How to critique yourself

Dear Artist, Yesterday, Michelle Lonsdale wrote, “I’m currently in my second year studying Fine Arts at a university. I’m working on a research assignment investigating artists’ self-critiquing methods. What thoughts, beliefs or rituals do you use while critiquing your work?” Thanks, Michelle. Your question is such a valuable one. With all the current running off to get things juried and critiqued by others, self-critiquing might seem an unpopular sport. It isn’t. The acquired ability to critique oneself is the fuse of great art and the silver bullet of the pros. While all artists work differently, here are a few thoughts: Quality develops when the artist and the critic are honed into a functioning co-op within the same skull. The “ritual” is to pry the artist away from the critic. The artist can be flamboyant, egocentric and prejudiced. The critic needs to be patient, humble and strict. A split personality may be the price you have to pay to see your work through fresh, unsullied eyes. The operation doesn’t hurt — much. Divorcing yourself from the preciousness of your efforts and seeing your work as it really is takes time and mileage. This means “alone time” in your working area. I’m sorry, but my observation has been that no quality work or strong direction will arise in environments where consultants are readily available. On the other hand, a valuable ploy is to constantly upgrade and rethink standards of excellence, most often done through books and other media. This doesn’t mean your style will be influenced by the exposure, but rather you may improve by association with those you admire. “You’re only as good as the company you keep,” goes the time-honoured expression. The mere act of holding onto great works or seeing them in museums magically transfers a sense of timelessness and creative soul. Fact is, you will not generally improve by misguided staring at your own efforts. Not surprisingly, when you switch from creation mode to critique mode, you tend to lose the magic of inspiration and substitute a more pedestrian, mechanical approach. A checklist is valuable. In serious sobriety you need to write and follow your own list. I use a series of varying questions: Meaningful subject? Strong patterns? Middle tones? Interlocking gradations? General gradations? Echoing shapes? Flowing design? Alluring counterpoint? Lost and found? Focal point? Big and small? Overall simplicity? Complex shapes? Visual depth? Interesting surface? Arial perspective? Sophisticated colour? Natural believability? What could be? Best regards, Robert PS: “Think of and look at your work as though it were done by your enemy. If you look at it to admire it, you are lost.” (Samuel Butler) Esoterica: Critical intuition can also be enhanced by minor substance abuse. Cigars and Scotch have been my traditional choices. Since giving up smoking, I’ve begun to note the critical value of alcohol. “In vino veritas” (In wine there is truth), said Plato. More recently, I’ve been stalking errors by merely putting on another hat. Right now I’m using an Australian Akubra that makes me feel like an antipodean crocodile wrestler. On and off it goes, sometimes several times an hour.   Disappointing list by M Frances Stilwell, Corvallis, OR, USA  

“Incoming Storm over Hayfield”
pastel drawing
by M Frances Stilwell

Your list is a little disappointing to me as I don’t know what so many of those things are. Alluring counterpoint, interlocking and general gradations, interesting surface are the biggies. Are these words synonyms for old measures or are they new ideas for how to make your artwork better? i.e. for sure now, do I need to go to art school? (RG note) Thanks, Frances, and others who asked the same question. If you go to art school you might not always hear about some of those things I mentioned. “Alluring counterpoint” is where there is a small amount of jumpy detail or “grace notes” that give a secondary area of interest without destroying the power of the whole. I often try for at least one area of AC. “Interlocking gradations” are smaller gradations or blends laid side by side or juxtaposed. They give added, often abstract, interest and mystery to otherwise ordinary subjects. General gradations are gradations or blends in a large area such as sky, water or the general base of an abstract, etc. Interposed with “flats” these general gradations go a long way toward strengthening compositions (also helping areas to “sit up” or “lie down”) and holding the eye. “Interesting surfaces” means texture, shine (final varnish) and evidence of the human hand at work. In my case I like an even, “handmade” look, not too artificially rough, not too slickly smooth. Inconsequential though these concerns might seem, they all contribute to a work’s visual “stickyness.” In the pursuit of making your own work unique, I should emphasize that while your list may have parts of other artists’ lists, your list needs to be your own list. There is 1 comment for Disappointing list by M Frances Stilwell
From: Liz Au — Nov 27, 2011

I like your suggested checklist and explanation of some of the terms. I think we have to critique our own art like you said, be both artist and critic for the artist. Then we will do better and better art. I am never fully satisfied with my art work and want to improve! Thank you, Robert!

