Interview With Chris Oatley :: PWP #13

Caterpillar_Interview575w_MargaretHardyIn this episode Paper Wings host Lora Innes interviews her co-host Chris Oatley about his career and journey as a character designer, writer and podcaster.

Press PLAY and listen to Chris and Lora discuss:

  • How Chris got his big break to work at Disney.
  • Chris’ sloppy character design process.
  • How Chris got lost in art school and how it took him four years to find his way back.
  • Why grad school (and even art school) isn’t right for everyone.
  • Chris’ dreams for the future (big things for Paper Wings!)

Oh, and Chris announces the TITLE, URL and THE PITCH for his upcoming web comic!


Michelle Kondrich

Margaret Hardy (*caterpillar art for this post is by Margaret Hardy)

Rival Angels by Alan Evans

Save The Cat

Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath

Steve Galgas

Greg The Megabeaver’s Prehistoric Sideshow

Ask For The Job

Photo of Chris’ Pathetic Paint Box:


  1. says

    Awesome Podcast….so inspiring. And so much to learn from. Great to hear the answer to my question…from what I have seen, I also think you’re equipped to direct and that’s why I asked =). I’m so glad paper wings in also a #1 dream for you because it really is going to do awesome things…I feel.

    So in answer to your question, Chris, the principle person who rolled their eyes was an industry professional who has been in the industry 15 years, very skilled, has worked many places, etc. As he rolled his eyes he told me that as I share this dream, “people are going to mentally roll their eyes at you because they’ll think you don’t really want to do anything else or that…(can’t remember the other part).” That said, I personally observed this professional seemed a bit burnt out and jaded…he was also on a grueling project at the time. Also, in an interview with Andrew Stanton, he said that if he had planned to be a director, he thinks he would have made the wrong choices. So, this question has been on my mind for quite some time.

    I do, however have some people I really trust who’ve expressed their confidence that I am equipped for such a dream. So I’m still dreamin. And thank you Chris, for being so bold as to voice that goal! That alone was a big help to us fellow dreamers. I checked out the webcomic and LOVED the site…so exciting. I can’t wait to see all the great things you’ll do! -Scott

    • says

      It’s interesting, however, the longer I am in the industry, the happier I am to just take it as it comes.

      I don’t have to direct an animated feature either. That would be super-fun but I don’t have to. Even directing my own animated shorts have scratched the itch for me in the past so I’m pretty sure I could just do more of those in the future and still be fulfilled in that area.

      Right now, I’m just satisfied to go to work, do my job well, keep working on the comic and keep dreaming up new ideas and projects and, of course PAPER WINGS!

  2. says

    Oh, another thing because you mentioned Animation Mentor. I love the school and it got me a job in the industry…they continue to be so helpful and have excellent student supports and employment teams…excellent mentors and community as well. They are also the first online animation school and what they created was amazing.

    If there are any paperwingers considering their program, I’d also check out Ianimate and Animschool…they are new and have some improvements on the online mentorship concepts. Ianimate is great because they don’t let you move on to the next class until your work is where it needs to be…you can also always rewatch the lectures from past classes – which I wish I could do because AM’s content was brilliant. AnimSchool is very new and their cool angle is that they also have a modeling/rigging track – which means that those on their character animation track will hopefully have great new characters to animate as the school grows.

    Again, I loved AnimationMentor and will continue to promote what they do…I’ve also been impressed with my short exposure to the other options and wanted you all to know about them.

  3. says

    Lora, thank you for getting Chris to open up about himself, he’s so shy ;) Chris, thank you so much for sharing a small portion of you story! I can relate so much to the things that you’ve shared. Right now, I am in a good job that does support my creativity and most of all it supports my family. That being said, I am itching to illustrate for a living. There’s nothing more challenging and rewarding for me. I take a lot of oddball freelance right now (including web-design, I too only had only one web design class, and for some reason people seek me out for web-work, hehe) But, all those odd-ball things have helped fund materials books, software, hardware, etc. to help me improve my craft, so I am thankful for those jobs. And I can whole heartedly admit that I could not be where I am if it wasn’t for my relentlessly supportive wife, Amelia. She has continued to keep me confident and allowed me to pursue to my dreams. And of course she is a huge motivator. We have two little boys and they inspire me, they help keep me young at heart. Right now, I am developing a Graphic Novel with a great writer. I have found that the original graphic novels or short comics and children’s comics/stories are really the thing that I love. I used to think all I wanted to do was draw for Marvel & DC, but seeing how controlled you are with sticking to someone else’s characters/ideas, I drifted from away from that. I would jump at the chance to work with them still, but for now I am so stoked on the Graphic Novel called EXPIRATION DATE, and hope that soon I can share that book with all of you here at Paper Wings! Sorry, for the long scatter-brained shpeel, but your great story really got me sharing, Chris, thanks again.

    • Chris Oatley says

      This is a haven for scatter-brained shpeelers, Lee. :)

      Great story. So glad you liked the episode.

      On the note of the “odd-ball” freelance gigs – I have had the same experience and, eventually, it all converged… …well, as much as it can, considering I’m interested in so many different things.

      Thanks for sharing. Can’t wait to meet you and your family!

      • says

        As odd-ball as those gigs are, I think you are right, it seems to just add another skill into our repertoire. Which seems to always lead us to our next step. I can see how in your case specifically, how dabbling in so much could lead you to directing an animated feature. We look forward to getting meet you sometime also! With the rumor of WonderCon possibly moving to Anaheim next year, maybe we can make it happen then, as we are planning on attending!

  4. says

    It’s funny how web design is like that… I’ve done a significant amount of it, and it was the bread and butter of my freelance work for a couple years. I think it’s because it’s a practical commodity for a lot of businesses, both big and small, and not all of them know better than to hire some kid who can draw. ; P I’m grateful to finally be moving away from it, and ever so glad to leave it up to the REAL web designers!

