Selling paintings

What’s the next social media marketing trend?

Main Street, Owls Head, available.

Last month I spent a few hours with Kicki Storm, who excitedly told me about the potential she saw in Instagram reels. I was buried in bubble-wrap at the time and more focused on getting a mountain of paintings into a U-Haul trailer. My pal Bobbi Heath, who carefully follows social media marketing, has talked to me about lookalike audiences for Facebook paid ads. I’ve tried them, but not to great success.

Ralph Waldo Emerson is credited with saying, “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.” I doubt that was true in the late 19thcentury and it’s certainly not true today. The successful artist has always had one eye focused on self-promotion.

Apple Tree with Swing, available.

Like you, I’m overcommitted, overstressed, and overwhelmed. There are lots of people out there interested in taking my advertising dollars, and I don’t have the market savvy to measure their claims. How do I negotiate this constantly-shifting landscape and still have time to paint?

The people who work in the field recommend that small businesses spend anywhere from 7-8% of their gross revenue on marketing. In actual fact, small businesses tend to spend more like 3-5% of gross revenues on advertising. That includes everything to put out their message, such as website hosting, Mailchimp, and other recurring costs. But it also inevitably means paid ads.

Spending that kind of money when you’re starting out can seem overwhelming, and it’s tempting to fall back on organic social-media marketing, which—by the way—is invaluable. But it’s an inevitable part of growth that you’ll need to learn about paid advertising somewhere along the way. The trouble is, there’s no easily-digested textbook.

Owls Head Fishing Shacks, available.

I’m seeing a shift in my advertising results this year, a decline in response. This may be an economic problem, as there are worrisome issues that might give people pause about big-ticket purchases. But it’s enough of a shift that I’m looking at different ad platforms, including print media.

Ten years ago, I thought print advertising was moribund, but I’ve noticed that I see consistent results from the Maine Gallery Guide. That’s emboldened me to dip my toe back into other print advertising.

At the same time, the cost-per-click on Facebook continues to rise. According to Wordstream , the average cost-per-click is now $1.72. That may not be a big barrier to LL Bean, but it is to an artist.

What Facebook used to be able to do superlatively was target customers. However, a global shift toward consumer privacy has made Facebook targeting more difficult.

Belfast Harbor, available.

As Facebook has grown into the juggernaut it is today, fine artists are now too small a market-niche for targeting. There aren’t even categories of ‘landscape workshops’ or ‘plein air painting’ in their current interest groups. When we tell it to match for people who are ‘interested in art,’ that’s too broad a brush.

Where does this leave us? Looking elsewhere. And that includes niche publications directed at artists.

Years ago, Bobbi Heath told me to never neglect my own lists. This shift in marketing is a strong reminder to build up your own lists so you can market directly from them. And I’m the pot-calling-the-kettle-black on this, because I haven’t had a sign-up box on this blog since the start of the year. I’ll get to it, I swear.

Too much time on Social Media is depressing

How can you turn off the comparisons with others?

Untitled, oil on paper, by Carol L. Douglas

My husband was in Rochester for work this week. Bad weather meant it took a very long time for him to get back to Maine. The easiest way to track his progress was to check his location on Google Maps. I found myself looking at my phone every few minutes. After each glance at his progress, I’d turn to Facebook and Instagram to see what my friends were doing.

By the time he got home, I was thoroughly depressed. Kathleen, Julie, and John all painted gorgeous work yesterday. Meanwhile, I spent the whole day on marketing stuff. “You didn’t do the Strada 31-day challenge and now they’re all driving past you in their Lamborghinis,” I scolded myself.
By the time Doug finally made it home, I would have gone into the backyard to eat worms, except that it’s 0° F. and the worms are all encased in ice. Did I mention that Mark is teaching in Georgia and Charles is in California?
Untitled, by Carol L. Douglas

Comparing oneself to others has long been known to cause depression. It’s only been since the advent of social media that we have found a way to beat ourselves up with it nonstop. Dr. Mai-Ly Steers, who has studied the link between social media and depression, called this phenomenon, “seeing everyone else’s highlight reels.”


