The beginning of the journey
Every artist was a beginner once in their life. We all started somewhere and moved to our goal despite obstacles, trials and errors. It is part of the journey. Also, everybody at some point seeks feedback to improve their art and be better at what they do. Part of that process is to reach out to someone who you think is your benchmark at this point in time. Someone who can help you to improve your own art, point at your weak parts and help to be a better artist today than you were yesterday.
When people ask broad questions about their artwork or portfolio in general they get back only silence.
Naturally you might message an artist and ask for an honest opinion and hope they have free time and desire to get back to you with help you are looking for. And most of the time they don't mind doing that, unless they are super busy with work or life or if the question is clear and straight to the point.
And here is where it gets tricky and goes wrong so often...
Help me to help you
People like to share knowledge and experience. Especially now when it is so much easier then before, with sites like Youtube or Twitch or on Instagram or Facebook. Some even make a whole career out of it. But most of the time artists have other things to do and the time they spend reviewing someone’s work is also valuable to them as their advice to you. That’s why it's very often when people ask broad questions about their artwork or portfolio in general they get back only silence.
It's like saying “I want to build a house! Can you help me?”
Ok, what house? Is it a big house or small? Where is it, warm weather or cold?
Look at this from the perspective of the reviewer. When the beginner level artist asks “Can you give me advice on my work? I’m stuck“, the senior artist opens a link or an attachment, checks the work and think “well, where do I begin?”. As a reviewer you quickly realise it will take a great deal of time to go over every detail, maybe find some references or do overpaints to help to illustrate the advice. It will probably take an hour or even more.
On the other hand, if you go over with just one or two points you also know it won't help much or at all or maybe even sets the person down the wrong path. So naturally you just close the message and go with your day but on the back of your mind you are still thinking about that artwork you were asked about.
That’s why I strongly recommend doing a bit of homework, a bit of preparation before asking for advice. Instead of messaging “hey I’m new here, what do you guys think?” try to formulate your question with some specifics.
- What are you trying to achieve or trying to learn here?
- Don’t say “I’m learning concept art or matte painting” it’s big subject, it's like saying “I’m learning math”
- What was your subject or inspiration? What is the story behind it? It will help to understand your intentions and quality level you are trying to reach.
- What don’t you like about your artwork? Or what did you stack with? Is it colours, atmosphere, composition?
If you don’t like everything - start over and maybe next time you will have a part you like but want to improve in other areas.
If you ask specific questions you most likely will get a specific answer or even a couple of suggestions. Nobody goes and says “So I want to build a house! Can you help me?” Ok, what house? Is it a big house or small? Where is it, warm weather or cold?
You see? Tons of questions and not many answers.
If it’s a direct message it would be a good idea to include some links to the artworks you were using as inspiration. If the person doesn't know you sometimes it’s useful to explain when and why you are learning something.
No excuses, please!
I cannot tell you how discouraging and frustrating it is to spend some time on the review, do some reference gathering, overpaints and examples and get back the answer like: “yeah, but I did it because I think it’s right" or "I like it this way"
Every artist loves their personal work very much. It’s like a baby and there is an absolutely natural behavior to defend it from any critique. I totally get it. But if you are asking for feedback just to respond with “Yeah, I’m not going to do that, because I think I did everything right” it’s a dead end. Nobody will help you after that.
If you are asking for feedback and secretly just want to hear praises and compliments - you are doing it wrong. You won’t progress. Nobody wants to be rude so you will get a bunch of “Good job!” and nothing to work on. There is nothing perfect in this world and everything is subjective in art. So naturally people will try to find something you can always improve, but you have to be ready to hear that.
Another thing that can frustrate people is when you are asking for feedback, agreeing with everything you've got back and ending up not doing any revisions and post the work anyway. Then why did you ask for feedback? What was the point? For the person you asked for help it looks like a waste of time and you most likely won’t get any advice again.
Try to really learn from the examples
I’ve seen so many times people asking for feedback or advice, get it, put it into work and then next time with the new work have the same problems and the same questions. That means you didn't really learn anything from that feedback, you just applied it without thinking about it, understanding how and why.
People can point out the same mistakes once or twice but three times in a row and I can guarantee you they will stop giving good feedback. It just shows you are not patient enough or not really serious about what you are doing. It’s okay to do whatever you want if it is a recreational hobby of yours and completely different thing if you are trying to get into the industry or want to improve your professional skills.
Statistics indicate that only 10% of people who enrolled in a class longer than 2 weeks will finish the assignment.
Giving feedback is also completely different depending on the context. If you think the person is applying to an art college or a junior position in the industry the feedback will be more technical and strict compared to someone trying to draw their favourite DnD character or environment as a hobby. In the first case you will go over the details precisely and point out every mistake they made because it’s important and needs to be said and addressed. In the second case you know there is no point to be extra harsh and your answer will be totally different.
Seeking critique vs looking for a mentorship
What is mentorship? Essentially it is a passing compressed knowledge from more experienced artists to less experience. Do I need a mentor of some sort or not? In most cases I would say - yes you need it. Look at it from this point of view. Let's say you are learning how to play a guitar from the book. Yes you can learn the chords and so on and can play your favourite song or most of them anyway. But if you want to get into it seriously, at some point you will get stuck and won’t know what to do next or how to move further. Turns out you place your hands wrong and your strumming is not perfect but you already moved from simple chords to shredding. It's clear as day that you need a mentor. And probably for some time.
Nowadays there are a couple of mentorship programs or courses with the feedback options. MattePaint is also working on that and already has a thriving community on Discord giving feedback.
These mentorship courses are designed specifically for that purpose - to guide you through with the safely net. To give you knowledge not just on how to do things but more importantly how to think, what to pay attention to. They simulate a professional environment in a way, so you will progress faster and be ready for the next steps.
There is also a big difference between asking for help from a friend or from a stranger. Unless it is a specific forum or group where people comment on your work, asking for feedback in direct messages on a weekly or daily basis turns it into a full on mentorship. Not everybody has time or desire for that. Sure, some artists are able to help one or two people, but they can’t give a detailed constructive criticism for the group of twenty for free. It becomes a full time job.
So let’s go over the main points again. When you ask for feedback:
- Be as specific as you can and respect the other person’s time they will spend on answering your questions.
- Learn from the feedback and try to apply it a couple of times before moving on.
- Don’t make excuses why you did it that way or didn’t apply the feedback.
- Apply the feedback to your work and show your interest in learning and improving your art.
- Assess if you need a critique or a mentorship. If it’s the second one - be ready to invest more than just your time.
And as always - be nice! :)