my . artist run website

When giving feedback on someone’s artwork, I like a sandwich. That’s where you start by saying something that’s positive. Then address the area that could use improvement. Close with another complimentary comment. It could be an Oreo cookie, if you prefer sweet analogies to savory ones.


We Stand As The Face Of Time (12"x24", mixed media on wood panel, $600, available at time of posting)
 

For example, one could say “I love the color palette you’ve used in this piece. It’s got a great, moody feel to it. Overall, the composition works well. This figure here, however, seems a bit disconnected to the rest of the piece. Perhaps if the shape overlapped these other figures, or it faced into the center instead of out to the edge, it would be more integrated. Then my eye would move completely happily thought the painting. It's got areas of rest and areas of detail. Nice Work”.

 

For more formal or in-depth critiques, I follow an accepted process that I’ll touch on in my next post.

 

When asking for feedback, give the critic direction. The more specific your request, the more beneficial the critique will likely be. 

  • Instead of “what do you think?”, try “I was aiming for a very ethereal feel. Do you think this piece conveys that?” 
  • “I’m so thrilled to have completed this 8’x8’ painting. It’s by far the largest I’ve ever done. I don’t want any critique - I just want you to applaud a massive effort successfully completed.”
  • If you want deeper, thoughtful analysis, give the person some advance notice. For example, “I appreciate that you know a lot of my work, and have seen its development over the years. I would really appreciate it if sometime this month you could spend an hour looking at my most recent work, and give me some thoughtful commentary on the new direction I’m taking. I’ll provide refreshments.”

Next up: a look at the anatomy of a formal critique.


Do you ever get into that place where you don’t know if the painting you are working is any good or not? 

 

As an artist, I usually work alone in my studio. It can be great to get feedback from others. But not from just anyone. I put a lot of heart and soul into my work. The creative process can be a struggle. I want to be supported and offered specific feedback, not blindly praised or shot down. 

 

I appreciate all my supportive fans, peer artists, and family, but my tribe of critics is a very small, invitation-only group.

 

Michelle Sirois-Silver discussing recent work with me in my studio.

Photo credit: Ray Ophoff

 

Who do you ask?

 

When I was in architecture school, a small group formed based on mutual respect for each other’s work and the enjoyment we found spending time together. We created a private ‘zone’ in the studio where we worked, discussed, and struggled through our projects. Some of these people are still very close friends and colleagues. 

 

I have a similar handful of people that I ask for comments on my paintings. Most, but not all of them, are visual artists themselves. These are people whose artistic work and ‘eye’ I completely respect, and I trust them to provide thoughtful articulate comments. 

 

Who not to ask:

  • Don’t ask someone you’ve just met.
  • Don’t ask another artist whose commitment and mastery are not commensurate with your own.
  • Don’t ask someone whose work/writing you are not familiar with. 
  • Don’t ask family and friends. Their job is to be your fans and cheerleaders, not your critics.

Uninvited critique and other awkward situations:

 

The Silent Spouse: 

I have several artist friends who note that their spouse never comments on their artwork. What does that mean? Your spouse may be 100% supportive of you doing your work. They may feel they don’t completely understand it. Or like many people, they may not know how to look at visual work and talk about it. Or they wisely might realize that their role as your fan and cheerleader is far more important than any critique they might feel qualified to offer.

 

The Self-appointed Critic:

Have you ever had someone (artist or not) visit your studio and launch into a critique uninvited? “This piece has great color, but the composition fails here because....” I’m not sure how best to respond to this myself! Depending on the situation, I’ve tried:

 

  • I just listen for a few minutes, in case I get some beneficial feedback. After I few minutes, I move to one of the responses below:
  • “I’m happy that you look closely at visual artwork. Many people don’t. Unfortunately, I only have a few minutes before I need to prepare for a phone call/start preparing for tomorrow’s student/see a man about a dog...  Let me show you the rest of the studio.”  
  • A bold soul might just interject “Thanks for your opinion, but I really am not looking for a critique of this piece right now.”
  • Brush it off with “Thanks for that. Perhaps I’ll look at that again/on the next piece” and briskly move on to another topic.