“One danger is that Facebook often gives us information about our friends that we are not normally privy to, which gives us even more opportunities to socially compare,” Steers said. “You can’t really control the impulse to compare because you never know what your friends are going to post.
“In addition, most of our Facebook friends tend to post about the good things that occur in their lives, while leaving out the bad… this may lead us to think their lives are better than they actually are and conversely, make us feel worse about our own lives.
Scrotum man (detail), by Carol L. Douglas
For the artist, it means we can constantly compare our own struggles at the easel with our friends’ carefully-lighted, perfectly-photographed finished work. We can come away wondering why we ever thought we could paint in the first place.
Social media is a two-edged sword for artists. It is the conduit through which we (increasingly) pour our work out into the world, but it’s also a way to burn a lot of time and psychic energy. There’s no turning back, so we have to develop strategies to protect ourselves from the anxiety it produces.
The Joker, by Carol L. Douglas
No thought—including envy—can have power over you without your permission, although you do need to be aware that you’re doing it. One of the best ways to get out of the envy loop is to distract yourself. Thinking about something else is a proven coping mechanism for stressful situations. And, luckily, the work we should be doing—making art—is the best possible distraction from the competitive envy we find so difficult to process.

The nuts and bolts of social media: getting readers

You’ve written an amazing post with catchy copy and valuable tips. Now, how do you get discovered?

Best Buds, by Carol L. Douglas

Before you start blogging, make sure you have a Facebook business page, separate from your personal page. There are many differences, but the most important is that your business page is always public. It is meant to be a web listing. Spend a little time making sure it’s complete.

This should remain business-like. Keep your political opinions and agit-prop off your business page, unless your art or posts are overtly political. Invite your FB friends to ‘like’ this page; they’re the core of your following.
Also, make sure your email list is up-to-date.

Cut and paste this to each repost site.

Once your blog post is published, you’ll want to fashion a new ‘hook’, different from the tagline below the headline. You’ll use this and the link every time you repost, as in the illustration above.
Reading, by Carol L. Douglas, private collection.

I repost in this order:

  1. Share photos to Pinterest. This has the longest half-life of any social media site, it’s extremely easy to post to, and it has high viewership.
  2. Google+. Why add a social media platform that nobody reads? Because what you post on Google+ is indexed on Google.
  3. Twitter. Remember to manually add a photo to your text and link here.
  4. LinkedIn
  5. Facebook business page. From there, share back to your own personal page, as well as to any user groups in which you’re a member and who might be interested.

There are three other marketing channels for related, but not duplicate, material:
  1. Google My Business, if you have a brick-and-mortar location.
  2. Newsletter—I use it only to announce upcoming workshops, 2-6 times a year, but you should definitely use it to introduce your blog to your fans. Ask them to subscribe.
  3. Instagram—related content, 1-2 times daily.
Tom Sawyer’s Fence, by Carol L. Douglas
Why hashtags? Those words are indexed by the social network and are searchable by other readers. If you click on a hashtag, you’ll be brought to a page that aggregates all posts with that tag.
All blog platforms have stats built into them. These tell you how many people are looking at your posts, which posts are the most popular, where your readers come from, and how they’re looking at your blog. Make a habit of looking at it regularly.
Regular readers of this blog know it ran under a newspaper’s aegis for about 18 months. My readership dropped during that time, so I consulted Bob Bahrof Outdoor Painter. He told me that, everything else being equal, it’s always better to work under your own brand rather than someone else’s. My own experience showed that to be true.
This is the last of a three-part series on art blogging. Part one is here, and part two is here.

UPDATE: On October 8, Google announced it is discontinuing Google+ because of a massive data breach.

The nuts and bolts of social media: what platform is best for you?

The internet is a powerful tool for artists, offering free or inexpensive direct and indirect marketing. Learn to use it.
Ocean Park Beach, by Carol L. Douglas, available through Ocean Park Association. Put your strongest visual image first.
I’m no marketing guru; I just developed this blog by the seat of my pants. I learned along the way, and you can, too.
Indirect marketinggrows awareness of you as an artist. It comes in the form of news stories, the paintings you donate to non-profit auctions, word of mouth, referrals, reviews and First Friday walkabouts.
Direct marketing is when you ask clients to buy a painting from you directly. That can take the form of an online store, a booth at an art fair, newsletters showing off your paintings, or paid advertisements.
Brand awareness is how much your name and work are recognized by potential collectors. The whole goal of indirect marketing is to increase brand awareness. The better-known you are, the more paintings you’ll sell.
 

Sunrise, by Carol L. Douglas, available through the Kelpie Gallery. Use your blog to steer your readers toward your galleries or stores.

