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Deborah Secor
12-09-2009, 02:44 PM
I posted this list (see below) in another thread recently, and it got me to thinking that it would be very interesting to hear from everyone what you have on your self-critique list. I do a critique with my students every 8 weeks and we try to keep our list updated so that we can pull it out and seek good answers. The value of receiving a good critique from someone is that it helps you build self-critique muscles, of course! We have so much help here at WC that I'm sure some of you must have good ideas of things to add.

Here's mine:

Different questions to ask about a painting:
What was my goal in this painting? What is it that made me want to paint it?
Was there a feeling or mood I wanted to express here? Did I succeed?
What is my center of interest or focal area?
Have I used detail in the appropriate places to enhance the focal area? Is the painting overly detailed and boring?
Are there a pleasing variety of textures and lines? Do they enhance the focal area or overwhelm it?
Is there a good range of light to dark values? Do they form an interesting abstract pattern?
Where is the area of highest contrast? Where do the darkest dark and the lightest light come closest together?
What palette of colors have I used? Are the colors in this painting generally bright, muted, dark or light? Is it mostly warm or cool? Would some variation improve it?
Did I begin with a strong underlying abstraction of shapes? Did I retain them throughout the painting? How might I improve this in the future?
Is the shape and size of the paper best suited to this composition? Would this painting be stronger if I changed the format?
What movement occurs in the painting? Is it interesting? Is it organized and complete? How could I vary the shapes to improve the movement?
Are the negative shapes in this piece interesting?
Are there any compositional ‘X’s or any ‘V’s that lead the eye off the page?
Do I have a visual treat at the apex of any visual path? Does it move the eye or stop it?
Are there any places where the painting is unresolved and mysterious?
Are there places where color jumps out or there are needlessly interesting details?
Are there any wallpaper patterns?
Are there any repetitive shapes that are not intended?

Different ways to look at a painting:
Squint your eyes to lose detail. Is the underlying design of shapes and values strong?
Stand back far enough that your painting looks no larger than a postage stamp, even if you have trouble seeing that far. Take ten steps closer. What has changed? Take ten steps closer. What has changed? Repeat. Notice how distance changes your perceptions. At what distance is the painting strongest and why?
Trace the movement by closing your eyes for a minute, then tracking where your eye begins and ends in your painting. Try this several times until your eye moves easily around the composition. Name the kind of movement: horizontal, vertical, circular, etc.
Look at the painting using only your peripheral vision. Stare at a point to the side of it.
Turn your painting upside down, sideways, and from an oblique angle. Look for the abstract elements of color and design.
Look at your painting in a mirror or use a reducing glass or binoculars turned backwards. Look for the abstract shapes.
Put a mat around the painting or use wide masking tape to make a ‘mat’ to cover any vivid color on the edge of your painting.
Crop out parts of the painting to see if it improves.
Put your painting in direct sunlight. What happens to the colors?
Put your painting under artificial light at night and use a dimmer switch to see how the light levels change it.
(c) 2006 Deborah Secor

(Feel free to copy and keep it for your personal use only.)

So, what else is on your list of ideas for ways to critique your own paintings?

Deborah

Colorix
12-09-2009, 03:32 PM
Not an article being born?

:-)

Deborah Secor
12-09-2009, 03:47 PM
No. :D Just my naturally curious bent... I'm always anxious to gather thoughts from others. I thought it might be fun to see if we could create a more complete discussion of how folks critique their own work. One of my favorites, which I do here all the time, is to remove the color so I only see the values. Another is to use a mirror. I bet other folks have ideas, or maybe good suggestions from other teachers. :D

Deborah

Donna T
12-09-2009, 04:36 PM
I'm kind of afraid to read your list and then look at my work, Deborah! That is a very comprehensive list and I can't think of anything useful to add. The thing that helps me the most, which you mention in the last line of your list, is to see what my painting looks like when I walk into the room with no lights on and I can barely see it. Even with low light there should be some interesting abstract shapes, some darker or lighter than others. If it all looks the same I know I have work to do. Learning to read the subtle reactions of family members is also a useful skill. The tip of the head, the ever-so-slightly raised eyebrow, the prolonged silence followed by a sigh: all signs that I need to read your list and find the problem! ;)

robertsloan2
12-09-2009, 05:26 PM
I love your list, Deborah! I'm afraid mine's been quite a lot shorter but I'm moving in that direction. Some of your list is stuff I take for granted. Some of it isn't.