    What you said about schools hit a note with me. I went to art school for illustration for a year, dropped out, and worked crappy jobs for two years before going back. And I didn’t pick an art school that time –– I chose community college and got my Associate’s in New Media. It’s something I wasn’t interested in before, but it was accommodating to my nontraditional student needs, inexpensive, and ended up being the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. Nothing else I’ve gotten out of school has beaten the practical skills learned there.

    I’m taking night classes now to work toward my Bachelor’s, but it really is all about having a “piece of paper” (no matter how much I enjoy the courses). I think it takes a bit more persistence to show potential clients that you don’t need a bigger degree to be the perfect one for the job, especially when the economy’s still working hard to climb uphill and they have so many talented people to choose from, but it’s possible.

    The only things I think I missed out on were competition (I didn’t have many real challenges to be my best at community college, even if I learned a lot) and traditional art theory classes. Color theory’s a weak point of mine, just ask Lora! But thanks to the apprenticeship, those gaps are being filled in.

    TL;DR: I’m a huge advocate of taking time off to find yourself or choosing alternative education sources. Not to knock art schools, but at least as far as commercial art (which I believe PW’s angle of storytelling falls under), many are still catching up with the digital age and all it means for business operations, exposure, learning, new mediums and more. Those are things you have to discover for yourself right now.

    • says

      Haha…us fake web designers do make things pretty…but functionality? I can also relate to your low-competition community college experience. So I’m guessing the way you challenged yourself was through hard work and the internet? Whatever you did, your project is showing some great manifestation of progress!

      • sam Kirkman says

        How exciting! Great start Sarah! One of the best things about the Paperwings community is helping us narrow down our field of view, for lack of a better word. We could spend hours scouring the internet, looking at blogs and portfolios and web comics. It’s so nice to have a filter to narrow it all down for us. Thanks for the link Scott! And I am looking forward to more Sarah!

  5. says

    These interviews have been so interesting! I’m so glad that you were willing to share your stories!!

    One of the things that really struck me about both Chris and Lora’s interviews is the element of communication supported by quality work. Both of you describe connections that, at the time of that first contact, seemed fairly inconsequential. Yet years down the line, those individuals played key roles in getting your name and work to the right people. You did quality work to get in front of them in the first place, and by continuing on your own track, you were able to make the most of the opportunities that appeared later on.

    It’s momentum, and you gave it to yourself! A huge boulder on a hill has the potential to move, but if it’s waiting for wind and rain and happenstance to set it in motion, it may be there a very long time. Whereas a rock that’s ALREADY in motion, even if it’s a small pebble, will not only be going forward, but is also likely to set off other stones on the hill. The movement builds, events are set in motion, and before you know it that tiny pebble may have set off a land-slide of possibilities!

    I know that whenever I focus on the “boulder” aspects of my dreams, the task seems impossible. But the pebbles? Those are easy to get going, and they create new opportunities that I never would have expected. This relates to the podcast question — on a whim, I decided to participate in an Original Character Tournament (OCT) on DeviantArt. Through that, I made lots of new friends. Inspired, I decided to create my own OCT, and through that met MORE fantastic creators. When I launched my webcomic, LeyLines, many of those new friends posted blogs, made fan art, and continue to be an incredible support! Getting involved in a greater community opened so many new doors that I never would have expected, and I feel that same type of energy with the local Drink-and-Draw that I joined this year.

    Look out world! Little pebbles rolling down the hill! Give us enough time, and we’ll move mountains. :)

    • says

      What a great analogy. That’s a whole blog post right there, Robin! Maybe we can use that in a future community newsletter?

      • says

        Sure! Please do so with my blessing!

        Creative inertia is something I’ve thought a lot about. People who are at rest tend to stay at rest. People who are moving tend to keep moving.

        Everybody that I’ve observed has a very different relationship to creative inertia. I naturally tend towards constant, frenetic motion. My boyfriend tends towards rest. Alone, I can easily burn-out, and he’ll often not get started on things. But TOGETHER he adds stability and I add drive. We end up more effective as a team, because we’ve figured out our natural creative rhythms!

        Have you had a similar experience with PW? Does the combination of the creative styles of your co-host and apprentices create a new rhythm?

  6. michelle d says

    I loved your story about building the paint box.

    I have a similar story when I attended a cartooning workshop. The instructor had these really cool detailed instructions on how to build your own light box for $40.

    I remember thinking to myself “the time it would take for me to gather these supplies and coerce my boyfriend to build this thing for me, would cost me more than dropping the $100 on a decent light box”.

    I know it is more punk rock to be all DIY but….time is money!

    • says

      Awesome. Yeah, it’s just about priorities. And yes, I love the *idea* of having this hand-made paint box.

      But I also love the idea of having a home-made jet pack or a huge bouncy castle for a bedroom.

      …but the cost in time, stress, energy isn’t worth it.

  7. says

    Oh my Buddy! Great to finally hear your story Chris! I remember your art cast episode where you discussed working at The Guitar Center. I appreciated what you said about gleaning everything you can, even from a day job that just doesn’t do it for ya. There is much we can learn from life situations that aren’t smack dab in the middle of the dream road.
    I think I’m ready to move on now though. Been at the hardware store on steroids for long enough. ;0{ AHHHH!!!!
    You know, every time I hear your opener for the show ; “Is your creativity crushed by a day job that’s driving you crazy?” YOUR TALKING TO ME DUDE!!! I know I’m not alone, but I allow myself that moment of personal indulgence every other week as I turn on the show. You are a great inspiration to all of us Paperwingers and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it!

    • says

      You speak the truth, dear friend, The opening of the show is always such a reminder that this show was MADE for us, and how grateful we are to Chris and Lora!

