What you see is what you get? Critique day in 244

Still-Life-Animation Fall 2016
Still-Life-Animation Fall 2016

Tada! You’ve just seen my work over almost 6 hours! Now let’s discuss.


What do you see here? Take a moment, reflect on this and tell me about this final image:

Final image- still life

Now how many of you said “A vase with maybe some kind of fabric and weird line thingies coming out of the top sitting on a box?” It’s okay if you did, that’s a good first impression to the average viewer, and you’re certainly not wrong!

Really think about it….it’s not a vase on a box, it’s a drawing (It’s okay to be thinking duhhhh, that’s what I was going for.)

Yes, this is a vine charcoal drawing on brown paper, and it’s also a drawing of a still life of a glass vase holding some kind of fabric and there is a grass plant coming out of the top (I just didn’t get all of the still life in my drawing)

This is how we started out our class critique, contextualizing what we saw in front of us. I’m in a combined art class, most are in 144 our introductory class to visual literacy/thinking and digital art, and about seven of us are in 244, the more advanced version. The 144 students were asked to draw a perfectly proportionally, realistic as possible, wooden chair. They all sat in a circle around it, used a string as their measuring tool and set to work. The 244 crew went to the upstairs studio and set up a still life to do the same exact assignment, just a little harder given that we had four elements to draw and some are a lot more detailed to get exact.

Now sitting here in front of the whole group (see picture below) in the critique I’m looking at what I see, what I notice, and I’ve come to some interesting conclusions.

While everyone created a drawing of a chair or the still life, that’s not really what it truly is; they are just their interpretations, representations, of that object. Everyone has their own unique take. The chair may have four legs to stand on, yet some drew them stick straight, while others gave them a slight curve, one even an exaggerated curve. There are thick, heavy, dark lines on some and thin, delicate, very deliberate lines on others. Some look very messy from people furiously running their hand across the page to erase their mistaken marks, while others have taken more caution to be careful in their mark-making to keep their page cleaner.  Everyone had a different point of view, a different style, and that is reflected in their drawing of the chair. Funny thing is the assignment was to make the exact chair in front of them, but no one actually accomplished to do that, and really I think that better represents the assignment. This assignment was more about teaching us the process of looking, creating, taking what you see in front of you and making it appear on the page.

During the class discussion, I sat back and listened more. I’ve been through a lot of art critiques throughout my academic career. Most of the time I’m very vocal and like to contribute. This time however, I wanted to take a more observatory approach, listen to what the other students were adding to the conversation, and think about why they were thinking that way. I wanted to think about how my perspective of drawing has changed compared to those who are just starting out, this may have been the first formal art class some of these students have ever taken. How has my experience changed the way I look at art?

There was no surprise to me that students addressed their inadequacies right away. The moment you put your drawing next to someone else’s, it’s almost impossible not to compare and see the faults in your own work. You usually come into critiques thinking that you produced something that looked really good, you were proud to sign your name on it and claim it’s ownership…..until you see this amazing drawing by the girl two seats down from you that looks like she didn’t have to put in nearly as much effort. You think back to the hours you spent in the studio drawing, and redrawing the image to get it right, and now all you see is the wrong. You become your own worst critic. Well hold on now!!!

Someone across the room is looking at your drawing and thinking that the legs you drew were far better then theirs. They love the dark lines and wished that they hadn’t had been as delicate. They realized they held back too much. This is perspective my friends. Your work is just as good as the person next to you, it’s just a different interpretation. Think of how boring the art world would be if we only made carbon copies for what we saw in front of us. It’s the personality, the characterization that gives your drawing life.

The class conversation moved to how some people felt like they rushed it, they felt constrained by the classroom time we had. I’ll agree that sometimes I rush my art because I have a lot going on in that week or I procrastinated because I’m human and we sometimes push things off that we know we need to get done until the pressure of it being due finally hits us. It happens. Yes it is best to work ahead, come in outside of class and sit there for hours working on it. I find that in my own process that the hardest part is showing up. If I can drag myself into the studio and just get here, then I’ve made it through the hardest part. Once I make it in though, I find my happy place and get to work, usually loosing track of time and becoming absorbed into my art.

For example, the weekend before the deadline to have this drawing completed by was a rough weekend for me. I just mentally wasn’t feeling happy, or myself. The weight of all the schoolwork I needed to get done this semester, the feeling of being lost about where I’m going next after this school year, and emotional personal anniversaries put me in a funk. I woke up on Monday, decided enough was enough, got dressed and came straight over to my drawing, and just drew. I put on some happy music, and went to my happy place. I can sit, even stand for hours and draw. I like the feeling of charcoal scratching across my page, using my fingers to blend and gradient my marks, erasing away the lights from the darks to create contrast. It puts me in another world and I feel happy. So I find that yes, I can rush my work, but taking that time outside of class really is what makes a difference on my process.

So the takeaways from this critique are very similar to all critiques, nothing is perfect, nothing ever will be perfect in you mind on your own work. You will always, always, ALWAYS see something that isn’t right. You will feel frustrated about your inability to draw what is right in front of you, and that’s okay. Just remember not to dwell in these thoughts. Everyone can draw-bottom line, it’s through patience and practice, the idea of slowing yourself down, loosing yourself in the drawing, the discipline of really looking and putting in the time and effort that will make your drawings come to life in a satisfying and rewarding way. Don’t stress of what you couldn’t make happen, embrace the lines that you did, they’re your own signature. Be proud of your work, and continue to work hard and grow as an artist. If there is something that you really didn’t like about your previous work, then work on that. Develop your skills and remember the importance of process. Without process, there is no progress.


p.s. I’m happy with my own work. Proud to call it my own. It’s not exactly the same as the still life in front of me, but it does reflect my style and the GIF shows my process so overall. I’ll gladly take any criticism and see if there is something there for me to use to hone/develop my skills on for next time. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *