While packing to move into our new offices, I came across a self-portrait I painted several years ago that was lost in a stack of papers. I immediately recognized that the face was drawn inaccurately—an error I didn’t see at the time I created the oil painting. Clearly I was unable to evaluate my own work with the same objectivity I bring to judging work by other artists. That realization helped me understand how I can make better decisions during the painting process. Here are some of the methods that help me:
I look at my painting in a mirror.
When I simply reverse the image, I immediately see problems in the drawing or the composition of shapes and values.
I turn my paintings against a wall.
Putting a painting out of sight for a few hours or a few days gives me a fresh perspective on a work in progress.
I turn my sketch or photograph upside down.
When I stop thinking about the subject I am painting and focus on the abstract relationships between shapes, colors, and directional forces, I see pictures objectively.
I measure what I have done.
Measuring with a plumb line, calipers, or value scale is often the best way to make corrections.
I show the image to a friend.
I e-mail photographs of recent work to artist-friends and ask for comments. They can point out problems and successes I can’t see on my own. If you don’t have an artist-friend available for this kind of feedback, you can get advice from fellow artists on the American Artist forums
I display my paintings in the office.
Before I decide to use a plein air sketch as the basis of a large studio painting, I place it on a shelf in my office so I can look at it while I’m on the phone or typing. That helps me decide if the sketch is worth enlarging and what parts should be changed.