What To Do When Portfolio Feedback Doesn’t Make Sense

Concept artists and illustrators often encounter portfolio feedback that is either confusing or nonspecific.

Many artists just smile, nod, shake hands with the reviewer and walk away confused.

Others blame themselves for not understanding and get discouraged and frustrated.

So what can you do when you receive feedback on your concept art or illustration portfolio that just doesn’t make sense?

In this video post, I’ll share some insight that will help you get the most out of every portfolio review you receive from here on.


More About Portfolios:

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

The Concept Artist’s Career Guide

How To Get Mind Blowing Portfolio Reviews At CTN-X

Links Mentioned:

‘Blink’ by Malcom Gladwell

Get the Blink audiobook for FREE when you sign up for a 30-day FREE Trial at Audible.com! (Plus I get $25 even if you cancel before your free trial is over!)

Jose Lopez

Florian Satzinger

Jeff Wamester

Stephen Silver

Comment and Share:

Have you ever received portfolio feedback that doesn’t make sense? Share in the comments below and I’ll see if I can help!

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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Scott Wiser

Thanks for cutting through the fog – the ” sense of storytelling” virus is the worst! I’ve been telling people about the power of your course: how you “clear the path” for full creative powers to come through. :) Your recommendation for the book Framed Ink has also been helpful in this area – and I love the new book Character Mentor to vaccinate the virus as well!

So I’m thinking about taking a different approach at CTNX and just carrying Misfit Supers around (with my demo reel hidden in my bag, just in case) to promote. I want to establish myself as a professional, not an aspirer (even though that’s how I’ll always see myself) and most of all that I want to just create relationships with people rather than shoving my portfolio in their face. What do you think of this “more casual” approach Chris? Any advice?

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Chris Oatley

Thanks so much, Scott.

‘Framed Ink’ is THE BEST!! And I’ve been looking forward to reading ‘Character Mentor’ – it looks awesome.

I think if you’re looking for animation work, you need to lead with that. Your kids’ book is a bonus that sets you apart but since you’re not really working in that capacity within the animation industry, you probably want to stay focused on the reel for CTN-X.

BUT… If you’re just looking to connect and hang out and build relationships then that’s great. It’s definitely a more casual approach but CTN-X is a huge opportunity you definitely want to make the most of.

So, I know that’s not an answer but it’s some perspective.

I’ll see you there!

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Scott Wiser

Those are great answers, Chris. I may actually have an animation job by CTNX, which is my reason for considering this approach. But I think you are right – if I’m not in a studio by then I had better be showing my reel and the book would then come after. I can’t wait to see you there!

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AJ

Holy cow. That’s fantastic advice.
Wish you were my teacher back in art school!

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Chris Oatley

Thanks, AJ. I appreciate it. It’s simple but often overlooked.

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Melissa

One thing I think that (for me) really hit home was your point at the beginning of “Find someone who is doing the job you want to do.” To get the portfolio advice that is going to matter the most to you.

The first step is to be honest with yourself in what you really want to do. And I mean, radically, disarmingly honest with yourself. Maybe you’ve told yourself for years you really want to be an animator. But what your actually passionate about is landscape painting in oils, or teaching art.

Because all of those things I just mentioned have lots of overlapping areas, its easy to believe in an old goal that you are holding onto because thats what you think you *should* be doing. Rather than actually harnessing your passions.

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Chris Oatley

You are right on, Melissa.

I gave a talk at Ringling College of Art yesterday and one of the students asked me what the biggest challenge was when I was breaking in.

I said that I think it was, simply, having the faith to really pursue what I’m made to do.

I floated around in freelancing purgatory for years before I actually committed to pursue my dream of working in animation.

Now, that faith is being tested again as I’m pursuing my new dream of doing Oatley Academy full-time.

Thanks so much for sharing your insight. Great points, Melissa.