    • says

      I was just thinking last night about that creativity crushing day job last night…now that I’m working in a creative environment, involved with personal creative endeavors and have paper wings…it doesn’t seem like it was really that bad. But I’m so glad I don’t have to go back. Obviously, your creativity hasn’t been crushed by your day job. You’re on fire.

    • says

      Footnote: Sam and Lee!

      I just sent a info request over at illopond about the “8 In Spaaaace” book. Thank you all for being awesome examples of that community. I have a great idea I would like to add if I am picked up on the other project.


      • says

        Ahoy Cap! Welcome aboard! I’m so excited to see you on the pond! Left ya a little somthin there in response to your questions and if you have any more just shoot! What a great pairing of communities! I hope everyone of the paperwingers feel welcome to join in a project on the pond s well! welcome agin Cap! I can’t wait to see what’s up your creative sleeve!

        • says

          Ahoy Sam, Lee and the Wingers!

          Thank you all for being so accepting of me and I will post the synopsis and mock pages later tonight. I think its going to be a hit!

          Come on over wingers and watch the project go stellar in 8 in Spaaace!

          Thanks again!

  8. says

    Chris, I’ve met you IRL yet listening to this interview, I feel I’ve learned more about your background. what an awesome story! how come I didn’t know you played guitar?! (you probably mentioned it at some stage. please forgive. My brain’s a bit like swiss cheese at the best of times) I’d love to know more about the aristocats 2 and “cg cats without fur”. being a fan of the history of CGI, this is no doubt an important event to know about. cheers guys. it was a great listen.

  9. says

    Hey Chris! I also started playing the sax (tenor) in the 4th grade! And promptly stopped in the 5th grade… (Creepy teacher was creepy). Anyway!

    It’s nice to hear your thoughts about Grad school. I graduated with a BFA in Interactive Design/Illustration just over a year ago, and while in school I never considered doing Grad school. I figured I wouldn’t get much more out of it than just doing an Undergraduate program, and that, unlike other fields, a Graduate degree meant very little in an art field. Out of college I got an internship-turn-fulltime-position doing web programming, which I enjoy, and I work at a place where I enjoy everyone, get good benefits — so there’s not much to dislike. EXCEPT that ultimately this isn’t the path I want to follow in the long-run. I do want to get more into illustration, concept art, character design, etc. and a few months back had a less-than-quarter-life crisis about my seemingly hopeless path to reaching my dreams. I then frantically began to research various Graduate programs and certificate programs in my area, those offered online, etc etc. that would advance my chances of getting a job in the illustration/animation world.

    All the while, I knew I didn’t want to rush this phase of my life. I have a good deal of loans and am in a good place having a steady flow of income to work on paying them off. Adding more debt to my name just frightens me. I feel relieved that you mentioned the benefits of taking some time to pay off some debt with a steady job while pursuing personal creative goals on the side. That’s more or less want I am currently doing (and hope to do more intensely in the near future). And, in say two-years, I may feel more confident in taking my artistic path head-on. But for now, I feel good doing my own thing, and– like you said, there are lots of avenues to learn more. I probably won’t take on Grad school, but with the internet, the options are endless! I am so glad I’ve stumbled upon Paper Wings, and thus opened up lots of creative juices! You guys are the best! It is nice to hear your story, and how these things don’t happen instantly — but with some persistence and hard work, dreams may not be so far away. :)

    One thing I find as the toughest roadblock is the lack of time. My interests are as vast as the horizon, and it’s difficult to make sound progress in any one area with the limited free time I have. I know we all as creative people have that same problem, wanting to do too much, and I hope to utilize some of your guys’ time management tips to help with that. I am hoping to break into the webcomic world within a year or so (story-building is such a lengthy process!), so I feel you and your endeavors! Definitely good luck with that, and I’m excited to see what you dish out.

    (I apologize for the absurdly lengthy post. It is my first here, so I might as well go all out! And IF any of you happen to look at my website, please note it is horribly old and I am currently re-designing/coding it. The content’s the same, but with all I’ve learned about programming in the past year, it is horribly-embarrassing… I almost don’t want to link to it…)

    • Chris Oatley says

      Welcome, Erin! Thanks for sharing! I know I can speak for Lora and myself both in saying we’re glad you’re here and we look forward to hearing more about your journey!

    • says


      I can completely relate to your story, especially the not-quite-quarter-life-crisis. Earlier this year I went through a very similar experience and came out of it with similar conclusions! It has reaffirmed my belief that you don’t have to wait on getting hired by the “dream job” to LIVE the “dream job”.

      So much can change in a year! I’ve decided that it’s better to go at a pace that feels right than push myself into a situation that can’t be sustained. I can still work on creative projects, enhance my skills, build relationships AND work off debt at the same time! I hope you find a balance that works well for you too!

      As a fellow webcomicker, I’d love to hear more about your comic!! And I know what you mean on story-building, but I’m sure the time will be worth it!!

    • says

      Ahoy Erin and welcome!! I am glad you found this growing island of inspiration! (..and they say global warming is reducing island land mass, HA! Just let them find us! bad joke?)

      I will address this a little more in my response but I think this is worthy to note. I suggest taking the energy/ideas that you have that feel so spread out and focus them into a short list of projects that truly excite you. Then, instead of feeling drained and spread thin, your mind will subconsciously be building into those stories and making progress. I currently have a print comic submission I am working on and developing two children’s book ideas on the side. This is just enough to keep me excited while reducing the chances of really bad durn-out (note – I said reducing, not eliminating, all bon-fires dwindle. That is just part of the process)

      Please know I also understand your time/work situation too. I am a full-time graphic designer, husband, father of two maniacs and daddy to two cats and two dogs. Its full house on crack which is why i am happy to be “twitchy and weird” any day to keep all of this around me.

