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How To: Critiquing Artwork

Wed Dec 28, 2011, 6:17 PM
Long time no journal, a mixture of work and personal life getting in the way... damn those aspects of our lives! :giggle:

So I've been meaning to write a journal for such a long time on commenting and critiquing. Every so often I ask if anyone wants a critique for their vector or vexel work and every so often I get comments from people wanting to know how to do it. Let me start by saying this just how I critique and comment, not the be all and end all... also, my vocabulary isn't as varied as many... for a tutorial and article writer it sounds bad, but I did fail English first time around (thank gawd for resits I tell you!). However this being said, don't let your lack of language skills hold you back from giving constructive criticism. So let's get onto some tips and hints. If you've got any to offer, please feel free to contribute and I shall add them to the list and credit you :)

What exactly is a Critique?
Stripping to the bare bones, a critique is giving your opinion in a constructive manner about a subject - be it a piece a music, a piece of art, the meal you've just ate and so on. When we talk about constructive criticism, we are talking about more than "this element sucks". I'm not talking about adding cotton wool to your words, but being more specific... such as "I don't think the hair works BECAUSE the strands are too thick." This is the basis of a good critique... adding the REASON why something is bad... and on the flip side, why something is GOOD! What I also like to do with my critiques is add a possible solution to altering that part of the piece. Maybe the artist will take this critique on board and alter their piece or maybe they will consider it in a future project. 
At the end of the day, critiques are your opinion on a piece and you should never expect anything to change because of it. If you offer some sound advice and are specific with your good/bad points, the artist may take them on board and it will help them improve their work. In turn, you can critique your own work which can help your own development. You may not have the answers/solutions to the negative points you raise in your work, but it can help you begin a path of improving your work.

What is your speciality?
When it comes to critiquing work, if you're not feeling overly confident then I suggest you stick to a genre/medium that you have experience with... if anything it will assert the knowledge and standing you come from. I only ever critique vexel and vector work because I know the majority of work flows for composing pieces, I can imagine the tools which are used and I can offer advice on improving using the softwares available. Although there are a wide variety of things you can critique in vexel and vector art, I tend to lean more towards critiquing portraits or animals, as these are subjects I often vector myself. Yes I can't do reference free work, but 10 years of spending probably over 9,000 hours staring at faces and animals, you do pick up on some things I tell you! So my first piece of advice is to "specialise" in one area. 

Writing a Critique
When writing a critique, I like to use the SHIT SANDWICH approach. It may be a way of surrounding your words with cotton wool, but it at least helps you put the point across to the artist that your intentions are good and you're not just critiquing the work to point out their flaws.
The shit sandwich format is: Positive critique, Negative critique, Positive critique. You start by pointing something good out on the piece, then go to something you feel needs improving, then finish with a positive point. It might take more work in some cases to follow this format, but being nice can go a long way. I'm all for honesty and if a piece of work looks shite, I will leave negative critiques on the piece, but I will try my hardest to leave something positive also. We all need to develop and improve, but we all need encouragement! 

Ask yourself some questions
It sounds pretty easy, but when critiquing, say what you see. When you look at an image, ask yourself:
:bulletpink: What are my favourite areas of this piece?
:bulletpink: Why do I like this area of the piece? Is it the colour? Is it the way it's been rendered? Is it the angle? The lighting? The overall composition? 
:bulletpink: What area(s) do I think could be better and would improve the overall quality of the composition?
:bulletpink: Why do I think this? Is it the colour? Is it the way it's been rendered? Is it the angle? The lighting? The overall composition?
:bulletpink: Does this artist do this all the time in their work? If so, maybe I should point this out if I think it could need improving upon.
:bulletpink: If I was to do this specific element/area, how would I improve upon it? Would this be a relevant technique that the artist would benefit from? (No point giving a digital painting technique to a traditional artist!)
By being able to answer these sorts of questions you can build upon a critique in a constructive manner. 

