Monday, January 26, 2009

critiquing your work

Do you ever wonder what people on a art jury look for in a painting? Have you ever wished you could listen in on their conversations? I recently had the opportunity to hear someone critique quite a few paintings over the course of a couple of hours. I took pages of notes. I am sharing some of the main points here in the hope that you will find this information useful in critiquing your own work.

So how did this come about? I am a member of an art club here in Ottawa that holds monthly meetings on the west end of the city. The guest this month was Claude Depuis from the National Gallery of Canada. Mr Depuis was invited to spend the evening critiquing the work done by the club members. Many members were interested in having their work critiqued so I didn't bother taking anything of mine. It was very interesting to hear what his observations were so lets get to it:
  • Overall, he found the work presented for critiquing to be "too deadly serious". He was looking to see if a painting was "slightly playful". Paintings tend to become 'too deadly serious' when we are too focused on our work.

  • In general, he felt that the members exhibited a "fear of wasting material". The paintings were too "tight" and he felt that the artists would naturally loosen up their work if they didn't fear wasting paint and paper. His advice was to start buying cheap paint and to play versus trying to complete a finished work every time. "It's only a painting! Risk ruining it."

  • He had a real problem with artists using paint colours straight from the tube. He could spot this easily. Colours weren't subtle enough or complex enough. For more interesting art, one needs to creating colours by mixing colour. Some artists had used grey paint for shadows and his advice here was to always make your greys and to add colour to you shadows. Overall, he found that people didn't use exciting enough colour in their dark areas.

  • I think almost everyone has heard about not using black paint, but someone obviously hadn't. One painter had used pure black in a large area of their painting and it deadened the piece. His advice was to throw out black and to create your darks. At least mix the black with other colours. This of course applies to coloured pencil too.

  • For painters, his advice was to loosen up their work by using large brushes. He disliked repetitive brush strokes (this was boring). He observed hesitancy in brush strokes which he said allowed the viewer to sense the artist's fear. He urged painters to work from a toned ground instead of starting right on top of a white canvas.

  • Values often needed to be darkened and enhanced more. He was looking for dynamic light and shade. He suggested going from black to white, the full range of values, in each painting.

  • He recommended that people go beyond real life to intensify colour.

  • Overall, he felt that the painters needed to draw more. Over the course of the evening, he continued to stress the importance of a strong foundation in drawing. "You can never do enough drawing."

  • After looking at all of the paintings, he asked the audience if they wanted hundreds and hundreds of paintings. His point? He felt that the paintings he saw revealed a desire to do quick paintings. People put only so much into a painting and then called it quits to presumably go on the next piece. He recommended that the artists spend much more time on each piece. He wanted the artists to challenge themselves and to strive to master skills and techniques. The work exhibited could have been better if the artists had stayed with the paintings longer.

  • Following this comment was the advice that preparation at the beginning is critical. The decisions we make in a few critical areas at the beginning can make all the difference in a piece. Here is something he said that I say to my students: Ask yourself, "Why am I painting this?"

  • He checked each painting to see if it had enough contrast.

So what do you think? Is your work lacking something? Perhaps you would like to take your art to the next level. Why not set aside a bit of time to do your own analysis? Clear an area and get out your paintings. Really look at them and ask yourself if your values could be punched up a bit. Ask if your work is fresh and slightly playful (or does it fall under the deadly serious category). Do you have enough contrast? Are you drawing skills strong? How about your use of colour? Upon examination, would you say that you took your paintings far enough or did you move on too quickly? After having suggested this activity, I must also say that while an honest assessment is valuable, getting too critical and down on your work or yourself won't serve you at all. Please also take the time to note what you do well and what you got right in your paintings! Jot down your thoughts and then refer to them the next time you paint. Learning to look at your work critically takes practice but the more you develop this skill, the more your art will improve.

On the filing front, well yippee and woo-hoo...the mountain has been reduced to nothing but a wee molehill. You know how you dread a job and it turns out to not be as bad as you expected? Well, this wasn't one of those times. :-) I dreaded it and with good reason! I spent at least eight hours on the weekend doing nothing but sorting computer files. I had art images in JPEGs, PowerPoint and bitmaps. I had text files, pdfs, files and images for my website, teaching exercises in a variety of versions, kit images, photos scanned and manipulated, on and on. Three computers down to one. I have created many, many file folders and renamed oodles of files (hopefully for clarity). My next challenge is being able to locate stuff under my new system!