Mine goes:

Does it have a composition or does something about the way it lays on the page/canvas look ucky?

Does it have something like a focal point or is it something that just looks ucky?

Does it look like I intended it to, better than I intended or something bugging me about it?

On landscapes:

Does it look like I could go in there and it's three dimensional?

On still lifes:

Does it look like I could reach in there and pick up the stuff, are all the objects shaped properly or did something get accidentally slumped or distorted? Does not count if the object actually is crooked, slumped or distorted. Then it's "Did I convey the distortion or does it look like I goofed up?

Animals:

Can you tell what species it is?

Does it look like real fur or did I just do a stuffed animal? If it's a stuffed animal, did I just turn it into a real one?

Has it got accurate proportions for what it is? Biggie, especially if it is a Cow or a Horse. Giving a horse cow proportions makes my daughter laugh out loud. Same with the reverse.

Subset: "Kitten, is this actually a horse?"

"Is this horse actually an adult this time?" and

"Can you tell that's Felony?" (It's a beautiful horse, Dad, this time it is a horse, I can tell she's a horse, but that's not Felony. You'd have to know her but her neck arches like this and it's a little different...")

Equines are a lot of what I'm working on now with animals.

Finally: "Does it look alive or did I do a nice museum mount?"

On cats:

"Ari, come look at this."

If he looks at it with interest, then I know I did a good, plausible cat.

Many times with Ari portraits I've gotten a good Siamese or a good cat but it's not Ari. Only my latest is a likeness I'm really satisfied with.

On people:

Does it look human or did I just create an interesting alien species? If so, does it look like it would be worth writing about?

Does this person look like his/her real age and gender and coloration?

Did I convey personality well?

To Kitten: "Is this one Sascha? Did I finally get her?" Still working on that, the last three have gotten "That's a pretty little girl but she's not Sascha." For some reason despite over a decade of professional portraiture, my granddaughter's unique quirky features and personality just don't come through in my portraits of her. I got my grandson spot on perfect in just a gesture drawing and usually get him right, but Sascha's tough!

In a self portrait:

Do I look alive?

Do I look under the age of 80?

Does it actually look like me?

On anything again:

"Hey, Kitten, what do you think of this one?"

She is my best critiquer. She has an extremely well developed critical faculty for art, for writing, for anything. She doesn't pull punches and will tell me if I created an amazingly accurate donkey working from a horse, turned an adult stallion into a foal, gave a horse cow's legs, did a cat that wasn't Ari or a child that wasn't the one I painted. She'll tell me if something's off in a landscape and usually exactly what.

She still struggles with some basic drawing things though she's improving. But right from the beginning she could critique art that was much better than she could do -- she can see these things, she's at a stage of being able to connect that with her hands and doesn't have as much time to spend doing art. Especially now that she's gotten into farrier work, she really has less time for drawing and painting. But she can always spot what's wrong if something's off, it's downright eerie.

Oh, and one last thing on anything.

"Did the experiment work?"

Almost every sketch, drawing or painting I do has something in it that I'm not sure of, think would be cool and tried. This could be a type of stroke or going looser than usual, it could be color, it could be something compositional. Most of them if they didn't work I fix that before posting it.

I'm still working on composition and all those rules you listed are wonderful for that. I'm not always good about having just one focal point, sometimes I like a really complex painting where there's multiple areas of interest -- but getting that to work takes some serious balancing acts. I know that I've seen it in some paintings I enjoy.

I've gotten to where I'm used to not kissing. That one is something I started taking for granted, also letting things go out of the picture to broaden the illusion the picture's a window into another reality.

I also sometimes try to loosen up more. It's very hard to remember to work loose to tight, especially after so many years of focusing on very tight detail especially in colored pencils stuff. I'm getting there on that though. Also on strokes that are expressive and painterly.

I will be studying your list in depth, thank you again for posting it!