  Lessons for life in making art by Alan Soffer, Wallingford, PA, USA  

“Oh my”
acrylic painting, 48 x 46 inches
by Alan Soffer

The fact is we have to be analytical at some point in the process, most importantly at the concluding stages. I say stages, as each time we rethink and make additions and corrections the work is off in another direction which can be quite trying, resulting in the removal of our favorite bits of gorgeousness sometimes. The willingness to do this for the greater good of the whole painting is a lesson in life as well. One could even say a lesson for our fragile, single-minded politicians, who rarely are self-critical. I always push the idea that we have to overcome our weaknesses to move forward in this world and especially in the world of art.   There are 2 comments for Lessons for life in making art by Alan Soffer
From: Mishcka — Nov 22, 2011

Beautiful painting

From: Gayle — Dec 09, 2011

I love this painting. Truly beautiful! (and I don’t even like pink)

  The Kitchen Test by Peter Brown, Oakland, CA, USA  

original painting
by Peter Brown

The test for me is in my kitchen. I make a piece. I hang it in my kitchen. Now, I see it every day. I see it in the morning and in the evening. I watch the light change on the art. If my piece does not hold up, I change it. Before this painting leaves the kitchen, I already know how to fix it. This is a good suggestion for all painters. Have a place to look at your work that is far away from your studio. Live with it. Who are you to say it is done? I call this the Kitchen Test. What I learned from my painting students was that they spent way too much time looking, and very little time painting. I have about twenty paintings that are not finished. I am looking at some of these paintings in my kitchen. When I have made quite a few decisions, I paint. This does not take much time. What takes the time is the indecision. The seeing and deciding. Decide, then paint.   Time reveals everything by Marlien van Heerden, Pretoria, South Africa  

original painting
by Marlien van Heerden

I can only live with one of my paintings, a watercolor, one of my first paintings. For the rest I am constantly pulling it apart in my mind. I am seldom happy with a painting when I am done. Never quite what I intended. After a few days I can start appreciating it or not be able to stand it. Someone said painting is a series of corrections; the challenge is to know when to stop. I like to think it is the process of fitting in the pieces, until you can recognize the idea, then stop, and leave the rest for the imagination. Painting is a ritual of play and critique/evaluation. When I live with a painting I want to keep on changing it. When I see one after a couple of years I am surprised at things that happened (almost as if I had no hand in it), or surprised that I never noticed the obvious ‘mistakes.’ I think an artist and critic is unable to part, although your view gets obscured with the corrections in your mind. (You will simply not recognize an arm out of proportion, like reading a letter with a missing e.) Time makes it possible to see your own work objectively. There are 3 comments for Time reveals everything by Marlien van Heerden
From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Nov 22, 2011

This is such a wonderful painting. I reveled in it. Then I wondered how these fellows end up sitting on committees.

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Nov 22, 2011

spelling correction…I guess it is “revelled”.

From: Patsy, Antrim — Nov 22, 2011

“Reveled” is American and “revelled” is English, so you’re right both times, Susan. ;-)

