How to Critique Your Own Paintings


I had a lovely and productive weekend. Attended an event at the local library that featured my paintings, was juried and accepted as an active member of the Federation of Canadian Artists, and started a fun demonstration painting of aurora borealis, or northern lights. Is is just me, or are they visible more rarely in the area over the past few years? It's not a perfect example - there's a bit more tweaking involved and I'd like to correct some of the "bloom" you see on the right there, but I like the idea of using backruns to create the dancing colours of the northern lights.

I'm thinking that this demonstration piece could be the inspiration for a full sheet size I brave enough?

I used the piece below as part of my portfolio for the jurying-in process as it was my most recent painting and I love the texture of the thing. However, I received feedback that it was lacking a focal point, and I reluctantly agree. I'm still sentimentally attached to it, so I'm going to mount it in a prominent place in my home, take some time looking at it and see if I can do something to draw the eye to one particular place or start a new painting. I might just ignore the criticism and keep it as it is - it is my artist's prerogative to make the final decision over whether a painting is complete or not, and whether it says what I want it to say.

Though I don't believe in completely disregarding criticism - makes me think of those poor deluded souls on shows like American Idol - "I know I'm a great singer whether Simon Cowell thinks so or not!" The trick is to balance the outside voices of critics with one's inner voice. Takes confidence!

I mentioned taking time to look at my painting and make a decision about where it's at - in my watercolour class we joke about the "OK Corral" method of viewing a painting. When you are so close to your paper for long periods of time, you start to lose objectivity, viewing it by square inch instead of as a whole. It is a good idea to step back every twenty minutes or so and look at the painting from a distance. I like to turn my back on the painting, walk about six feet away, and then pull a "quick draw," spinning around to see the painting with fresh eyes. It's a sneak attack - and a second plus is that the "OK Corral" method gets you out of your seat and moving after being hunched over your painting board for long periods of time. I also find that when I put a painting on my site has me viewing it more objectively as well. I put a white border around the picture and something about viewing it in a smaller size on a white background helps me to judge it more logically - often I will photograph a painting, intending to put it on my site and introduce it to the world, only to see some glaring flaw that I didn't notice until the painting was photographed and uploaded.

I'm also thinking about using a checklist to critique my art - Kees Van Aalst, in his book Realistic Abstracts (which I will be quoting extensively in future since I am LOVING the book) gives a list of things to look for and develop when creating a painting - I think it can be very helpful to consider questions about colour unity, quality of line, composition strength, etc.

How do you gain objectivity and critique your work? Do you have critics you trust to help you? Have you ever felt wrongly critiqued and that your work was misunderstood? (perhaps that's a foolish question - who hasn't felt that way?)