      You can do this, you just need to move the pieces into the right places and manage your energy. Wunderlist task management app is a huge help too!

      Happy sailing!
      Captain Dutz

    • says

      Hey Erin,

      This is why I find this podcast so refreshing! I’m in the exact same situation as you. I do web design and development for my job, and sometimes I feel like I’m so, so deep into that stuff that it’s hard to turn the ship around. I’ve spent the last few years focusing on my work as a front-end developer to the point where I feel like it’s been a detriment to my artistic ability that I’ve had in years past. And now I’m really trying to bring more balance back in to my work, and that’s why I listen to Paper Wings.

      I also have had grad school creep into my mind as far as illustration goes, but thinking about it harder, and listening to this ep, I think it may be performing surgery to fix a head cold, as it were. At least for me.

      In the episode, Chris explains how you should do what comes naturally to you. I feel like this actually works against me, because I find that solving development-related problems like CSS issues or front-end scripting stuff comes so easily for me, and drawing and art are like a punch in the face every time I do them, but the latter provides more fulfillment than the former. I’ve been struggling with this dichotomy for a long time now, and I still haven’t come to an acceptable conclusion yet, but I’ve been trying to practice drawing every day to try and revive some of that side.

      Anyway, just wanted to make a solidarity post. Glad you found the podcast! Hope it helps you fulfill your artistic pursuits – sounds like you are on the right track with your webcomic!

      • says

        And Chad & Erin, waking up early and working 2 hours on personal stuff has helped my so much. You’ll get further than expected as long as you focus on progress and not perfection, as Chris says so often.

        As for your dichotomy, you should definately work on something you’re passionate about. Something that brings fullfillment. It doesn’t have to be something that comes easily, but if you’re so fired up that you love to work on it and the motivation is there…that’s what you should be working on – progress will come faster when you’re on fire.

        For most of my life, I was into musical theater and did very well on the stage – I also loved to draw and write stories. I now do animation, which is very challenging. And as I film reference I’ve discovered so much room for improvement in my acting…something I had never seen before, but it’s the easiest thing for me to fix. I am also progressing quickly with the drawing so I work on that every day. The technical side of animation (especially the 3rd dimension and polishing arcs & spacing to absolute perfection) are the toughest for me to grasp. So as I put more energy and passion into the elements of animation I can improve faster (acting, planning & drawing), the others (technicality and priciples) begin to grow stronger naturally.

      • says

        Oh and I think the discipline you’ve learned from your profession should ACTUALLY HELP you. You now know what it takes to to reach a high level of proficiency. Maybe you haven’t really lost these skills…maybe you better see the room for improvement now that you’ve come so far. I don’t know if these thoughts are accurate, but maybe they’ll help.

  10. says

    In response to the inquiry for the next podcast about “getting more eyes on your work”… not speaking for myself, but a friend of mine, who is still in college and runs her own webcomic, went to SDCC for the first time this year. She had various portfolio reviews with big-name companies and got lots of constructive criticism which can help her art grow. But most importantly, she got a pretty cool freelance gig for illustrating a short children’s story! And in general, she goes to various cons and sells her comic and art in the Artist Alley.

    So, basically, a great way to expose more people to your work is to attend conventions, depending on your artistic focus. Lora has already touched on how great cons can be for comickers. I’ve been going to cons for several years, and all I can say is they are exponentially growing! (Admittedly I go primarily on the cosplay-scene, but I hope to start to doing the AA and such soon as well!)

  11. says

    It was great to hear your story Chris! It must`ve been hard at times, seeing your dreams fly out of the window when the 2D animation basicly stopped, and again when you got into financial trouble. But it`s awesome to see how you pulled through and still came to work for Disney! That`s a great living example of the things you guys say on the podcast, about having that dream and working towards that goal through improvement of your skills and building relationships. Very inspiring, I think we can all think back to this episode and pull hope from it when we`re facing obstacles and feel like our dreams are far away.

    Aristocats without fur made me laugh.

    About the question about “getting eyes on your work”…I`m still figuring that out. I do have several accounts on sites like DeviantART and a comic forum in which I post my progress. But I think the biggest step I`ve taken is starting a blog. It`s a bunch of pages just for my work where I can point people to. I agree though with you guys about how the product is the best promotion you can do for your work, so I guess I`m going to have to work my butt of to finish enough buffer for my comic soon. :)

    Speaking of webcomics, Chris, the site for Greg, the Megabeaver and his Prehistoric Sideshow looks awesome!! I can`t wait for the story to start. It`s a great idea too to put in those animated elements. I must say that the site looks awesome as well, I love the header and the overall style. I wish you all the best for the project!

    • says

      Thanks, Henrike!

      You’re awesome! Yes, we’ll be talking more about this “getting more eyes” practice on the next couple of episodes, but let me just say that you’re definitely on the right track.

      Thanks for the kind words about the comic! I’m so excited to start posting pages!

  12. says

    Oh boy, Ahoy!

    If I could just bottle you all up and store you on my ship no vessel in the waters could take us down!

    Lora, thank you so very much for letting us get you know you and your amazing track better and then for bringing us closer to Chris too. You two individuals, backed and powered by your team of awesomeness, reach the hearts and minds of so many and I know this is just the beginning!

    Chris, I loved your story and I too went through some hard stuff for a while. My education/life to this point was a random road laced with blessed opportunities. The short version; following high school spent two years hauling hand. My third day on the job consisted of 240 sheets of 10×4 5/8inch boards. They are about 105 lbs a piece and we carried them in set of two. it takes about 6+ hours to hand unload that stuff into a building. After a few months I knew I could live my life like that. I worked with a man who was over 60 and had muscles big enough to break you and no education. I had to change my chances. Started in basics at night and God gifted me the opportunity to start art school in Dallas, Texas. I discovered later that that was a small window I couldn’t afford to mess up. I graduated with an associates of graphic design. Yep, in record time. A two year degree in just under three ( I worked at night ). This boy who thought he wasn’t very smart made the highest grades he’s ever made. I left that school with a 3.6GPA, confidence and a $50,000 bill.

