It can very well be the most valuable skill we will ever learn. It serves us in countless ways and can be applied to just about any task we choose to undertake. We can call upon it when using any artistic medium from drawing and painting, to needlework, sewing, and even writing. It is learning to self-critique.
Some may feel that self-critiquing is something that comes naturally. After all – either we like what we have made or we do not. To an outsider, evaluating our creations may appear to be pretty simple and straight forward. In many cases it can be. But when we are striving to improve our skills with something that we are so emotionally tied to (as we are with our artwork), it can sometimes be difficult to be completely objective about our own work and give ourselves honest feedback and learn from what may not have turned out exactly as we would have liked. It is something that we need to be aware of in order to learn and grow as an artist. But with a little thought and training, we can be on the right track to making the best of whatever creative endeavor we choose. It will give us the confidence to try new techniques and push ourselves to even higher skill levels. And it all comes from within ourselves.
So why have these thoughts been settling in my mind until they have finally compelled me to share them with you?
I have taken a few weeks off from my regular work in order to spend some time doing some creations just for myself. My work has been busy and from September on it has been pretty much non-stop where seven days a week, every waking hour it seemed that I was doing something for the business. While I love what I do and I feel truly fortunate that my business is successful, I just needed time to get back to my creative roots and just ‘play’ with some of my beautiful art supplies and create for the sake of creating. Since most of the work I do is supply wood surfaces to painters, I felt that from mid-December until the first week of the year was the perfect time to drop out of sight for a bit and take a breath and remember what it was to learn and enjoy creating.
Late in the summer, I saw a photograph on Pinterest of a beautiful Caracal that I knew I wanted to paint. I did my homework and found that the photograph was taken by the very talented Emmanual Keller whom I found on Flickr. (https://www.flickr.com/photos/tambako) I contacted Mr. Keller and he agreed to allow me to use his photograph as a reference for my painting. Below is the picture that I chose:
I loved the striking beauty and contrast of this beautiful animal and I thought it would be a wonderful self-challenge.
I decided to paint it using my pastel supplies. My painting is on 8″ x 10″ Pastelmat paper by Clairefonte. I am using both Faber-Castell Pitt pastel pencils as well as CarbOthello pastel pencils. I am using PanPastels for the backgroud. I chose the light rust coloured paper because I felt it matched the undertones of the cat.
I started the painting and at the beginning of September, I had most of the undertones finished.
But then I had to put the piece aside and stop. Work just got too busy and I wasn’t able to continue.
So the other day, I decided to try to finish it up. After two more sessions drawing, this is where I am at right now with it:
While I am well on my way, I still see there is work to do. I posted the pictures on my own Facebook page as well as my group page and I was very appreciative of the positive comments I received. We are so fortunate to be able to live in a time when we can make something, post a photo, and get instant feedback from friends, family and even teachers. It is a great time to be an artist.
While I thoroughly enjoy (and NEED) those positive comments which keep me inspired and motivated, I do also appreciate turning to teachers and mentors and hearing their feedback and what they can ‘see’ in the painting that I may have missed. I also find that seeing it on my monitor when I post it also gives me a different perspective and helps me evaluate what I do and don’t like about it and it helps me see the piece with different and more critical eyes. I can’t stress enough how helpful this is to me. This painting was no different.
As I looked at my screen when I posted it tonight, I felt that there was something that didn’t feel quite ‘right’ about it. I pulled up the reference photo right next to the photo of my drawing and started to study it very carefully. Not from an emotional point of view, but more of a critical view. I looked at the shapes of the head, ears, and features and I spotted some things that I feel will improve the overall look of the painting a great deal. While I don’t feel it is ‘bad’ now, I do feel that it could be better. And that is what learning is all about – isn’t it?
So I thought I would share my observations with you all and see if you don’t agree.
The first major observation that I noticed was the right side of the face. I felt the shape was ‘off’ a bit from the reference photo, and I didn’t really see this until I had the photos side by side. I marked the shape on both the reference as well as my own painting and you can see the that upper part of the cheek should be slightly rounder as should the muzzle. In my painting they are too ‘even’ and make the head look fatter and rounder.
The next observation that I made was the nose. The dark diagonal fur on the bridge of the nose is lower on my painting than on the reference. I haven’t finished toning and highlighting this area yet, so the ‘fix’ should be fairly easy. I think that by pushing that dark area up just a bit and arching it upward, it will fill out the nose better and give it the width that it needs to match the reference.
And finally (for now) I noticed some discrepancies in the eyes – mainly the left eye. For the left eye, the angle of the bottom eye lid should be a bit straighter where it meets the eyeball. It seems my eye ball is slightly rounder, causing my cat to be looking a bit to the side. The pupil needs to be a little higher and ever so slightly nudged towards the nose. The top eyelid of the left eye is also a bit too rounded and not quite dark enough, giving it a different shape and not as intense of a look as I could have. I also need to darken the inner corner of that eye as well, in order to set it into the head better. The highlight around the inside is much too strong.
As for the right eye, it is much closer to the photo. The highlight on the upper lid is a bit strong and that area should be darker. The lashes should be a bit longer, too. (I was afraid of that – but I have to do it!) Other than that, I like the back (right) eye a lot.
All these things are ‘fixable’ at this point. I believe that they will all make this a better painting. I am pretty pleased with the muzzle and mouth and the ears look nice as well. There are just a few touch-ups that I want to do with them to tone and refine them. I also need to work on the top of the head and the neck. Then I can put the tree in and do the dreaded job of adding the whiskers. Then we can call it a day.
Some of you may think I am being overly picky about things. But I believe that we need to look at our own work constructively and not only be able to spot what may not be exactly right to us, but also to be able to look at things in a way so that we can figure out what we need to do to make them right. We will be better artist for it. I believe that we are the only ones that can decide what level we want to take our art to and what we are comfortable with.
I often hear from others that they believe I have ‘natural talent.’ It makes me rather uncomfortable when they say that. As a teacher, I have a firm belief that if someone has the desire to learn and the persistence to keep trying when they fail (and we ALL fail from time to time) then they develop their skills and become accomplished.
My greatest moments in teaching have been when someone says to me that they “can’t” do something and I prove them wrong. I believe that the desire to do something is far more important than natural ability. Those who are willing to try and fail and try again are the ones who are going to succeed. We are often only bound by our own insecurities and fears, not by our abilities. Just as a gymnast falls off the balance beam again and again until she teacher herself to center herself and stay on, we need to train our eyes to see what is in front of us in a way where we are able to look at things objectively and critique our own work – not with disapproval, but with clinical accuracy. The rest will take care of itself.
I will be posting again after I work more on my painting and finishing it up. Hopefully, I will have a pleasing result.
At least I will give it my best try.