All artists need both indirect and direct marketing channels, and it helps to be clear about what yours are. For example, my direct marketing happens through plein air painting events, my targeted mailing list, and the Plein Air Store. My indirect marketing is through this blog, public appearances, and Instagram.
Rocks, by Carol L. Douglas. Available through Camden Falls Gallery. Using your own artwork also avoids copyright issues.
Developing brand awareness is most important when you first enter the marketplace. Of course, that’s when you can least afford it. Luckily, at this juncture, there are powerful online tools you can use for free. Here are the ones 2D artists use most:
  • Blog: best for indirect marketing.
  • Instagram: for indirect and direct marketing.
  • Targeted mailing list: useful for direct marketing.
  • Facebook business page: good for indirect marketing to an older audience.
  • Google business posting: useful if you have a physical studio or gallery you want to direct traffic to.
  • Website: can be commerce enabled (direct marketing), but, as Alex Serra remarked at MICA, websites are fast becoming the online equivalent of business cards.
  • Other free listings. Maine State Tourism offers studio and gallery listings, for example; your arts council or state tourism board may as well.

What direct and indirect marketing channels are you using now? What other ones would you like to explore?

Above is an image of my blog. It is very simple in design, and hasn’t been changed since I moved it back to Blogger in 2016. To me, the art, not the design, is the most important thing. Here are the important features:

  • There is a text ad for my workshops directly below the masthead. This runs 365 days a year and links to my website.
  • Below the headline is a tag line, which is simple search engine optimization (SEO). I just treat the first 25 words as if they were an ad for the whole post. I’m not into mindless click bait, but I do try to ensure that words my readers care about are there.
  • My most compelling picture goes first. Reposters like Facebook automatically run that photo.
  • There’s almost always a link to another of my blog posts in the copy. This increases readership and is important for SEO.
  • There’s an ad at the right and at the bottom. This is the only revenue-generation I do on my blog. I do not sell endorsements or links.
  • Five days a week, I write 400-600 words of fresh copy.

Several people at Maine International Conference on the Arts (MICA) asked me for more detailed information on marketing on social media. That’s my subject for the next few days. 

Part three: Getting readers

Feel free to comment or ask me questions, below.


And, for those who wonder, my medical tests yesterday went great. I’m cancer-free for another year.

Going by the numbers

We should all immediately switch to Instagram. But as with blogging, there’s a lot of unpredictability on the internet. There’s still plenty of room for intuition.
Joan of Arc, 1879, Jules Bastien-Lepage, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art

Yesterday I had my left foot operated on, giving me a matched pair of incisions and some hope for less pain going into the summer.

My mind is muddled, so I’d hoped to reprise an old post. To that end, I consulted my stats for this blog. Blogger tells me what my top posts are (although this blog has been on three different platforms over the years). A few years ago, the most popular posts were The One Thing Every Painter Should Know and a recipe for scallops from my friends Berna and Harry.
Plastic bags, dethroned by art history.
Since I last checked, art history has steamrolled over them. The top view-catcher is this post about Jules Bastien-Lepage’s Joan of Arc. It’s eleven years old, it violates the modern dictums of length and language, it’s complex, and it continues to get readers. In fact, there are a number of art history posts on that top ten list, including The Adoration of the Magi in the Snow and Ingres and Napoleon.
Measured week-to-week, however, art history is a slow starter. Those posts usually have the lowest immediate readership, even when they have much to say.
Napoleon I on his Imperial Throne, 1806, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, courtesy, Musée de l’Armée, Paris
After more than a decade of blogging, I still see no discernible pattern for what will be popular in a post. That’s liberating. It means I can write about whatever I care about, rather than pitching content to some ‘expert’ idea of the public’s low taste.
A surveytells us that new galleries are opening more slowly than they did a decade ago. This is part of a general decline in entrepreneurship in the United States. It’s no surprise to those of us who worry about our battered small town Main Streets, but there’s good news in that same report.
It surveyed a group of high-net-worth individuals about their collecting habits. These are people with more than $1 million but less than $5 million in assets. The vast majority (89%) spent $50,000 a year or less on art and objects. That suggests they aren’t buying from tony Manhattan galleries, but from low- and mid-tier galleries. In other words, they’re buying works by people like you and me, in places like S. Thomaston, Camden and Ogunquit.
The Adoration of the Magi in the Snow, 1567, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, courtesy Oskar Reinhart Foundation
Meanwhile, the online market for art and collectables continues to grow, but at a slower pace. That makes sense as a market matures, and it’s nothing to worry about. More than half of online art buyers said they will buy more art online in 2018 than they did last year, according to the Online Art Trade Report.
Instagram has dethroned Facebook as the preferred means of online promotion. In 2016, galleries used the two platforms almost equally. Now only 31% of respondents prefer Facebook to the 62% who liked Instagram. Instagram is also the favored platform for collectors under 35, 79% of whom said they discover new artists on Instagram and 82% of whom said they use it to keep up with artists they like.
Going by the numbers, we should all immediately switch to Instagram. But just as with blogging, there’s a lot of unpredictability in sales. There’s still plenty of room for intuition.

