Guidelines on artistic critique-Read before critiquing

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Guidelines on artistic critique-Read before critiquing

Postby Development Team » March 8th, 2006, 10:18 am

NOTE: This document isn't intended to be set in stone - if you think something's missing or wrong, please say so. Make a thread called Critique Guideline Discussion if you wish to discuss it: and have all posts regarding it there, to cut down on noisy threads.

The Guidelines On Delivering And Receiving Artistic Critique

Introduction

Rule #1: If an art developer says "stop critiquing me" then STOP.

It doesn't matter how good a point you have to make. If the artist isn't in a mood to hear it then you'll get nowhere and you'll alienate the artist. Remember that these guys are contributing their own time and effort because they enjoy producing art for Wesnoth. Don't make them stop enjoying it.

That said:

Section I:The technical side of critiquing

Offering a useful art critique is difficult for a number of reasons. The most obvious is a disparity in artistic skill/understanding. No two artists are at precisely the same level of skill. How can a less skilled artist ever offer useful advice to an artist with more skill? Conversely, how can an highly skilled artist offer advice in a way that a less experienced artist can understand? And if someone has no artistic experience at all, can their input ever be valuable?

Of course, artists can't be neatly ranked by skill from 'best' to 'worst'. In practice, each artist has strong and weak areas. But the principle remains; given differences in skill at different aspects of drawing, how can meaningful critique be offered?

Creation of graphics such as those used in Wesnoth involves a combination of abilities, including:

(a) conceptual/stylistic judgement and design skills;
(b) a technical understanding of how to model aspects of reality eg. knowledge of human proportion, realistic lighting and perspective; and
(c) the ability to translate the concept and understanding into an artwork. eg. skill at drawing & ability to work a paint program.

Taking these in order:

A: Conceptual/stylistic judgment and design skills

Conceptual elements of an artwork are the most subjective element of drawing, and therefore potentially the most controversial.

Fortunately, there is a common yardstick that everyone shares: how well does the artwork's concept fit into the existing setting and game of Wesnoth?

Note: This section largely assumes that we're talking about creating official Wesnoth art. Unofficial artworks, such as units for custom campaigns should be internally consistent for maximum effect, but don't necessarily need to maintain a compatible artistic style with Wesnoth.

Let's consider compliance to the common standard as a series of levels:

Level 0: Outright inconsistencies. A portrait of a Goblin Knight riding a horse is inconsistent; In Wesnoth, Goblin Knights ride wolves. Wesnoth Orcs are brown; a portrait showing them as green is inconsistent. A certain degree of artistic licence is required to reinterpret sprite art as a portrait, but core elements should be maintained.
Who should critique?: Anyone.

Level 1: Inconsistencies with implied setting details. Orcs are portrayed as a people who value martial skill. Though not explicitly stated, they probably value and care for their weaponry. As such, a rusty, poorly maintained sword would be a poor choice for an attack icon for an orc (a goblin, on the other hand...). Similarly, a massive blade is probably inappropriate for the (presumably comparatively weak) Elves.
Who should critique?: Anyone.

Level 2: Debatable Inconsistencies: A picture of a troll gnawing on a human leg (which would probably be rejected as too violent anyway). Is this the sort of behaviour a troll would engage in? Certainly mythical and fictional trolls sometimes behave this way, but is it appropriate for Wesnoth trolls?
Who should critique?: Anyone.

Level 3: Stylistic differences: The picture is quality and not even debatably inconsistent but it looks different because it's drawn in a different style.
Who should critique?: Core Art Developers. This is such a subtle and subjective area that only Art Developers (who choose what art is accepted in game) should say whether something is suitable stylistically or not. Note that if you're good enough (eg. Johann) stylistic differences may be moot.

Level 4: Personal opinion: The picture is quality, and consistent with the Wesnoth setting and style, but there's something about it you just don't like. You think the sword should be shown at a different angle, or don't think the new trolls look as good as the old ones.
Who shoul critique?: Art Developers, or Anyone only if open comment was invited.

B: Technical understanding of how to model aspects of reality

Everyone with eyes has a good idea of what reality (and particularly people) look like, but only artists (and medical professionals) have detailed knowledge of the construction of the human form. The situation is similar for other aspects of reality; modelling buildings, plants, animals, etc.

Lets consider technical understanding as a series of levels:

Level 0: Blatantly wrong: A hand is on backwards.
Who should critique?: Anyone.

Level 1: Wrong: It looks okay at a quick glance, but a close look indicates a clear problem. The eyes are positioned disproportionately high in the head. The sword blade is twisted relative to the handle. The orc has unusually 'chiselled' features.
Who should critique?: Anyone.