    Within two months I was hired as a graphic/marketing designer for a local manufacturing company and have been learning and growing with the company for over three years. It has not been easy all of the time but worth it and, just as Lee stated, impossible without my wife, Tiffany. The success is hers too.

    Thank you all of for helping me now too. I give you all credits for my growth too.

    To answer the podcasts question:
    I didn’t start even building a website until a year and a half ago and even then, it is not finished or live yet. I only started The Captain’s BLOG at the beginning of the this month at the end of the contest. One of the most important measures I have taken to get eyes on me has been building quality collateral. I build excellent relationships when I give it out but the piece they hold in their hand MUST properly represent your intent and be impacting. Below is a link to my business card. People have said that they like it. GotPrint has some of the best card printing prices around too! I had 1000 printed and shipped for less than $30 I think.

    Tomorrow I should have a nicely inspiring BLOG post too to get you all energized. Just a few links and videos I have found that remind me just how awesome the people on our floating rock really are!

    Take care and best wishes for happy journeys!
    Captain Dutz

    • says

      Wow, thanks for sharing *YOUR* story, Derrick! We love getting to know all of you guys just as much as you’ve enjoyed getting to know us… Paper Wings is a special place.

      • says

        Hello Lora,

        You are very welcome. And I agree this is a very special place and I am glad you be a part of it. I am just glad I have had a chance to grow into the community while it’s been growing itself. I’ve gotten to watch some wonderful things happen around here and I am looking forward to what is still to come!

    • says

      Hey Derrick,

      Nice work on the personal branding! The way you package your work will mean the difference between you and someone else of comprable skill when finding work. It also shows an understanding of the larger picture.

      On that note, I really like the subtle nautical/pirate references that aren’t so overpowering (eg. “Captain’s BLOG”) that they are in your face, but at the same time develop an obvious ‘personality’ to your work and presence. And I also like how you have carried that in to your online persona as well here at PW (using references in your comments). Have you considered carrying that through to all of your collateral, including your business cards??

      I have a similar sort of brand that I work with for my professional design and development work (Steam Powered Design) that has very light steampunk references. However, I’m also toying with starting a sub-brand that is only my illustration work. I plan to have that sub-brand be much heavier with the steampunk references and quirkiness.

      I understand that it’s appropriate to maintain a bit more (but not too much) of a buttoned-up professional look for a graphic design business (hence keeping Steam Powered Design for me the way it is), so perhaps you could maintain your current presence for that line of work, and crank up the pirate references for your illustration stuff. Then you can target your clientele toward either/or, depending on what they are looking for, and neither has to feel restrained (I was having this balance problem with my work as well).

      Essentially, I want my potential illustration clients to think “wow, that looks cool, I want to be part of that” as opposed to a more minimalistic approach. One of my favourite examples of what I mean would be Meomi (, an amazing illustration/animation studio in Vancouver. They let their illustrations and ‘cute’ aesthetic dominate their brand, which has subsequently allowed them to pick up gigs such as character design for the Vancouver Winter Olympics.

      It’s something I’m going to give a shot, and I thought it may be apropos to mention for your brand as well, as our brand styles have many parallels.

      • says

        Chad, that bee’ an excellent observation!

        Great points through out and I appreciate the thorough questions throughout and complements. Here is and essential breakdown of how the Cap’n was born.

        About a year ago I was really heavy into working & designing, from scratch, my own website. Please understand, I am web-ignorant. I am simply what my logo says, an illustrator and graphic designer. I understood the basics of web after a single html class but that is far from useful in the competition of developers. But, i’m cheap. I didn’t want to pay so I went about researching and developing methods on my own. I knew that I wasn’t going to have the same bells and whistles that developer/designers would have so I wanted the site to have as much pop and personality that it could. When I got to the “About Me” page I decided to totally personalize it and have fun. Below is a link to the original drawing and photo references.

        I am an absolute fan of the pirate genre in modern entertainment, namely “Pirates of the Caribbean” as much as I love comics for entertainment, I love pirates for adventure. I also happen to look like a lost pirate sometimes. I also feel like an overgrown Disney character and my kids would probably agree to that. I thought, what better way to be memorable than to create a personality that people could enjoy and believe (in the likeness)?

        In reality. I only created him a short while before finding Paper Wings and I give this site credit for finally giving me that last bump of inspiration to create “The Captain’s BLOG”. All of the Captain’s growth has happened before the PW fan’s eyes.

        Your point about separating persona and the freelance venture is very valid. At this time, I I am looking at keeping the broadest “appearance” on my collateral so as to not alienate potential clients. I know the muscular comic character on the card seems to contradict that but comics and fantasy art have a very wide following and I might be able to land more clients with that approach. I am still very new at this and would love other opinions such as yours that I am pondering.

        I am looking forward to incorporating many of the things that I learn from yourself and the mass of Wingers to perfect my own systems and I am hoping to help others too.

        Sorry for the long email but hopefully it is helpful.

        My homepage (site still under construction):
        My “About Me” page:
        Captain Dutz art and references:
        (sorry for the goofy faces, I think it takes a character to create a character)

        Thank you for the questions and for listening!

        If you have more for me or would like to start your own conversation here is my email; IandGDbyDUTZ (at)

        Yo’ Ho’ me Maties!

        Captain Dutz!

  13. says

    Haha, thanks for the belated shout-out you two. It really made my (otherwise fairly lousy) day.

    Keep on doing what you do!

