Seriously though, you painters and aspiring Art Directors gotta meet Christophe. Play the “Oatley” card and tell him you listened to his interview so he knows he can just dive right in with the intense stuff.

Ask him about painting skies, atmosphere and  painting color scripts.

Write it all down. You do not want to forget what he will have to tell you.

Be very specific with your question. Don’t just ask him “How do I paint skies better?” Show him one of your paintings or be more specific so he can give you the best answer possible.

Important Note: Christophe’s name is French so his last name is pronounced “Vash-ay.”

More Portfolio Help:

Here are a few more articles to help you with your concept art and illustration portfolios…

Submit Your Work For My LIVE Online Portfolio Critique Session On November 10th [EXPIRED]

Is Your Concept Art Portfolio Versatile Or Just Confusing?

5 Common Pitfalls Of Concept Art & Illustration Portfolios

What To Do When Portfolio Feedback Doesn’t Make Sense

The Concept Artist’s Career Guide

Will YOU Be At CTN-X?

Share your name and website here so I can look out for you and your work!

Subscribe & Get My FREE Digital Painting Kit!

[ I will never spam you or share your information ]

{ 56 comments… read them below or add one }

travis bond

I can’t make ctn-x this year, unfortunately, but this is great! I found out i follow a few of your recommended people on twitter, and love the things they post! I wish going this time around was a possibility! Next year!


Chris Oatley

Heck yeah, Travis! When you put it like that, you have an entire year to think of the most thoughtful question ever! #nopressure 😉


Adam Hartlaub

Gaahh! This is awesome! Thanks for providing all this info, I only wish I was going. #NextYear!


Chris Oatley

Yeah, brother. CTNX has “Adam Hartlaub” written all over it!


Lee Wiley

This is amazing! Wow, thanks for sharing this amazing resource. I’ve been wondering if I need to make it to this expo, and this has confirmed…yes indeed, I do. Likely not till next year though, but man, WOW, amazing to hear about some of the amazing artists that attend. Once again, thanks Chris :)


Chris Oatley

Thank YOU, Lee. Yeah – CTNX has some of the most talented artists in the world. Craziness.



I will be at CTN this year! ^^ And I will be sure to come say hi since I missed seeing you there last year.


Chris Oatley

Awesome! Thanks, Rebecca! I’m looking forward to meeting you!


Matt Schuler

I will be at CTNX, as I’ve been there every year and look forward to it every November. I have talked to Stephen numerous times (and enjoy his friendship) as well as Louie del Carmen, John Nevarez, Bobby Chiu, Florian Satzinger, Harald Sieperman and many others. I completely agree with you on the portfolio review, although you left out Sean “Cheeks” Galloway- one of my favorites in the industry, talented and one heckuva friend, Sean will give you insight every time!
I’ll have to check into some of the people you mentioned, as this will be year two of my story portfolio.

Big thanks to Chris Battle for sharing this post on facebook


Chris Oatley

Sean is awesome. He’s an incredible artist and a super-nice guy. I’ve even heard a couple of my students mention that his portfolio reviews are great. Like I said at the top of the post, I just have never experienced a Cheeks portfolio review so I can’t speak from first-hand experience. Hopefully, I’ll see you there, Matt!


Matt Schuler

Thank you for the quick reply back Chris!
Half the enjoyment of the expo is meeting new people and networking! I met Olivier Tossan at the first CTNX and we’ve been friends since (and he was living in Germany, but has been living/working in LA at Dreamworks)!
I hope to one day work as a story artist and know that hard work, networking and perseverance will eventually get me there. I look forward to meeting you Chris!


Chris Oatley

Oh man, that’s awesome. And you have GOT to meet Justin, Chris and Sherm if you’re into story.

Talk soon.




*sigh* Makes me so frustrated I live on the East coast and can’t get to these amazing conventions! Would I give a leg (though certainly NOT an arm; I need those to draw 😉 ) to be able to attend. Still, a great list nonetheless! I’m going to look into these artists more and try and keep up with their sites and such. You never know when I might get the opportunity to meet one of them! Thanks for the advice, Chris.


Chris Oatley

Heck yeah, Annamarie! We gotta get you out here to a West Coast Con next year!



I’ll have to keep up with the cons during the summer and see if I can get out there sometime! :)


Tegan Clancy

So many awesome people on this list Chris I will defiantly try to chat to! Christopher Vacher last year very helpful, we was on the panel of my portfolio review, and said he liked my style, I was chuffed


Chris Oatley

Can’t wait to hear about your portfolio reviews this year, Tegan.


PJ Magalhaes

Now following most of those guys in one way or another Chris, cheers for that.

One day will make it across the ocean for all of these conventions, i swear it! 😀 😀


Chris Oatley

Can’t wait to see you here, PJ!