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Eric

To be honest, I feel like the minority here. I have yet to leave a review not really comprehending what they were talking about. When they asked for more storytelling in my art, I just assumed they meant they wanted something more visceral, or something that would create a gut reaction with them. So that’s what I’ve been trying to do. Good to know I wasn’t WAY off base there.
Though most of my reviews deal with comics/illustration, and not animation so my views could be a bit askew in that regard.

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Chris Oatley

No, I think you’re right on, Eric. I do think that’s what MOST people are asking for when they say they want to see a greater sense of storytelling. It’s just that “Put a greater sense of storytelling” is like saying “Be an illustrator.” If that’s what you’re already trying to do, it’s not really very useful.

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Tanem

Good advice, I don’t think I have ever heard any one approach that topic. It’s difficult when someone you may look up to as an artist basically says Do it better. Asking that next question “what is the next step?” is so incredibly important. Great advice Chris!

This might be off topic and maybe you will talk about this in your CTNX post. Is it worth it to bring a printed portfolio to CTNX? They have the review sign up and website, which i have signed up for. Just wanted to see what you thought?

Thanks!

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Chris Oatley

Yes, definitely have one or more printed portfolios on you at all times. You’ll have multiple opportunities for informal portfolio reviews.

Also, I recommend having a few on-hand to leave with people if the opportunity arises.

Make sure you drop by and meet us at booth T75, Tanem!

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Tanem

thanks and I will!

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Annamarie

Awesome advice, Chris! I haven’t had the opportunity to show my portfolio to many artists, so this is good for me to store in the back of my head for when I do. Especially since when it comes to asking questions or making conversation, I tend to get really flustered and my brain completely shuts off! It’s something I’ve always struggled with. Can you offer any quick advice for questions to ask or ideas to consider when you’re talking with an artist/professional in the industry (say, at a Q&A, lecture, portfolio review, etc.)?

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Chris Oatley

Yeah! I actually recommend making a list of questions beforehand and then just pick the one or two most thoughtful/ valuable ones.

I also recommend thinking about what kind of unique questions that only the artist you’re talking to can answer. Maybe that’s about their own, personal journey or it’s about a personal project they did…

Whatever you do, try to always drill down and get to at least ONE specific action that you can take when you get back home.

You’ll be amazed at how far you can get on your own if you just have that one next step.

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Tegan Clancy

SO excited for CTN! Very timely advice Chris, and if anyone wants fantastic portfolio advice that gives you a direction to build your work, make sure you stop by the Chris Oatley Booth, sooooo much insight in 2011! It was specific and inspiring!

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Chris Oatley

I’m just smiling ear-to-ear, Tegan! Thanks so much for the encouragement.

Yeah, we’ll be at booth T-75 and hopefully some of these good folks will get a chance to meet YOU there!

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David Wilson

Chris- Thanks for another great post. This change in approaching feedback is what helped me differentiate feedback last year at CTN-X. My first year I made the mistake of giving everyone advice equal weight; I walked away a bit confused. I had identified key people to talk to, but diluted their advice.
Last year I was still able to talk to so many fantastic folks, but I was able to sort out the advice and had prioritized who I wanted to help direct my work.

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Chris Oatley

Wise man. Thanks so much for sharing, David. Will you be there this year?

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David Wilson

You can count on it. The only thing that would keep Scott and I from coming down is an inflexible contract work schedule.

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Kira

You never fail to motivate me.

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Chris Oatley

Wow! That’s intimidating! ;)

Seriously, thank you so much, Kira. That’s super-motivating to ME!

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Emily Hann

Chris, thanks for your video. You’re helping to ease my anxiety leading up to CTN Expo!

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Chris Oatley

Yessssss! Thanks, Emily! You’re going to have a blast.

