In my experience, an artist’s most scathing critic is themselves.
Back in the day, when I did all my work with pencil, paper and paint, there were lots of times when I’d tear up near finished pictures because they didn’t look like the image I had in my head, or they weren’t going in the direction I hoped. It could be utterly frustrating and probably made me look a little mad.
Nowadays destroying near completed artwork is a thing of the past, and not just because tearing a monitor in two is as difficult as it sounds.
Digital art software allows me to re-edit and redo my work to my hearts content. If I don’t like a particular colour I simply move a slider bar and change it. If there’s part of a picture that needs better placement I simply “cut” it out and reposition it. Fantastic!
Sometimes, however, being able to adjust things to an infinite degree gives me a new problem; knowing when to stop.
Occasionally I get caught in a vicious circle of chopping and changing things so much that I end up wondering whether what I’m doing looks any good anymore.
Here’s a case in point.
Recently, after doing art for other people for years, I wrote two stories of my own and did a couple of illustrations for each (just as a taster for any commissioning editors*). Everything was going swimmingly until I started on a particular picture of a Grandma
“Not much problem there”, I’m sure you’re thinking.
This is the first picture I did. I wasn’t commissioned to do it, I did it for my own portfolio, but it gave me the idea for my entire first story.
So I did this.
A different angle this time, and I replaced the grandchild with the family dog; but I started worrying that the whole thing looked more like a big title page, a picture at the beginning of a book before the story starts properly.
So I did this.
I went back to the original image, brightened Grandma’s colours and put her at a tilt to give the whole thing a bit more movement and quirkiness. Then I decided the family dog just didn’t work. In the story Grandma has a grandson, so I completely redrew him to make him look more “boyish”. I also added much more scarf, and gave the picture a subtle “painted” look by overlaying a photo of some actual, real-life brushstrokes I’d done.
Then I looked at it again. “Oh God!”, I thought.
The whole thing looked too “stiff”. The overlayed brushstrokes made it look too muddy, and I thought the boy looked terrible.
I liked the look of Grandma sitting in her chair, but changes needed to be done.
This is where I’m up to at the moment.
I think Grandma and her chair look much better; more rounded and friendly. I prefer the little boy too. I think he looks good with no movement at all, just a look of complete resignation. Maybe he’s a little too serious, and perhaps his nose needs changing, but on the whole I think it’s better…for now at least.
Of course, I didn’t just do the obvious changes you can see between each picture, there were dozens of little changes too. Walls were first patterned and then made plain, balls of wool were stacked and then removed completely, eyes were made bigger then smaller, mouths were moved this way and that, and budgies were perched all over the place.
I think, for some of my pictures at least, I’ve got a form of illustrating OCD.
If another artist had this problem I’d tell them to stop doing the picture immediately, and move onto something else. They should forget about it for a while and try not to turn it into some sort of ongoing project that eats up days and days of their time. Then, when they go back to it, they should be able to look at it with clearer eyes and see exactly where changes should be made. Otherwise they might end up resenting it, and if there’s one thing that shows in a painting it’s whether the artist enjoyed doing it or not.
Then, this hypothetical “other artist” would be well within their right to turn to me and say,
“Andy, you should bloody well practice what you preach”
*Note: In my humble opinion, commissioning book editors are amongst the most attractive, humourous, and intelligent people on the planet (just in case there are any reading)