  We are the best judge by Adrienne Moore, Vancouver, BC, Canada  

mixed media painting
by Adrienne Moore

Six or seven of us artists have been meeting once every two weeks to draw or paint the figure with a live model. We use coffee break time to bring in a work-in-progress or finished work and the group does an impromptu critique. It seemed to bind us together as the critiques are always aimed in a very positive way. Sometimes we differed in opinions so radically on a work. That is where the solitary artist comes in as we start to look well at our own work. Alone we can include far more meaningful trust into what we have endeavored to paint. Our intuition determines what we were trying to say in this painting/to move armed with conviction that we made the right choice. If I am in doubt I usually put the painting up near the fridge because the first look in the morning is so important. At once what looked like a great piece in the studio the night before fades before dawn looking like it has more than a few problems. Sometimes a work that has been lingering too long on my studio wall can be revitalized to be a very exciting piece. I know that we can pay to have critiques done, but as a practicing artist for many years, the ultimate test is when we allow ourselves to be the best judges of our own work and, if we are not fooling ourselves, we will know with experience when a painting works well. There is 1 comment for We are the best judge by Adrienne Moore
From: Marney Ward — Nov 21, 2011

Love the painting!

  The artist’s vital questions by Scott Kahn, NY, USA  

“Griswold Point December”
oil painting, 30 x 36 inches
by Scott Kahn

Students must look to artists they admire for ‘guidance.’ The trouble with this is that the student often ends up admiring to the point of appropriating certain elements of the artist they admire and ultimately the work looks derivative. It takes a conscious effort, as one matures as an artist, to throw off derivative elements in one’s work. Once that realization is lodged into an artist’s working framework, it seems to me it’s more of a dialogue with oneself than a ‘critique’ of oneself. It’s a symbiotic process where as the work unfolds, it reveals itself and we have a discussion with ourselves as to what needs to be done next. That happens when the dialogue ceases. All the things you suggest an artist ask along the way are academic, superficial considerations. What the artist should really be asking is, “Am I being honest? Am I being myself? Am I searching for the truth? Am I reporting my experience of life and the world as I see and experience it?” It is an interior dialogue that fundamentally has nothing to do with design, color, composition, gradations, shapes, perspective, etc. Those considerations rely on preconceived notions and rules which are antithetical to the creative process. There are 3 comments for The artist’s vital questions by Scott Kahn
From: Mishcka — Nov 21, 2011

You are so right! And your work is so wonderful. An extraordinary painting.

From: Anonymous — Nov 22, 2011

Your painting says it all…so lovely and unique.

From: Tatjana — Nov 22, 2011

Great advise, much appreciated.

  Add to the list by Louise Francke, NC, USA   I might just add a few things I do to your good list:

original painting
by Louise Francke

1. Take a jpeg into the computer and Photoshop. There reverse it, turn it upside down and turn it all around, work with brightness, contrast, color manipulation, etc. 2. Pay attention to the corners. Are they handled as well as where your main focus is? 3. I have blurry lenses I put on to remove myself from the subject and just see how the color is either working or not working. Without attention to the subject and lines, it helps to see how the painting flows. I used them on this impromptu watercolor sketch of rocks out back. When taking into oil, I dealt with the thick lines giving them more character which isn’t in this sketch. Prepare ahead on limited materials to take into field — found I was missing much and had to improvise. 4. While working, I turn the painting around to see where weaknesses are. 5. Time helps one deal rationally. Turn the painting to the wall for 3-5 days and then come back for an unbiased viewing. There is 1 comment for Add to the list by Louise Francke
From: ALAN SOFFER — Nov 22, 2011

You must be a great teacher. I have done and continue doing lots of these ideas. Please keep in touch. Alan Soffer;