Level 2: Probably wrong: You're pretty sure something's wrong, but you can't define what. The feet (or the hands, or the head) look 'funny'.
Who should critique: Anyone, but see below.

Level 3: Possibly wrong: Maybe its wrong, but maybe it's a stylistic thing or maybe it's the effect of perspective. The left leg is bigger than the right, but then it is positioned further forward.
Who should critique: Anyone, but see below.

How to critique these issues:

Contrary to apparent logic, if you don't have art training, you're probably better off providing non-detailed feedback. The higher level the issue is, the more true this is. Often, our lifetime experience of seeing allows us to intuit that something is wrong about a picture, but doesn't enable us to put our finger precisely on the problem. Trying to guess precisely what bothers us is likely to be wrong. The artist will recognize that, and dismiss our concern (plus probably become irritated) even though we were correct that there was a problem.

If you can't put your finger on precisely what's wrong, be vague "Something looks wrong with the head, to me". It's not as useful as identifying the problem precisely and correctly, but is much more useful than identifying the problem precisely and incorrectly. Note:This preference varies from artist to artist, so play it by ear.

Once you've pointed the issue out, if the artist doesn't want to hear about it, let it drop.

C: The ability to 'draw'

This includes both the traditional ability to draw, and technical skill in using a paint program to tweak a work. It's the artist's ability to actually implement their concept and technical knowledge in physical (or digital) form.

Who should critique?: Someone with superior skill in the pertinent area (or subarea) only. Anyone else is incapable of providing useful advice.

Section II:The social side of critiquing
Assuming we're up to offering a technically useful critique, how do we best express it?

The cliche holds that an artist's work is like their child. But actually, it's worse than that: their work is a piece of themselves exposed for all the world to see. As such, they can be pretty sensitive about it.

Here are some hints for offering a critique in appropriate way:

1. Only critique if the artist requests it.
Some artists (eg. Neoriceisgood) post their art for inclusion in game rather than general comment. They only want to know what (if any) changes are required to have their art accepted. Similarly, if an artist has requested that critique be limited to a particular group of people, or to a particular topic, respect their wishes.

2. Suggest, don't demand.
A Wesnoth artist is a volunteer who spends their time and effort to help the community. They don't work for you, and aren't obligated to follow your directives. Artists are one of the most precious commodity Wesnoth has (along with coders); don't take them for granted.

3. Suggest, don't debate.
If you critique and the artist disagrees, drop it. You've shared your critique, it's up to them to accept it or not.

4. Offer critiques only on aspects of the work the artist is looking for.
Example: an artist uploads an outline drawing of a figure to ask if a pose looks dramatic enough. Critiquing the drawing saying that the figure needs a face is irrelevant and likely to annoy the artist who obviously knows the figure needs a face and was only looking for comments on the pose. Works that are proposed as finished pieces are open to all criticisms, assuming they follow all other guidelines.

5. Comment on the good aspects of a work as well as (and before) the critique.
Critiquing is generally picking the 1% that's wrong in a work that's 99% right. Make your critique feel that way. There's a lot that's good about the work (or presumably you wouldn't be spending your time helping to improve it!). Give genuine compliments, I guarantee the artist doesn't receive enough of them.

6. Get a feel for which artists are fairly open to critique and which aren't.
Critiquing is not "one size fits all"; some artists are touchier about their work than others.

7. Critique, don't criticize.
Critiquing is pointing out the flaws, and letting the artist make of it as they want. Most of the time they will either change the piece or chalk it up to style. In that case you drop it. Criticism is harping on a topic even after the artist has addressed it in some way. It is also presenting a critique in a way that is less than polite (in other words, not following the previous guidelines.

Note: These hints assume you aren't in charge of committing art into Wesnoth. In that case you can (of course) demand changes to a piece of art before it's accepted. It's still preferable to do so politely, though.

Section III: Taking other's critique
So we've submitted an artwork, how do we accept a critique?

1. Make it clear your intentions in posting the art.
Say whether you want to receive critiques, who you want to receive critiques from, and if you only want to receive certain types of critiques. "Can anyone proficient with the GIMP please tell me how to improve that flare effect?", "Can someone with experience in the area give me some hints on drawing noses, please?".
If you're submitting it for game use and don't want general comment, state so.

2. Post the art in context.
If it's a unit, show how it looks on terrain. If it's an attack icon, show it in the context of the attack screen. People (especially non-artists) will be able to offer more meaningful critiques if they can see how the art looks in context.

3. If you know something is wrong with the artwork, say so up front.
If you know the hand doesn't look right, say something like"I know the hand looks deformed; I just want comments on the face for now, please." This way you weed out the people telling you, the hand is wrong, and allow for more experienced artists to tell you why, as well as direct critique to what you want discussed.

