Artists & the People Who Critique Them:A Guide to Giving Advanced Critique

by Melissa K. Vassar-Belloso

Author’s Note: So I was recently going back and cleaning up super old posts in my WordPress site when I rediscovered this little darling. I actually wrote this in 2009 for the forums of my oekaki site and at some point backed it up as a blog draft here. I cleaned it up a little and thought it might be a nice one to share even though it is quite old. I won’t lie to you. I only skimmed it and decided to trust 2009 me to understand grammar and basic writing etiquette but it might still be kind of messy in comparison to my more recent writing samples since it is 9 years old. I always find looking back at old writing really interesting and this topic is still pretty relevant so I think people can still get some benefit from this article.

I hope you all enjoy a little peek into my writing past.


Artists & the People Who Critique Them

A Guide to Giving Advanced Critique

By Melissa Vassar

What’s in this Article?

  • Opening Summary
  • What to look for when Forming an Opinion
  • Steps to Writing a Critique
  • Critique Writing Tips
  • Closing Statement

Digital art has taken off tremendously over the years as computers and software have gotten more intuitive and digital artists are like any other artists when they put their work into the public forum in the way they are just as serious and expecting just as much feedback and criticism.Said feedback is only helpful if it somehow helps the artist improve,not just just on that particular piece but in the future.

There are many schools of thought on what is the right or wrong way to give a good critique of an art piece.The goal of this article is to present a basic guide to what entails a good art critique.Giving good and thorough art critique not only helps the artist learn and grow in their craft but helps you as the critic gain a more careful eye for art when you look at it.There will also be tips for you as an artist on how to make a critique work for you.

Forming an Opinion
How to Recognize the basic elements

Before even touching on the act of writing a critique it is important to know what to look for and why.Keep in mind touching on every element listed would be overkill.It’s best to address the most pertinent elements of the picture whether they be good or bad.Also consider things like the subject,intended target audience,and the overall presentation.

1.Focus Area:Is there some part of the picture where your focus ultimately leads to or automatically goes to? This is considered a focus area.A good piece has some part of the picture you are either drawn in by or lead to in a clean fashion.
Why is it important? A focus area creates a sense of closure to the person viewing a picture. A lack of a focus area may leave your critic questioning the composition or subject of your piece.

2.Mood:What is the mood of the picture and how is it conveyed?Was it presented weakly or with a special technique and how did it make you feel versus how it was supposed to make you feel? Mood ultimately defines a person’s overall opinion of the picture.A good picture uses all the elements in it to create a clearly conveyed mood.
Why is it important? Presentation and interpretation are all about mood.You can enhance mood in your pictures through color,layout, and even art style just to name a few.The mood you want should be clear before you embark on creating the picture. Setting the mood properly will really help when a critic takes a gander at your work.

3.Creativity: Is the art piece boring or blazing? Has it been done to death or never been done? How unique is the style and is it used in a way you find refreshing as an audience member? Creativity makes or breaks a piece in a world of literally thousands or more artists each trying to stand out and as a critic it helps you become more engaged toward the art.
Why is it important? As an artist creativity is what makes you rise to the top or sink to the bottom.It can mean jazzing up a classic, mixing media,or using some unconventional composition. Creativity helps you as an artist come through to the critic and your audience and also makes people stop and look at your piece of art out of the bunch and want to have something to say about it.

4.Composition/Design: Is the design scheme unique?Does it have some sense of balance? Is it attractive or flashy or just a plain eyesore?The composition of a piece is basically it’s overall design and layout.This is a huge part of presentation and can either compliment or kill a piece.Not liking a piece’s design my seriously weigh down your critique even if the piece is wonderful.
Why is it important? A good design standard to carry as an artist is “complex but simple”. A sound and balanced design comes from complexities mixed with a common design element that ties the overall presentation together.

5.Tonal Value: How (if applicable) have tones been used and have they been used appropriately and skillfully? Tones are most commonly used in manga or anime related art styles or as background and texture elements.
Why is it important? Tones are things to be careful of if you are an artist. Don’t use them if you don’t need them or if they won’t do anything for the picture. They are also a skill best learned through trial and error.If you’d like to tackle using them take time to experiment with them and expect a few bumps along the way.Try not to overdo it as it’s easy to use too many tones and ruin the picture.Also make sure it fits your art style to use tones.

