Artist Etiquette Crash Course: Sketchbooks and Unsolicited Critique/Feedback

During my National Service, I was in the company’s office just doodling not seriously on a small notebook, killing time waiting for the next daily task I have to do happen. I was drawing a very bad portrait/head/bust, I couldn’t be bothered to do it properly, I was just yucking about.

Someone I have never talked to, from another platoon, who also happened to be creatively inclined, as you will soon find out, came into the office and saw me yucking about, without asking me permission or asking if I require any feedback or anything at all, he took his own pen, snatched my notebook and drew on my notebook trying to show me the Loomis Method of drawing the head, going “No no, don’t draw like that.” while pointing to the lazy bad drawing I did.

I already knew about that method, knew it for years, I was just yucking about, regardless, it was rude of him as a artist to do what he did (snatching someone else’s’ book and drawing in it unasked for) so instead of explaining that I was just fooling around, I responded equally rudely along the lines of “I did not ask you anything”. Suffice it to say, we are not friends. He hated me from then on, refusing his “help” which I did not ask for.

Years after we served our service, he was doing his diploma in the same school I was doing my degree in but that’s the extent of the relationship past that incident, he did some, money is the root of all evil, naive thinking concept, surreal style art for his graduation project which I saw at the graduation show, and that’s about it.

Anyway, the point of that story is to segue into a crash course about artist etiquette, regarding sketchbooks and unsolicited critique and feedback.

Photo by Lex Photography on Pexels.com

I think the best definition of a sketchbook to an artist is that it has to be somewhat a little embarrassing to show to people, therefore, if you want to see an artist’s sketchbook you should always ask first and maybe as an artist yourself offer to show your own as a trade, and never judge too critically of what is inside, an artist’s sketchbook is full of bad musings, bad sketches, bad ideas, mixed with good musings, good sketches, good ideas etc. You are more so viewing the thought process of the artist being shown visually rather than a completed work every page.

Those sketchbooks you see submitted to US art schools of specially crafted perfect pages after perfect pages are not sketchbooks, at least to me. A sketchbook is messy, filled with half nonsense half not-nonsense, not perfect page after perfect page. That’s just a mini-portfolio in a book. Having that expectation of each page has to be a banger one after the other is not a realistic expectation to have of your sketchbook.

I think critique/feedback is a two-way street, if the recipient didn’t ask for it, they are likely insusceptible to it. They have to ask for it, to show the willingness to learn and apply the feedback. There’s no point assuming that they want it or “its good for them, they must know what I know, because they must not know what I know” then go in and try to fix stuff for them, they won’t enjoy it or accept it. Constructive feedback is also always better than reactionary ones.

A teacher/lecturer can override this rule in the sense that they are in the teaching role, you are student, so they can/should/will offer it without asking, its what they do, but even then they should/will have their own lines they don’t cross or say on purpose, taking into concern student morale and skill level and what the goal of the student is.

So that’s the quick crash course on some aspects of artist etiquette. What was your worst unsolicited critique? That was honestly my own worst non-lecturer one so, more so for the rudeness than anything else.

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Stay safe~!
JR

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