 The Know-it-all Critic:

A close relative to the self-appointed critic, these folks don’t ask any questions or leave any space for dialogue. I usually find that beneficial critique includes some back-and-forth. In a great crit, I get excited and start bouncing ideas back and forth with the person giving me the critique.

 

Taming My Critic:

I try very hard to refrain from commenting on other artists’ work unless they explicitly ask for it. Sometimes I can’t resist a “Wow! that bright green really pops!” or similar statement, leaving the artist to decide if that’s good or bad, what they want the green to pop or not. I’m probably also guilty of the occasional “Could I tell you what really jumps out at me?”. 

 

Who do you ask for feedback on your artwork?

 

Next week I’ll look at the anatomy of a critique: what to ask, and how to provide useful, respectful criticism.


One of the great things about being an artist is that you probably know lots of other artists! They may be visual artists like me, or dancers, or musicians or aerialist performers. It’s wonderful to have so many creative, quirky, weird, wonderful people enrich my life in so many ways.

 

 

I’m often inspired by the work of other contemporary artists. It might be their drive, or the beauty and depth of their work that urges me to deepen my own work. I might listen to their artwork while I create my own. We might collaborate on pieces or projects, which often offers surprising twists and developments that wouldn’t surface working on my own.

 

Many of my fans, supporters, and cheerleaders are other artists, as I am to them. We help spread the word and purchase or attend each other’s creations. 

 

I find myself spending time with other artists, though not always painters. It’s fun and thought-provoking to go to exhibits/art openings/art talks with other artists, then spend time afterwards discussing. They can be pals, or offer an understanding, sympathetic ear to kvetch to. 

 

Artists are also valued sources of helpful tips and references to useful resources. The artists I know are generous with this kind of information. A cherished few I trust to give thoughtful, useful critiques of my work. 

 

People think artists are interesting people to know. I agree!


On Valentine’s Day, I want to shout out a big thank you for all your support.


 

Like many artists, I primarily work alone in the studio. Exhibitions come a few times a year. I don’t often get to see people’s reaction to my work, or strike up a conversation with viewers. It can be difficult for artists to find and connect with people that love our work, and keep our spirits high when the process of creating our art becomes a struggle.

 

Fans and supporters are media people, collectors, students, friends and family, teachers. You are the ones that always come to my openings, and often bring a friend who doesn’t yet know my work. You encourage me with a ‘like’ and comment on social media. You are the wonderful people who buy my work and proudly share it with others. You are the folks who respond to my newsletters with a short note of hello, thanks or ‘well done’.

 

On this Valentine’s Day, I’m sending a big heartfelt thank you your way!


I’ve written before about being a professional artist means being a business owner. And business owners often have a tribe of others who run related or supporting businesses.

 

Professional associations have long been a source of business peer support. There are organizations like CARFAC (Canadian Artists Representation/Le Front des Artists Canadiens) and the BCATA (BC Art Teachers). Since late 2015, I’ve been associated with a group of artist/business people working with ArtBizCoach. This is me on a panel discussion at an Art Biz Breakthrough event.

 

Photo credit: Regina Mountjoy

 

In addition, we artists rely on other businesses to run our own. I couldn’t manage without my accountant. If you are an artist you probably have a photographer for your work, and possibly another for headshots and event photos. Artists that work in sculpture or public art have a host of other businesses that they rely on. 

 

Are any of these other professions part of business tribe?

  • picture framer
  • interior designers
  • lawyer
  • coaches 
  • bookkeeper
  • editor
  • the folks who make your panels/canvases
  • foundry 

I like to work with other small businesses, and develop a relationship with specific people. Working with the same person regularly is great because you get to know each other’s expectations, background, and quirks. This enables you both to work more efficiently, and have more stability in your planning. And basically, people prefer to work with people they know and like

 

This article mentions elements that make someone part of your tribe, vs just a business contatct.

 

What other business owners are part of your tribe? Have you thanked them lately?


Many artists I talk with struggle to balance time spent on their art with family time. It’s hard to say ‘no’ to your closest people.



I am hugely fortunate in many regards, not least of which is my spouse is very supportive of my artistic career. He is also an artist (a jazz musician) and has taught me a lot about discipline and focusing on what is important to me. He always say “Go!” when I say I’m going to the studio.