  Blueprint for a self-critique by Linda Anderson, Victoria, BC, Canada   I created a form for myself to help with the planning and critique through the process and after the painting is deemed finished. It also allows me to get in the thought space when I started, if I have had to leave it for any length of time. Steps For Creating a Painting and Providing a Blueprint for a Self-Critique Fill in this form for every picture in the planning stages so you will have a record of your original intent and the mood you wanted to convey. When the painting is finished take this form and step by step see if you fulfilled your original plan. If your center of interest changed while in the process, then your color perspective or linear perspective may have changed as well. What is it about this subject you want to focus on? What do you want the viewer to experience? What will be your center of interest? Decide on palette or color scheme: Dominant color: Will this make your painting Warm or Cool? Your complementary color (or colors) will be? Composition — Find a Rhythm — Divide spaces into Darks: Mid-tones: Lights: Think Gallon, Quart & Pint for your proportions. Do several thumbnail sketches to determine if your choices work. The center of interest can be created with: Highest value contrast : Area of most detail : Converging lines The most exciting paintings are those with high contrast. To create this is a challenge in watercolor — work with grays (neutrals and semi-neutrals) and luminous darks. Painting in layers instead of always premixing washes in watercolors will get you more intensity in your colors because less water is generally used. Areas of Concern: The Foreground invites the viewer in and leads the eye to the focal point. The Middle Ground usually contains the center of interest or destination for the viewer’s eye. The Background shapes and emphasizes the pictorial depth. Three things to be concerned with: 1.The shape chosen to interpret the subject. 2.The color or value entrusted to these shapes. 3.The treatment of the edges where these shapes join. Symmetrical shapes: 1.A good shape is longer in one dimension. 2.Avoid perfect circles or squares or triangles. >3.A good shape has gradation. 4.A good shape is interlocked with its neighbor. 5.A good shape has a variety of edge treatments. 6.A good shape allows passage to the next shape. Patterns for good compositions: 1.A piece of dark value in lighter values. 2.A piece of light value in darker values. 3.A small light area and a large dark area in mid tones. 4.A small dark area and a large light area in mid tones. 5.Gradation, Dark to Light and Light to Dark 6.An all-over pattern. There are 3 comments for Blueprint for a self-critique by Linda Anderson
From: Jim Oberst — Nov 22, 2011

Great list, Linda. Also a good list to keep in mind while painting, though it’s awfully hard to think about all this stuff as you go.

From: Rose — Nov 22, 2011

Thank you for all this info…

From: Liz Reday — Nov 26, 2011

This is very articulate, however, painting is way more visual for me. Unless these things are processed intuitively while I paint, they would just be left brain mind spin after the fact. Whenever I try to analyze my work using those methods, all is forgotten the minute I pick up the brush again and re-commence painting.

  Critique sheets by Joanne Gervais, Kingston, ON, Canada  

“Fishing & Hockey Can’t Get Better Than This!”
original painting
by Joanne Gervais

I use “Critique Sheets” to assist a portrait and figure drawing and painting group that I facilitate. The sheets are not intended to limit the freedom that can be found in creating artwork with great abandon, but are more there to remind us the artists that some of these elements can assist in creating stronger works of art. They are to be used like a tool such as a paintbrush and charcoal. You choose the support, media, techniques, subject and also choose to select or ignore time honored artistic elements such as focal points, movement, etc. The ability to critique one’s work, as well as other artists’, is a talent in itself requiring both courage and skill. Critiquing work is mostly ignored today for fear of limiting artistic freedom. If work were critiqued with a deliberate eye for strong artistic elements, there would be less inferior work. Cross off any elements that are not relevant and add any that are. ELEMENTS Excellent Average Weak Juror comments DESIGN: Balance Use of Line Use of Mass Shapes Positive Space Negative Space COLOUR: Hue Intensity Value Appropriateness CONTRAST: Value scale Light/Darkness EDGES: Hard Soft Lost Transition FOCAL POINT: Main Secondary Movement FORM: Proportion Accuracy HARMONY: Rhythm Unity TEXTURE: Range, Contrast Manipulation Imitative PERSPECTIVE: Atmospheric Spatial Linear UNIQUENESS: Originality Evocativeness Overall Technical Proficiency FINISHING: Edges Varnishing Framing Back    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for How to critique yourself

From: Lynne Hurd Bryant — Nov 17, 2011

Part of being able to critique oneself is detachment. It is very easy to get caught in the “masterpiece syndrome” and to invest too heavily in your work from an emotional standpoint. For me, the critique is from start to finish. It is looking critically at the subject and composition. I spend a great deal of time on this, judging value and color to make the strongest impact I can. After that, it is easy. The painting, mixing color, applying paint is easy for me, effortless and extremely pleasurable, so much so, I lose myself in the process. That is not entirely correct, I give myself over entirely without a single thought to the finished product, and so begins my detachment. I am a process painter and the only thing about a painting that interests me is the process. Once it is done, it is no longer my “baby” and my emotional investment is over. At that point, I can look critically at elements of the painting and do it with a fresh eye. I am so zoned in my process that 24 hrs after completing a painting, I don’t remember much of the process and I am free to look for my mistakes, which are obvious to me. Critique then becomes an academic pursuit, going over what I know to be correct, versus what is not correct in my work, and making plans for future pieces, learning from my own errors.