Hi Chris
I will be attending CTN X this year! I wasn’t sure it was going to happen but it looks like its all going to work out. I would be glad to stop by and say hi since I didn’t get to meet you last time. Thanks for this awezome breakdown. I feel like I have somewhere to start! Can’t wait!


Chris Oatley

That put a smile on my face. That was exactly the idea – to help give you a sense of where to start. I look forward to meeting you, Heidi!


Scott Wiser

Chris! I was meaning to ask if you were doing the live portfolio review again – I’ll be running those panels again this year! (Depending on how things go with my job, as Dave Wilson mentioned above). Just so everybody knows, these panels are reviewing preselected artists, but worth seeing! To get it, you’ll have to show up early and wait in line, but lines can help you connect with some great peers!

Brittney Lee also gives great, energizing reviews! And when you wait for the review, you’ll be very tempted to buy her art! Great article, Chris. I love to watch you gush about people!


Chris Oatley

You’re right on all counts, Scott. (My collection of Brittney Lee art grows exponentially every year.)


Leanne Thng

Great article! I am really excited to attend CTN X. I unfortunately booked my tickets a little late so wasn’t able to apply for the Raising the Bar Portfolio Critiques but hoping to catch people around the Expo. Thanks for the advice and I will hopefully see you there!


Chris Oatley

Heck yeah, Leanne. You can get your work in front of the right people with or without the RBR admission. RBR just makes it easier.


Emily Hann

Hi Chris,

As I mentioned in my comment on your previous post, I’ve been experiencing high anxiety leading up to CTN Expo! I’m barely even excited anymore, just terrified. It sucks! I’m flying all the way from Ontario, Canada and I’ve submitted a portfolio for Raise the Bar Recruiting so waiting to see if anything will come of that. I’m glad to know there’s a place online I can come to and learn a bit more about what to expect.

I actually met Stephen Silver before up here in the frozen North at Fan Expo in Toronto. I was a dumb student at the time, there was NO line to see him and I had no idea of exactly who he was, and stupidly exclaimed “Wow your drawings are so great!” When I flipped through his sketchbook. Duuh…. Anyway, he was the nicest man ever! I bought the book and he did a great sketch for me in the front. I’m looking forward to seeing him again, and glad it’s unlikely he’ll remember me from Toronto.

Also excited for the chance to meet Sherm Cohen. I worked on Fish Hooks and Kick Buttowski backgrounds up here in Canadaland! It will be awesome to talk him about the shows.

And OF COURSE I am so thrilled I get to meet you and Lora at the Expo. I might get over excited, I might cry, or at least get a little teared up. I swear I’m not crazy, I’m just giving you fair warning!

Thanks for your advice, Chris. See you in two weeks!



Chris Oatley

It just made my day to find out you’ll be there, Emily! That’s GREAT!

Don’t sweat the Expo. I think one of the greatest things about it is that people just hang out. You’ll easily be able to connect with your fellow pros. RBR is laid back and everyone is super-encouraging.

If you have any questions or confusions, Lora and I will be there to help.


Emily Hann

Thanks for your words of comfort, Chris!


Scott Wiser

Oh yeah, any anxiety you have will quickly fade away when you see how awesome people are there at the expo! I always go in with high expectations and still come out blown. I’ll also be willing to point you to some great things as I run the live portfolio reviews!


Emily Hann

Cool! Looking forward to meeting you too, Scott.


Casey Shaffer

This year will be my first time attending CTN expo and I’m super excited! Thank you for such a helpful article.


Chris Oatley

Woo hoo!

You are going to LOVE it, Casey. And you’re welcome. Thank YOU for the encouraging words.


Angela Entzminger

Hello Chris! I am super jazzed that both you and Lora will be at CTN this year. I had the opportunity to meet Lora at a panel at Academy of Art a few weeks ago and she offered excellent advice. Also thanks for giving props to Sherm. I watched his DVD storyboard course and it is excellent. Looking forward to stopping by your booth and saying hello.


Chris Oatley

Looking forward to meeting you, Angela!

Yeah, Lora is an incredible communicator, as is Sherm. Love ’em both!


Kiersten Eagan

Hi Chris!

Thank you for this post!! So much wonderful information as always!
I am coming from Ontario, Canada (as I see Emily above is as well!) and will be participating in the New Talent tent. I’ve never attended CTN-X before and I’m feeling very overwhelmed and excited as I prepare. Your post really hit the spot to calm the nerves and fuel my excitement even further!
I look forward to following your advice and hopefully gaining insight into how I can improve while also making some great friends and connections in the process!
Hope to meet you in person at CTN!

Long time PW fan,

Kiersten Eagan

ps. To anyone else reading this that might be at CTN please stop by my booth in the new talent section as I’d love to meet you, share ideas and see your work as well! :)


Chris Oatley

I look forward to meeting you, Kiersten!

Yes, I will definitely make an effort to stop by the new talent booth!


Emily Hann

Hey Kiersten, I’ll keep my eye out for you!


