Self critique to reflect and gain insight

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

Self-critiquing allows reflection on current progress but it is also is a tool for your future self. Looking at thoughts about past art allows you to spot development over time. While visually the art may have improved or changed, it’s the insight into how you felt at the time—your inner world—that can provide valuable feedback. If when making some of the first drawing attempts, you wrote how unconfident you felt, today you may have forgotten how nervous you were back then. Comparing against the past self, you recognised today you don’t feel as nervous and so your inner world has changed. Many small steps of progress that can’t be measured visually can be overlooked or ignored, but they add up in big ways over time. It could be argued that this inner development is more important than the visual improvement of the art: when inner confidence is grown, effects other areas of life in a positive way.

Get into the practice of regularly writing a small critique for some of the art your make. If you’re drawing in a journal, consider writing a note next the the art, or if on paper, write it on the back. Otherwise write on a post-it note and stick that on the work. Or use a seperate journal/notebook but make sure to date art as you make it so it’s easy refer back to specific pieces when writing about them in your notebook. Dean Nimmer in Art From Intuition suggests “Your sketchbook can also be a good place to write down notes to yourself about any topics that relate to your art, or to your creative process. For example, writing down self-critiques about what you think of your own work.”

Self-critiquing: While every ‘mistake’ in an artwork can be glaring obvious, feedback only why something is ‘bad’ isn’t as useful (or kind) as constructive feedback. If a friend asks for feedback on a drawing, you wouldn’t list all things wrong with it. You’d want to encourage them by focusing on the positive aspects of the art. You should offer the same encouragment for yourself. A helpful comment might look like: “It was tricky deciding on the colours. I like the blue corner best because its bright and I enjoying making it. The red area looks messy. I felt better using colours but want to work on drawing smaller details. I enjoyed the sensation of drawing the curves.” Or a shorter version: “Fun to make, love the squiggles, enjoyed making while listing to x music. Want to do more like this.”

However you choose to critique yourself, remember to be kind and compassionate. Making art takes a great deal of courage as an adult so there’s no need for harsh judgements. We are all doing our creative best and that’s good enough.

Research trips and sketchbooks

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

Sometimes you need to immerse yourself in a new environment in order to shake things up creatively. Ed Catmull in Creativity Inc. describes how important research trips are filmmaking. “Ultimately, what we’re after is authenticity. What feels daunting to the filmmakers… on such trips is that they don’t yet know what they are looking for, so they’re not sure what they will gain. But if you think about it: You’ll never stumble upon the unexpected if you stick only to the familiar.”

Being open to the unexpected allows your brain to create renew pathways of possibility so new ideas can be planted. Catmull continues “when people go out on research trips, they always come back changed… Research trips challenge our preconceived notions and keep clichés at bay. They fuel inspiration. They are, I believe, what keeps us creating rather than copying.

So how do you collect, reflect and develop these new creative thoughts? In ‘A Thousand Pictures a Day,’ a behind the scenes of the “Coco” Pixar crew on a Mexico research trip, many of the crew used small sketchbooks to jot down ideas and sketch images.

“Whenever I travel I love to bring out my sketchbook and just start sketching away. You’re drawing things that you don’t normally draw so if you’re sketching at the actual place it’ll stamp in your brain and when you’re back in Pixar, reading to pitch, you already have that memory in your brain and that’s what you’re sketching. So it’s so much more authentic… Whenever I look back on a sketch, it’s a stronger memory when I sketch it than when I take a picture of it.” – Manny Hernandez, Story Artist

The idea that a quick sketch can retain a memory stronger than a photograph by “stamping” is interesting. Writing down ideas requires you to synthesise and interpret and reflect on your surroundings so it’s no wonder if you have a stronger memory attached to a sketch. You’re focus is stronger and more concentrated when you made the marks compared to taking a quick snap with a camera.

“I want to try to remember as much of it as possible and so the best way for me to remember it is to try to draw as much as I can. And so not only will I be drawing but I’ll be writing bits of business. It’s certainly going to help me remember that moment, remember that kid and that character.” – Jason Katz, Story Supervisor

The fact that Pixar creatives are still using paper and pen as a valuable creative tool shows that digital isn’t necessarily the best tool for capturing ideas and memories, even in a technology-driven world.