From: Charles Peck — Nov 18, 2011

Robert, This is something I see-saw on constantly. When doing commission work I pour the critique on heavy but these last few years for my private stuff I have modified self-critique to the degree that I allow myself the room to operate more playfully or with less directive critique. I suppose another way of trying to say what I mean here is that I just set a piece of work down and get after another figuring the “path” or trajectory of many pieces is what creates new mind space for me. That I’ll find a freshness if I don’t worry it to death. Just carry the flow forward trusting my instincts which include my naturally harsh appraisals of work already done. It seems to be paying off lately though the “path” is an unending involvement. I see things in the last piece I will include/alter/add in my next work hopefully without clogging my awareness with tricks…with any good fortune. I am striving for a more natural and personal expression in what ever way it may appear and do not attempt to make something ready for show anymore. Well, unless it is a commissioned piece of course. I suppose in a way I have removed myself from the Art Market and am enjoying a more personal way these days when not doing murals, etc. Of course removing myself from the Art Market was rather easy in these times (around here anyway) since the market seems to have evaporated anyway. I haven’t even tried galleries for years now. Plein air work has been such a natural thing to follow…now and then one sells off the easel. Minimalistic life style with the freedom to not bother with the gallery game has been liberating. I think when one is ready to commit to just squeezing the tube and painting with full intention one finds that is all one needs for growth to occur. But how this would work without decades of concentrated immersion in painting I have no clue. I don’t know what others think about my path but then that is not my concern either. I suppose I could upload some of the new stuff and find out…I will get around to it. charles peck…

From: Tommy Thompson — Nov 18, 2011
From: Sarah — Nov 18, 2011

I frequently use a mirror to look at my work in the reflection. This helps me see problem spots. Also, taking a photo of my work helps me to see my work at a more removed viewpoint. I try to not make hard and fast decisions about each piece for at least a week. I let the work rest, put it away or turn it to the wall and come back later with fresh eyes. Hope these tips help in your self critique.

From: Nina Allen Freeman — Nov 18, 2011

I agree with you on the value of looking at great works of art in books and museums. I learn from looking at art on the web as well as visiting galleries and museums. I learned a lot about painting light and shadow from John Singer Sargent. Last summer in Milwalkee, I saw some amazing contempory artists’ work that made me rethink texture in my work. Constantly learning and growing is part of my self-critique method.

From: John Ferrie — Nov 18, 2011

Dear Robert, This can be why being in school can be a good thing. This is where you build your voice of reason. You bond with other students and follow along their journey, as they follow yours. Sometimes other students can be the best guide for your work. Instructors have their voice too, but another student is your pier. Starting with a sketch book is the best way to begin a piece of art. Scribbling down how you came to the conclusion and what you want to communicate as an artist is so important. Artists need to resolve to the fact that 90% of the population, won’t like their work. Nor is everything going to be a masterpiece. Working beyond what you know is crucial for being truly creative. I remember in art school at a critique one fellow student kept doing the same dull figure work. The thing about it was she drew the ribs going the wrong way and because she claimed to not be able to draw hands of feet, she didn’t add those either. After a semester of looking at these ridiculous figure images, I told her she needed to actually take an anatomical drawing class and learn more about this subject if that was the direction she was going in. She got very upset and said I was mean for saying what I said. I just shook my head and said I was only a fellow student and we were both on the same page. If she didn’t like what I said, good luck with a real critic. I hear what people say about my work all the time now. The best critique for me, is when people buy something. John Ferrie

From: Frederick Winston — Nov 18, 2011

Robert, you hit the nail on the head with this one. Self critiquing is a major issue for most painters. And, I have to admit that my self critiquing skills are not as solid as I would wish them to be. Art chatroom friends supplement my critiquing and frequently help me notch my works up a level. And, I find that when I take digital pictures of my work, and download them, I can often see where I need to make changes. My greatest enemy is my “rush for glory”. When I finish a work, I fall in love with it and am excited by it, and I throw it up on my webpage, and show it to my family- and a day or so later I come to regret my premature actions. My best ally is time. When I put a painting away and return to it six months later, its as if I never painted it. Experience has taught me that my end game is insufficient. I lack the vision of needed to adequately finish my works. When I take earlier painting that I haven’t looked at in while, I see it with fresh eyes. In most cases a few minutes of intuitive brushwork, gives it its finishing sparkle.

From: Tatjana — Nov 18, 2011

Frederic, I hear you. I am also always in perpetual rush to get there before I get there. I think it’s a matter of temperament and in some cases it will do good for you. We just have to learn to weight the risks. In any case your friends will love you the way you are, and you collectors will love your uniqueness as well.

From: Liz Nees — Nov 18, 2011

When I reached a “stopping point” while painting, coming out of that trance, I would light a cigarette, sit back and look at my work. I quit smoking a year and a half ago. God I miss it.

From: Rich Moyers — Nov 18, 2011

Your VERY “insightful” and delightful musings continue to shine a light beyond our artistic cobwebs….Thank You!

From: Katherine Harris — Nov 18, 2011

I would change the list instead of the last suggestion- “Look at your art as though it were done by the artist you most admire.” A lot of us don’t have worst enemies, luckily–at least that’s what I think. We might have jealous friend artists, but is that an enemy? Is that what you mean?

From: Joseph Jahn — Nov 18, 2011

I find that some of your list has become unconscious for me over the years, it’s good to see them enunciated. For myself the self critique is unconscious. I work and work on a piece and then say *it must be done*. I leave the work on the easel for a number of days, sometimes weeks and view it at all times of day, and all distances, most critically in the morning when I’m not in the mode for art at all. If the work retains it’s original *snap* I’ll consider it complete, and place it against the wall. Sometime later in the month, after completing other works, I’ll turn the work under consideration around and set it next to one that I am 100% sure makes the grade. If it holds up to the other work then I’ll sign it and forget it. I do work from a list in my head. Elegance Balance Snap The best at this moment in time.

From: Gins V. O. Doolittle — Nov 18, 2011

Criticism and Judgment. You hear it in the gallery. You hear it at home. Everything is subject to it. Starts in school. We get graded and soon learn, that is a proper profession — grading. And when it comes to Art, every piece gets it. Judgment Day. Go to a Gallery and listen to the speech inside the heads of “visitors”; the viewer looks, an opinion forms, instantly its onto the next. The minute judgment strikes, interest is lost, move on! You enter the contest to get art judged. You ask for an opinion to get art critiqued. Which way is right, easier, better, quicker? Who does it best? How much of it is instinct? How much is educated or talent? How do you know, they know what they are doing any way? You be the judge, be the critique of self. There’s always a time when one will stump you! Interest is not lost, the mind is glued in its view. “don’t know what it is about this piece….” And a description arises out of nowhere, maybe from the heart.

From: Kasey Harrington — Nov 18, 2011

Is it finished yet? When I’m teetering on the edge of overworking a painting and constructive improvement, I have found that taking a photo of the piece in question, then downloading it into my iPhoto really helps. There is something about viewing it on a screen that creates necessary separation and instantly points out what needs addressing.

From: Casey Craig — Nov 18, 2011

One tool I have found invaluable in critiquing my work is to not look at it much for a few days. Once I think I’m finished I’ll put it facing a wall or in the corner of the studio where I won’t really see it. Then when I pull it out again I bring it into the living room where I can walk quite a distance away from it and see it with fresh eyes. This helps me see if it reads as well from a distance. Also looking at it in the mirror and upside down and finally when I photograph it and look at it on the computer. All of these tools help me see things that I wouldn’t if I was looking at it constantly from arm’s length.