Kristal Babich

Hi Chris,
I was definitely one of those people that emailed you about CTN X. I’m still stressed since its my first time, and I’m right out of school, but your breakdowns always put the important things into perspective.
The thing I’m most looking forward to is establishing new relationships because of how inspiring everyone in attendance is. Thank you so much for this starter’s kit and I look forward to meeting you in person. I got to see you over Skype at SCADs concept club meeting a couple months ago. And you were just as helpful then as you continue to be now.


Chris Oatley

Oh sweet! LOVE the SCAD artists!

Yes, you have the right attitude. It’s all about the long-haul and building relationship. See you at CTN!


Dan Seddon

Hey Chris,

This post is so amazing! This will be my first year attending CTN X, and reading this amazing post really helped calm my nerves down. I will most definately be taking your advice, and I will most definately be stopping by your booth for some advice from you!
Thanks again, I look forward to meeting you!

Dan Seddon


Chris Oatley

Awesome! I’m looking forward to meeting you, Dan! 11 days to go!



Oh my goodness thank you so much for writing this article. This is my first time going; flying in from Singapore. I applied for the Raising the Bar and I’m both terribly excited and horribly nervous, haha. I can’t wait to meet up with everyone and make new friends. 😀

I sent an email to you when I subscribed to your website, I hope you got it. o.o


Chris Oatley

Hi, Sarah! So exciting that you’re flying out for CTNX! I look forward to meeting you!

I’ve fallen way behind on email since I’ve been building the new Oatley Academy site but I’ll get back to it soon. Feel free to write me again. Thanks so much for subscribing!




Just wanted to say thank you for posting this article! This is my first time going to the CTN expo, so I’m pretty nervous about networking and portfolio reviewing, but I’m definitely going to keep all of this advice in mind. Hope to see you there!



So i just subscribed…i was googlin’ art things feeling depressed ’cause i just can’t seem to improve myself…
but then i found you! reading your stuff helps me to keep it up a bit!
so thank you Chris!


Joshua Otero

I missed last year’s CTN , but this year I’m planning and saving up just for that date! It’ll be my first time going, but after hearing from lots of fellow artists as well as yourself, I am confident in knowing I am going to have one big experience of a lifetime.


Jay Fontano

Great stuff Chris. I was at CTNX last year and another time a couple years ago. With the exception of one guy, who was a jerk and had an attitude as though I was wasting his time by asking him to look at my stuff, everyone was very nice and encouraging. I got some great tips, especially from both Stephen Silver and you Chris. When I am able to go again I will be much more at ease about showing my work to people.



I am on a different continent, so I can’t make it, but it sounds great =) Good luck, guys



Hi Chris,

Looking forward to CTNX! It is always such an inspiring event. Thanks for putting all your perspectives to paper, so to speak. Always a joy to read your articles.

Kind Regards,



Hi Chris!

Thank you so much for sharing this article. I’ll be flying in from the East Coast and joining my California friends for our first CTNX experience. Since I’ve been jumping on as many opportunities as possible after graduation, I thought I might as well go all out and attend! Though honestly I’m becoming anxious as the expo draws closer – especially since I’ve only begun to narrow down my portfolio. But I signed up for a bunch of workshops, and I hope to meet and network with great artists there who could guide me through the next steps of improving my work for this industry. Hoping you will be one of them! :)


Rajiv Narayanan

Wonderful insight Chris. Not too sure I will be able to make it this year as I’m not in the U.S. right, but this is such and inspiring and encouraging article.


Gabriel Franklin

Hello there!

First of all, thank you so much for the advice! I was finally able to save up some money so I can actually go to CNX this year, I am beyond excited! Your words of advice are really helpful and it would mean a lot to me if I could have some sort of feedback at my online portfolio. I am an animation student interested about working at the story department.

Thank you,


dp bbm

Tetapi kita tak akan membahas tentang itu, hal yang akan kita bahas adalah mengenai Display Picture
atau DP.


Leslie park

Hi chris! This is exactly what ive been looking for for so long! Thank you so much im so glad i came across this! I hope to see you this year at ctn 2015! It’ll be my first time exhibiting and getting portfolio reviews. Im so nervous haha! I hope i can ask for your review at the event!




Thanks a lot for this great article! I am attending a CTNx for the first time so a bit confused over how it works. I am not sure for which CTNx is this post, but I hope to see you at CTNx 15 :)


Nate Haywood

Hi Chris, First of all I want to say I love listening to your podcast and want to thank you for this wonderful information about CTN, this is my very first time going and I’m quite nervous to be around so many great artists. I just graduated and one of my concerns about my portfolio I’d like to talk to you about is gearing it towards two fields, Illustration for animation, and Illustration for Children’s Book. I’d like to do both at the same time and I’m struggling to find a balance. I look forward to meeting you! Thanks for your time.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: