Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Walk Before You Run

I recently wrote a post on how to handle criticism. Last night I came across a perfect example of how not to handle it.

As you know, I’ve really got into drawing recently and joined

Well, here’s the thing. For some reason unknown to me, some guy on there took it upon himself to become my ‘mentor’. He comments and points out the flaws in almost every drawing I’ve posted.

Now, this doesn’t bother me, in fact, it’s exactly what I was looking for. I have no use for yes-men and sycophants. You learn from having your weaknesses shown to you, not your strengths.

Honest criticism is what I joined Deviantart for…and I’m always happy to get it.

Well…almost always.

You see, two things started to bug me a little about this guy. For one, nearly all his comments pointed out that I wasn’t figure drawing in a particular style. For some reason, this guy thinks that J. Scott Campbell’s style (a famous comic book artist) is the only style out there. Now, while I like a lot of Campbell’s stuff, his figure drawing is really exaggerated. We’re talking DD breasts, and 15 inch waists above 40 inch hips.

I tried to point this out. Dude, I’m not drawing like Campbell on purpose. I like my drawings to be a little more realistic.

This all fell on deaf ears. Every drawing “The hips and waist are far too wide.”

No, they’re not. They’re in proportion. Put it this way, I actually measured one of this guy’s drawings. Assuming that his females have 36 DD breasts, their waists are around 13-15 inches. If his drawings were real people, they’d all be wearing fucked-up corsets and have severe back problems.

Anyway, even though these constant comments all saying the same thing started to bug me a little, I eventually just changed to saying “Thanks for the comment”, because he occasionally pointed out things that actually made sense and helped me improve.

The second thing that started to needle me a little was, as bad as I am, I’m actually better than this guy. I’m not trying to sound big headed or anything, but it’s a simple fact. I can draw better than him.

Now, it’s true, you don’t have to be particularly good at something to teach it. You just have to know the theory and what it’s meant to be like. A good example of this is when I’m watching ‘So you think you can dance’. I can point out the flaws in every contestant’s technique, compare what they did to what they should have done…but if I try to dance myself, I look a penguin on acid. I simply don’t have the co-ordination or rhythm to dance myself.

Another way of looking at it is professional sports. How many coaches are actually better than the players? Not many, but they know how to teach the sport.

It’s not that I resent getting criticism from someone I feel I’m more skilled than. It was his attitude. He wrote comments, not as a ‘fellow artist’, but from a position of authority, as though he was holding himself up as a perfect example. In fact, a lot of his comments had links that said “Look at this drawing I did to see how it’s supposed to be”.

No, that’s not how it’s ‘supposed to be’, that’s what it would look like if I was badly imitating someone else’s style. That’s what it would look like if I didn’t bother with calligraphic brushes for my line art. That’s what it would look like if I didn’t know how to airbrush. That’s what it would look like if I didn’t bother to follow basic anatomy and made it up as I went along.

In short, his comments are all along the lines of “That’s wrong, that’s wrong, that’s wrong, that looks stupid. Look at my drawing to see what it would look like it if was right.”

Anyway, as big of an asshole as this guy was, he occasionally pointed something out I could actually learn from. Attitude aside, some of his criticism was actually good stuff to know.

So in the end, I decided to return the favor. Let me be absolutely clear here, I wasn’t looking for ‘revenge’, I didn’t say anything abusive or overly negative and I was as nice as possible. My attitude is that anyone online who starts to annoy me, I either make nice or just ignore them. I don’t see the point in arguing with someone I’ll never meet.

Basically, my intention was to offer honest criticism. He helped me improve, so I’d try to help him. Hell, let me just cut and paste the comment, you’ll see what I mean:

Hey, nice work, but there are a couple of issues. Your proportions on this one are a little off. Look at any photograph and you’ll see that the distance from the top the legs to the soles of the feet should be slightly longer or slightly shorter than everything above it. (Top of the head to the hips should be roughly equal to the top of the hips down). In this drawing your character’s legs are twice the length of the upper body, so it looks a little off.

Also, look at the back, you’ve made it a straight line. The spine ‘flows’. It’s more of a shallow S shape than a straight line.

Other than that, good work!

See, nothing nasty. Just honest criticism…which was quite frankly a lot more polite and tame than some of the comments he’d given me.

