Critique My Artwork: How to Analyze Your Work Effectively

critique my art

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If you’ve ever asked, “How do I critique my artwork?”, you’re in luck. Learning how to effectively analyze one’s own work is a fantastic tool for improvement, even if you have classes or instructors on hand.

Critiquing art on your own ensures you always have a means of self-improvement tied to your vision. Even if you’re not able to access classes or purchase certain tools, your next painting can still be better than the last.

As a professional artist who regularly critiques my own art, I’ll equip you with the tools needed to be your own walking art school.

How to Give Yourself a Critique Demonstration

The sample critique sheet above will give you a starting place to create critique demonstrations on the fly. To see a critique demonstration in action, the below video showcases a great artist approaching their art with an ongoing critique and analysis.

what is an art critique?
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Paint Coach starts off this painting by using a lightbox to hold all the different still life elements in one place, such as a tin of flowers, fruit, and cloth. Since this reference doesn’t use natural light, you can return to it again and again to work on art at your leisure.

how to critique

As he starts laying down a sketch and basic values, he makes sure to note the separation between the foreground elements and background (shown with three red circles). Even as he works on this painting, he’s thinking critically about how each element works together.

He mentions that you can take ‘visual notes’ as you work through your art ideas, making marks or saving certain areas for later. If you want to make this step even easier, consider sketching in light numbers in each place that coordinate with notes on your critique sheet. You can then paint over these areas later.

how to critique art

In this step, he makes a good point about not overcomplicating the beginning stages. He notes that an orange can be reduced to the simplest, blockiest shape and colors.

Even a more complex shape can still be reduced to basic parts and pieces, as shown in this next step.

art criticism example

Despite the complexity of all the different petals, he makes sure his paintings always have striking form before diving into detail. He focuses more on the clumps of shadow and fluffy shape instead of every little individual petal.

art critism steps

You can do a million paintings and still sometimes hit a snag. Here he finds a challenge of how to keep the values distinctive from the bright cloth, the colorful fruit, and shiny tin.

He’s mindful not to go too dark with his artwork, exaggerating the reflected light to simulate depth.

critique in art

As he starts to wrap up this lovely finished work with a little detail, he prefers not to sharpen things too much. He enjoys how bold and characteristic his original shapes are, preferring to hint at detail instead of creating a hyperrealistic study.

I highly recommend watching the entire video to see how his paintings come to life and what goes through the mind of an artist during a session. He created this art post to help you see all the little bumps and turns a piece can create. Art is, at its very core, a conversation you have with yourself and the world around you.

Analyze the Elements of Art

The fundamental elements of art will help you apply constructive feedback no matter the genre or style. I’ll briefly break down each element of art and how you can apply them to your own art whether it’s a painting or drawing.

(Remember not to confuse the elements of art with the principles of art, though they certainly overlap!)

Linework

linework
“Broadway Boogie Woogie” by Piet Mondrian

Strong and expressive linework is one of the simplest ways to analyze whether or not your current illustration is doing well. Below are a few questions you can ask:

  • Is the linework dynamic with varied line weights or different textures? Why or why not?
  • Does the linework effectively communicate texture or shape? Why or why not?
  • Is the linework loose and relaxed or is it stiff? Why or why not?
  • Will I be incorporating linework into the painting or painting over it?

Space

space
“Black Square” by Kazimir Malevich

Creating a sense of space is one of the greatest illusions you can put in a painting or drawing. If you’re having trouble creating this, the questions below can get you on the right track:

  • Is there a sense of three-dimensional space in the piece? Why or why not?
  • Does the piece feel cluttered or chaotic? Why or why not?
  • Does the illustration have breathing room, such as blank areas or areas with less detail? Why or why not?

Composition

An aspect I constantly analyze in my own art is how all the different pieces of a painting relate to each other. If your composition doesn’t feel harmonious or eye-catching, ask these questions:

  • Where is the focal point?
  • Who or what are the supporting elements?
  • Is the composition balanced and striking? If not, why?
  • Did you use the rule of thirds? Why or why not?

Values

values
“Impression, Sunrise” by Claude Monet

A simple adjustment of your values can make your illustration come to life. If you’re worried everything looks washed out and flat, ask these questions:

  • Are the values balanced with enough dark and light areas? If not, why?
  • Does the eye travel naturally or are the values murky and hard to read?
  • Do you have a blend of cast, drop, and/or occlusion shadows?

Form

form
“The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp” by Rembrandt

Everything from anatomical accuracy to proportions contributes to how well you translate form in an illustration. A common issue for artists is drawing forms that seem stiff or floaty, so ask these questions:

  • Is your form weighty and believable? Why or why not?
  • Are your proportions accurate? If not, why?
  • Does your anatomy have believable muscle and bone structure? Why or why not?