4. Remember that, regardless of skill level or tact, the critiquer is trying to help your work to be the best possible. They aren't picking on you (usually).
If you feel people are being hostile to you, just let them know--if they weren't trying to be, they should change. If they don't, someone else can intervene.

Afterword

So here it is. If you have any questions about it or suggestions for improvement, let Irrevenant or I know, or follow advice stated at the beginning of the post.

By reading this, we hope you understand better how to post critique without potentially driving aspiring artists away. Now that it is here, we expect you to follow it.

Created By Irrevenant, with help from the community edited and posted here by Thrawn
Last edited by irrevenant on September 11th, 2007, 9:40 pm, edited 10 times in total.
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Postby Leonhard » March 8th, 2006, 10:34 am

I'm really impressed with the nice way you have to express things clearly and to cover almost every aspect of a question when you pay attention to it. Thank you for that! This said, I have one remark. I think I personnaly disagree with the following :
If you can't put your finger on precisely what's wrong, be vague "Something looks wrong with the head, to me". It's not as useful as identifying the problem precisely and correctly, but is much more useful than identifying the problem precisely and incorrectly.

I'd say that art devs and others check the forum often and thoroughly, so if anyone sees something that "feels wrong" in an art contribution, if he cannot say what it is, he says nothing and trusts that someone with more insight will point it out precisely, which will very probably happen. This should help the forum keep clean and useful.
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Postby Boucman » March 8th, 2006, 11:31 am

great idea, just one point you missed

work in progress...

both from an artist point of view(artists should post concept art first, rought sketch etc...) and from a critic point of view (read the post, if the artist say the hands are placeholders, or the coloring isn't complete, don't critic them)
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Postby freim » March 8th, 2006, 12:30 pm

Boucman wrote:great idea, just one point you missed

work in progress...

both from an artist point of view(artists should post concept art first, rought sketch etc...) and from a critic point of view (read the post, if the artist say the hands are placeholders, or the coloring isn't complete, don't critic them)


Very good point. I've actually just stopped posting most of my work in progress because I get so much noise from people replying as if it was finished even though I clearly labeled it as work in progress.
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Postby JW » March 8th, 2006, 12:32 pm

He does address this:
irrevenant wrote:3. If you know something's wrong with the artwork, say so up front. "I know the hand looks deformed; I just want comments on the face for now, please."
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Postby freim » March 8th, 2006, 12:34 pm

JW wrote:He does address this:
irrevenant wrote:3. If you know something's wrong with the artwork, say so up front. "I know the hand looks deformed; I just want comments on the face for now, please."


It needs to be made much more explicit than that.
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Postby Boucman » March 8th, 2006, 3:51 pm

Made topic sticky
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Postby Creative Mechanism » March 8th, 2006, 5:18 pm

Wow, this is great, and needed. I agree that the part about reading the post for the current state of the piece should be emphasized more...though a lot of confusion might come from misunderstanding what the posts are saying.

Anyway, good work.
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Re: ROUGH DRAFT guidelines on artistic critique

Postby JW » March 8th, 2006, 6:52 pm

My suggested changes in blue:

irrevenant wrote:Assuming we're up to offering a technically useful critique, how do we best express it? (The social side of critiquing)

The cliche holds that an artist's work is like their child. But actually, it's worse than that: their work is a piece of themselves exposed for all the world to see. As such, they can be pretty sensitive about it.

Here are some hints for offering a critique in appropriate way:

1. Suggest, don't demand. A Wesnoth artist is a volunteer who spends their time and effort to help the community. They don't work for you, and aren't obligated to follow your directives. Artists are probably the most precious commodity Wesnoth has (no offence, coders!); don't take them for granted.

2. Suggest, don't debate. If you critique and the artist disagrees, drop it. You've shared your critique, it's up to them to accept it or not.

3. Offer critiques only on aspects of the work the artist is looking for. Example: an artist uploads an outline drawing of a figure to ask if a pose looks dramatic enough. Critiquing the drawing saying that the figure needs a face is irrelevant and likely to annoy the artist who obviously knows the figure needs a face and was only looking for comments on the pose. Works that are proposed as finished pieces are open to all criticisms, assuming they follow all other guidelines.

4. Comment on the good aspects of a work as well as (and before) offering your critique. Critiquing is generally picking the 0.1% that's wrong in a work that's 99.9% right. Make your critique feel that way.

5. Get a feel for which artists are fairly open to criticism and which aren't. Critiquing is not "one size fits all"; some artists are touchier about their work than others.

[...] Yes, I need more here. :?
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Postby Sapient » March 8th, 2006, 8:48 pm

Wow, this document has a lot of good advice, and you even gave some great tips for the artist on how to invite/uninvite crits. I would definitely have changed some of my posts if I had read this before, and I hope everyone reads it.
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Postby Redeth » March 8th, 2006, 9:16 pm

Yes, excellent, I think something like this was badly needed, thank you irrevenant.
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Postby irrevenant » March 8th, 2006, 9:36 pm

I've integrated the suggested text by JW re: addressing requested aspects of an artwork only.