6.Color:How has color been used in the piece? Is it a good scheme and is it appropriate if you consider the mood and subject of the piece? Also consider if it displays the artist has a basic knowledge of color theory and put time into developing the color scheme.
Why is it important? Consider fundamentals when using color to not only develop good color schemes but show a basic understanding of color theory and the color wheel.Color can  be a useful tool to you as an artist to convey mood,add focus,or enhance style.

7. Fundamentals: Does the artist have a good grasp of the basics like perspective,anatomy,and shading? Keep in mind as a critic even beginners can show this understanding,even if it is only half developed.Don’t be quick to judge based on skill level.It is important to advise here and also commend if the person has a basic understanding of the founding concepts.
Why is it important? Good foundations are the sign of a dedicated artist.The more serious you are,the more serious a critic will take you.Poor fundamentals can turn a masterpiece into a total flop and draw away from the picture’s good points.Be willing to take sometimes hard criticism here and show a willingness to take that advice and learn from it.Don’t be discouraged if understanding the fundamentals takes time.

8.Coherence:Does the piece have a sense of unity to it? Do all the elements of the picture tie together to complete the overall presentation? If something doesn’t fit quite right you may not interpret the piece just right or how the artist intended.
Why is it important? Even the most jumbled piece of art should have a sense of unity to it to make it a truly finished piece or it might leave your critics guessing and wanting.Make sure your picture is a well laid plan from start to finish.Everything from colors,lines,and the artist signature should tie into the piece somehow.

9.Craftsmanship:How well are the tools used and does it look like the artist is familiar and skilled using them? The amount of practice put into using the tools shows effort and enhances how you as a critic perceive the picture’s overall mood.Critique with caution if you yourself don’t know the tools well.If you do offer some tips if you feel the artist could use the help.You may find the artist uses it well and want to even ask for advice yourself.
Why is it important? Oekaki applications are notorious for having a plethora of tools for an artist to make use of. It’s very true that practice makes perfect so try to find the application and tools that work for you and then master them.It shows your dedication as an artist and also cuts down on how long it takes you to create a piece in oekaki.Don’t be afraid to research the different applications or use tutorials either.

10.Basic Forms: How well does the artist grasp using basic lines and shapes? Lineart is an especially vital area of oekaki art and a common trouble area for a lot of beginner and novice oekaki artists.If you can give some helpful tips to ailing artists or suggest a good tool for making clean lineart.If the artist is good you may want to ask how they did it.Critiques aren’t always about the bad points.It’s good to point out when someone is setting an example.
Why is it important? Lineart takes a lot of time and headaches to really master.Try out different tools and methods until you find what works for you.Be open to advice and practice until you’re happy with the results.Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t come to you right away and be ready to take hard criticism on this area.

11.Flow: A well made piece of art has a natural flow from one part of the picture to the next.Each part should blend into the next and help create that sense of unity.Look for something leading your eye from one part to the next and to the focus area.You should be able to clearly distinguish one part of the picture from the next.
Why is it important? Be sure your audience can really see the whole picture and view it in an orderly manner,otherwise they won’t be able to clearly interpret it and ultimately won’t be able to properly critique it.Include elements that lead viewers to the focus area and essentially draw them in.

12.Style: Determine what the artist’s style is and if it’s suitable with all the elements of the picture.Not all art styles can do a great job with all subjects or design schemes.Determine if there are multiple styles,mimiced styles,and how much the style appeals to you overall.If it’s a little different decide if it’s a nice diversion from normal or a half-hearted effort and if it’s very in the box maybe comment on how well they capture a classic art style.Also note just how the style is used to add to or maybe not add to the picture.Analyzing style boils down to whether you like it or don’t but it’s also good to be aware of where the style comes from such as fusion styles used between manga and comic book art or other artists such as landscape artists who really may not profit from using highly varied styles.Some artists thrive from distinct styles and some are better off mastering classics.
Why is it important? For an artist a unique style is your fingerprint in the art world.It’s really the meat and potatoes to your identity as an artist,second only to your own signed name.Developing a style that is distinctively you is a timely but worthwhile process.You can do this while keeping to standards of most art genres.Don’t be afraid to experiment until you’ve established a style that’s uniquely you and don’t pull away from being a little unconventional either.It’s also a good start to decide what styles you would like to incorporate and learn it first before making personal changes.Developing your style will ultimately be a mix of what you like,what you want,personal influences,and your specific drawing techniques and tools of choice as well as your knowledge of fundamentals.

Of course where you have good points you will also have weaknesses.When pointing out any of these listed weaknesses it’s best to have a counterpoint or piece of advice to go with that gesture.As an artist you can always turn these pitfall areas around or even manipulate them to work for you.