  14. says

    Thanks for sharing your story Chris, it was very insightful! And thanks to all the paper wingers who asked some great questions, I’ve never been very good at asking questions, and I always find myself thinking “how did they think to ask that?” —maybe this is a silly thought, but I’d like to hear a podcast about how to ask questions. <–should I have used a questionmark?

    -Using half-dried up sharpies- Love it! It's such a great feeling to switch tools every once in awhile, and it really helps develop a sensitivity of what you're trying to visualize. I had a professor who was always making us switch up our tools so our minds stayed fresh! I had never thought of using a half-dried up sharpie marker until you mentioned it in the interview, so I tried it yesterday, and had a blast and a half!

    In answer to the question of the day…I've found that just being involved in artist communites really helps to get more eyes on my work, and also helps me to be more social. I think it's important to be visible on a blog, twitter, facebook page, and other social media outlets, and that's something I know that I still have to work on.

    Thanks again for being Jawesome!

    • says

      I’m in the same boat, Paul! Asking questions is a skill that I have never really figured out!

      I’ve also found artistic communities to be great resources – not just for feedback and support, but also for information on events and opportunities.

    • says

      Hey guys – don’t forget the “Lightning In A Bottle” concept from the Creative Block episode.

      Questions are the exact same thing. When we wait until the opportunity to actually ASK the question, we get stuck (usually).

      So make a Wunderlist or start a Google Doc (something you can access whenever, wherever) and drop your questions in there while you’re on the go or while you’re working or whenever they pop into your head. Don’t wait for “question time” when the pressure is on to come up with brilliance. You’ll likely just get blocked.

      • says

        Hey, that’s a great idea to compile a list of questions over time…actually it seems like a no brainer…I just started using Wunderlist a few weeks ago, and after you mentioned using it for a list of questions, I did exactly that.

        Here’s a general question for anyone: Would you recommend using a smartphone/iTouch or something similar that is portable for taking notes and keeping schedules? Is that something that would be more efficient than carrying around a pad of paper in your back pocket? The plans for phones like that are a little too pricy for me, but I would consider something like an iTouch that doesn’t require a monthly plan.

        I know it’s off topic but I thought I’d ask, maybe I’ll post this on the PW FB page as well…

        • says

          We have an iTouch, and there is a note program you can use in there. Once you’re in a wi-fi spot, or back home by your computer you can always take those notes and put them into your Wunderlist.

          it works for those of us who can’t afford iPhones… ;)

          • Chris Oatley says

            But I believe Wunderlist is available for the iPod Touch and iPad so it would be more direct to just get Wunderlist. It would automatically sync every time you open the app while connected to a wireless network.

        • says

          Well, unless you’re logged in already, Chris, you can’t get into Wunderlist without a wi-fi connection. (We ran into this problem on our iPad). So it’s not *always* available on the i-devices that don’t have a data plan.

        • says

          That’s good to know, I figured there was a wunderlist app for iTouch, and probably a dozen other great apps to improve efficiency on the go. I’ve looked into iPads and other tablets, but I think I would prefer ease of storage with the smaller devices like the iTouch.

  15. says

    It`s funny, while we are on the subject of getting more eyes on your work: Jason Brubaker from ReMIND had posted an article on ” how to grow your audience.”
    It`s the first one of four articles I believe.

    I recommend people to take some time and browse through his site, because he has written a LOT of articles, how to`s and tutorials on his process in making his graphic novel. There is SO MUCH information on that site! I think people who don`t necessarily make graphic novels will also find some useful tips.

    And now I`m on it, if people are specifically into webcomic/graphic novel online stuff: what really helped me was the book: “How to make webcomics” by Scott Kurtz, Kris Straub, Dave Kellett and Brad Guigar (who`re all established webcomic creators). It doesn`t only talk about making them, but also about your expectations and mindsets. It`s realistic, but encouraging. It helped me making the decision that I wanted to do this, but also helped me get my reasons and goals straight.

    • says

      How to make webcomics is a GREAT resource! I would definitely recommend it, regardless of where you are on your creative journey. I picked it up when I already had ~7 years of webcomicking under my belt, and it still had tons to offer. Not to mention, helped me see things I had been doing wrong all those years!

    • says

      The ReMIND site is AMAZING. I love Jason. can’t wait to meet him.

      And, of course, the WW Guys are an authority. I have been wanting to read their book. Looking forward to it.

    • says

      I *love* the How to Make Webcomics book! It’s so straightforward with lots of great info. I’m interested to read the other link you posted as well. :D

  16. says

    This and the interview were great to listen to. Got to love good origin stories! :)

    I’m glad Chris went a bit into talking about grad school. I haven’t seriously seriously thought about it, but as I struggle with favoring illustration over my current work as a web developer, it has been creeping in to the back of my mind as a potential path. However, introspecting after listening to this episode, I think it is more of a very, very big solution to a problem that can be solved with infinitely less money and time. Mostly what I need is community and rigidity. I think there’s a bit of rose-coloured glasses going on when I think about ‘school’ as it conjures up memories of all-night computer lab stints with a bunch of creative people in the exact same boat as me, and how we creatively fed off of each other. And that is something that doesn’t necessarily have to come from school. I also think that I school was a way to solve my problem of structure. I’m very laissez faire in my approach to life in general, so mostly I just need a mechanism to provide structure and rigidity more than education.

    Another great point that I loved was the story about the paint box. I think that extends beyond the practical application of paying for tools instead of building them, or finding ways to cut out the unnecessary to preserve more time. It made me think – that I build a lot of metaphorical paint boxes. In fact, I think I often use the paint box itself as a way to avoid the actual project at hand. That story is a good segue into really critically thinking about what structures and support are *really* necessary when working on a project. For me, one of the biggest struggles I’ve had is having the confidence to world-build and work on projects because I feel like I’m very culturally illiterate. So, for me, my ‘paint box’ is most definitely Research. I’ve had this project that’s been sitting for years because I just keep adding notes to it whilst avoiding development on it because I’m waiting for a point when I feel like I can execute.

