Critiquing our work is a way to grow as artists and to improve our paintings.
When we work solo on a piece, sometimes questions come up which confuse us. We may become confused about what is missing or what is too much in the painting. We may not be able to decide if we are truly “done” with the painting. Being with your canvas for several hours sometimes makes us blind to ways we can improve it. For this reason, it is helpful to get opinions from other painters, painters whom you respect and whose work you admire.
Join an art group or club
I often take paintings to my art group. As a group, we coordinate weekly plein air locations and meet up in the locations to paint. We also have monthly “critique sessions.” To these sessions, most of us bring one or more paintings. These are usually works in progress. Each artist gets time in front of the group to show our painting, and begin the discussion about it. Usually there are many comments in a critique; some you may not find useful. One needs to filter out what is relevant to your own style and purpose. Often, I find among the comments some real gems to help me see what is still needed. Ever since my times as a student taking college art classes, I have had my work “critiqued”, so I have long since learned not take the comments personally. It is just another way to get feedback from those in the same profession.
Painting is work, to be sure, but to remain receptive to feedback we each need to remain friendly and in good spirits. A successful art critique group session, in my view, is one where the participants have fun.
How an Art Critique can work
When you evaluate the paintings of your fellow artists, you need to go gently and respectfully. Art is an individual’s very personal expression, and we each seek our own path to this as a communication of what is in our own head. Some years back, I joined a local Toastmasters club, and found it a great resource in enhancing my public speaking. In the meetings, each person took a turn speaking, and the others then provided feedback to help us all improve. One thing I learned about giving feedback was to “sandwich” improvement ideas between appreciations. First an appreciation “I love how you made the sky”, then a suggestion “Perhaps you could open the trees a bit more to the sky to add depth to the painting”, followed by “You really make the water work in the foreground.”
A critique example
My Vineyard Shadows painting was one I took to a critique early in it’s development. I already had strong basics in place. The gold and violet color theme was all mine and in place, and the roadway was ready for the viewer to walk in to get closer to the bright colored vines within. After listening to comments, and returning to my studio, I made several changes to create the finished work. The buildings on the far left were softened (they were too near the canvas edge for my originally bolder treatment of that element). More branches were added to the right side tree to reach over the middle, contributing to the circular composition. I also lightened the shadows on the outer edge. I was very pleased with the result, and knew I was done.
What we are looking at in a critique
Here are some specific areas to look at when evaluating a painting of your own or someone elses:
- paint application/ texture,
- focal point.
When painting, seek variety in the expression of your subject. Like music, one note is boring, so mix it up and above all, have fun.