Improving your skills is very important to us artists – we are never satisfied. Even the biggest artists around are always trying to improve. We never feel good enough and are never satisfied. Deep down, the thought remains: “It could be better, I could be better!”.
I realized this in 2006; I was 11 years old. My life changed at that moment.
With my father and my brother, we were about to watch Cars by Pixar, and prepared to spend a great evening together. What I didn’t know was that it was not going to be just “a great evening”.
The TV lit up and the movie started, or so I thought. In reality, it was One Man Band, the short before Cars.
One Man Band playing as best as they can to get a little girl to toss them a coin. At some point, the coin is dropped, the girl gets angry and asks one of the musicians for his violin. He gives it to her, she grabs it and something happens.
“Woah, these guys are amazing!” my dad exclaimed.
– “What? Who? They are just dummies, the girl dropped the coin because of them!” I said.
“Have you ever heard the sound of someone grabbing a violin?”
“That’s a very particular sound, and that’s the exact same sound! The guys making these cartoons are incredible!”
My brain melted. People were actually creating animation for a living! This day I knew that this was my path and what I wanted to do.
I’d decided I wanted to go in this direction. I researched how to become a cartoon maker and how to create worlds and stories. A recurring theme I encountered was the fact that I would have to draw a lot. I did and I drew more and more. My notebooks at school were filled with drawings, the corners were flipbooks; I drew again and again.
Drawing was fun and I made friens with other artists. Then one thing struck my mind – this idea that would never leave me even years after, and which is still in my mind today:
“They are so much better than me…”
This idea stuck in my mind, impossible to throw away because even if I got better than this person, I’ll just turn my head and find another artists who is better than me.
I was torn. Everyone was telling me that I was so good at drawing (the fools..) and even my friends were telling me that I was good, but seeing their work, and mine, I was clearly not. I decided to discover why, and more importantly: How do I become better?
13 years later, I might be able to say I found an answer. Not THE answer but an answer, to this question: “How can I become better?” The answer is simple: Feedback. I have been working as a professional artist and teaching in several animation schools for a few years now, and I have been (and still am) on both sides of the feedback spectrum.
I will try my best to help you as much people as possible, to improve together and share what we know in the best way possible; to make our art journeys smoother and our happy artists minds chiller.
I would like to claim too that nothing I will write in this article is an absolute truth, you may or may not agree with me. This article is just the result of what I observed during my years in the art community.
I’ll focus on several steps here since feedback is not a one-way road – it’s more of a ping pong style process.
#1 – Asking for Feedback
#2 – Giving Feedback
#3 – Receiving Feedback
These three steps might look simple, but they are way more complex than they seem. As we’ll see, missing any of these steps can lead to disastrous outcomes.
Step #1: How to Ask for Feedback?
We’ve all been in this situation: You are working on your new piece, you finish it, and decide to post it on a forum! You’re excited, you upload the images, hope you’ll get some feedback to improve for the next project. No one responds.
You spent a lot of time on this piece. People can see that, why don’t they respond? Frustrating? Yeah!
Is it people’s fault? Most likely not! In fact, you are the one who didn’t make the effort in the first place. And we’ll see why that is just now.
People will not help you if you don’t tell them you need help.
Keep in mind, we are online, people have literally thousands of other things to see and do – why would they stop what they are doing to help you? Make that task easy for them!
I was in this situation once. I posted online, no one responded. I was almost starting to rant about how people online sucked and everyone was only there to show off and didn’t care about helping each other. One of my fellow students came in. He asked me “Would you care to give me some feedback?”. I decided that I was not like all these online bastards and that I would go help him.
I went to his computer, sat down, and… I was stuck. Nothing came out.
Then I realized why I didn’t get anything online. I really wanted to help my friend, I genuinely did, but there was so much to say that I didn’t know where to even start – and he was a friend. How was I expecting a total stranger to get deep into it and spend literally an hour to help me online?
I did my best and still gave a complete feedback session to my friend. This day I understood this: If there is too much to feedback, it is hard to feedback.
“Yes, but I’m a beginner, My work is what it is, am I doomed to live without feedback until I become good?” No, you are not.
