Updated: Oct 20, 2020
Sometimes it is tough to be self-critical. Yet most times we are far too critical of ourselves and the creative work we produce. It is hard to look at our own work and judge what is good and what is bad. Majority of the time what we say looks bad in our own work someone else will say it looks beautiful. Being self-critical can be such a stressful thing that you may wonder why even do it. I spoke with an artist who says after she decides she is done with one of her paintings she puts it up for sale right away - she cannot look at it for too long or she spirals into a self-loathing mess. Although I understand that feeling all too well, I also understand that it is important for me to be honest with myself and look in the mirror at my flaws if I want to get better at the things that make me cringe. So I thought I would share with you a few things you can do to critique your work in an effective way to grow as an artist.
Compare your work to your photo reference
Often when I feel stuck or frustrated with my project, I have to remember to put my reference next to it to see how the things I like in the reference compare to my project. For example, if I like the eyes in my reference (maybe it’s the highlights and the color) I will take a picture of my project and then put both pictures together on my phone or anaiPad so I can see them side by side. I then circle the parts I love about the reference and I compare that same area to my own work. So if I love the color of the eyes and I look to see if I achieved that color in my work. If not, I start to decide what I need to do to get it closer to what I want it to be.
Get feedback from another person
Many times we get so wrapped up in our work that we need another perspective. Typically asking another artist will help you because they can speak the same language you understand like "increase your values or you may need to use blue in your shading to help make it more vibrant". These terms will hit you and that proverbial lightbulb comes on, and quickly you are able to jump back into your process. I do this all the time with my practice partner. I send her a picture of my current state of my project and ask her, “what do you see”. She always seems to be able to give me the exact feedback I need. If you do not have an artistic buddy available to you, don’t stop, you can get feedback from anyone. I typically ask my husband (Mr. Colorblind- yeah, I know why do I ask him??? I don’t know) for his opinion of something I am working on. Even though he knows nothing about the techniques or colors needed, he does tell me what he sees that that looks odd to him, suggests what I might add or change to fix it. His perspective is helpful even though he doesn't know what to say to help me fix it, but he helps me see oddities from his perspective and that sets me off in a direction of knowing what I need to fix.
Use a checklist of the goals you want to achieve
Starting each project with a goal checklist can be helpful and keep you from spiraling out of control over small things. Before starting your project, write on the top of your scrap paper your goals. Mine might look like this; 1) Good Contrast, 2) Good Color Balance, and 3) Have Crisp Clean Lines, etc. You now have made your goals for this project. You know you are done or that you have done a good job when you achieve each of the goals. It takes all the drama out of knowing when you are done or feeling like you need to keep adding more. Once you achieve your goal list you can feel confident that your project is done.
See your work from a different lens
What I mean is that you need to trick your brain to see it from a different angle. There are a couple of ways to do this. I take a break from my work. I will literally walk away from it and sometimes I don’t come back for 30 minutes or I don’t look at it again until the next day. Then when I look at it again, I see things that I didn't notice before. I also take pictures throughout the process of my coloring. The weird thing is when I look at my work on my phone it looks very different and I immediately see things I don’t see with it right here in front of my face.
Compare your current work to your older work
Looking for progress it is great and in the same vain you can see the issues you still want to work on when you compare your older work to what you are working on today. I typically post all my projects on social media; it created a neat little gallery of my projects in one spot than spans a couple of years. I scroll back through the work I did the previous year and compare similar work I am currently working on. I do enjoy seeing the progress. What I really look for is what has not gotten better or what I want to improve on. I used to cringe every time I looked at my old work, especially the hair so I decided to face it and take a couple of weeks to just work on hair. I did improve but it all started because of looking back at my work all at once to help me see what I wanted to improve upon.
There are so many ways to focus your self-critiques to be effective. I know self-critiques are scary for most of us because who really wants to stare at themselves in the mirror to point out all their flaws. You are right it is difficult to do, but what I will say is the reward of seeing how you have improved is well worth the frustration in the beginning. I am sure you have seen the before and after artist posts out there in social media. What each one of them demonstrates is that facing your flaws head on will take you to confident place where you can produce amazing work.
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Do you struggle to get dimension in your coloring? Is it flat no matter what you seem to do? Do you create a base layer of color before you color an image. Join us in the Practice Corner for the month of August as we guide you though practicing coloring for depth and dimension.
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