Studio-1-F
12-09-2009, 06:11 PM
<<< Are there any wallpaper patterns? >>> Deb, can you expand on this one a little bit. I think I get 'wallpaper patterns', but I'm not sure why this is "bad". Or is it "bad"?

<<< Are there any places where the painting is unresolved and mysterious? >>> If the answer to this one is 'yes', then I might be happy about that. Photo-realism leaves me wanting more.

Jan

Colorix
12-09-2009, 06:33 PM
Rob, loved yours, but then, you *are* a storyteller.

Mine would be: "Honey, look, what do you think of this one?" Reply: "Mmhn..." Me: "OK, so if you actually turn your head and see it with your eyes, what do you think then?" Reply: "Nice." And painter wife tears her hair in frustration.

I'll come up with my check-list too, right now I'm hanging out socialising. :-)

Charlie

Deborah Secor
12-09-2009, 07:09 PM
Robert, in amongst the humor there are some gold nuggets! Thanks.

Learning to read the subtle reactions of family members is also a useful skill. The tip of the head, the ever-so-slightly raised eyebrow, the prolonged silence followed by a sigh: all signs that I need to read your list and find the problem!
Donna, I wouldn't be too sure about that. What if the these are signs you succeeded and the sigh is one of satisfaction?! (I often question 'volunteer critics'--draftees really--by first telling them what I like and what satisfies me about the painting, and then I point out the area I'm curious about. That way they know what not to say! :wink2:)

<<< Are there any wallpaper patterns? >>> Deb, can you expand on this one a little bit. I think I get 'wallpaper patterns', but I'm not sure why this is "bad". Or is it "bad"?

Jan, I find the same pattern repeated at the same size with no variation in intervals or scale creates a flat field with no depth--thus 'wallpaper'. I don't like to flatten space this way, especially in the landscape. For instance, the same little cloud shape repeated over and over gives no depth because there's no overlap or variation of size or shape.

<<< Are there any places where the painting is unresolved and mysterious? >>> If the answer to this one is 'yes', then I might be happy about that. Photo-realism leaves me wanting more.

I consider unresolved or mysterious places to be unintentional. If you've resolved it, you have an intention that's now satisfied, whatever the resolution or intention might be. Whether you're painting photo-realism or abstraction, I believe it's important to resolve every square inch of the painting!

Does that make sense? Of course, make these your own. I've come up with some of my 'catch phrases', such as 'wallpaper', which my students understand.

Another one I should add is:
Are there any tangents in the painting?
I have one student we call 'the tangent queen', because she always catches them when no one else can! :lol:

Deborah

SonyaJ
12-09-2009, 10:27 PM
I like your list, Deborah! I haven't been painting long enough to have a formal, specific list I go through, although there are just things I keep in mind before, during and after the painting. Doing the challenge paintings for Oct was hugely beneficial to me and how I began seeing and approaching my paintings.

The few things that I have found useful as critiques in my short time pastel painting are:
1) taking a photo of the painting. That's when cropping and some color issues will become glaring. It's probably similar to using a mirror in that regard.

2) having a boyfriend who I can show pieces to and ask him if there's anything about the painting that bugs him. He's not an artist, and always clarifies that prior to me showing him something. But, his "non-artistic" eye absolutely has merit. In one case, he said "that area looks like a golf course, and I don't like that part there". I guess people here are too polite to say things like that when C&C are requested, but I appreciate his honestly and his comments have helped me improve my work.

3) leaving the painting and looking at it the next day and/or in different light and see how I feel about areas I was "eh" on. Better? Worse?

4) reminding myself of something an attending doctor told me years ago when I was training as a foot surgeon: "what is the enemy of good? Answer: better". That principle applies to painting as well.

Studio-1-F
12-10-2009, 09:39 AM
I consider unresolved or mysterious places to be unintentional. If you've resolved it, you have an intention that's now satisfied, whatever the resolution or intention might be. Whether you're painting photo-realism or abstraction, I believe it's important to resolve every square inch of the painting! Does that make sense?
Yes! It does make sense! Thank you. :heart: (And the wallpaper item too, it makes perfect sense. In the context of a piece where you intend to create depth.) It is entirely possible that one would intend an area (or an entire piece) to be "unresolved" in the viewer's eye and "mysterious" to the viewer. In which case the artist achieved his intention. And resolved every square inch.