It was then I noticed that every other comment he had was from a group of people all telling him how great he was. I looked at some of their galleries…yup, he’d commented on them, telling all them how great they where.

Crap. I’d stumbled across a mutual appreciation society. The type of people that don’t care how good they really are, as long as people tell them they’re great.

Again, I’m hardly an authority on the subject of drawing, but in the galleries he’d commented on (all glowing reviews) there where hundreds of things that where ‘off’. I know with art you can do pretty much anything and call it a ‘style’…but there are certain rules you simply have to follow. If you’re drawing a human, proportions and shapes all fall into certain parameters. If they’re off, the drawing looks wrong. There are exceptions to this (caricature, for example), but none of these fell into that style.

For example, a human male is around 8 ‘heads’ tall, whereas a superhero can be upwards of 12 heads tall. Shoulders are normally two ‘heads’ wide, but again, a musclebound superhero can have shoulders 4 ‘heads’ wide.

However, a 12 heads tall man can’t be 80% legs. It always looks ‘wrong’. A thigh tapers towards the knee, it doesn’t start off thin, bulge out like a bicep then suddenly shrink back in again.

Realizing I’d just given probably the first bit of real criticism to a mutual appreciation society…I braced myself.

No less than ten minutes later, I got the message. I’d trodden on some toes. Forget the fact that this guy had torn nearly everything I’d done to pieces. Forget the fact I accepted that with a smile and a thank you.

Apparently, this completely mediocre guy was a self proclaimed ‘God of Drawing’, and while it was perfectly ok for him to criticize me, it was completely wrong for me to comment on his work…unless I was being a fawning sycophant.

You can guess the content of the message. Who do I think I am telling him that he’s wrong? He’s been drawing longer than me so he knows better…and my personal favorite…he’s been a member of Deviantart for longer than me.

Here’s my answer…So…fucking…what?

I didn’t actually reply to him, because I didn’t want to get into a flame war with him. Like I said above, He wouldn’t listen so what would be the point? Why waste time exchanging insults with a computer screen?

However, just for my own sake, let me address what he said:

Yes, he probably has been drawing longer than me. So what? The difference is that I’ve read about a hundred internet tutorials on the basics of figure drawing. I’ve downloaded and read books on the subject. I practice. Every time I finish a new drawing, I look at it and work out what I did wrong, what can be improved and what parts I like and should remember. I get criticism and act on it. In short, I’m learning. That’s why, even though I’m still a complete novice, I can look at one of his drawings and one of mine side-by-side and honestly see that I’m a better artist than him.

On the other side of the coin, one of my greatest strengths as a drawing student is I can look at my drawing next to someone else’s and see how theirs is better than mine.

The second thing I’d like to point out to ALL internet users is simple, but very important to learn:

The order in which you join any internet community, forum, message board or mailing list has absolutely nothing to do with your skill level in comparison to the other members!!!

Seriously. If I joined a tech support forum, and Leo Laporte joined a week later, does that mean I know more than him? Hell no. If a guy got his first computer 6 months ago, and joined a forum two days later, does that make him automatically more knowledgeable than me…despite the fact I got my first computer when I was two years old? (It was an Acorn Electron, by the way…what a great machine. 1k of memory. Great.)

It means one thing and one thing only. You found that one particular forum before me.

In closing, the number one thing that really gets on my tits about any online forum is that they show just how many self-obsessed, self-important and self-righteous assholes there are in the world.

Seriously, in a community designed for people to learn, share ideas and improve, why do so many people take offence and launch a four-letter-word tirade at the things that actually help you learn and improve?

It’s the difference between the asshole and the non-asshole. Non-assholes will accept criticism, even if it’s from someone less skilled than they are. If they hear something they don’t agree with, they shrug and say ‘Thanks anyway’. Assholes are always right. They’ll argue that white is black…because after all, they signed up a week before you did, so they must be right.


Chief Slacker said...

Yeah, I find it pretty rare when criticism is a two way street and it's MUCH easier to give than to take. I think what ya said was fine, and it seems he's definitely an idiot. the net defintiely has no shortage of those ;O)

rayray said...

kinda makes me want to start submitting stick figures, claiming to be the "best stick figure artist EVER", and rip in this guy, like I'm all that and a bag of Dorito's!

Paulius said...

Yeah, but you'd be one among millions.