Color

color
“Composition with Red, Blue, and Yellow” by Piet Mondrian 

Color harmony is highly subtle, but approaching it with confidence is your first step toward creating lush and rich illustrations. Below are questions I ask when analyzing my own work:

  • Do my colors feel balanced and natural? Why or why not?
  • Do I have a blend of warm and cool colors? Why or why not?
  • Does the color temperature support elements such as space and form? Why or why not?

Texture

texture
“American Gothic” by Grant Wood

Regardless of your art style, getting a firm grasp on texture can lend some dynamism and life to your work. Reference photos help immensely here, but you can also ask these questions:

  • Does your piece have believable textures (grass, fur, hair, stone, etc)? Why or why not?
  • Are you using different techniques that create strong texture, such as scumbling? Why or why not?
  • If you did a first painting, did you do any texture studies to recreate later?

When learning how to develop solid art critique, it’s important to always view these questions as a springboard for action. They’re not just for theoretical purposes, but a means to guide your hand and try something else.

However, you don’t need to force feedback – if you’re doing pretty well in one area, that’s great! Move on to the next part of your painting or drawing to apply critique elsewhere.

Celebrate Your Strengths in Your Art Critiques

celebrate your strengths in your art critiques

Critique isn’t just what you need to improve – it’s also nailing what you’re already doing well. That doesn’t mean you can’t improve on your strengths, but you can simply shift your effort to the larger problem at hand.

  • What do I like about this piece so far? Why?
  • What are areas that are easier for me to tackle in art?
  • What should I keep doing going forward (not just with this piece, but also future work)?

When it comes to positive aspects about my own art, I’ve noticed I have a strong grasp on dynamic lighting, design principles, and striking compositions. While I still put effort toward improving these areas through study and self-critique, these areas come more naturally to me now.

Hone in on Your Weaknesses

Critique is a foundation to grow as an artist, not a mark on your character or a sign you should quit. Even the most experienced professional artist can hit a creative roadblock.

When figuring out how to approach a painting from the ground up, honing in on immediate weaknesses is an easy task. The questions below will automatically help you generate ideas for improvement:

  • What’s the biggest issue in this piece so far?
  • What are areas that are easier for me to tackle in art?
  • What should I focus on with this piece and future work?

Areas I’m eager to improve on in my own art are more expressive poses and a stronger grasp of two-point and three-point perspectives. I’ve created critique sessions in the past to address this (and plan on making many more!).

hone your weaknesses
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Also, when bringing up weaknesses to improve upon a painting, you don’t need to write a novel – just one or two main issues are enough to dramatically improve a piece.

Below is a fictional critique sheet for an artist doing an environment study in oil painting – notice how not every art element is on the sheet since every project has a unique vision and goals. You can modify this template to help you keep track of the vision and goals of your own work.

Determine Your Vision

The foundation of any critique sheet is a unifying vision – the purpose you want this piece of art to serve. These purposes are numerous and could include (but are not limited to):

  • Telling an engaging story
  • Bringing an original character to life
  • Remembering a beloved family member
  • Designing a beautiful outfit
  • Presenting social commentary
  • Selling a product
  • Inspiring viewers to take action
  • Fleshing out a dream so you don’t forget
  • Celebrating a song

Since this is a complex and somewhat ambiguous topic, I fleshed out a few visions to show you how they’re applied to an art piece.

detremine your vision
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Inspiring a Certain Emotion

What inspired you to create this painting? This ‘why’ is like the foundation of a house – as long as it’s sturdy, everything else will hold up.

A common reason to craft a new piece is to inspire a certain emotion in the viewer (and repeat that emotion to yourself). For example, you may be going through a hard time in your life and may want to vent out your frustration or fear in a painting. Your art could be the catharsis you need to keep going.

Your critique sheet could have a note on whether or not this emotion carries through your work. You may find you need to darken the colors, exaggerate a character’s tears, or add a more dramatic light source.

Recreating a Person in Your Life

Maybe you enjoy adding a spin on everyday life, such as a portrait of a friend in splashy impressionism. Your art could be your way of showing them how much you care and why they mean so much to you.

Your critique sheet could have notes on accurately capturing their proportions, such as the length of their nose or the size of their lips. You could also put down notes on why you want to exaggerate certain elements, such as using a high amount of pink to celebrate their favorite color.

recreating a person in your life

Breathing Life into a Fictional Character or Setting

Perhaps you wanted to breathe life into a new story you came up with. You want to add more detail to your story by crafting a series of paintings and using them as references for larger works of art.

Your critique sheet could write down notes of why certain details or elements are important to your fictional world. For example, you may want to repeatedly use the symbolism of a rose to represent the themes of your story.