 

Are your family and friends supportive of you as an artist? Do they express pride in your work, and respect what it takes to produce that work? Do they respect your need to create and the boundaries that you’ve put in pace to enable you to create?

 

We often expect those closest to us to be mind-readers. 

Do they know what you want to accomplish, and what you feel you need to reach those goals? Have a non-confrontational chat and tell them! They love you and probably want to support you in achieving your goals, but we have to help them understand what would be most helpful to us.

 

Have you set boundaries?

Let them know when you plan to be in the studio. Ahead of time, preferably. If you keep regular studio hours, this is easy. This avoids the “but I was thinking we could/would ....” 

 

Once you are in the studio, are you constantly interrupted?

If your studio is at home, try these tips:

  • close the door (hopefully you have one)
  • put a sign on the door with office hours, or a clock with a note that says “I’m busy, but I’ll be available at 4pm”
  • schedule a regular lunch or coffee break that you can spend with them, if appropriate 

If your studio is separate from your home:

  • let them know your phone is turned off (and turn it off or silence it)
  • If people drop by, let them know before you start chatting that you’ve “only got 20 minutes” or “I’m right in the middle of something. Could I call you/meet you for tea at the end of the afternoon?”
  • I’m fortunate to have other friendly artists in my studio and studio building. We may drop in, but we always ask if it’s okay, and after 10 minutes, we go back to our easels and start working. 
  • I encourage friends and other artists who want to visit me in my studio to do so during a monthly open studio afternoon that I have scheduled (First Saturdays). The doors are open to the public, and that afternoon I don’t work on anything that can’t be interrupted. 

Sometimes, family is more important.

If you are acting as a caregiver, sometimes that is more important that making our work. However, even in that situation, it cab be very valuable to give ourselves time in the studio so we can ‘come home’ to ourself, and possibly work through some of the feelings that are swirling around us. It’s probably a time to be gentle (no big goals or aggressive deadlines) but studio time is a very potent form of self-care for artists.


If you teach or take classes, another of your tribes will likely be your students/fellow students. 


This was my class from a 5-day workshop at MISSA.

I teach at community centres, in my studio, for several artist guilds, and private sessions. For the duration of a workshop, we all immerse ourselves in the community of the group - supporting, questioning, and laughing together.

 

I see many students over time, as they take additional classes, attend demos, or I work with a group again. Even online courses often feature video calls and private Facebook groups where people interact and often forge connections that long outlive the specific class.

 

I love seeing people’s work develop, and we get a sense of what has gone on in each others’ life since we’ve last worked together. Some students become friends. I so appreciate when students visit my studio, attend my openings, purchase paintings, or introduce friends to my work and my classes. My life is inriched by introductions to people and things in their network.

 

Learning is one aspect of taking a course, but it’s good to remember benefit of community and connection that they also offer.


There are many types of community. In this post, I’m thinking about my neighbourhood and groups I belong to.

 


One very important and immediate community is my studio, my studio mates, and the others in our building, called “Paneficio” (good bread) because it was an old bakery building.

 

It is wonderful to have an easy, friendly, supportive group so close at hand. Some days I’m on my own in the studio. Other days several of us cross paths. Still others, several of us are working together for a good part of the day. 

 

I’m also extremely happy to be in a neighbourhood with a couple of small corner store/grocery/cafes. I love being able to address the proprietors and several neighbours by name as we encounter each other. I don’t feel like I’m isolated or working alone. I can access food, tools, a hug, advice - what ever I need - probably even a cup of sugar : ) 

 

We also open our studio up to the community. We participate in open studio events such as the Culture Crawl and First Saturday Open Studios, an annual neighbourhood art supplies give away day, and opening our door for curious folks who see our sign and ring the doorbell.

  

You might belong to an artists guild that meets weekly or monthly. Maybe your church, or your running buddies. For several years I supported a particular charity in my city, and felt grateful to be involved with that group.

 

The point is to not feel isolated and alone, to be supported by like-minded folks, and to support in turn. Over the next few posts, I'll look at some of the other communities that encompass me. 

 

What types of communities support you?