Got it! Got it! :thumbsup: This is the ultimate in 'easier said than done', of course, to keep track of one's intentions. Let alone achieve them.

Your checklist is super. Thank you for taking to time to write it and explain it. :heart: :heart: :heart: As always: a patient and generous teacher!

Sonya, I agree with you about taking a photo of the image. 99% of the times I think, okay this is done and I can scan it and put it up on the blog, I am flat wrong. When I look at it on my laptop screen I declare: oh contraire! That baby is definitely not finished . . .

Jan

Kathryn Wilson
12-10-2009, 10:22 AM
Deborah - I can't add much to your wonderful list.

I would say that mostly I look for things in my paintings that I know that I do unconsciously - like repetitive shapes. I've become very aware that this is a problem area for me, so that's the first thing I start looking for.

I also do the photo thing - I look at the painting in greyscale and I also find it very interesting that I can find problems in my paintings here on WC, where I don't see them as I stand in front of my painting.

I attended a critique session last evening. It was not an open critique session, but one where a teacher/professional spoke about each painting.

One particular painting she remarked on, I found interesting: that there were two different styles in the painting and that the artist needed to resolve which way she wanted to paint.

She also commented on several paintings about color harmony - placing colors all through the painting to pull it together.

I guess that's all I could add.

robertsloan2
12-10-2009, 02:14 PM
Charlie and Deborah, thanks!

Deborah, thank you for explaining Wallpaper Patterns. I love good wallpaper patterns, it's something that left me kind of 'Eh?' because I could see designing a painting that tiled on all four sides and doing it literally as a wallpaper pattern. But that is not the same thing.

I get it now. Don't put all the trees in a row going horizontal. If it's an orchard and they are all the same size at even intervals, I could choose an angle so they're receding in perspective and not just boring-repeating across the painting. Same with hedgerows, where that could happen in life.

I also realized that among my nuggets I left out my best self-critique discovery.

Scan it. Look at the thumbnail in the scanner software. If the painting comes out striking in that teeny thumbnail, its composition really worked. If not, think about why not and maybe rework it or improve on the next version.

I can't actually get up and walk away from it that often, but preliminary scans can give me the same "look at the big picture" result without getting up. Very small thumbnails are really good for stripping a painting to its essential structure as an abstract. If I can use it as a tiny little avatar then I know it's one of my best.

Colorix
12-10-2009, 02:31 PM
OK, I do comparings (is that a word?)

For parts of the paintings, but considered within the whole:
Should it be ...
brighter or duller?
lighter or darker?
warmer or cooler?

Is the light-key consistent?

Is every plane-change also a colour change?

Does the area of interest work? (As I've planned its location before making the first mark, it should be in the right place.)
Are there repetitions? of shapes, of negative shapes, or of colour?

I check in greyscale: Is the value right? (Almost always is, thankfully. To quote Hensche "when the colour is right, the value is right too".)

Are there tangents, "bookends", "kisses"?

Do lines lead out, or in, or where I want them?

Are there a good variety of edges, and used where appropriate?

Are there any areas that look drawn instead of painted?

And finally,
Does is look confident or anxious? That is, is there a sense of freedom in the strokes.

Charlie

Deborah Secor
12-10-2009, 02:59 PM
I'm enjoying all the points being made and if I can find the time I'll compile the Soft Pastel Forum's list of self-critique suggestions into one. That would be a fun one to have!

One thing I'll mention is that my list is made so that I can review and critique my own work. There are two kinds of critiques, both mentioned here: one from a critic, or one you do yourself. BOTH are necessary, though asking a critic to look at every painting is silly (unless you're in the beginning stages and are taking a class, which makes good sense.) The idea is to develop your own skills, in part by paying attention to what your critics say and in part by developing this list.

I divide critics into two groups: the volunteer critic (who is drafted most of the time--so maybe should be the draftee critic!) and the professional critic, who is usually paid for an opinion and sought out to give some help. Both are helpful and important.

