Over the last few weeks we’ve received quite a few requests from our community asking how to effectively offer and receive critiques. Kristie has been critiquing my paintings for close to 30 years and is responsible much of my success as a professional artist, so as the first of two posts on this subject she will be sharing her insights. In a few weeks I’ll be sharing my own tips and tricks, as well as posting video examples to help demystify this very essential process. – Bill

 

This is a Kristie Blog –

cri·tique

kriˈtēk

noun

1.a detailed analysis and assessment of something, especially a literary, philosophical, or political theory.

I took voice lessons throughout my college career. At times I would perform along with my fellow pupils in front of a panel of professors for the express purpose of getting critiqued. It was nerve racking knowing that every note I sang was being dissected under a microscope!

Two specific critiques have been permanently burned into my memory. After finishing an Italian aria I was asked to go back over certain measures again and again – and again – until I met the professor’s criteria. By the end I felt like I had just come out of battle, my muscles were tight and my brain was a fog. I don’t think I gained much from it, and I felt like maybe I shouldn’t sing anymore.

The other critique that stands out was when I didn’t get any feedback at all!  It was almost worse, not to have anything to work on, and not knowing how my performance rated. I know I was far from perfect and that I needed feedback, but I had no idea where to start or what needed improving.

Kristie as Golde in Fiddler on the Roof

Throughout my years in the art community, I have seen the ups and downs of juried shows. I’ve seen artists become offended or hurt by comments from jurors, and on the other side I’ve seen artists with supposed super-star status get in a huff when a waitress didn’t recognize them.

When I first started helping Bill it was a bit overwhelming and, quite frankly, sometimes still is. There’s a lot of pressure!

First off, I really hate telling him something is off in a painting because often I see his face visibly fall. But, since this is our livelihood it’s important that his paintings are gallery ready when they leave his studio. Plus, I remember back to when people left my critiques unsaid and how helpful it would have been if they just said what they were thinking. And of course I’m not always right. Recently I suggested some revisions in a rose piece he did, and he confidently told me he preferred the way they were.

A couple weeks ago Bill ‘finished’ this painting that he started at Yosemite, and he was obviously pretty exhausted. This was after nearly 8 hours of work when you count in time spent painting plein air and the final touches he added in the studio (the step by step video will be ready for our Monthly Members soon).

Before – The ‘Splatted Spider’

That cliff went through many face-lifts before he decided he liked it, and he did an amazing job with it. I’m sure when he asked me to come in for the final look he thought he was done and ready to ship. But, I spotted a place that looked like a splatted spider, and my eyes kept traveling back to that spot. I circled it above just in case the spider shape wasn’t apparent to everyone, which it probably isn’t for most, but it was a pretty big distraction to me in an otherwise beautiful painting, and I figured I wouldn’t be the only spectator to notice.

Luckily this was a quick fix, but not all have been.

The Kristie Approved Version

 

I’m now blessed to take voice lessons from an amazing teacher! She’s very honest with me, but I never feel foolish or inept when she gives me feedback. I value it and earnestly try to improve. There have been times when she’s suggested something to change as I prepare for a performance, and I’ve found that I like it my way better (although I think that’s only happened once). Like I said, we all have opinions, and that’s what a critique is, our opinion of something.

That opinion may be based on years of education and life experience, like my voice teacher.  Or it may be based on… well nothing more than just what we’re attracted to naturally. And isn’t that wonderful!?!? How boring our world would be if we all thought the same and saw through the same eyes.

If you’ve learned anything about Bill’s personality, you know he’s very tenderhearted. He genuinely loves people, and sometimes I think he would rather poke out his eye with his #8 Filbert than offend someone. When you watch his critiques, you can see the toll it has on his voice, but you don’t see the stress it causes him days and hours leading up to the event.

Bill’s #8 Filbert

I try to organize the submitted paintings a week ahead of time, and then David (our son and Tech Guy) sends out an email with the line up a few days before the critique event. After that I put all of the images on a USB and Bill downloads each of them into Photoshop.

That’s the easy part.

Next, we set aside several hours to sit and study each image – first discussing what we love about the paintings. It takes such courage for an artist to allow their piece to be viewed and talked about in front of peers, and every month we’re so impressed by the paintings that we get to look over. We have such incredible artists in the Master Oil Painting community!

Then we discuss aspects that we think could be improved. I think Bill should have a scrolling text at the bottom of the screen explaining that “these are just his opinions and are subjective” because he reiterates this at least once per session. At this point he gets to work in Photoshop trying out ideas to help make the piece stronger.  This is typically a 2 day job since he allows up to 25 painting submissions per session.

Original painting by Larain Ashby – notice the round rocks that we suggest the artist alter.

 

Larain’s painting with some alteration suggestions by Bill Inman using Photoshop

 

I think the reason these critique sessions work out as well as they do is because of the way Bill goes about it, and I would recommend that anyone going into a critique session carry some of this same attitude with them.

Here are my top 4 observations as I’ve watched him critique:

1)  Bill has nothing but love for each student and a desire to help them achieve their painting goals.

2) Bill sees the good in everything. A man came to our door begging for money and without hesitation Bill helped. He said to me after, “I need to always remember that I’m closer to being like him than I am to being like my Savior – we all need help from someone.” Seeing the good in each artist’s submission helps them understand that they are on the right path, that they are good at what they’re doing, and that they should keep up the excellent work. Often, the paintings are only a few small changes away from meeting their goals.

3) What I love most about Bill’s critiques is that he offers solutions. He shows how to improve the painting right there during the webinar. The student isn’t left feeling like the piece is hopeless. This is where his mastery of the subject comes in, and where I fall short when I’m critiquing his paintings. Many times all I can say is, “That doesn’t look right” but I don’t know why or what to do about it.

4) Even though it wears Bill out mentally and physically – he loves it!  He loves the opportunity to help others.  He loves the interactions he sees between the students and the support the members of this wonderful community give one another. He loves seeing the paintings after artists work on them following the critique, and he loves that the artist is happy with their finished paintings.

My bit of advice before you offer any kind of critique is to make sure you really want to help. And be gentle – paintings seem almost like a piece of the artist themselves. If you ask a friend for a critique be patient, it takes repetition and training to see the weaknesses from an art principles based ‘eye’ – most people are going to be very hesitant because they won’t feel qualified and they won’t want to hurt your feelings. Most people can also, with some guidance and encouragement, become a helpful resource to assist you in improving your art.

Comment below with some strategies you’ve used, or have seen others use, that have helped a critique session go splendidly.

Please Note: Before you send in your painting for our next LIVE monthly critique session you need to know that they are closed webinars and ONLY members of the 6 Week Course and/or the Monthly Membership are able to submit paintings or register to attend. However, we do an OPEN critique webinar twice a year and we’ll send out an email when the next one opens up.

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