To critique a painting ( your own painting included), your aim is to see clearly both the STRENGTHS and WEAKNESSES in the art. What worked and was painted well? What could have been improved? Strive to maintain your objectivity in order to accomplish an impartial evaluation. Detachment can be elusive when you are looking at your own painting and are emotionally invested in your own work. Therefore, step away from your picture for a time and don’t try to critique as soon as you finish a painting. Your emotions can skew how clearly you see your work, so it helps to set the picture aside for a day or two.
‘Floating Christmas Tree’ Watercolor Painting.
AIM FOR OBJECTIVITY.
Remember, as you evaluate, consider the painting as a whole. Small mistakes don’t matter, so don’t be overly distracted by them. Set aside criticism of the little things and negative judgements of your abilities. Notice what you have done well, so that you can pinpoint what to continue doing. And note how your work could improve. Your aim is to problem-solve and work out constructive, specific ideas to try next time. If you have overworked a painting, it is not helpful to tell yourself, “This is awful!” Instead, for example, make a note to yourself to stop painting earlier (before overworking) and to stop fussing with tiny details hoping to fix every little mistake.
HOW DO YOU FEEL?
In order to critique your work, you need to know what you’re trying to accomplish in your painting — your goal. Your job as a painter is not to copy and paint exactly what you see, but to paint how your chosen subject makes you FEEL. When your painting makes you feel the same way you feel about your subject, then you have succeeded in capturing emotion and feeling in your painting.
‘Winter Sledding’ Watercolor Painting.
All good paintings have a simple, clear idea behind them. WHY have you chosen to do this painting? What has attracted you to this image? Take the time to think about and experience what the image means to you. Does the scene suggest a sanctuary, relaxation, loneliness, or perhaps is it bustling and filled with people? The reason you painted this picture is your personal connection, and that connection should come across in the finished painting. Is your message clear?
As you evaluate your finished painting, you may want to ask yourself a series of questions that focus on some of the important characteristics of good art. Set your painting up so you can take a look at it from across the room. Which part of the painting do you look at first? The eye is generally drawn to the spot with the most contrast. This space should ideally be your chosen center of interest. You want to draw attention to the center of interest so that the viewer focusses here. It’s WHAT your painting is about. (Be sure to choose only ONE focus.)
If your eye is drawn elsewhere first, you might want to increase contrast (whether contrast of value, color, shape, or edge) at your center of interest to emphasize this part of your picture. Remember that a full range of light and dark values, from darkest darks to lightest lights, can create more impact. You could also add a pop of complementary color at your focal point to attract attention.
Further, your center of interest should be the most detailed area of the picture, since detail also attracts the eye and tells your viewer where to look. Ideally, keep other sections of a painting less detailed and thus less emphasized. All parts of your picture are NOT equally important and, similarly, should not be equally detailed. How did you deal with detail?
‘The End Of The Day’ Watercolor Painting.
PLANNING AND COMPOSITION.
Did you plan your approach to this painting before picking up your brush? Did you think about rearranging the major shapes in a balanced, pleasing way to improve the composition? Did you test out your ideas first in a small value study? Did you simplify and leave out confusing details? Did you establish the lightest light values right away? Did you consider what colors would support the mood of the scene? If you didn’t do these things BEFORE painting, you may notice a jumble of shapes but no focus, values too similar to each other so nothing stands out, colors that don’t suit your subject or clash with each other, background or sky tacked onto your paintings as an afterthought, etc. Might thinking about the above questions have helped improve the final painting?
‘The Tire Swing’ Watercolor Painting.
TECHNIQUE AND EXPRESSION.
How was your technique in this painting? What was easiest for you, and what was done well? Did you have difficulty figuring out the sequence of layering colors – what color can be laid down first, then what other colors should follow, or did you mistakenly try to paint everything at once? Were you scared you would make a mistake so your brushstrokes became small and tentative? Were you hesitant in your color mixes, ending up with timid colors? Next time, you could take a chance and try to be bolder.
If you noticed self-criticism and discouragement while painting, be patient and kind to yourself. It will help you relax. Try to be aware of how you’re feeling as you paint, since your emotions affect your brushstrokes and the quality of your work. When you’re tense, you could take a break and some deep breaths, calm down a bit, then return to painting with a more composed attitude.
How did you do judging the wetness of the paper compared to the wetness of the paint and brush? Do you need to practice judging wetness to improve your ability to create the edges you want to create? If so, get some scrap paper and practice painting hard edges, soft and lost-and-found edges, while varying the dampness of the scrap paper. You might also rehearse ‘softening’ an edge (an essential skill) on scrap paper.
‘On The Way To Groton’ Watercolor Painting.
Asking questions of yourself (without critical judgement) gets you in the habit of making deliberate decisions regarding your painting. These questions help you evaluate your work objectively, considering value, wetness, color, composition, mindset, and technique. You can walk yourself through these questions for each painting. And start to decide what you like, what interests you, what you paint well, what areas you might want to improve. As you rely on your own awareness, you take charge of your painting while increasing your painting skills and decision-making ability.
Related earlier blogposts:
- ‘Softening An Edge Or Fading Out.’, (10/23/2018), https://leemuirhaman.com/2018/10/23/softening-an-edge-or-fading-out/ ,
- ‘How Wet Is Too Wet? The Secrets To Controlling Water And Paint.’, (6/18/2019), https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/06/18/how-wet-is-too-wet-the-secrets-to-controlling-water-and-paint/ ,
- ‘Painting… On The Edge.’, (8/28/2019), https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/08/28/painting-on-the-edge/ ,
- ‘I Guess We’ve All Made Painting Mistakes!’, (10/9/2019), https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/10/09/i-guess-weve-all-made-painting-mistakes/ ,
- ‘Can’t I Just Paint?’, (3/10/2020), https://leemuirhaman.com/2020/03/10/cant-i-just-paint/ ,
- ‘Distinguishing Layers In Watercolor.’, (5/20/2020), https://leemuirhaman.com/2020/05/20/distinguishing-layers-in-watercolor/ ,
- ‘What Does It Mean To Simplify A Painting?’, (4/14/2021), https://leemuirhaman.com/2021/04/14/what-does-it-mean-to-simplify-a-painting/ ,
- ‘Know Your Edges!’, (5/15/2021), https://leemuirhaman.com/2021/05/15/know-your-edges/ ,
- ‘What Makes “Good” Art?’, (8/24/2022), https://leemuirhaman.com/2022/08/24/what-makes-good-art/ .
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This is a great reminder. Sometimes people comment on my blog that I am being too critical of my paintings. I need to remember to find a few things I think I did well.
I am sure this list of resources will be another great reference for me, thanks so much, Lee!
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Yes, there are always good things we do well in each painting. These should be recognized and celebrated, never glossed over.
You’re very welcome.
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This is a very good and informative article and sooo helpful. Thank you for posting it.
You’re very welcome! Glad it helped.
Thank you for reading and contributing.
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