Volunteers will usually try hard not to hurt your feelings, so it's good to help them understand what you want to know or how they might help you. Don't trap them into giving an opinion and then feel hurt! I always try to develop my own opinion of what I like and think is working, and then find someone to ask about the part I'm still questioning. Kids are great, if you're emotionally prepared for real honesty! Otherwise I say teach the kids to compliment what they like and keep severely negative opinions to themselves. No one wants to hear "yuck!" (Which is another lesson, but not important to this discussion.)

Professional critics are a needed resource, but again I suggest you have in mind what you think is good, strong, positive and working well before showing work to a teacher or other pro critic. If you can discuss your painting and present a clear concept of where you're heading, that critic will be far better able to help you move along in the direction you're already going, than to head you off at the pass. That isn't to say you shouldn't be open to redirection, but having that heading in mind helps you and the instructor define terms and speak clearly.

Once you find you're developing a body of work about which you have strong feelings, present it to a critic. In this case, I suggest it be done in person, not via digital images, and that you employ someone you admire, who is thoroughly professional, and you believe can give you excellent advice. It helps to show a body of work (10-20 paintings) that you think is generally successful, and indicates the style or voice you're developing. Then when you pay a couple hundred dollars or more for an in-depth critique, you can really be assured that your critic is digging in to help you make some strong, hard decisions. At least that's what I've done. Very tough, but VERY important. (I'm honored when someone requests this of me and I take it very seriously, too.)

I also think it's important to have some peers you show work to regularly. It makes a heap of difference to have trusted friends who have walked alongside you for a long time, who know your work, your struggles, your successes and failures. They aren't there to stab you in the back or sabotage you, nor are they going to falsely jolly you along when you get way out in left field. Usually they're the ones you can trust to tell you the truth and encourage you to keep going. I find a lot of that happens here, in some ways. :D

Anyway, that's my theory, and I'm sticking to it! :p

Deborah

DAK723
12-10-2009, 05:13 PM
Deb,

I'm afraid that if I used a list as long and comprehensive as yours, I would never finish a painting! :lol:

I am glad that your number one question is "what was your goal?" This is the most important question in my check list, along with "did you succeed in reaching your goal!

Here is what I self-critique:

Did you accomplish the goal of what you wanted to express?

If there is a focal area or center of interest, have I succeeded in making it the center of attention? Or is it too much the center of attention? If not, do I need more color contrast, value contrast, color intensity, harder edges or some combination of the above?

Is the painting balanced? If not, why?

Any obvious mistakes of depth? Does something come forward or go back when it shouldn't? Are tangents causing areas of different depth to appear at the same distance? Are colors of the wrong temperature or intensity the cause?

Any other obvious boo-boos? Is something catching my eye or jumping out at me that is just plain wrong?

That's all I can think of!

Don

Deborah Secor
12-10-2009, 08:47 PM
Sonya, I love this:
4) reminding myself of something an attending doctor told me years ago when I was training as a foot surgeon: "what is the enemy of good? Answer: better". That principle applies to painting as well.

Charlie, edges! I need to add that.


I'm afraid that if I used a list as long and comprehensive as yours, I would never finish a painting!

I am glad that your number one question is "what was your goal?" This is the most important question in my check list, along with "did you succeed in reaching your goal!
Don, I understand! This list is one I give to my students to use at home. I don't think you need to ask every single question about every painting, but as you struggle with an issue looking at it might stir a thought. Your goal might be something quite simple (painting a nice tree or getting a likeness or capturing the light on a brass pitcher) or the 'big picture' goal like stronger underlying abstraction or higher contrast.

:thumbsup:
Deborah

Kathryn Wilson
12-10-2009, 09:53 PM
I'm adding color harmony and consistent painting style to my list.

Deborah Secor
12-10-2009, 10:26 PM
I'm going to try to compile a list soon. If you all don't mind I think I'll go through and slightly recompose things, and then if anyone wants to add, correct or remove anything, that's fine.

Kat, I think consistency in style is very important. You should be able to recognize some characteristic mark making no matter what you're painting, although I find it hard to see in my own work!

Deborah

robertsloan2
12-10-2009, 10:52 PM
I like this growing list a lot. It's like the form rejection slips some editors use. The better I get, the fewer things need to be checked off as "work on it" but the easier it is to get more of the things on the list right all in the same painting.