At least it was very cold here this weekend - it was -30 degrees C (-22F) here Saturday afternoon (including a wind chill) so I guess it was a perfect time to be stuck in a chair doing this dastardly deed. Ugh...I have learned my lesson though. I will never let my files get so unruly ever again!! Never!


Christine said...

Excellent advise there! I'll make sure and remeber what he said. Thanks for posting this very valuable info Teresa!
Oh, and congrats on getting that dreadful job done! It is a joy to find what you are looking for at any given time. So, even though it took you 8 long hours to do, it will save you heaps of time and aggravation down the road.

Vic said...

Really intresting post Christine, and some great points, although I did laugh some at the term "deadly serious art " cleanup is a pain for sure, but I learnt my lesson a couple of years ago, so make an extra effort to keep control of all my files,jpeg etc.

Rose Welty said...

Teresa, this is a great post, thanks for sharing what you learned. There's always variance in judging and critiquing...that makes it worthwhile to listen to lots of advice and incorporate what makes sense to you.


Teresa Mallen said...

Hi Christine, saving heaps of time and aggravation, sounds good to me!! :-)

Hi Vic, I found the deadly serious business amusing too. I think we are in danger of this happening when we are trying so hard to get everything right in a piece. Glad to hear you keep orderly files!! Managing data efficiently is a necessity for a successful business and I am delighted that my business is now able to function with greater ease! Can I say yippee again?

Hi Rose, judging and critiquing is an interesting process. I enjoyed watching him deliberate over each piece. He would speak his thoughts out loud as he observed a piece. He would step up close to examine a work from just inches away and he would also step back and look at the work from a distance. The artists whose art was critiqued found the specific info he gave very helpful. You mentioned incorporating what makes sense to you - I agree, it is at this point that the whole critiquing process gets its true value.

Jan said...

Thanks so much for this, Teresa! You've just convinced me to give up painting! Or, maybe I should say, give up showing my work to anyone cause I don't think I could give up painting altogether!

Unfortunately, I find myself guilty as charged on so many counts.

Now that you're finished with your file clean up, wanna come here and help with mine? It's warmer here at least! Well, actually I do keep my image files in pretty good order so there shouldn't be much to do and I make a mean cuppa hot chocolate! lol

Valerie Jones said...

Teresa, thanks for sharing this valuable information! Glad you got your filing done!

Teresa Mallen said...

Good grief Jan, you are kidding right? Definitely don't give up painting!! Hey, I have seen your work and to start with your work is definitely not 'deadly serious'. You compose your work well, you have a lovely use of colour, there are values changes in your work, etc. So you are kidding right?

I really like the idea of somewhere warmer and a 'mean cup of hot chocolate' sounds most tempting but yikes...I couldn't look at another file. How about I just watch you work? :-)

Valerie, you are welcome. And yes, I am glad I got the filing done too. Very glad...

Paula Pertile said...

Thanks for posting these comments Teresa. Of course the rebel in me now wants to paint something all black with the same brushstrokes throughout which also has a not well thought out composition. :~)

Glad the filing is done! I need to do some of that too. I wonder, do you have any exterior hard drives or portable drives, or CDs, or do you keep it all on your computer?

Teresa Mallen said...

Hi Paula, bring it on you rebel you! In your hands, repetitive strokes in all black and poorly composed will look fabulous!!

After all my sweat and toil to create the files was finished (Just can't let it go can I?) my computer was backed up to an external portable hard drive. Some info was also archived to DVD discs.

Good luck with your filing and may I recommend stocking up on junk food? - it helps! :-)

CountryDreaming said...

Thank you very much for sharing these helpful behind-the-scenes critiquing hints. As a photographer, I find that much said here about painting can apply to photos as well. I like the part about adding subtle color to dark shadows, and am especially fond of purples, blues, and greens to lend a moody X-Files look.

Paulette said...

Hi Teresa,
Great info, well put!

Teresa Mallen said...

Well hi there Country Dreaming,
Thanks for stopping by...and yes much would apply to photography, composition, contrast, use of colour etc.

I visited your site and you sure have a lot of helpful info! You go girl!

Hi Paulette, great to see you stopped by!