As long as you tap into the ‘why’ behind your artwork, you’ll ensure you don’t lose sight of why you’re making it.

breathing life into a fictional character
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If you need a place to start as you tap into your personal reasons, I highly recommend reading artist interviews. Kae Tanaka, an illustrator and designer, talks about the inspirations behind many of her sketches and outfit designs. Her artwork has been a way to vent her emotions, understand her own struggles, and tap into her unique identity as an artist.

Julie Dillon is another artist whose beautiful work you may have encountered in magazines or on book covers. She talks about the inspiration behind her work and where she hopes to go with it in the future.

How do you Critique Art for Beginners?

Outside feedback is helpful for beginner artists to get a grasp on the critique session. I recommend signing up for online art communities rather than relying on the feedback of friends and family (unless you can trust them to be honest).

You can find online art groups through Facebook, Reddit, and Instagram by searching for specific keywords and hashtags. You can post your work, fill it with relevant hashtags, and get feedback from other artists. You can also comment on another artist’s post to return the favor.

Determine Your Goal

detremine your own goal

While a vision provides the purpose behind your work, a goal is a more specific means of achieving that purpose. For example, if the vision of a painting is to inspire feelings of whimsy, then a goal could be implementing the techniques of classical artists with airy and charming portfolios.

Crafting a clear-cut goal is easier when you get specific, whether for artistic or technical purposes. I’ll provide more examples below so you can get the creative juices flowing.

Create a Higher Value in Contrast to Make a More Believable Subject

Let’s say you want to recreate a subject believably, such as a beloved pet or a vase of flowers. A goal that will help you achieve this vision could be to make a higher value in contrast.

A lack of contrast can make a subject appear flat or muddy. Cranking up the values can make a painting pop out at the viewer and feel more believable.

Exaggerate Shapes to Craft a More Dynamic Composition

Let’s say the vision of your painting is to be vibrant and full of energy, almost like it’s leaping out at the viewer. Your goal could be to exaggerate the shapes of the subjects so the composition is more dynamic.

Study Fur and Scale Textures to Make a Fictional Creature Look Real

study fur and scale textures to make a fictional creature look real
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Even the most fantastical subjects need to be grounded by aspects of reality. If you have the vision of creating a mythical creature that feels real, your goal could be to study fur and scale textures.

I can’t stress enough the importance of embracing every little step. Even if you didn’t hit your goal(s), your final painting or drawing is not a failure. Every piece of art, from a doodle on a napkin to a huge final painting, is a valuable lesson and a beautiful experience.

Gather References and Inspirations From Other Artists

No artist exists in a void free from influence or inspiration – we all remix the world in our own unique way. References and/or inspiration help you learn from the world around you, as well as other artists, to create more powerful work:

Are These References Helpful for Creating My Own Work?

Not all references are good references. If you’re trying to paint a lovely river surrounded by forests, you don’t need to gather up photos of Converse shoes and pug puppies.

Too many references can also distract you (and even make it difficult to complete your work). I personally use between one to seven references depending on the piece’s complexity and my own familiarity with certain subjects. However, the specific amount of references is not a hard and fast number. If you need several, go for it! If you do fine with just one or two, that’s good, too.

are these references helpful for creating my own work?

I like to put together individual folders for my paintings so I can access references on the fly. I also have general folders filled with inspiration that I like to access on and off.

If you want a starting point for gathering up references without losing track, get a free Pinterest account. This site is fantastic for creating a virtual pinboard to stimulate creativity.

Are These Art Styles Close to My Vision?

When you take inspiration from other people’s artwork, you need to keep your vision front and center. While you may enjoy dramatically different styles (variety is the spice of life!), your painting can only embody so many things.

If you’re taking inspiration from beautiful impressionist paintings, be selective when stepping outside of that box. While I love fusing multiple styles together, getting too experimental can backfire and make it hard to see a piece through to completion.

are these art styles close to my vision?
A Bar at the Folies-Bergère by Édouard Manet

Have I Looked at My Art in Different Ways?

A fast and easy way to turn your own work into a reference is by looking at it differently. Try flipping your piece upside down or looking at it in a mirror to have mistakes pop out at you.

I’m now going to share one of the biggest art tips of my life – sometimes flipping or reversing your painting will show improvement, too. There have been times I thought something looked funny, but then did the reverse-mirror method and realized it was just fine. Be bold – you may just surprise yourself with your progress.

Self-critique is How You Develop Confidence as an Artist

Learning how to critique your own art while maintaining a consistent vision is how you develop confidence as an artist. If you can get strong feedback no matter where you are or what you’re doing, you’ve seriously leveled up.

Over time, your self-critique sessions will become second nature. You can always use sheets – these are still helpful for sorting your thoughts – but you can also critique your process on the fly in your head.

That said, online resources still play an important role in the development of your craft. Check out New Masters Academy to enjoy an art community, live feedback, and a dedicated curriculum all in one place.

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