    This leads me to a question for Lora, because I think this may be something that I just have to learn to live with. You obviously do a lot of research for your webcomic being that it is historical, and I’ve seen your tweets about your recent trip, which seems like it’s bringing a lot more research and knowledge to you! How did you know when to stop the research part (not that you haven’t continued learning about your subject, but initially) and start working?

    I see this with myself at work, for example. My boss hates hates hates meetings, and tries to stop me from going to as many as possible, but I love going to them, because I feel the best about my work when I know as much background as possible about our product, even if that knowledge is tangential. With my personal projects, I’ve been in a ‘you need to just take in stories right now’ mode. I have a very short-term memory, so I am not as well-versed in movies and books and comics as I feel I should be (Mostly, I watch a few movies [also the same with books] a lot because that’s the way I remember them), so I have these feelings of cultural illiteracy. Additionally, the project I’ve been thinking about revolves around some science and history, so I’ve been reading about those as well. But I feel like both of these are stopping me from moving forward and have become mind- and creativity-killers.

    Basically, in very broad terms (and this goes for Chris, too), how do you prevent and/or deal with analysis paralysis?

    • says

      Chad man, WOW! This awesome!

      Ok, I know I do not have the credentials that Chris and Lora have but I would like to interject an idea to the brewing pot if I can. This really only applies to part of your problem. please remember that in project based research your goal is problem solving. When doing this type of research go into it with a specific problem or set of problems. With that mind-set you will focus your research (if disciplined) on that goal and after you solve it you will be able to comfortably step away from the research and use it. That is the real goal; use of the knowledge you have attained.

      Going into the research process requires a game plan of questions to answer so you don’t get side-tracked…I myself, have the attention span of a smmmaaaaaaallll goldfish…about 5 seconds, so I understand your plight. Have a small notepad with your questions and be decisive. Gather solutions (yes, multiple ones if you find them), write them down and cross it off or your list. Then…keep…moving…forward………paralysis only exists if you go nowhere.

      All of them stems down to knowing the end goal of your story or at least the pieces that make it work. Once you have them working then all that is left is the story…and that is the whole reason your reader is there.

      I hope this made sense and is useful. I guarantee Chris and Lora will have even bigger & better awesomeness to add.

      Take care!

    • says

      To add to the Cap’n's wise words, I’d also say don’t feel like you have to do all your research at once.

      I’m not sure if you’ve had the same experience, but when I was first developing my story, I often got caught by the idea that I had to know EVERYTHING about the world before I “had the right” to start. The problem was, once I had established the basic feel and structure of the setting, I didn’t know what would be important or not. Which meant, to my mind, EVERY detail seemed crucial!

      After weeks of wheel spinning, I realized that COMFORT with the world was more important than COMPLETION. I felt I had a good grasp of the cast, and a broad understanding of the environment, so I just took the plunge and started working. Once into the story, periodically I would find something that would need more world detail, and THEN it meant a trip to the library, but this time with a specific, focused need.

    • says

      Chad, you should go through the Strengths Finder 2.0 ASAP. I’m sure you’re a “Learner” (Lora scored high on “Learner” as well).

      And that book/ test should really help to clarify some of the purpose and power behind your “Learner” tendencies.

      And we will DEFINITELY go through the paralysis by analysis stuff in a future post!

    • says

      Hey, Chad–sorry I’m a few days late on this. I’m still recovering from my week off–and getting ready for another week away from home starting tomorrow! LOL. These four days at home before I leave again have been a whirlwind.

      As for research, it’s so tricky to get caught up and feel like you can never start. Personally, I spent about 9 months researching for The Dreamer before the first update went live. My own book has garnered a lot of recognition for being historically accurate. I tell you that not to toot my own horn, but to encourage you that research is on-going, and really, I’ve been researching the American Revolution for nearly 5 years now. The trip I got back from to Boston that you mentioned is a trip I’d been wanting to take since I started The Dreamer! But it wasn’t imperative until now. My next issue (#14 in my series) deals with the years leading up to the war, so it required a different set of characters to research and places to photograph. But I was able to make 13 issues of my story before I really needed to do that. Would I have loved to have gone to Boston 5 years ago? YES. But I spent the time and money I had available in a way that made more sense at the time.

      I don’t say that lightly, or to say that anyone should do sloppy research. It’s actually really important to me to know who/what I’m writing about, and for me, it’s paid off in the kind of recognition my story has gotten. But in all honesty, doing The Dreamer online has afforded ALL KINDS of connections with experts and biographers who have helped my research. I would never have gotten connected with them if I was just anonymously doing this on my own. The public nature of my story made those connections possible. And there are several historians and reenactors to whom I am GREATLY indebted because they answer all my crazy questions and double check my facts, etc.

      So my advice is two-fold: Do your homework! but also Get started!

      I hope that helps. :)

  17. says

    Thanks for the shout out guys, it was a greatly appreciated boost to hear today. You had me smiling all the way to work (which is quite an accomplishment)

    I also thoroughly enjoyed the interview! Loved hearing about Chris’ journey and I can totally relate to the Paintbox Incident. I literally can’t count the amount of time I have lost trying to do it all myself. Maybe it’s a sign of maturity to recognize the value of time over other things, or maybe I just finally have something I truly want to spend it on. Oh, and Chad: I’m with you, we have many of the same challenges to overcome. It’s hard, but necessary to sometimes stop cutting bait and start fishing.

    Every day I’m more glad to have found this site!