1.Technical Innaccuracy:Poor grasp of fundamentals,basic forms,or craftsmanship
2.Lack of Imagination: Dull subject or unimpressive layout for example
3.Lack of Originality: In other words,it’s been done a hundred times before
4.Incoherent Content: Lack of unity,not everything fits together just right
5.Lack of Style or Inconsistent Style: Either a style that’s all blah or an unattractive assortment of styles
6.Poor Quality: This is when it just looks bad for one reason or another whether it be laziness,poor arrangement,or a missed detail somewhere
7.Plaigiarism:The piece is ripped off from another artist’s work
8.Hard to Interpret:Lacking subject or focus point and hard to interpret or view clearly
9.Poor Presentation:The subject is poorly presented
10.Lack of Mood:Poorly depicted or no mood

Becoming a Critic
Steps to Writing the Critique

Now we’ll actually get to the writing part.I promise this section is shorter but I really hope the first section was helpful to someone.This is just my format for a good critique so if you don’t like it you can search around.There are  5 parts to a good critique.

1.Like or Dislike:This is your first opinion of the picture.I would recommend looking quickly once.Don’t analyze yet.Form an overall simple opinion of like or dislike.Make a special note of what you noticed first and where your eyes were eventually drawn.

2.Analyze the Pros: Yes,do the likes first! Pinpoint what you like about it and why.Use the elements from section one as a guide and maybe really pick the picture apart to better understand how it was made.I generally like to mention 3-5 good points about a picture.If you need to search through the picture elements and maybe discover something really good you missed.Maybe you didn’t notice at first glance how the color complimented the mood or how clean the lineart was.This step really helps you develop an eye for detail that you can use on your own work as well.

If you like it all then go to town and elaborate.A good ego stroke is good for an artist every now and then and encourages them to keep working towards their own goals.Make special notes if they really did an exceptional job or made a great improvement from their last picture.

Try to say at least 2 good things but if you really dislike the piece and have nothing constructive to say then don’t comment at all.

3.Analyze the Cons:This can be a huge caution area for some people as there is so much slang and loose language online.It’s very tempting to say red flag words like “sucks”,”stinks”,or even “really bad”.You as a critic have to really bite your tongue and watch your words here.For instance,telling me I draw ugly people and I know nothing about anatomy is very childish.You could say instead that my grasp of basic anatomy could be better or even suggest some sites or books to me.Teaching is always better than insulting because in essence everyone has to start somewhere and it’s rarely at the top,even if a person has natural talent.

When writing what you don’t like give good tastefully written reasons and supplement with advice and never talk down to the artist. 3-5 points is again a good number here.Don’t go into overkill though.Just point out the most pertinent areas of improvement.

4.Giving Advice:Now that you’ve identified what you don’t like you give the advice.Anytime you mention something is less than what it could be make sure you tell why and offer advice if you can.make suggestions on how the artist can turn bad points into good ones.This is the most important part of a critique and what the artist takes away from it.It also helps create your persona as a critic.

5.Closing  Remarks:I always like to end with a sort of summary statement of what I thought of the picture and maybe even a few words of encouragement like “Keep up the good work” or something.This shows you really took time to try to understand the artist and honestly review the piece.Sometimes if there’s more advice then praise in the actual review this can also be a little sugar coating and reassure the artist no review is the end of the world.

Things to Remember
Tips on Writing and Receiving Critique

-Always write the critique from your level of education and experience and with your honest opinions.

-Don’t talk down to the artist or be overly judgemental.

-Pitch your critique at the right level.For example, if the artist is a beginner don’t overload them or tear them apart and if they are advanced don’t assume they should know it all.

-Choose your points based on the person’s skill level and the piece of art itself.A good critique addresses the most pertinent parts of the picture.

-Be objective and unbias when giving a review.

-Never overwhelm the artist by writing too much or cheat them by writing too little.

-Don’t be afraid to offer links to materials  or methods that have helped you.You never know if the artist can benefit from it as well.

-A decent critique is two paragraphs,possibly 3.

-If you have nothing constructive or kind to say it’s best to not comment at all.All critiques should have at least 2 good points to give them a lighter side.

-Critique on what pops out to you first.It’s not necessary to completely pick the picture apart but exploring the different picture elements will develop your eye for detail.


That is about all there is to a good complete and constructive criticism.This model will not only help those you critique but also enhance your ability to analyze your own art.


Copyright 2009 Melissa Vassar

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