One of the things I learned about critique in writing groups is that when I critique others' work with a combination of encouragement and honesty, I become more effectively self critical. By putting the negatives in encouraging ways and explaining them well, I sometimes find that I've talked my way right through a problem I have all the time -- by explaining it to someone who has the same problem. It takes it out of the realm of feeling self conscious.

Plus having to be nice to your friends helped me stop beating myself up for mistakes and problems. Art is about learning from mistakes. Without making any, it's hard to get serendipity.

For people who aren't artists or doing creative work of any kind, often there's a big confusion between critique and criticism. Here on WC, there's no criticism, nothing about whether someone's subject is too sentimental or too pretty or too weird or too dark. Things get taken in context, everyone who critiques seems to be very sensitive about understanding the artist's intent.

What really gives me a stretch is when I read a post from someone who's much more skilled than I am who's asked for critique. I stop, think and look very hard, sometimes making a new discovery in the process. On the other side, if I run into a new beginner that can help me return to the basics and help me simplify and stop getting overly fussy on things.

It helps a lot. The one thing that most helps my self critical faculty is doing the best critique I can for others.

Deborah Secor
12-10-2009, 11:34 PM
The one thing that most helps my self critical faculty is doing the best critique I can for others.
Bravo!! THAT statement most likely belongs at the very end of the list, because all in all we're here to encourage each other, I believe. Especially here at WC, and in the soft Pastel Forum particularly.

Deborah

Colorix
12-11-2009, 07:31 AM
Deb, if I got you right, then yes, by all means, take whatever from my list.

Inspired by the talk about critiquing others using the 'sandwhich' method (good-bad-good), I'd like to add a thing that prob'ly won't go on a list, but which is good practice anyhow: to take one's list to the paintings of masters, old and new, and see if it works, and it also helps you find out things they did, so it is a learning tool.

One thing I'd like to add to my list:

What works really well? What did I do in that part that makes it so much better than the rest of the painting? What is the lesson I need to learn?

Charlie

DAK723
12-11-2009, 04:02 PM
I think Charlie brings up a good point about looking for "what works well." I think most of us when we critique our own paintings, really are critiquing by looking for the negative. I think there is a huge danger in this approach - and I say so based on 30 years of doing it that way myself! There are so many "don'ts" in the books we read and the lessons we receive, that it can become easy to get into a mindset that the goal is to create a mistake-free painting. The end result of that approach, at least for me, has been workmanlike, but pedestrian results. What makes a successful painting is more about what is done well, rather than what mistakes (or lack of mistakes) there might be, in my opinion.

I have often compared this idea with watching ice skating or gymnastics at the Olympics. We are so used to "judging" the performances based on the deductions made for every error, that we forget that the best ice skater or gymnast is the one who is gives the most graceful, beautiful, awe-inspiring performance, not the one who has made the least mistakes. I think art should be approached with a similar philosophy. What can I do to make my painting more beautiful, have more mood, express more emotion, capture the light better - whatever the goal may be.

Not that correcting mistakes isn't important, but they should be approached within the context of your goals. So a critique can be looked at more simply - What is my goal? What do I want to express? Did I succeed as well as I hoped? If the answer is yes, then my checklist ends there. If the answer is no, only then do I begin to analyze. So every item on the checklist really asks - does this work towards my goal or distract (or detract) from my goal, whether it is a question of values, color selection, manipulation of edges, etc.

Of course, ones experience level is also a factor. Although we are always learning, at the beginning of one's journey, one is more likely to focus on avoiding mistakes. Gaining the necessary knowledge on the fundamentals is the foundation for taking that next step towards concentrating on "what works well" and lessening the focus on avoiding mistakes. I wish I knew how to make that transition myself!!

One last philosophical tangent! When critiquing here on WC, I do look at paintings to see if there are problem areas, and if so, can I help with a solution. But when looking at art for pleasure, I look for what I like best in a piece. It is the "things done well" that are far more important!

Don

Colorix
12-11-2009, 04:46 PM
Thanks, Don, yes, I think too we often tend to "find five faults". Chasing them in the beginning is necessary, IMHO. I remember so well my earlier attempts, and being happy about bringing a painting to the end (as opposed to those who ended up in the bin). And then I'd discover "ooops, I forgot to soften that edge, again". Or, "why didn't I step back and look at it before, then I would have seen that value is totally off". These kinds of things got less and less frequent.

