Critiquing Your Own Artwork

I have a couple of projects in the works but nothing yet ready to share, so I decided to post about a relevant topic.

My art teacher was not particularly impressed by the drawing pictured here. I remember that one problem he found was that the skeleton is distorted, which was something I hadn’t noticed but don’t disagree with. It turned out that I was supposed to do a larger drawing (I think 24×32), which might have made the final piece seem less crowded. But when I look at this drawing today, I feel very proud of what I was able to accomplish. I did this drawing within 6 months of learning to use charcoal. The sheet, the ceramic jar at the bottom center of the drawing, and the hat and broomstick all look very realistic to me. However, there are also mistakes in the drawing that my eyes immediately go to, such as the leaning jar on the bottom right and the curved spokes of the umbrella. I don’t know if I noticed these things at the time, and I was under time pressure. But I’ve learned that sometimes it takes quite a while to be able to step back from a project and critique it fairly. This may be because of the high that one sometimes feels when finishing a piece of artwork (an overly kind critique), or the endless barrage of could-have-done-betters that afflict a perfectionist (overly harsh). I’ve been guilty of both. Lately I’ve been in a negative mood when it comes to critiquing my own work, so I’m trying to remind myself to be fair, and to appreciate the work regardless of the criticisms I may have.

Being able to critique your own artwork is a useful skill. It is still important to get feedback from others, but if you have the ability to critique yourself, you won’t be entirely reliant on other people to tell you what you could be doing better (or what you are already doing well). While it would be ideal for every piece of art to turn out “perfectly,” in the end each oversight or mistake is an opportunity to create something better the next time. Because of this, it is important to be able to step back from your work and give it as objective a critique as possible. Just as you would if you were critiquing someone else’s work, it can be useful to first and lastly notice the positive attributes of the work while sandwiching constructive criticism in between. I think of constructive criticism as an acknowledgement of a flaw in the piece that allows for the artist to adjust the flaw (if still working on the piece) or to carry new, useful knowledge into the next piece. Instead of just noting that a part of the piece looks “wrong” or “bad,” try to figure out what it is specifically about that area that isn’t working. That way, you can fix your mistake or apply what you learned to your next work. And don’t forget to take pleasure in the process of creating artwork in the first place!


Smith Final ProjectFinal project for Drawing I at Smith College, charcoal, 2007 (18×24)

Why I Draw

Yesterday I was inspired by blog posts on to think about why I draw. I’m not intending this post to be an artist’s statement, but simply a general reflection and self-exploration.


Why I Draw

For me, there is pleasure in looking at something and being able to recreate it on the page. Drawing is one of the only things that I can do for hours and feel like only minutes have passed. I have always tended toward realism, or capturing a scene the way it would appear in a photograph. But lately I am learning that even if a work doesn’t turn out exactly the way it “should have,” that is ultimately the distinct mark of the particular artist, based on what she saw, how she wanted (or was able) to put it down on paper, and the subject, shadow, texture, and color choices she made.


Why I Draw With What I Draw With

If I’m being perfectly honest, I draw with pencil and charcoal because it is erasable. I have come to deeply enjoy not just working on a drawing, but reworking it, sometimes over and over again. But one of the big elements that factors into the equation is fear. Fear of making a mistake, of not being able to erase it. Fear of imperfection. But lately I have been determined to face these fears (in art and in life). That is one reason that I ventured into using colored pencils. I waited so long because I thought I didn’t know how to use and mix colors, and wouldn’t be able to create realistic art. But so far I’m happy with what I’ve been able to do using color. I didn’t know it at first, but colored pencil takes a very long time and therefore requires a lot of patience. My first reaction when I realized that was frustration. But then I thought, “This is good for me. I could use some patience.” I plan to try other materials as well that I think I don’t like or am afraid of, such as ink and paint.


Why I Draw What I Draw

This is the area that requires the most thought for me. I suppose it is valid to say that I choose subjects based on interesting shapes and shadows, things I began to look for in everything when I was taking art classes, and that I can envision on the page even before I begin. But beyond that, there has been a shallowness to what I draw in the sense that I draw things that look nice or interesting, but have no real significance to me. I sometimes draw from personal photographs, and that does add a layer of meaning. But as far as artistic vision goes, I don’t really have one yet. I am starting to believe that most of what I have been drawing has been practice (hopefully) for something bigger to come…

I need to think about why someone would connect with my drawings, besides them being “good” or pretty or realistic. I want my art to convey feeling and energy. I want to draw for a reason.


I will continue to reflect on this topic and I hope that what I learn will begin to be visible in my work.


Wedding Hand Watermarked

Wedding Hand, charcoal on mixed media paper, 2017 (11×14)

Sketch: Cookie Scoop

This time I used a different sketchbook, this Strathmore Drawing 80lb Premium Recycled paper (9×12). The “Richeson” label at the bottom is the mark of my portable wooden easel that I’ve been using.


Here are my charcoal materials. They include willow charcoal, compressed charcoal, charcoal pencils (including white), kneaded erasers and paper blenders.


My initial sketch:


Next I laid down some charcoal to get started, an underpainting of sorts.


I’ve been told not to use my fingers to smudge the charcoal because the oils from your fingers get on the paper, but I still do it anyway. I like the effect and the process of working that closely with my hands. I did also use a paper blender in places narrower than my finger (after first attempting unsuccessfully with fingers).


I mostly used my willow charcoal (along with my 4H pencil), but I did add a bit of soft charcoal pencil for some definition and detail.


It’s been a while since I worked on a charcoal drawing with such small details. It was harder than I remembered! I have a habit of sticking with the medium willow charcoal no matter what, but there is a thinner one I could use, it just breaks easily. Again, this is a fast sketch and not a polished drawing. I’m using these as practice and as a learning tool.


Next week I’m planning on redrawing the cookie scoop and using colored pencil. It should be a fun experiment. I didn’t want to stuff too much into one post (and I’m still waiting on those Prismacolors–less than one week!!) After that, I hope to get inspired to do a bigger project, which will mean less frequent posting for a while, unless I decide to do mid-project updates.

Why This Blog?

I am starting this blog as a record of my journey to improve my art skills and experiment with different methods and mediums. My goal is to post pictures of my current art projects stage by stage with commentary on the techniques I used and what I learned and experienced. I also hope to provide tips and tricks that will help beginning artists as they learn to put what they see onto the page and find their artistic voice.

“Drawing through” can refer to thinking about the shape and form of an object as you draw–not just what you see but also what you don’t see. For example, when you are drawing a 3D object such as a house, you want to keep the back of the house in mind in order to create a realistic image, even though it won’t ultimately show in your drawing.

You can also “draw through” in other ways; I plan on drawing through the setbacks and difficulties that I will inevitably face in this journey.

Monk Trees WatermarkedMy favorite charcoal drawing, “Monk Trees,” 2015 (18×24). From a personal photograph.