Self-critiquing is perhaps the most helpful skill that one develops in their training. The main purpose of good training is to help students become self-sufficient in their knowledge and capable of achieving their potential as artists.
In my experience mastery in drawing is absolutely the most important factor and the first step toward developing the visual clarity that allows you to self-critique your work.
Learn to see the whole – all elements in a work must work in harmony to support the whole.
Use your mirror. This helps provide a mental separation with the piece that brings clarity.
Learn to see it as it is, and not how it was – separate yourself from the small steps that made the work better in order to see whether or not it is fully resolved yet. Self-critiquing is difficult because we see everything that has gone into the piece. When we make a change or a correction it is easy to convince ourselves that it’s right, or that it’s fully resolved. It’s easy to see it that way because we see how much better it looks than it did in previous stages. It becomes necessary to blind yourself to how much better it looks and see it as if you've never looked at it before. Try to figure out if it is fully resolved or if it still needs some adjusting.
Good drawing is a product of good understanding – It is easy to see in a final painting how much the artist understood his subject. You cannot define something you do not understand. In the initial stages of a drawing or painting we concentrate on the flat, abstract explanation of a subject, or ‘how’ the shapes, rhythms and proportions look. An important transition in our thinking leads us to ‘why’ the shapes look like they do. This ‘why’ helps bring us to a fully realized, sculptural explanation of the subject.
Never knowingly leave anything wrong on the canvas.
Take breaks – rest your eyes – after a break, don’t come back and pick up where you left off. Look for the worst thing in the painting and attack that. This forces you to assess the whole of the painting and look for the areas that negatively affect the visual impression of the painting.
Self-critiquing will only get you most of the way there. Always ask someone whose eyes you respect. Don’t assume you can pull it off by yourself. Painting is hard enough. Don’t cheat yourself out of a needed pair of fresh eyes and a fresh perspective. Your painting deserves every opportunity to be as brilliant as it can be. Greatness is never achieved alone.
by Ryan S. Brown