Now, I find it more fruitful for development to ask "what works well and why"? Both of my own efforts, and that of others, and that of masters.

There is some wisdom in the saying: Develop your strenghts, and your weeknesses will get better too. (Or something very similar.)

I think we find faults because they are so much easier to find, and to explain, than what really works really well. Principle of least action, methinks.

Charlie

Deborah Secor
12-14-2009, 03:47 PM
I've enjoyed all the responses regarding self-critiquing in this thread so much! Thanks to those who have contributed. I'm planning to add these ideas to the final critique list my students and I use at our bi-monthly critiques.

Here's my edited and revised compendium, which I hope does some justice to what has been said. I decided not to get into too much that was specific to topics (like animals, portraits, the landscape, still life, etc.) but to try to take the information and use it generally.

So here's how the list came out:


WC Soft Pastel Forum Self-Critique List

Different questions to ask about the painting:

Remembering that “the enemy of good is better”, where might I improve this painting? Should I be content with some improvement I now see in this painting, rather than push myself to change something? Or is this an opportunity to go further and truly advance my skills or knowledge?

Is there color harmony?

Is there a consistent painting style used throughout, or are there different styles in the painting that need to be resolved?

Have I succeeded in making the focal area the center of attention, or is it too much the center of attention? Does it need more or less color contrast, value contrast, color intensity, harder edges or some combination of the above?

After planning, is the area of interest located properly?

Does the painting have (symmetrical or asymmetrical) balance? If not, why not?

Are there any obvious mistakes of depth? Does something recede or advance when it shouldn't?

Are there any other obvious ‘boo-boos’ or ‘ucky’ spots? Is something catching my eye or jumping out at me that is just plain wrong?

Should the painting be ...

brighter or duller?
lighter or darker?
warmer or cooler?

Is the light-key consistent?

Is every plane-change also a color change?

Are there tangents, "bookends", "kisses"?

Do lines lead out, or in, or where I want them?

Are there a good variety of edges, and used where appropriate?

Are there any areas that look drawn instead of painted?

Does the painting look confident or anxious?

Are there accurate proportions and scale for what it is?

When an object is distorted, did I convey the distortion or does it look like I goofed up?

If people or animals are portrayed, do they look alive?


Different ways to look at the painting:

Photograph or scan the painting and look at it in thumbnail size.

Reduce the painting to grayscale. Are the values accurate?

Leave the painting to look at the next day or later, in order to more clearly evaluate it.

What works really well? What did I do in that part that makes it so much better than the rest of the painting? What is the lesson I need to learn?


And remember:

The one thing that most helps your self-critical faculty is doing the best critique you can for others, respectfully and thoughtfully.

Please, if you have more to add don't hesitate. I'd love to keep on editing and adding thoughts to this, so if it made you think of something else let me know...

I also want to say that I agree that we often hyper-focus on self-CRITICISM, rather than critiquing our own work well. We've learned to try to pick out the faults and correct them, as has been mentioned. I have a policy that I encourage my students to adopt, which is to take the painting AWAY from the easel and look at it until they can confidently compliment themselves on what they think is successful or pleasing to them personally. Only then should they ask for a critique from anyone else. And that confidence is not meant to be solely derived from feelings (because too often I find people feel like the painting is bad, when it isn't) but arrived at through some process of evaluation. We shouldn't THINK with our feelings.

Deborah

robertsloan2
12-14-2009, 04:13 PM
Thanks, Deborah! Yep, those are the main points I made stripped of my lengthy anecdotal humor. I love the checklist.

I also agree with both of you that self critique often suffers from being solely negative. Without mistakes there's no chance of serendipity. A lot of these rules are things like the rules of grammar in writing -- break them and it creates an extra point of interest. Which means it can be broken deliberately to draw attention to a point of interest.

A centered composition isn't static necessarily, especially if it's in a round or square format, something gives that the mandala-like balance to be another type of good composition. It's something you're never supposed to do, but I see paintings where it works all the time.

Things like the Rule of Three are a way to definitely get a good composition but not the only way to get a good composition, there's that whole Golden Mean proportion too that gives different focal points.

