I just recently received some professional critiques through a group critique session held by my local SCBWI chapter (if you are interested at all in being an illustrator or children book writer then you should join….. believe me, it’s more than worth it). I sent in critiques for a picture book manuscript, some illustrations, and a middle grade 1st ten pages.
Let me just say, the experience was… awesome! They have given me more focus on what to improve and work on, and let me know of strengths my pieces had. More importantly, I feel like I was ready for these critiques, not just in my capability as a writer and artist, but in how I receive criticism in general. Believe me, I have come a long way!
This whole experience got me thinking about critiques in general, and how beneficial they are. It also made me think of how daunting, and humiliating they can be, depending on how the critique is managed.
I have heard that you need to have tough skin in order to survive criticism. I think, in part that is true, but I think more than a thick skin, you need to want what is best for your piece, and that can be hard. After all you’ve sweated and toiled to get the piece where it is. You may even marvel at how wonderful it is. And who better to know of it’s flaws than you? You are your harshest critique. What right does this complete stranger have to not love it as you have, or even worse, a relative or friend who just doesn’t get it.
They may have no right at all, or they might be spot on, but learning to benefit from criticism, and also learning who’s critiques to accept, and whose to not take, even with a grain of salt…
So this isn’t really an art lesson, but more of a life lesson set in a mini series just for you!
And learning how to take criticism, will also help you be able to give it. So today we will talk about the different kinds of critiques, and also the anatomy of the best kind of critiques.
Critiques can take many shapes and forms. I have participated in many different forms both in college, and now as an illustrator and author in different groups.
Group critiques can be daunting, but so beneficial. When you see another person’s work, and hear the comments about them, and also about your own, it can help you see things in another way. It’s almost like creating several pieces, and learning what works an what doesn’t, without having to create all those pieces yourself. I participate in a weekly writer’s critique group, and also a few online art, and writing ones.
But a lot can depend on the tone of the group. In college I was horrified to have my painting in a group critique just torn to shreds. This was a new class, and a new teacher. What I learned from that critique was, “these people are mean.” My previous teacher had a completely different outlook. He was much more supportive, and I admit, that’s the tone that I prefer to use. He would point out flaws in pieces, but he would also point out strengths, and that is the method I prefer to use in all the critiques I give.
Individual critiques are also awesome, especially from a professional (preferably with a good bedside manner). I suggest finding a critique partner, or even a group where individuals can make comments. Getting that one on one feedback can really open your eyes to how your piece is doing.
If you have an opportunity to get a professional critique, from an independent editor, artist, or agent, get it!
When giving a critique it is so easy to point out the flaws. That’s what the person wants, right? To know how to improve it? But knowing what you did right can be just as valuable. It took a lot of guts for that person to get that piece out there. We don’t want to send them home with their tail between their legs.
The anatomy of a good critique.
I am a big supporter of what is called the sandwich method. I think this is a great way to get, and receive critiques.
This is what it looks like.
Comment on something done well.
Comment on things that need improvement.
Comment again on something done well.
Another thing to keep in mind is where that person is in their experience as an author or artist. Giving a critique for someone just beginning out will look different from a professional artist. Or, if it is a rough draft, or thumbnail sketch, don’t nitpick every error, but look at the big picture on how the story is coming together.
Now go get some feedback!