From: Anne Bar — Nov 18, 2011

I found this article very interesting and useful. I am a relatively new ‘artist’ painting just over 2 years. Before I knew enough to ask myself some of the questions that you pointed out, I would ask myself one simple question-and still do: “Is it frame worthy?” For some reason, that one question inspires me to better critique my work honestly-of course, I am finding that the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know.

From: Marilyn Bonnett — Nov 18, 2011

Answering to the self critique, I sometimes use a red cellophane sqare, the quilters use to look at my finished painting, it shows the distribution of lights, darks and mid-tones. It is just a tool, but when you do not have contrast, it shows up!!!

From: Edna V. Hildebrandt — Nov 18, 2011

Sometimes I am so engrossed on my own work and forget to think how it will appeal to an onlooker. Sometimes I fail to consider various considerations that make a work more believable like color values and hues,depth of field and making a figure three dimensional. Shading is also a problem of mine. I will take more time to really look on my work to improve it and to know when to stop.

From: Sharon Wolff — Nov 18, 2011

Your insight and experience have helped me over the years be a better gallery and gallery owner too! Thank you.

From: Linda Anderson Stewart — Nov 18, 2011

I have always found that my best work is the one I am working on right now! The rest are just a lead up….lessons…they never stop. Preciousness is not allowed.

From: Annette Waterbeek — Nov 18, 2011

The judging of a work.. Fine Art Once an artist reaches a place, self critique is very valuable – if other thoughts are put in to the mix it can disrupt the direction. Helpers should not take offence to this as it is nothing personal just…another way an Artist individually grows ( i.e. vaulted efforts) Graphic Art The Judging of the work lies in the hands of who is paying the dollars.

From: Diana Wakely — Nov 18, 2011

I always pass on to my students is when in doubt of what you are painting hold it up to a mirror. Any wrong values, composition etc. will pop right out at you.

From: John F. Burk — Nov 18, 2011

I like your critique list items and will incorporate them into my own gaze. I also like your choice of quote. Prosper. If you don’t share our Thanksgiving, find a lot to be thankful for anyway.

From: Carol A. McIntyre — Nov 18, 2011

I have a sign in my studio that says/asks, “Where is your 50ft voice?” When critiquing myself, I also ask, “Why are you painting this? What are you trying to say? Who are you painting it for?” All of these assist me in being a little more objective as I assess my creation. Does this help?

From: Bernt Grabel — Nov 18, 2011

Sometimes while painting, I find myself giving up, saying, I can’t do anything with this. It’s a forlorn feeling. Later– since I mostly paint en plein air– back in the studio, I’ll look at the work with more distance, and see it for what it is– or come as close to that as I’m able. About a third of the time I find myself satisfied, and I’m surprised. The other two thirds get wiped down, or tossed, after a few days of trying to figure out what went wrong. (Usually I find that the problem is in the process, and can isolate it, at least in general terms. That’s as good a critique as I can do on my own.)

From: Susan Elliott — Nov 19, 2011

I have never had any formal art training and I find your newsletter a continued source of support and education for my artwork. Because I lack formal training, I was not aware of the some of the definitions of words in your self-critique questions. Could you recommend a good source for me to study so I can better understand terms such as interlocking gradations and alluring couterpoint? From one person who is very grateful for your bi-weekly gift , Susan Elliott

From: Jackie Knott — Nov 19, 2011

Normally I’m not so specific as to actually verbalize criteria. It’s more an intuitive thing coming back to one place or problem area. “Something’s not quite right there.” Distance is my biggest help. Two feet from the canvas it may look fine – twenty feet away, “Oh, dear!” A mirror is useful, different light. Values are my personal continuous struggle and taking a photo of the painting and taking it to grayscale on my computer gives me some glaring insight. The only real question I ask myself is, “What would make this a better painting?” Don’t ever become satisfied.

