Everyone’s a critic…

We've been lying to our fellow illustrators. We've become a collection of back patters and supporters of sub-par output and we know it. I've done it.

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A confession: I’ve “liked” art on FB that I’d never hang in my home or buy a print of for my personal collection. I’ve “hearted” penciled comic pages on Instagram that I knew to be badly drawn. I’ve told an artist that they were ready for the big leagues when I knew in my heart they were years away from that level, I did this in the name of showing support. I’ve been a willing participant in the arrested development of some illustrators… And I think we all have.

It can’t be the first time that I’ve come to this realization. But perhaps with the start of graded reviews here on Indie Volt, it’s become something of an issue that I personally cannot seem to ignore. As an illustrator myself, early on I realized that if I wanted to continue on and make drawing into my career that I would need to develop a thick skin. My Dad helped with that the day he gave me an honest critique.
When I was 7 or 8 years old I drew scenes from pretty much whatever movie I’d seen recently, as well as the usual suspects, TMNT, Spiderman, X-men, Batman etc. Typically I’d draw up a picture and happily bounce down from my room, locate either one of my parents and shove my McCrory’s branded sketchbook in their faces seeking their approval, I’d get a “that’s good!” or the much more preferred “That’s REALLY good Varian!” from my Mom. My Father would question the drawing, he’d ask me to explain what was going on, he needed context which I LOVED giving as an artist, even a young one. But one day, one day my Father looked at a drawing I’d done (my best yet in my opinion though, I cannot remember what it was a drawing of!) and said to me, “eh, I’ve seen better from you.” I was gobsmacked!

What was he talking about? Clearly, this man was insane, had the Pistons lost an important game, he wasn’t a drinker but perhaps he was inebriated! I recall thinking back on it now, it’s possible I stumbled back like I’d been pushed when I realized what he had said, I MUST have asked him to clarify because he narrowed his eyes at the page with his bottom lip tucked away under his teeth and he had the AUDACITY to say it again! “I just…I’ve just seen better from you…I dunno.” Dazed and confused I found myself back in my room staring at the illustration…I recall being upset, confused and wondering what error I’d made on the page that caused this one to fall short. Later that night when my Mother (an artist herself) arrived home I sought her opinion on the piece, she nodded taking it into her hand..”I like it!” she said with a smile handing it back to me. I was happier with her response but it was no balm to my bruised ego!

I’d show HIM on the next piece. I’d out-do myself, hell I’d outdo Jack Kirby! I’d get my Father’s artistic approval! Sure as hell, I thrust another sketch in his face and he said “seems like your just “phoning it in” to me, like you’re not even trying anymore!” This man who was supposed to love me unconditionally doesn’t like my art!? He’s broken! Get rid of him! Mother, Mother I demand another!”  It was about 2 years later before he revealed to me his reasoning, he said I’d become too sure of myself he thought. He wanted to bring me down a peg, make sure that I’d seek to improve myself as an artist. It worked. When I started my first publishing endeavor I installed an art editor, we’ll call Mr. No-Mercie the 3rd, he was NOT shy about sharing his opinions of anyone’s art TO THEIR FACES! “This shit sucks, is that a hand? You do know what hands look like don’t you, I mean you’ve got one at the end of your fuckin’ wrist which I’m presuming you used to half-heartedly assassinate and sully this 11 x 17 board” he once uttered to an artist who spent the next two hours hunched over his desk drawing….hands. He wasn’t being mean for the sake of being mean he’s an army guy much like my Father they both shared many of the same qualities and traits, in fact, I think they’d have got along. No he was simply demanding the best from someone who wanted to be a contributing part of the industry he loves. Obviously, when he took me to task over my art, I took note and improved where I could. Again, I starting developing this thick skin at 8 but I’m seeing grown ass artist who can’t take well-intentioned feedback on their art. So when did we as artist get so soft?

Perhaps it’s the inclusion of Facebook, Instagram and Deviant Art (lord..Deviant Art) that started this. There’s this prevailing idea that if someone says they don’t like your art that they MUST be an evil troll and that they have poor taste and must be shunned. I’ve watched artist post a pin-up in which someone says I don’t like her eyes and the artist will become PERSONALLY offended and dog whistle to their echo chamber of back patters and supports to attack a person who simply has something other than glowing feedback about the work. It’s time for that crap to end. Yes, Caroline Troll’s DO exist but it’s important to know the difference between constructive criticism and asshattery.

Ex: I don’t like this because the perspective is off in every panel, the characters all designed a little odd, I can’t tell who is who and their faces change from panel to panel, it’s almost like you don’t know anatomy or you’re using legos minifigs as a reference. That’s genuine criticism that I can work with!

On the other hand.

Ex: “I don’t like this because you drew it and you’re a loser, you can’t even draw a straight line, why don’t you use your Mom’s EBT card like a ruler and you still use dial-up internet you impoverished booty scratcher! I hope someone at the shelter you stay in steals your pencils tonight!”

That offers no merit and therefore can’t be used…it should fall under the category of trolling. And please, don’t give me that unsolicited opinion bullshit, we’re illustrators (but this goes for ANY creative field) if you post your work ANYWHERE online you are asking for opinions from perfect strangers for better or worse. Yeah, yeah I know art is subjective but I also know when a hand looks more like a flipper or when you didn’t finish that figure because you got lazy or don’t want to bother with anatomy or the fact that your comics lack backgrounds because you find drawing that stuff boring. I offer two different solutions you might try, instead of finding excuses for why people are finding shortcomings in your work, run toward your problem areas! Don’t like drawing backgrounds? Buy a new sketchbook and draw nothing but buildings and city streets and houses you MIGHT start to find it enjoyable.

Here’s another useful idea, find 5 fellow artist (outside of your echo chamber and super stans (stans = die hard fans for those of you not versed in hip-hop jargon) whose artwork you find inspiring and ask them if they would be interested in looking at your work from time to time, now you’ve got a troll-proof critique panel that you control! Sure this won’t stop others from giving their opinions on your stuff but at the very least now you can run that feedback against a group of folks you trust. All in all, I’d like to see more artist take those criticisms and strip mine them for what useful content they may possess and apply it to the work! My sequential pacing sucks, I know this I’m actively trying to apply fixes to this and I’m quick to seek out input from artist I trust and admire. I’m done lying to my fellow artist about what looks good when there are glaring errors and very fixable problems, because I love drawing and I love the comic book industry and because I’ve seen better from you!

I kyd you not.

-Varian

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