It’s about time for you to consider your summer workshop plans. Join me on the American Eagle, at Acadia National Park, at Rye Art Center, or at Genesee Valley this summer.

Has the internet revolutionized your career?

Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have replaced print marketing, but how we use them remains the same.
Full Stop is one of my favorites from 2016. But will a juror like it as much as I do?
This is the time of year when plein air artists apply to shows. It’s not easy to look at the year’s output and try to guess which three paintings will most impress jurors. But at least it doesn’t involve slides. (For you young readers, those were 35 mm photo transparencies stuck in little plastic frames.)
In the old days, artists took (or, more likely, had a trained professional take) three bracketed exposures of each of their pieces with a film camera. Slide film’s exposure can’t be fixed in the developing process, and it was important that it be right. We repeated that a second time, because we wanted to be sure of our work. That meant that a 36-exposure roll netted exactly six unique images.  
Apple Tree with Swing was painted for Castine Plein Air.
The film was then sent off to a developing service. When the slides came back, we looked them over on a light table. The keepers were sent back out to be duplicated. All applications—which went off by mail—included a stamped, self-addressed envelope to return those precious slides.
The process was expensive and time-consuming. Whenever I see a $50 online entry fee, I think back to those days and smile.
Yesterday, Keith Linwood Stover of the Cyber Art Show asked, “Would you say that the internet (including social media) has revolutionized your art career?” It has certainly changed my work, but in many ways, the work itself remains exactly the same.
Flood tide has to be one of this season’s contenders because, well, boats.
Take marketing. I’ve just spent three days doing an overhaul of my spring marketing efforts. Meanwhile the paint for a project I’m excited about is jelling on my palette. Is that so different? Not really. I remember attending a seminar back in 1980, where we learned that we’d have to spend about half our time on marketing. We’re not doing it with physical portfolios anymore, but we’re still doing the exact same thing.
There’s no real fundamental difference between advertising in a magazine and advertising on social media. It all costs a lot of money.
Drying Towels was painted at Ocean Park.
Instagram occupies a similar niche to the art festival as a way to court new fans. The only people who miss doing art festivals are those who’ve never spent time in a hot, humid sales tent or unloaded a van full of unsold merchandise at the end of a terrible run. On the other hand, Instagram requires just as much work.
Plein air events themselves are a modern phenomenon. They started thirty years ago with Plein Air Painters of America, founded in California by Denise Burns. This group held annual paint-outs followed by a show. The format has been copied by countless other groups and events worldwide.
The point of these events is their immediacy, and their growth has been entwined with that of social media. Most well-run events use Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to keep fans up-to-date on where and what we’re painting. Some maintain an online map telling fans our whereabouts.
How do artists know about these events and their relative prestige? We follow them on the internet, of course. In fact, the whole modern plein air revival is so intertwined with the internet that it’s impossible to separate the two.

The Internet is a control freak

There is no Fountain of Youth on the internet. Publish or perish, my friend.

Jonathan Submarining, 2016, Carol L. Douglas
Earlier this month, I went sailing. That made social media almost impossible. I could have found a workaround solution, but it would have been time-consuming. Constantly searching for a phone signal to make my next tweet, post, or pin would have wrecked my trip.
I’ve written before about how important frequency is to blogging. The results of my mini-vacation were immediate and dramatic. The following week, hits to my blog dropped by half. It was as if Social Media was in a snit, refusing to speak to me. I was talking to myself in an empty room. Then, suddenly, I was forgiven and my readership went back to normal.
If Social Media were a person and had given me the silent treatment because I went sailing, I’d know exactly what to do about it. I don’t have much use for control freaks. But in our relationship, Social Media holds the whip card. I need her more than she needs me.
J&E Riggins and Bowdoin in Castine Harbor, 2016, Carol L. Douglas
Most artists don’t have access to market research, so we end up guessing a lot, looking at successful posters and trying to figure out how they manage to get so many followers.
Guessing, of course, is just a nasty word for ‘testing.’ We read, try things, fail, and try again.
A marketing guru gives the following as his schedule:
  • Tweet 14 times a day during the week, seven times a day on weekends;
  • Post to Facebook twice a day, once at 10 AM and once at 3 PM;
  • Post to LinkedIn once each weekday, at 8 AM;
  • Post to Google+ twice each weekday, at 9 AM and 7 PM.