From: Bayberry L Shah — Nov 19, 2011
From: Jon Rader Jarvis — Nov 20, 2011

Self criticism is as important for the individual artist as critiques are for classrooms and workshops. The trick is to take your ego out of the process or so manipulate your viewpoint perspective, that you are not yourself. One mentor told me ‘students don’t squint enough’. Looking at your work from a distance is best 20′ to 40′ can simplify forms and colors. If you don’t have a large studio you can squint, you will be left with large graphic forms and see colors reduced in intensity. Another viewpoint change might be to look at the work upside down. Do the abstract positive and negative shapes work? Next there is another viewpoint modifier — look at the work in a mirror. Does it still hold together? Is there a negative or worse — positive difference? Finally there is the image manipulation possible in contemporary paint programs. High Tech. solutions can make a positive contribution. These can change your viewpoint and add a little objectivity to a subjective process. The easy answer is ‘imagination’ use the tools you have to improve your ability to self-critique. To improve and progress in your work, you need to do it well.

From: N. Birdechevsky — Nov 20, 2011

I think the self criticism part of art making involves a slip into a zone of complete honesty. One does this best when alone. With others present there can be a sense of bravado, show off, and talking up faults. Take the work to a private room and be honest.

From: Barbara Struber — Nov 21, 2011

I find that turning a piece to the wall and ignoring it for a few days does wonders. Suddenly, it seems the next step is obvious.

From: Gary Barr — Nov 21, 2011

you gave up smoking: fine, but that leaves the single malt…and begs the question: is there any problem single malt can’t help?

From: Linda Mercer — Nov 21, 2011

An instructor I once had said “Skill follows perception”. In other words, as you better perceive your work, and indeed the world around you, your skill will increase accordingly.

From: Leslie Edwards Huméz — Nov 21, 2011

Every hour presents a check point in the life a sculpture, but nothing is more important than the one and only list I use just before my work moves out the door. And “lucky me” that list only has one box: … Is it museum quality? This is not to say that I feel any sort of smug assurance that buyers will beat a path to my door. Rather, it speaks to a confident degree of readiness. It guarantees that my work has been approved by my own worst critic ;-) and so well executed that even a discriminating observer will find no flaws. It’s a good place to begin. Current annual juried show:Valley Art Center, Chagrin Falls, Ohio

From: Rosemarie Caffarelli — Nov 21, 2011

I save every one of these and have learned so much. Keep them coming.

From: Jean W. Morey — Nov 22, 2011

That was such a wonderful way to start my day! Thank You!

From: Ralph Papa — Nov 22, 2011

Wonderful and meaningful presentation!

From: Dean Wilson — Nov 22, 2011

Read the article and watched the film @ 5:30am; perfect time for a new perspective. Thanks.

From: Brenda Estill — Nov 22, 2011

This is what it’s all about. Every day I look up. No matter the weather or my mood or daily issues, and I say “Thank you for today”. It is the most healing thing one can do on a daily basis.

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, T — Nov 22, 2011

Like Kasey Harrington who asked, “Is it finished yet?” I ask, “Am I there, yet?” Can’t say I ever know exactly where I am headed, but I sure know when I get there. By the way, those lists??!! Left brain trying to take over the right? Good grief!

From: Mary L. — Nov 22, 2011

What a wonderful few minutes this is. Thank you so much!

From: Patty Oates — Nov 22, 2011

Absolutely Beautiful! Gratitude is something that has become more and more important and meaningful in my life as I grow old. I have learned to write about the things for which I am grateful each day, and it has changed my attitude about life in general.

From: Hilda — Nov 27, 2011

What a true blessing this video is….thank you, it woke me up to so much I had just unintentionaly missed.

     Featured Workshop: Robbie Laird
112211_robert-genn Robbie Laird Workshops   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order. 

Red Orange Abstract

reverse painting on plexiglass, 22 x 28 inches by Sue Ennis, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

  You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes Claire Remsberg of McCall, ID, USA, who wrote, “I am at times too hard a self-critic (self-deprecating to an extreme) and at other times too giddy with excitement at a newly finished piece or direction that I fail to notice major shortcomings.”    

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

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