Saturday, February 2, 2013

Form a Painting Critique Group

I belong to a great critique group initiated by Sue Church, a wonderful artist, who wanted to connect with other artists.  She set up a private blog to post the photos of paintings to be critiqued.  Our actual meetings are via Skype since our members are located in different parts of the country.  Skype allows us to have a group discussion from the comfort of our own studios!  Technology is wonderful Of course if you have a group close by, the sessions can be in person. 

The benefit of any critique group is every artist has paintings they like, but don't love.  They just can't quite figure out what it needs, but know the painting could be better.  Sometimes all it takes is fresh eyes.  Even if the painting can't be saved, (that will happen) to understand what didn't work on a painting is always a great learning experience and gives me license to play. 

The critique sessions not only provide great suggestions for improving my own paintings, but to learn from the comments on everyone's work.  If you haven't done critiques, that can also be a learning experienceIt teaches you to look at composition and value on someone else's work and to look first for what works and then possible changesEven more important, it should teach you to put your thoughts into positive, understandable wording.  

I find that as I try to implement everyone's suggestions, I see my painting through new eyes.  I put the photograph away & think about what everyone said.  It has helped me not be so 'married' to a photograph and start looking at my composition and values.  Its also learning that sometimes a beautiful photograph doesn't translate well to canvas and we need to allow ourselves to use some 'artistic license'.  Just because it has a tree or pole in the photo doesn't mean the painting needs that tree or pole.  I love a quote I once heard a judge say that goes something like this: "Remember artists are the strongest people in the world.  We can move buildings, trees, rocks, & even mountains." 

Suggestions to think about if you want to set up a critique group:

  • Set up goals & guidelines before starting
    • Determine how often you will meet.  Monthly or semi-monthly work well. 
    • How long will the sessions run?
    • How many paintings can each member post per session? One works well for our group, but it could be more if you don't meet often. 
    • Try to review the paintings on the blog before the critique
    • Keep the discussions focused on the art.  
    • Everyone is responsible for making the sessions a positive experience.
    • Do you want to have someone oversee the session?   If so, that can change each time or stay the same.   
  • This sounds obvious, but ensure members understand critiques.  New painters might not.  The paintings submitted should be ones the artist isn't satisfied with and is looking for ideas that will help improve them.  (I've seen feelings hurt at guild critiques when people brought in framed finished work.)
    • NO ONE is allowed to say negative things their own work.  The group should be positive.  If there are specific things the artist would like the group to focus on then voice it in a positive way.  (Good learning experience too)
  • While its best if everyone can post a painting for each critique, all members might not have a painting ready.  If the member doesn't have a painting to post, they should still participate.  It is important to the other artists to hear your suggestions.  Also, you learn so much from all of the critiques, not just the one about your painting.  
  • Keep the group small4 or 5 artists will keep the critique on track and allow everyone a chance to participate.  With 4 artists we spend about an hour on each critique session.  An hour allows us to look at the last session's paintings & discuss the changes then discuss each new painting up for critique.  

Thai Anyone? 16x20" oil on canvas

This is the original version, but I knew while I liked it 
I believed it could be better so I posted it for a critique. 

The redo... the changes are not obvious,but
in person the painting feels much improved
after implementing the group's suggestions.

Some of the suggestions by the group for this painting:  

  • The viewer's eye didn't travel around the painting but was draw back too much.  
    • Tone down the light on the right mid section coming out of the alley it was too bright.  While it was a good touch, it drew you eye back away from the restaurant.   
    • Tone down the people in the background a little.  The red and bright yellow again drew your eye back too much.  
    • The eye continued back because there was nothing at the end of the street to stop it.  
  • The umbrella needed a stronger highlight to draw the eye forward.  
  • The flowers and flower pots at the front door needed to be toned down.   
  • The top window on the restaurant was too distinctive and needed softening so it wasn't so important.   
  • After making the changes, I thought the sidewalk was too wide and decided the easiest way to "narrow it" was to add a green grassy looking area. I also broke up the line of the roofs. 
The original photograph had a large tree on the right side which would have overpowered the painting and I thought would detract from the color of the restaurant so I left it left out. Instead I pulled another umbrella over and made the umbrellas green to balance the color of the trees on the right. 


  1. Love this post!!! so much good information...

  2. I felt like I was playing "Find The Hidden Differences". Not until you explained it did I see the improved differences and what a difference. Great write up. Really enjoy your writings.

  3. Ok it took me 4 try's to post. Is it just me?

    1. Hi Deena, so glad you enjoyed this post. I have tried to reply since you posted and it would not let me, yet I can now. I have similar problems when trying to post to other people's blogs. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I hope to figure out the trick to publishing.