Constructive Critique

I find it very hard to critically look at one of my drawings the moment it is done. In spite of my work to not focus on the pretty picture, my ego still wants the drawing to be good. When I ask myself what needs to change, I get nothing. Still, an impartial eye would find many things that could improve.

Here is an example of what I thought was a finished drawing and a corrected version I touched up a week later. Click on the first drawing to enlarge it and toggle back and forth between it and the revised drawing.

Here are some tricks to help you constructively evaluate and improve your drawings.

  1. Start with what is working. Any drawing will have parts that are more successful than others. Find those passages in your drawing that are the strongest and that give you positive feedback. Celebrating these strengths will help you do it again and encourages you on.
  2. Make lots of drawings. The more you have under your belt, the less ego is wrapped up in each one. The volume of work creates a buffer, making it safer to make mistakes.
  3. Take a break. Get away from the drawing for a while. Once you think you are done, give it a rest for a few days and come back and look at the drawing again. Something you had overlooked may now pop out at you.
  4. Draw some more. I find it is difficult to evaluate my most recent drawing. If I draw another one, that new one can become the “perfect” one, shielding my ego so I can look at the old drawing more rigorously.
  5. Back up. Walk across the room and look at the drawing from a distance. Does the composition hold up?
  6. Squint. You can better see the value range (light to dark) if you squint your eyes. Are you using a full range of values or is the drawing mostly pale? You may also want to look at your drawing through a red filter to convert colors to values (note that this technique will also slightly darken the blues).
  7. Look in the mirror. Observing the mirror image of your drawing will make it look very different. You will see you composition in a new way.

In all your work the most important thing to do to improve is to make a lot of drawings. If you find that rigorously critiquing you own work deflates and intimidates you, lighten up on it and go back to cranking out drawings. If however, you find your can bring an impartial critical eye to your work and can identify what you need to do to improve, you will advance much more quickly. The ideal is a steady work flow in the face of honest and supportive feedback.

5 thoughts on “Constructive Critique

  1. CBColem says:

    Thank you!

    I can add a related tip to using the mirror – try taking a photo of your drawing. It changes it quite a bit and gives me new perspective.

  2. Tony EAson says:

    Good tips.

    When one of my drawings didn’t come out well at all, one of my early drawing teachers told me, “Don’t worry. Just call it a ‘STUDY’ and start another
    drawing.” I did. It came out better and I didn’t feel like such a failure!


    • Great advice Tony. Something I like about calling it a study is the implication that it is drawn to help you learn something as opposed to being something that needs to be a perfect display piece. If you can learn from your own work, you will progress.

    • Renata says:

      Here’s another definition of a study: “… understand a drawing as .. an instrument of questioning and exploration….” from How to Paint Light, Pocket Art Guides.

      And “questioning and exploration” remind me of the three prompts: “I notice,” “I wonder,” and “This reminds me of” from the 2012 blogs. Thank you for the suggestions on constructive critiquing.

  3. mary swanson says:

    I see the differences, and the bird has brightened up. Good eye.

    It like your point that its important to put the drawing down, come back later with a new eye and look for improvements.

    And the background abstracted — thats a success. Thanks so much for sharing the joy of drawing life.

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