How to Critique You Own Work…Gently

I wanted to explain my method of how I critique my own and other artist’s artwork. You will see many critiques in the “A Drawing a Day” category so I wanted to explain my terms and methods. Scores and fails are both great to expand upon when critiquing your own work. Scores are victories showing growth and fails are areas that need more work. This is is because we truly do learn from our failures, but the scores should be highlighted as well to show that we definitely are moving in the right direction. Below are a just a few ways that I have seen and used in my journey of self-criticism.

The Sandwich Method

One method of critique is the “sandwich method” which looks like SCORE – FAIL – SCORE (if anyone has actually coined this method, please let me know!) You sandwich the fails inside the scores in order to release encouragement at the beginning and at the end of a critique.  I have seen this method end up looking something like this:

SCORE – “You did such a great job on your colors in this piece. I can see you really thought a lot about what mood you wanted to portray through the colors. However…

FAIL – “…the proportion in the piece greatly distracts from your intended message. Were you meaning to create the hands much larger than the face? Also I noticed this…and this….and a few things over here…and you should have done this…”

SCORE – “Again, overall I think you did a great job on this drawing. I am looking forward to your next piece!”

Do you see the issue here? There are some people who can do this very well, but more times than not the fails are greatly disproportionate to the scores. This is especially the case when we are critiquing ourselves. It is so easy to see what we did incorrectly instead of seeing what was right about the whole thing.

If you decide to use this method with yourself and others, please be balanced. We don’t want too much meat or sauce with not enough bread. That’s no good.

The Tender Dismemberment Method

One of my favorite college professors, Dr. Robert Don Hughes, called this next approach “Tender Dismemberment”. This is where you always say a genuine positive about the score before bringing up the fail. It can look like this Score/Fail – Score/Fail – Score/Fail.  It is bit easier to remain balanced in quantity with this approach. You have just as many scores as fails so that there is encouragement to continue and the broken pride to spark change. Here is an example,

Score 1 – You used great color in this drawing! You layered the colors so that they are the boldest you could have achieved with this medium.  

Fail 1 – Do you think the boldness of the red takes away from the beautiful green you mixed? If you lessen the boldness of the red just a little bit it may not overpower your green so much. I know you wanted to emphasize the green shirt with the red background which was a good idea, but it just might be a bit too bold. Is it too late to fix that? Is it something we can edit in the computer to see different options?

Score 2 – You did a fabulous job on the shape of the head and the details of the face. You have really grown here and gotten much better from previous attempts.

Fail 2 – What we could work on now is getting your hands into proportion with the head. Let’s take a look at how big your hands are compared to your face. Do you see what happened there? Do you know how to gauge the size for next time?

When describing scores and fails for both scenarios it is good to add details. You will have the 1 to 1 quantity down, but we need to make sure our comments have CONSTRUCTIVE criticism. Saying, “I really liked the face!” is not enough for heartfelt encouragement and saying, “His hands are too big” is not enough to reflect on to figure out how to fix it.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when looking over your own or someone else’s work.

1. What is good or done correctly according to the goal?

2. Why is this good or correct?

3. Was the goal achieved?

4. What seems off or not executed well according to the goal?

5. What can be learned from this fail?

6. How can it be edited now or better executed in the next piece?

As a last remark for tenderly dismembering a piece of art, make sure you only give one fail for every one score.

Finally, keep in mind that there must be a goal with every piece of art you make even if it is “draw a realistic likeness of my cat”. Knowing the goals of the piece will greatly affect how the questions below are answered. If we do not know each others goals it is more difficult to critique affectively. Make it a habit to write out clear goals for your daily drawings and artwork.

Happy Critiquing!


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