How do you make it easy for people to help you? People really want to help each other – but as we’ve seen, sometimes it’s hard. So, how do you make that easier?
Try to identify your flaws. There can be much to fix, like anatomy errors, weird colors, lighting issues; the list is long. Once you have done that, try to fix it by yourself first, and really do it, I mean.
There is nothing more frustrating than “Yeah, I know…” as a feedback answer.
Once you have done that, you have addressed everything you could on your own. Make the list of what is still to improve – there will often be something here or there you know is wrong, but can not put a finger on what it is.
That is what we want. Now that we are aware of what’s wrong, we can ask for some specific answers and those are easy to give.
When you’re posting your work, explain the ‘why‘, too. Was it a study? Client work? A lighting exercise? The same piece can get very different feedback depending on its purpose. An anatomy study will not have the same critique as a complete portfolio piece. Also, if you are under time-constraints, let people know.
“Let me know what you think guys” can become, “I noticed that the shoulder blade looks weird, but I can’t find what is wrong with it, any idea how to fix it?”
This doesn’t only give people an easier time answering since they know what to search for, but that also proves you are really willing to improve, and that you did your research. Keep in mind many people are searching for validation rather than improvements – and nobody cares about people wanting praise.
Be careful though, sometimes, asking for too specific feedback can really influence the eye of the person giving the critique! By asking people to look closely at the shoulder of your character, you might make them miss the fact that his feet are completely broken!
I’ll add a side-note here. It may seem obvious, but when you are asking for anything, be it online or in real life, especially when it involves people spending their time: Be Polite! You can ask a very good question, easy to answer, but if you don’t say “Thank you”, you might not get an answer, and you might also look like someone who doesn’t care about other people. That is exactly the opposite of the desired effect when it comes to helping each other. Remember, nobody is forced to help anyone online – people do it because they want to, make them want to!
Another way to get easier feedback is to help people. Feedback is not unlike money: The more you give, the more feedback you receive. People will be more inclined to give feedback to someone who already helped them in the past. Plus, by giving cool feedback, you might earn some friends.
Step #2 – How to Give Feedback?
Now I think you have understood that feedback is a bit more complex than just listing what’s good or bad about the art piece. Good feedback is constructive – meaning you have to add some value to the piece you’re criticizing. You should always bring some ideas and/or knowledge to the table when you are doing feedback.
“It’s crap, you suck!” and “That’s the best piece I’ve ever seen” are both bad, even if one can make your day and the other one ruin it. They are bad because they don’t bring anything to the discussion. Avoid praise and/or destructive comments at all cost.
If you really have nothing to say to help, but you want to tell the artist how much you like his piece, please do, but try to add something to it.
For example: “Nice one” can become “Nice one, reminds me of [Insert cool artist name here] work”. You are now adding to the discussion. Now that we’ve seen the basic rule of feedback, how to make constructive criticism more valuable!
First, see what the person wanted feedback on. Try to address these points first, then see if you can give some more tracks to follow to improve. It is better to give large and broad areas to improve rather than giving just one specific critique.
Give a man a fish, he will eat once, teach him how to fish, he’ll eat his whole life.
Instead of saying “The arms are too long” you can say “The arms are too long, I think you’re lacking on the anatomy front, you might want to check these very cool books by Paul Richer, and here are a few references [drop images]!”
You didn’t simply point out the problem, you also helped solve it. and that is what we want.
If you can, make paintovers! These are invaluable and so much easier to understand than written feedback. The fact that you took the time to open photoshop really makes people think “Damn, this guy is super cool” – and being cool is cool!
“What if I want to help, but I am not super knowledgeable”
That is not a huge problem – you don’t need a degree in anatomy to point out that the head too big or a nose too long – your feedback will just lack a bit on the specifics, but sometimes just knowing what is wrong can help a lot. You might even do your research to help someone and end up learning some stuff. You tried to help, and the person will remember that and might help you later when you’ll be the one asking for feedback.
Also, remember, if someone thinks it’s weird, It’s probably because true. The fact that this person is not an artist shouldn’t make you discard his advice.
