Portfolio Reviews, a.k.a. Ego Bruising

Yaardvark by Meg Lyman


It is often said that if you like the art you produced a year ago, you aren’t learning anything. But not liking last year’s art doesn’t necessarily mean you’re learning, either. I rarely like what I produce. However, it recently occurred that I wasn’t doing anything about it. It took outsiders to show me how to break that cycle; how to improve and grow.

Dragon*Con is one of the largest fantasy/science-fiction conventions in the country. Nerds from around the world converge on Atlanta on Labor Day weekend, geeking it up with costumes, gaming, seminars, and art. This was my second year attending, and the first year I tried to get into the Art Show. I found out a few months ago that my “work does not meet the criteria” for the show.

I was sad at first, but became more and more determined to figure out why. The three art show jurors were top-notch fantasy artists and fabulous people; all three agreed to take the time out of their busy days selling art to give me portfolio critiques. I also weaseled critiques out of some of the excellent attending artists.

The short version: Ouch. They tore me a new one.

The awesome Larry Elmore says individual artistic knowledge progresses in stairsteps. One day you’ll be happy with your art, and the next, you’ll read something or talk to someone… and BAM! you’ve jumped up a step, and your work is suddenly full of flaws. It’s true. The bad part about that is the ego bruising. The awesome part is the motivation. Once you see that next step, you know you can get there.

In the hour I spent with these artists, I jumped several steps. They made me think about things I’d never even considered. Being a chronic overachiever, the ordeal made me feel sheepish and small. But they were right. And I came home full of humility and motivation, along with the realization that I hadn’t been pushing myself enough. Not liking my results was a good first step, but it wouldn’t do me any good unless I did something about it. I had been trundling along, satisfied with mediocrity.

The painting above was the first I completed after the convention. A lot more thought went into it than my previous ‘varks. I still don’t like it, but it tells a better story.

Get critiques whenever you can. Forget the ego bruising – bruises heal quickly, and the lessons will last you a lifetime.

6 thoughts on “Portfolio Reviews, a.k.a. Ego Bruising”

  1. Morning,
    So how goes the grind hahahaha, So you got to go to the Dragon con…..Wow isn’t that alot of fun? well except for the critics huh? lol Larry is right though and it looks like what they had to say to you opened your eyes a bit. I love the last pic you’ve posted. what other forums do you post in? I currently hang out in about 8 different ones. hahahahaha keeps me busy.
    Have you ever thought of selling your art to childrens books? Visit my site there are is a link there that will take you to tons of places to help in that area. I think you actually have what it takes to be a serious artist in that arena. Ok I’m going to quit rambeling and get ready for work myself have a great day!

    cya in the forums

  2. Ahh mon ami, That fact that you still paint after the critique process speaks volumes of you. As long as you remember that you’re asking people that you respect (for the most part) for their opinion and expertise. They actually want to help you. Larry sat in the audience on a panel that I and others were doing and he said he’d asked another artist if he thought they could get in to the field now with the way it is now and neither thought they’d be able to.
    I had a review at GenCon from one of my idols, Phil Foglio, who is notoriously harsh on reviews and i’d had one from him about 10 years ago and I reminded him of this and told him to “let me have it”.
    After looking through my portfolio he launched into the harshest, most profanity filled diatribe I’ve ever been the target of…and i enjoyed every minute of it.
    In amongst his rant was a lot of helpful advice, mostly stuff art directors won’t tell you because they don’t have time. If you’re not the guy you’re not, next. So these guys have been around and will help you with some of the pitfalls they hit.
    Do more art, get more critiques, drink more tasty beer.
    Good on ya mate,

  3. Good on ya Meg! Nothing like a good old fashioned ego brusiing to get the motivation and creative gears tuning is there?

    We must’ve had the same agenda over the Labour Day week-end because I did the exact same thing at an art fair I attended. 1- Ask every recognizable artist who happens to be earning a decent living what they honestly think of your art. 2- Then as they rhyme off the never ending list of required improvements grit your teeth and remind yourself you asked them for an honest answer/ crit.

    Sure it hurts but you’re right, bruises do heal and your art gets better! ;)

  4. John – Dragon Con was fun, even with the crits! Made it even more exciting.
    8 forums, wow! I only check 2 regularly and 5 total.
    You really think I could break into that business? I’m off to check out your site and links. I always was intimidated by people saying children’s illustration is so tough! :D

    Tony – It was interesting getting critiques from people I know do good art, but don’t know as people. They ranged from indifferent to bitchy to friendly, but they all gave good advice. I suppose you have to filter it all and apply only what you can at that point in your artistic career. I can’t wait to get more critiques, but next time, I’ll have some beer first. ;)

    Rita – It sure was motivating! Nothing like getting knocked down to help you pull yourself up. That’s great that you did something similar. Tough but helpful! I am going to wander around an art/craft fair this weekend – do you suppose it’s worth taking my portfolio, even though I won’t know, or have heard of, any of the artists?

  5. I’d take a small portfolio with you for sure! Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? I’d just look for the artists who are 1- selling well and 2- have work that you’d like to aspire to…the two don’t always go hand in hand though, just remember that!
    I talk to the artists with the good work and try and get them to crit. For those that can sell themselves I usually just observe and try to snag a few good lines from them. ;)

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