Critiques = Miniature Essays?
Think of a critique as a miniature essay and you need to cover certain points and by covering these points you may be able to pick up on things your initial viewing may not have.
:bulletpink: The palette/colours used through out the composition - do they work well together? do they convey a theme (cool/warm colours, depressing colours, happy colours, festive etc...)
:bulletpink: The way it is rendered - is it line art based? is it aiming for realism? Maybe you can gain some insight into the technical side of the way it's been rendered and from that offer an opinion.
:bulletpink: The lighting - the lighting of a piece can help convey a mood or highlight certain areas of the composition. Is this trying to keep your focus on one area? Is it hiding another?
:bulletpink: The perspective of the piece - are things in the right proportion usually comes to mind with this point. Does it help enhance the mood of the piece?
:bulletpink: The concept - has the artist been able to illustrate their point across to you? Or is it left for you to decide? It's always good being able to tell the artist what you get from the piece and your side of the story.

Being Neutral
We all have our likes and dislikes... I tell you right now, I can't stand Justin Bieber, but if someone asked me to critique a vector portrait of him, although my initial thought would be "urgh", it's not something you bring to the table.Try not to let these opinions cloud your judgement on the composition at hand. Constructive criticism is about giving advice and assisting the artist, it's got nothing to do with you. You need to leave your opinion on subject matter at the door, be it positive or negative. 

Don't be a Dickhead
There is no other way of writing this, but avoid at all costs being a dickhead. If you want anything you say to hold any weight or be respected, don't be a dickhead. So being constructive and being nice goes a long way. Infact, the being nice thing applies to everything - especially so on the internet... but yanno, that's another story completely! If a person asks for a critique and you offer a constructive critique and they respond like a dick... don't rise to it. Smile. Move on. Some people may only want to hear positive things about their work... that's not your problem, it's theirs. We can only develop knowing what we need to improve on and learning more. If someone thanks you for your critique, it's all good!

So how do you guys go about critiquing work? Do you have any tips to offer others on this?

Add a Comment:
PolyMune Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2011  Professional Digital Artist
oh a further point; use clear, easy to understand words. :faint: Can't stress this enough! Not everyone speaks English or has English as their first typing big words or long words may be difficult for the artist to understand confusing them and possibly irritating them. Best to use simple, clear cut words for the most part, I know people are quick to use that new word they learned, but critiques will always need to be done with utmost care, as it will always be a bit sensitive area for the artist no matter if they got a million critiques, or just one.
PolyMune Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2011  Professional Digital Artist
I enjoyed this article very much :) It's basically my process to critiquing as well and generally I get a positive response.

The miniature essays don't always work however, some people find if you type more then three sentences it's too much reading and often do a 'tl;dr' response comment. A little pet peeve of mine but I figured out a seemingly positive way around it!

Two general solves for the massive 'tl;dr' responses to your critiques.
1. Usually i'll write quick point form or shorter responses as my initial critique (unless I use the critique requested feature) doing the sandwich approach as you pointed out. good, bad, good, bad. Sometimes i'll do it with bullets seperating good and bad. "this is all the positive, this is all the negative" in point form. My teacher taught me this approach and boy does it work! Our attention spans vary and sometimes reading a ton of words confuses the individual or just is too much for them to read at a given moment. So shorter, to the point seperated by gaps critiques may be more effective.
After that the holder of the artwork is free to ask for clarification or elaboration on the parts 'they' feel is helpful.

2. Don't critique unless someone has the critique requested or ask for it in the artist comments in general. Many individuals now I have found on DA forget they are posting to an art community site, and definitely don't appreciate anything but' 'cool' comments. I feel they should disable their comments then, but in general it's a 'just don't critique it unless they ask for it' approach works on some. Even a quick look through their gallery to see if they've received critiques and how they handle it could solve a lot of miss communication and unnecessary blocks.
ChewedKandi Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Some very good tips! I'm going to keep your other comment un answered for now as I want to add these to the journal. I'm just powering through my message center :giggle:

Thank you for your wonderful feedback and suggestions!
PolyMune Featured By Owner Jan 5, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
by all means and no worries at all!
you are very welcome!
PalomaDyz Featured By Owner Dec 29, 2011
A very cool article :)
ChewedKandi Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Thank you :)
PalomaDyz Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2012
Welcome :)
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