How to Critique Your Painting

Figuring out how to improve a painting is a hard-won skill. As a workskhop teacher, I critique my student’s paintings every day. Thanks to this, I’ve learned how to critique my own. Here’s what I look for:

Does the painting evoke a certain mood? A painting should engender in the viewer the emotion that inspired the artist to paint the subject. If the feeling isn’t there, think back to what drew you to the moment and work that element into the painting. For example, consider using horizontals to instill a sense of calm or diagonals for a sense of movement or tension.

Does the painting have a sense of light? Whether you work in the studio or outdoors, painting is all about the light. Landscapes might suggest atmospheric conditions such as strong sun or overcast skies—or time-of-day considerations such as morning or evening; portraiture and still life work might make use of chiaroscuro or strong value contrasts to enhance effectiveness.

Does the painting have a good design? Well-designed art is balanced without being static and boring; it has a pleasing tension to provoke interest.

Is the paint applied skillfully? The competent and effectual handling of one’s medium is crucial to a professional appearance. I like to see loose but carefully-placed marks and a technique that’s consistent without being boring.

Do the painting’s elements support the center of interest? Although every square inch of the painting should be interesting, none of it should be more interesting than the center of interest. Lines, whether actual or implied, should point to this all-important area and not out of the painting. Maximum contrast, whether in value, color, shape or texture, usually should be at the center of interest


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