Now we know what Constructive Feedback is. How do we express it so people actually hear it? People don’t like to be told they are wrong.
“Yes, but they often are”. Indeed, they are – but that’s not about how things are, it’s about how you present them.
How to tell someone his art could be improved without being seen as a douche?
Make him a sandwich. I’m dead serious – make a compliment sandwich.
Start by saying one good thing about the piece you’re criticizing, then go to what could be improved as we’ve seen above – and then end it with a reminder that not everything is lost and that this person is on the good track!
Your feedback will not only shine by its constructiveness but also because it will make the person feel good. And that is a good thing if you want your critique to be heard.
When giving feedback, don’t give orders! People don’t like to be commanded, and if you don’t want the help you’re sending to fall in a deaf ear, give advice, not orders. Artists are rebels, people will want to fight your orders, even on an unconscious level.
To quickly recap:
“The arms are too short” would become “Nice piece, I like what you did on the hands – they really give an attitude. My main concern is on the arms though, they are a bit short. I think you are a bit light on the anatomy, you might want to check Paul Richer’s books, that would help your proportions. Your lighting could be improved too, maybe giving it smoother shadows would help. Otherwise, cool piece! Can’t wait to see how it turns out, keep it up!”
Did you catch the difference? Now tell me which feedback you would prefer to receive. As you may have understood, giving feedback and criticism is not something you can do “just like that”, it takes time!
Part #3 – How to Receive Feedback
After years giving and receiving feedback, I can assure you one thing: not everyone is ready to hear critiques: Many people are having a hard time because they don’t know the first rule of receiving feedback.
Feedback is not a critique on who you are – it’s a critique on your work!
Always remember this: If someone is giving you feedback, they want to help you! Their goal is to make you better – not to put you down. Even if it’s not done with the best formulation, even harsh feedback is a helping hand.
The first thing to do when someone is giving you help is to thank them.
If you didn’t understand what the person meant, tell them. It happens, no big deal – try your best before going back to them.
Finally, if someone helped you, please, do the changes they suggested and respond later. There is nothing more rewarding than to see someone you’ve helped succeed! On the other side, there is nothing more frustrating than spending time helping someone and never have news, or worse, seeing they actually did not implement your feedback in their piece. They’ll feel like you made them waste their time, and it’ll be true!
Did I say you should do everything everyone tells you? Absolutely not. If you feel like the feedback someone gave you was constructive and helping, please do the effort and put it into your work; it’s so valuable.
Be careful though, sometimes a critique can be a sign that your art piece has some flaws into it you did not suspect. For example, “The ankle looks weird” can be a sign that your composition is not working, because the person didn’t look at the face first, and that is what you wanted to show in the first place.
You might remember my fellow student who asked me for some feedback in Part 1? His work was bad, but everyone can improve. So, as I told you, I gave my best, I really put in all the effort I could to give him the best feedback possible. Checking anatomy, gave him links to books, searched with him for references, explained to him how the anatomy was weird and the drapery was not good. I spent an hour doing that (a real hour, that’s not just a way of saying it took a long time) and so, 60 minutes later I said, “Okay, do you have any other question?”
– “Yeah, is it good or not?”
I had to leave the room before throwing a chair at him. He wasn’t expecting feedback – he was asking for praise.
I am okay with that. Sometimes our art journey can be tough, and sometimes you just want to be reassured. But if praise is what you want, ask for praise – not for feedback! This way you’re not gonna get anyone angry at you when they’ll realize you actually don’t care about improving. Remember, if someone who helped you once felt like he was wasting his time doing so, they won’t help you again.
We are all trying to improve, and we have this invaluable tool: The Internet. The art community is an amazing place, where everyone can get better and help each other. I am really glad to be a part of it. I only wish sometimes it could be better used, and that’s the purpose of this article.
The power of feedback is amazing! It can open doors and really help people. It’s a shame that many do not know how to use it properly.
So please share this article! I hope it will make the art community even better!
“The only bad artist is the one who thinks he does not have to improve”
Thank you for reading!
– Mandrin Gaudez – ArtStation