Leonhard, your requested change is a bit more controversial; Since it's currently "one for, one against", I'm waiting to hear from another artist or two to see how universal the feeling on this matter is. For now I've added a disclaimer to that section.

Boucman, thanks for stickying the thread.

Any more suggestions/ideas/criticisms?

Frame wrote:I've actually just stopped posting most of my work in progress because I get so much noise from people replying as if it was finished even though I clearly labeled it as work in progress.

That's exactly the sort of misunderstanding I was trying to identify and address with this document. I personally always assumed WIP meant "future undefined" so all comment was valid. I honestly think that everybody here is trying to help, and if it's made clearer what sort of help the artists are after, it'll all go more smoothly.

If the artists want to make clearer what they're after with regard to WIPs, I'll list it here for everyone's edification (though I still think it's useful to state in the WIP post itself).
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Postby xtifr » March 8th, 2006, 10:23 pm

Generally excellent, but I think it's important to remember that the purpose of the art forums is to critique submissions. If you don't want your art critiqued at all, it may be better to post it in the off-topic forum. (Speaking as someone who has, so far, only posted his own art in off-topic.)

Also, the standards may be slightly different for someone who has write access for CVS. "Suggest, don't demand" is good advice for those of us in the peanut gallery, but cannot be enforced on those who control what goes in the game, as they may need to have absolute demands: "if you don't fix this, it doesn't go in."

A minor point: "Stylistic differences". This is a little tricky because there could be major stylistic differences, where it's plainly obvious to anyone that the art does not fit with Wesnoth. Just as an obvious example: Wesnoth orcs aren't green. That's a stylistic point, but a well-settled and non-negotiable one. Anyone who's been around for a while knows that, and it shouldn't require a Core Art Dev. to point it out. Also, portraits should be realistic (more or less), not a caricature. A picture of a human with, say, a nose as big as his body will almost certainly be rejected no matter how good the art.

I might say something more along the lines of: "for major stylistic differences, anyone may criticize, but don't harp on it. For minor stylistic differences, leave it to the experts and/or Core team."

Also, in the "Ability to 'draw'" section: "Who should critique?: Someone with superior skill in the pertinent area (or subarea) only" This can be tricky. Who judges "superior skill"? Do you need to submit your own art before you're allowed to comment on others? And even then, who judges "superior skill"? What if you see someone who is (in your opinion) about equal or maybe a little better than you, but who is making the same sort of mistake that you tend to make? I realize you mention that this sort of thing is subjective elsewhere in the guidelines, but it still might be good to make it more clear here, perhaps by saying "only someone with strong or superior skill".

I also might put a little more emphasis on "comment on the good aspects as well," just because I find it very hard to do otherwise. I always feel guilty critiquing others' works, since I know my own are far from perfect.

I'm not sure if any of my points are actually important enough to justify modifying these guidelines (especially if they remain guidelines and not hard-and-fast rules), but I just thought I'd toss them out. Overall, I'd certainly rather see these guidelines than nothing.

Addressing Leonhard's point: if I submitted my own art, I'd rather have someone say "something's not quite right with X" than not. It can at least give me something to consider, even if I end up disagreeing. But this may vary from artist to artist, and more skilled artists may feel quite differently, so I'll defer to them.
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Postby Neoriceisgood » March 8th, 2006, 10:35 pm

Personally, I only care for the oppinion of developers that determine if it should go in; and other artists, all the other people often find stylistic points of critizm; "The pose is too sad" or "too cartoony" instead of actual faults in the art;

The reason I prefer the critizm made by an artist is that they -know- how it feels when people point out "errors" that were intentional (Some people blaim their faults on style, but those who do it on purpose and claim they do it on purpose can easily be distinguished.) it ticks me off, artists know how it feels when people only comment on things that aren't actually wrong; and tend to evade pointing such things out,

I think this is one of the biggest differences in critizm from an artist and a non-artist; As artists tend to look at the actual skill, people who aren't an artist tend to be alot more obsessed with style and what's shown;

Say "woo you made goku! badasss!" instead of "Though I'm unsure if we want trolls in thongs, that's some nice work on the anatomy";

But in general I like this topic.
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Postby Maeglin Dubh » March 9th, 2006, 2:17 am

Very well worded. Maybe now I'll actually dare to put up some of the works of my own hand.

Note: anything I put up will not likely be fixed up on a computer, and will likely only serve as a guideline for someone better with a computer. Got some ideas already for a fencer line portrait.
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