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sean nicholes

Though i plan to be an illustrator, i wish i could go just for the experience. Unfortunately i suffer from the classic “its not good enough” syndrome, so i dont feel i have anything worth being critiqued. Then i remember the whole point is to improve, and if my painting was so great i wouldnt need critique. (which is dangerously close to the ive learned enough mindset. we never stop learning.) Ive realized over the last month or so what Dave Rapoza tried to beat into my brain that its prob not my rendering or color or anything like that, but my COMPOSITION. I didnt understand tonal arrangements and didnt see how things like that could be the problem. So I am incredibly interested in Oatley academy. The chance to learn in depth from someone so awesome is not one im willing to pass up. I am afraid some detail may exclude me (distance, price etc.) And i am very eager to learn those details. Sorry, anyway i think the “storytelling” thing comes from seeing too many uninspired portraits and action poses w no narrative. Narrative i think should be the base of our composition so it can determine which factors to lead the eye to. Thanks for a very important topic Chris.

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Chris Oatley

Sean! You’re speaking my language!

This is EXACTLY the stuff we cover in Painting Drama.

As for pricing, I have a single-payment option and a three-month installment option.

Also – Dave is one of the best.

Also – you’re 100% correct that composition, tone and storytelling are inextricably linked. That’s the heartbeat of Painting Drama.

I really hope you get a chance to join. It sounds like you are definitely ready to move up to that next level. I am certain that Oatley Academy can help you do that.

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Mark Keller

Chris, what you mentioned in the video is so important! You will never make your goal if you don’t specify it – especially as an achievable goal. I think that is why schooling (whether University or Chris Oatley Academy) is so helpful – it gives you a specific goal to achieve. This is also why, once you are on your own, that one flounders around – because there is no goal to focus on (you have a post on this (picking a personal project http://chrisoatley.com/artcast-58-artistic-growth-is-not-a-goal-how-to-become-an-early-riser/)). Thanks for the inspiration and insight! Curious, the skull in the background – is that one of your paintings? Looks interesting.

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Chris Oatley

That’s Castle Greyskull, actually.

And you’ve really hit the nail on the head with the “floundering” that happens when artists go pro.

In Painting Drama we have something called “The Audacious Accomplishment” that fixes the floundering problem.

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Lorraine Moore

Hello Chris, I know you talk more about animation as a artist, i’m a new children’s author. I never been to a animation expo but i was wondering would this be something i could attend? I’m looking to bring my characters to life and make it into a animated cartoon. Can you give me some advice?

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Chris Oatley

Hi, Lorraine! You can check out the CTNX website at http://www.ctnanimationexpo.com/ and learn all about the expo!

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Daniel Edwards

Hi Chris,

Great advice, shame I live in the U.K as would be great to attend CTNX just for the experience, also really enjoyed the webinar the other day. Incidentally will your painting drama course still be available next year? As I will have more time in the new year. Also is that a T-bob I spy in the background?

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Chris Oatley

I’m not sure when I’ll offer Painting Drama again. Although I certainly WILL offer it again. I’m just not sure when. It will almost definitely happen at SOME point in 2013.

And YES! That is, in fact, T-Bob!

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Lemwell Navera

Hello Chris,

I wish I had the chance to see this before I went to SDCC. Going through the portfolio review was so confusing. I sat with two reviewer, one said my design looks very professional and the other said exactly what you mentioned, ” It needs to tell a story “. They both seem conflicted throughout the review. If only I’d known the right questions to ask, but being afraid of sounding impolite or disrespectful, I just sat there smiling and took it all in.

I will be prepared next time and I hope to meet with you, Jose, Jeff, and Stephen at the next CTN-X.

Thank for always taking the time to help us!!

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Chris Oatley

Can’t wait to meet, Lemwell!

Yeah, try out your new skills at the portfolio reviews! :)

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Julio Reyna

hello i writed an message also in twitter(idon’t see that i can write also here :) ) how can i arrive to finish my artworks i never know well when is ok,because i live to make a lot lines and is difficult to color with the watercolors without to know the “tricks” XD
thanks for all the tips and have a goooood day

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Pablo

This was exactly what happened last year, my first time at CTN. the wonky critique had me down and confused. I talked to other artists and most of them gave me better feedback, but I went overboard and asked people that had nothing to do with what I do. Thank you for this, I feel more confident and ready for the round of critiques this year.

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