I attended CTN for the first time this year, representing Sheridan College. Because of that, I was pretty much tied to Sheridan's table in the exhibition hall. I didn't attend any of the presentations or screenings, though I did get to walk around the exhibition hall several times. The observations that follow all relate to that.
There were hardware and software vendors there, like Wacom and Zbrush. There were schools of various types offering formal and informal education. There were book dealers like Focal Press and Stuart Ng. However, the vast majority of exhibitors were artists selling their work in the form of prints, sketchbooks and collections.
The quality of work was exceptionally high and the love of drawing was visible everywhere. It would have been easy to spend thousands of dollars on artwork and have years of inspiration as a result.
However, it struck me that the exhibition hall was like a farmer's market where the only people buying were other farmers. It puzzled me that the exhibiting artists were not creating work that would appeal to a wider audience than just other artists.
I regularly attend the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF). The people exhibiting there sell comics and graphic novels. Their audience certainly includes artists, but the majority of people who attend are the general public. The work there is something that average people, not people in the art field, might buy for themselves or purchase as a gift.
This is the case even though the average quality of the artwork is below what I saw at CTN.
Similarly, I've just found the Zen Pencils site. Gavin Aung Than illustrates quotes from other people about various aspects of life. While I admire his work, once again it's fair to say that his draftsmanship is below the CTN standard.
Yet at TCAF and Zen Pencils, the artists are reaching a broader audience. The reason is that they are creating content, not simply demonstrating craft. There's a difference between designing a character and creating a character. While the CTN folks are great at design, a sketchbook or print lacks the narrative structure that an audience is looking for.
The artists at CTN love drawing and are good at it. But in only talking to other artists, they're limiting their sales. Why aren't they creating childrens books, comics, graphic novels and greeting cards that would show off their art as effectively as their sketchbooks, but also sell to a general audience?
Zen Pencils shows that you don't even have to be able to write, just recognize writing that has a meaningful perspective on life. It also shows that cartooning, not just realistic illustration, can deal with subject matter that's relevant to adult lives.
I don't doubt that the artists at CTN would love to see drawn animation come back. By just selling to other artists, they're doing nothing to make that happen. Only when a property catches with the larger audience will producers take note. Only when the audience is surrounded by drawings that entertain and enlighten them will there be a demand for drawn animated features.
As Chuck Jones once said, "All of us must eventually do what the matador does: go out and face not only the bull but the crowd." The talent at CTN should seek out the crowd.