"Voyager" Mixed Media copyright Ruth Armitage 2010

There is a strange transformation that occurs in the artist’s brain as we near the finish line of making a painting and begin the process of evaluating it. Evaluating one’s own work is an important part of the creation process and can really help improve the direction of our work. I love reading other artists’ blogs and this quote from Amanda Blake’s blog really sums up the feeling that happens when we know it’s working:

“Often the most difficult part of painting is knowing when to stop but then there’s also the moment when it all suddenly comes together and you know one brush stroke more would be too much…”

But what happens when you finish a painting, or come to a stopping place, and you don’t get that feeling? We’ve all felt that frustration, but how many of us use it to get to the next level in our painting? It is supremely important that we listen to our own intuition about our paintings. We are probably hardest on ourselves, and yet we often defer to others’ opinions of our work.

 Here are some of the questions I ask myself when evaluating my own work:

  • What are the strengths? (this is often the most difficult question! It is hard to praise yourself, but it can be a great thing to lead to the next painting or find which emphasis you want)
  • What jumps out at me? Why? Was that my intent?
  • Does it feel like my original idea/emotion? Why or why not?
  • Is there dominance of one design element?
  • Is it consistent with my best work?
  • Does my eye move around the painting in an interesting pattern?
  • Do I utilize the principles of design? Balance, repetition, gradation, harmony, dominance, contrast & unity?
  • Does my use of the elements of design enhance the feeling of the painting? Could they be emphasized or de-emphasized to greater effect? I have personal favorites that I like to emphasize… did I continue this theme? (I really like to emphasize color and shape over line, texture or space. Leaning on these elements of design starts to help define my ‘style’.)
  • Is the paint quality/ texture  consistent?
  • Is the concept creative or imaginative?

Looking at the work of masters can really help you identify what  you want to emulate. Not that you should try to paint like Milton Avery, but you can use his idea of flattened shapes in your own way, perhaps in combination with your own color aesthetic or line treatment.

When I have to answer in a negative way to these questions I look at it as a possible way to change the painting or try a new one. As Donna Zagotta pointed out in a recent blog post:

“It’s not necessarily true that if you paint a lot you will automatically get better. I know this sounds blasphemous to those who believe that if we go into the studio and “just do it”, everything will magically fall into place. I’ve both experienced and observed the results of that approach time and again with the same disappointing results. The fact is, if you’re heading in the wrong direction and you go into the studio and “just do it”,  you’re going to get better and better at doing it wrong!”

I think that many new artists believe that most paintings should work out. In reality, a good portion of the paintings that I begin never make the cut. I am not alone in this… see Casey Klahn’s post on Editing your own work.

I’ve added a new class offering to the Workshop page, and registration has begun for Creative Arts Community’s summer Art Camp for adults. I notice that some of the classes are already full, so if you’re thinking of signing up, get right on it!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on critiquing your own work. Click on the ‘More’ button to leave me a comment!

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