Obviously, there’s a big problem here for one-man shops like ours. We don’t have the staff to post at 3 AM, and we don’t have the time (or in some cases the knowledge) to automate posts to go ‘bang’ at that hour.
Storm over Lake Huron, 2016, Carol L. Douglas
Socialbakers, a media analytics company, found that the sweet spot on Facebook is five to ten posts a week. Of course, that was done in 2011, and Facebook has tweaked its algorithms many times since then.
They also say that between three and five tweets a day gives you the optimal engagement per tweet. This isn’t, of course, the optimal engagement for your brand, it’s just the point where you wring out the most value for your work. If you want to get the most value for your Twitter presence, multiply that by ten. No joke.
I’m never going to tweet 30 times a day. I haven’t got that many insights. I’m not sure I can stretch them to 3-5 times a day.
Parker dinghy, 2015, Carol L. Douglas 
Social media experts measure posts by ‘half-life,’ which is the time it takes for your post to reach half its total engagements.
Twitter’s half-life is eighteen minutes. Instagram’s is slightly less than an hour. Facebook posts have a half-life of 90 minutes. Conversely, a Pinterest post has a half-life of 3.5 months.
It helps to live in the eastern time zone. About half of Americans do, which means you get a timing advantage.
What does this tell us? Basically, that artists can use the so-called ‘free’ marketing platforms to great effect, but only if we’re constant and aggressive. Otherwise, we’ll sink without a trace.
Note: if you want to read this blog without having to find it on Social Media, you can always subscribe. There’s a subscription box right below that gold medal on the top right.

Our obsession with parts

Northumberlandia and her oddly erect breasts, courtesy of Wikipedia.
We face our first morning trip downstairs with trepidation. The elderly hound tries his best, but he hasn’t got control of either his bowels or his bladder. He’s confined to a small space, but some mornings the mess he makes beggars belief. It can take a while to get him and the floor clean again. All that happens before our second cup of coffee.
That miasma is a good metaphor for the other mess I see most mornings: friend requests from strange men on Facebook. If I let them in through the net, almost immediately I get a message like this:
“You are so beautiful! I’ve been looking for a woman like you. Thanks for accepting me as your friend. I’m a US Army General presently serving in Afghanistan. I’m 52 years old, and widowed. Please email me or send me your email address. I will send you my pics. My email is XXX@gmail.com.”
We all know what these bots are looking for: intimate photos, and then money. At first I thought about sending them pictures of my incisions. But then, I thought, why not send them something truly intimate? My medical file contains images of the tumors and growths that have been removed from my nether regions over the last two decades. And colonoscopy pictures are pulsating, pink, and dang fascinating.
“I need regular wound care for my ostomy,” I would write in confiding tones.
Map of Northumberlandia, courtesy of Wikipedia.
Northumberlandiais a geoglyph that somehow reminds me of the modern obsession with our breeding parts. She was designed by American landscape architect Charles Jencks, and built on the Blagdon Estate.
That’s the hereditary home of Matt Ridley, fifth Viscount Ridley, author of The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature. This book argues that all human behavior must be understood through the window of sexual behavior, since we’re just a product of evolution, anyway. Northumberlandiais made from excavated material from a nearby open coal mine, shaped in the form of a woman’s torso.
Anthropomorphic landforms exist pretty commonly in nature; there are Sleeping Giant, Sleeping Warrior, and Sleeping Princessmountains all over the globe.
Cerne Abbas Giant, courtesy of Pete Harlow.
Britain is especially partial to geoglyphs. These include the ancient Uffington White Horse, the newer Long Man of Wilmington, and many more modern examples. The Cerne Abbas Giant is ithyphallic, so I suppose Northumberlandia evens up the score a bit.

