I had an Art Professor back in college that was known for many things, but one was his brutal art critiques. There were horror stories about critiques in his classes... So when I scheduled my first of many of his classes for the first time during my freshman year, I was terrified. I mean, how was I going to deal with such harsh criticism of my work?
Our first critique came and went... The world didn't end, and my personal view of my art didn't come crashing to a bitter fall. So what did happen? Probably the best and worst thing that ever could have...
He was honest with me.
We're going to take a look at how Good Criticism plays an important part in our hobby, concentrating on three key areas; Giving it, Receiving it, and most importantly Asking for it.
Giving Good Criticism
When someone asks what you think of their conversion, paint job or army list, what's your first reaction? If it's anything but "give an honest, but constructive answer", then remember the lesson of "if you don't have anything nice to say, shut yer yap".
I'm not saying that you want to put on the kid gloves and overlook or completely ignore areas where they might need improvement just because you don't want to hurt their feelings. That's just as bad as saying, "That sucks. what did you do, paint it blind-blind folded?". Sure, it's not overtly insulting, but it is insulting none-the-less. Why? Because they came to you, asking your opinion on their hard work so that they can improve, not for you to treat them like a four year old with his or her coloring book asking if you like it. If their project needs improvement in a particular area or three, be honest with them about it, be constructive in your comments and help them improve.
On the other side of the coin, looking at their project and either brushing it off or making a series of destructive comments, this includes "brutal" honesty even, only serves to demoralize the person who asked you for help, and insures they never do it again. Enough said about that...just don't do it.
Giving good criticism is all about honesty tempered by a helpful attitude. Take the time to analyze their project and give, to the best of your ability, an honest answer to their question. "You could try and tie the figure into the base more by doing 'x'" or "you need to bring the highlights of the model just a step brighter, and remember that the farther down the figure, the more shadows will come into play and your highlights may not be as bright there...", are just two examples of constructive criticism given to me about my recent entry into the Golden Demon by Chris Borer.
Notice I didn't say "Receiving Good Criticism". It's not always going to be good criticism that you get when you ask for it. Some folks just don't know how to be constructive in their comments. Like it or not, you're going to need to have a bit of a thick skin when you ask someone's opinion about your hard work. Be able to shrug off the destructive comments you may receive at times, there are trolls everywhere, especially on the interwebz and its many forums.
At the same time, when you receive good criticism, swallow your pride. You need to be able to look past your own ego to improve your work when you do receive good, constructive criticism. If you can't do that, you won't improve. If you ask someone who knows how to give a constructive critique, then they are showing you respect by taking their time to do so...give them the same respect, open your ears and listen.
Asking for Criticism
I saved the most important point for last, as it also ties into my earlier point about receiving good criticism.
In order to improve your skills at converting, painting, sculpting, playing, etc., you need to swallow your pride, put on your thick skin and ask for constructive criticism. You want to be a better painter? Ask a better painter than you to critique your work and give you their honest opinion about it. Yes, this means that you might hear some things you didn't want to, but again, if this is a constructive critique, then more than likely everything you hear, you need to.
Everyone needs to hear constructive criticism about their work. It's how we improve our skills and take them to the next level. Just take that leap of faith and ask for it.
I had the opportunity to ask a multi Golden Demon and Slayer Sword winner, Chris Borer (Full Borer Miniatures), to critique my entry this year. I took it, and he took time out of his day, to give me an honest and fair, constructive critique. I already knew Chris was a good guy after taking a class from him two years ago. Lord knows how many people wanted his attention during Games Day, among his obligations to the Golden Demon Lounge, his own entry and wants for the day as well as the Heroes of Armageddon table, but he sat with me for near 20 minutes and gave me a top-to-bottom critique of my figure.
Thanks, Chris. Like my son would say, "I had my listening ears on".