A long time ago, in the 1980s, I organized a monthly art workshop within a fan club I belonged to. Because a large number of the friends whose arms I twisted to get them to show up were beginners completely embarrassed about their work, I set a rule of "no negative criticism of anyone's finished drawings" at the meetings.

Instead, I started focusing on very specific compliments, analyzing in detail whatever worked when any beginner hit on something good. It took thinking of it differently to look at a bad drawing with poor proportions and see that it had good shading, or clean lines. Every one of the beginners was overwhelmed with basic things like line or proportion or tone.

So we'd choose a topic for each workshop and rotate who taught it to someone who did that thing well -- be it proportion, shading, line or whatever. We'd do simple exercises focusing on just that one thing and those might get suggestions, but no one criticized the finished pieces beginners slaved over in any negative way.

I found out that it was as true in art as it is for my writing. Sometimes what worked best is what an artist is most self conscious about. It's too easy to get nervous about something that stands out or took some nerve to try, versus what's already familiar and safe in technique.

I'm not sure if this belongs in here but I thought of something else. Sometimes doing the same subject many times over reveals more possibilities and helps me improve in everything I do. But that's its own exercise and there was that great article in Pastel Journal about the artist who did 100 versions of the same landscape.

So maybe "What did I learn from doing this piece?" could go on the list as a question too. The answer isn't always a negative.

saramathewson
12-15-2009, 10:42 PM
Even though I don't have anything to add to the list, I have enjoyed this thread very much! I have it set as one of my favorites as i am sure to come back over and over to learn more and more:) thanks to Deborah and everyone who contributed to this.

Sara

Deborah Secor
12-18-2009, 07:25 PM
Oh, glad you enjoyed it Sara. Thanks...

I hope maybe a few more ideas will be added here!

Deborah

ElsieH
12-19-2009, 12:31 AM
:wave:

What a fantastic thread! Deborah: Thanks so much for giving us your list and for getting us all to respond and think about what we do.

Your list and many of the points made by others really are "food for thought!"

For me:
First, I have to keep in mind what to goal of the work is for this piece:
Full, completed painting, one that might be matted, framed, shown to others?

A study: One that I'm doing to advance my skills etc. that probably will not make it out of the file of "studies" I'm currently working on?
These I would usually show to a fellow artist that I'm conversing with about our work, would show to my daughter who paints in pastels, too, that my family would see as they walk through the studio and it is on the easel.

For the first, the completed painting, a list like Deborah's would be great.
I must admit, that currently I do not have such a list and this thread mgiht be just the thing I need to compose one.

But, I do look at these aspects:
Compostition:
focal area, how the rest of the painting relates to this,
how the eye is lead throughout the painting,
Also are there areas that detract from my intended focal area?
Is there a sense of depth
Are details most defined in and near the focal area and less in other areas?
For me, I have to check that I have variety of shapes, sizes etc. If I don't watch this, I end up with things just too balanced...wallpaper?
Color:
color relationships, how do colors go well with others or fight others

You know, as I write this down, I'm really repeating what others have said :p
Deborah: you are great to get us to thinking!

For studies: my thoughts would run more to what was the very specific goal for this study, for my work at this point, and much less to overall compostitin.

It would do no good at all to ask my husband about my painting: the cat could have walked across the painting instead of my putting the marks on the paper and he'd love it! :lol: :wink2: :cat:

My daugher Julia, on the other hand, who is an artist, herself, and talks the language, is my mirror of truth. However, with her in NY state and me in Wisconsin, that has to wait for a visit and then she says, "Ok, MOM, let's take a look at what you've been doing."

One of my big goals for this next year is to post more in the gallery and get help from my WC Pastel forum friends. :heart: :thumbsup:

One of my best guides while I'm working and then at the end of the painting is a little set of "Rules Cards" I got from Deborah! Go to her web site and
check the idea out. I love them!
Each has a photo of a painting of Deborah's, plus guidelines for the area:
water, shadows, sky, mountains, tress.
http://www.deborahchristensen.com/Workbook.html#anchor_60

Thanks Deborah for starting this thread and for all those people who are adding ideas!
Oh, do, make us a summary , Deborah!