It’s her boobs I object to. They’re clearly silicone-enhanced. As an argument for Ridley’s thesis that sex drives everything, and as an image of what is considered sexually attractive in 2017, Northumberlandia is a perfect motif. It’s also a great example of what peers of the realm used to get up to when unconstrained by job or money. PG Wodehouse would have had a field day with the Viscount’s Folly.

The chattering classes

"War and intimations of war," by Carol L. Douglas, 2001

“War and intimations of war,” by Carol L. Douglas, 2001
Lack of solitude has interrupted my work over the last week. Creativity is a singular process, and too much interaction—even when you love your visitors—is hard on your work. My Mainer friends tell me this is an occupational hazard of living on the coast. After two seasons I understand. But social encroachment takes many forms. Physical contact is only one.
Auberon Waugh coined the phrase “chattering classes” to refer to the politically active, highly-educated urban middle class. While the term is peculiarly British, the concept is not.
Social media has been a very useful invention in my line of work, which one could describe as “self-appointed expert.” In the past, we had to convince an editor of our brilliance and relevance before they would let us opine in print. Now their role as arbiters has withered away. In some ways it’s a pity, since a good editor stops a person from looking like a damn fool.
Older people like me are still daily readers of news. This is an engrained habit. The newspaper was in the kitchen at breakfast and the television wasn’t. Growing up, my local paper (the Buffalo Evening News) was dignified, measured, literate and informative. It shaped my understanding of writing, certainly, but also of reading.
Concurrent with the decline of newspapering has come a rise in public cynicism.Almost nobody believes that the Fourth Estate is independent or accurate. I’m not innocent of this; I too have media sources I don’t trust. But I’m not sure where a culture goes when it can no longer rely on facts.
It was this past weekend’s horrible violence that finally tipped me into paralysis. No responsible citizen can watch a series of public executions and not be moved by them. However, the hardest part was looking at Facebook. Crisis exposes social media’s fatal flaw, as the chattering classes rush to judgment and normally-intelligent people engage in the blame game.
A number of my friends have pointed out the similarities between the Current Crisis and 1968. Let me point out a few of the differences. In 1968, we were a nation of middle-class values. These acted like a giant counterweight to extremism. In 1968, we hadn’t become as profoundly cynical about the ruling classes.
We live in perilous times. When you’re sitting on a tinderbox, it behooves you to speak peace, not war.
The wheels of justice turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine. The wheels of public opinion jump to conclusions and then warp the facts to meet their preconceived ideas. I need social media, but at times it drives me nuts.

If you don’t have something good to say…

Doodled illumination, by Gail Kellogg Hope

 My pal Gail Kellogg Hope is home chasing a toddler around. Gail’s a trained artist, with an MA in art education from RIT. Occasionally she gets bored and does something ‘arty’ although she doesn’t have the mental space or energy to paint seriously right now.

This is why she ended up making the illuminated borders here. They’re pen-and-wash doodles, and she thought she’d make a set of them as cards as a gift for someone.  I thought they were sweet and told her so. Then she showed them to a group on Facebook, where she received a scathing rip by a fellow artist about her lack of detail.
Doodled illumination, by Gail Kellogg Hope
There is a place for constructive criticism, and Facebook—in general—isn’t it. This is not to say that I never critique work on Facebook, since I have hundreds of artist friends and we’re always bouncing images back and forth. But critique is best done one-on-one and among people you trust.
Doodled illumination, by Gail Kellogg Hope
The artist has just presented you with the best work he is capable of at this time. He is profoundly attached to it. Like a parent, he is blind to its weaknesses. Yes, you can gently point out ways to make the work stronger—and that is, after all, the primary job of a teacher—but you had better start from the position that the work is fundamentally good.
This is why nice people sandwich the negative between two positives: “I love your use of color/the horizon is crooked/your composition is strong.” Practice that technique. It will come in handy all through life, not just in art.
Doodled illumination, by Gail Kellogg Hope
I have a painting in my studio that I wrecked after a bad critique session. Fifteen years later, I know that the comment that crushed me—“It’s like a bad Chagall”—was neither true nor helpful. I would hate to think I ever did that to another student.
Be honest, but if you don’t have anything good to say, then you probably shouldn’t be critiquing work at all.
Doodled illumination, by Gail Kellogg Hope
I will be teaching in Acadia National Park next August. Message me if you want information about the coming year’s classes or this workshop.