  18. says

    Wow great episode!
    I loved the fact that you spoke about your wife.
    I would really like to hear your episode about the partner that help your dreams
    But it can’t be forgotten that they have dream too

    • says

      It’s true. Lora and I were working with Alexandra Vo this morning (she was the grand-prize winner of the WACOM contest).

      Alex brought this up too – the importance of the perspective of the person supporting the artist in the relationship.

      It’s important to work together to make sure both are fulfilled in the relationship and in life.

  19. says

    Haha, Learner clocked in at #1! :)

    I quickly skimmed the ‘Ideas for Action’ from the test, and there was a ton of good stuff in there! I’m going to dig deeper into it today and can’t wait to start implementing some of them.

      • says

        Awesome! I KNEW IT! ;)

        Yeah, that book is so great because it really helps you really see your strengths AS strengths.

        I think that a lot of people (artists & writers especially) are sort of square pegs trying to fit into the round hole that they half-accidentally stumbled into.

        Sometimes people find their calling that way, but I prefer the self-aware approach.

        There are needs for all of the strengths in that book in every area of life and commerce.

        • says

          I’m still having a problem viewing my “Significance” as a strength. It sounds like a character flaw to me, any way I spin it…!

        • says

          Lora, after reading through that portion of the Strengths Finder, my interpretation of it is that it is saying you are the type of person that is able to withstand being the public face of a group, or work team, or project. While in the wrong hands this can come across as ‘ego,’ in a positive light it is more that you are willing to put your own self on the line for whatever it is you are tasked to do.

          As someone who is much more comfortable in a supporting role, I can tell you from experience that having someone with the personality traits outlined in the ‘Significance’ category in charge instills me with more confidence, which in turn allows me to do my job with greater concentration and comfort. If I really develop a good trust relationship with that sort of person, then I personally feel that they are presenting my contributions vicariously when they exercise their abilities, as though we are of one mind.

          Essentially, it’s leadership skills on steroids, with some project managerial-ness thrown in. I think the book could have handled the description much more delicately than the way they dealt with it. I agree that a cursory read may make a person with Significance seem like an attention-seeking egomaniac. But that would be the bad side of it. The good side, in simplest terms, is that it means that you are a very charismatic person, who is able to inspire others with the mere thought of your presence. Think Che Guevara.

        • says

          Wow, Chad, I’ve really been struggling with that ever since I took the test. Thank you for the kind words and (hopefully) accurate interpretation. It really gives me peace of mind. Thank you.

  20. says

    Hey guys so Chris mentioned two animation studios in Columbus one of them Hot Doughnut which I think is closed down. Do you know if either of these are still up an running and how I could contact them?

    • says

      I think HDP is closed now but Jamination is still very much in business. They’re in Grandview. Just Google them and I’m sure you can find their site and contact info.

  21. Sarah M (OwlStory) says

    This was so incredibly helpful and uplifting to me (I just listened to it tonight).

    For years, I’ve been hearing “go narrow, go where the jobs are.” It was very difficult to ignore that piece of advice, but I still followed the beginnings of a dream, and finished college in June (I get my diploma next week, hooray!). I’m a dabbler in everything (art, music, writing), so I have tried to enter a field that is open to my dabbling and love of teaching in the nontraditional classroom — museums! It was heartbreaking when my professor told our class of fifteen history majors that we don’t have a job market, then to interview two weeks later and hear the exact same thing from a history/museum professional. I guess it’s great to hear that although it’s a long journey, keeping with that journey and finding your strengths is really important.

    To also echo on the grad school note, I planned on going to grad school until my junior year of college, when I realized that grad school for my dream job (museum public programs!) means a bunch of pedagogy that isn’t as effective anymore, and that I would be spending the entire time doing research. My problem is that I have an elephant memory — I can’t forget anything, so sorting through research for me is like running computer with a full memory. Right now, with many of my peers starting grad school, it is really good to hear another person say that it is OK that I am not in grad school right now, especially as I continue job searching and creating. I’m not completely dismissing it yet, as I adore being in classrooms as a student, but just not right now.

    I’m not getting myself out there much at all (the extent is my Facebook page), which is the opposite of what I should be doing, I guess, but I also am afraid it will make my future employers think I’m not focused enough on my career path. Maybe this is why I’ve been drawing cephalopods instead of filling out job applications.

  22. says

    I don’t know if it’s too late to answer the podcast question, but the single best thing I did was sort of glaringly obvious; create a portfolio thread in various art related forums. I used to just troll art forums for jobs and email prospective clients, but little did I realize that many clients won’t even bother to put up job ads and will go straight to the portfolio threads to see if they can find an artist that suits their needs.

    Another thing that really helped was when a client who was please with my work commented on that same portfolio thread. I just numerous job offers in rapid succession. Since then I’ve made it a practice to “save up” these commendations. When I’ve completed a job in which I feel the client was very satisfied, I will ask them to kindly put a thumbs up in my comment thread right away, or reach out to them during a dry spell and ask them to comment then to help get some eyeballs on my portfolio thread.

    Hope that wasn’t too long-winded and that it helps people out!

  23. says

    Loved hearing your story, and especially your epiphany when reading the list of names at the back of the book. I try remind myself of that whenever I’m getting a little overwhelmed by big dreams: that all those people doing exciting things out there – even our heroes – are just real people, who had to start somewhere.

  24. says

    I had the same experience with graduate school but in a different way. I got my undergraduate degree in psychology because I found it easy and enjoy learning about the brain. From there I become a magician. After being a full time magician for several years I decided that I wanted to get into films. So I studied films for a semester and realized we were spending more time in a classroom reading books than making movies, so I decided to get my MBA so I could work on the business side of films… I am 2 classes away and feel I wasted my money. The good news is I keep trying new art projects and hope that something catches on.
    Thanks for sharing you story Chris.

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