Serious Critique Request

  • I've been looking at horror-related children's books illustration. It seems like they're either really cute and rounded (think Will Terry and Bonaparte), or they're out-and-out creepy (like Dean McKean ).

    I agree that your niche is out there. My husband does creepy horror work and I don't even like to look at it (because it's so creepy). He puts stuff on shirts and merch and sells it via his website. There's an SVS class on merchandising you might check out. The woman who does it shows how she made one Christmas image and licenses it for a whole host of things. That might be something to look into.

  • SVS Team SVS OG

    @demotlj yeah I always had that glowing bacon in my mind from the start. My bad on that one.

    @Whitney-Simms you have been my biggest supporter around here, thank you. Don't worry, I am not going anywhere.

  • I understand what you are saying art is very difficult and can be discouraging I feel the same myself. I love your art Chip you have a strange dark sense of humor like myself so I enjoy your work. Not all children's books are cute and funny I could see you illustrating for Roald Dahl books or something similar. Have you thought about animation I find a lot of childrens cartoons similar in style and dark humour.

  • SVS OG

    Try not to get discouraged, Chip. I feel the same way and I bet a lot of other people do, so you're not alone.

    Maybe a totally different process for coming up with an image would help. Rather than focusing on the drawing techniques like perspective or anatomy, maybe start learning to develop a really solid plan. One that you've questioned yourself about, looked for ways to make the image stronger, looked for things that might become a problem with the image and figure out how fix them.

    When I hear Lee talk about his process, it seems to me there is a lot of thinking and questioning and working out a plan before he ever starts. (That would probably help a lot of us LOL!)

    Right now I'm going through his "Visual Storytelling Techniques" video, and this is what he's talking about. It's beginning to sink into my little pea brain just how useful having a plan is before trying to make a finished piece. Might be something for you to focus on at the moment, and maybe it will help with future images.

    Keep going, keep looking for ways to improve, and you WILL! It's a skill that we can learn, but we have to keep trying. 🙂

  • Hey Chip!

    Wanted to post some feedback as well as I can join the others in saying that you're a great part of this community and since I've joined, which was only a few months back, I can definitly tell you've improved.

    As others have pointed out your storytelling on this one is cool. There are plenty nice and humerous links in the back and foreground to make the viewer understand what's going on. I think the focal point is pretty clear, and I can tell you've done a lot of work on making the expressions emotive on this one, which is a great improvement on the feedback you received for your 'summer gone wrong' piece.

    I can see two main reasons why the contests haven't worked out for you yet.
    One is to keep your audience in mind: All three of them are after all children's book illustrators and having heard what has been said on some other pieces, they don't often favour anything too dark, gross or gorish. This is utterly subjective, and might just mean that with another audience you might have more success. Your images are definitly funny, it might just be a bad match.

    The second is that I join some others above in saying that your basics just still need some work. You are DEFINITLY on the right path with this, so keep going, practising, taking classes and accepting feedback, because it does just take a long time to improve on the craft and you're on a great upward curve.

    Some things that stand out to me with this piece as an example are the colour harmonies. The focal point works great, but the gold of the bacon has such a short radius. No light is reflected on the apple or the other food, and in fact the shadows are all going in the opposite direction from the bacon, making the atmosphere just a bit chopped and confused.
    some of the shadows tend a lot towards black and look a little flat. Adding a bit more atmospheric colour into those could also make the shapes better rounded and suited for the scene. I second the Marco Bucci recommendation! Really good video!

    The characters are a little stiff. You're getting there, but I'd recommend doing more studies of the real animals in different poses (same for humans) and practising a big bunch of gesture drawing to get some fluidity into them. They just don't quite look like they could be real moving and living characters.

    Composition could use a little work but this is a harder one to pin down and more intuitive. The wolf is cropped awkwardly at the top, and all the pigs are bunched together and overlap in places maybe a little awkwardly. I also think the items on the table are all so seperate that they just look glued on without providing much aid for the eye. Maybe they could have overlapped and helped point towards the focal point.

    That was long! Hope some of that was helpful. Everyone feels discouraged when it comes to their art, and it can feel so often that you are just working into a void and nothing is coming back out of it, but you ARE improving, and your evident love for art is going to bring you back to try again and again until you WILL succeed. If you are discouraged with SVS contests specifically, there is no shame in taking a break from them and working on some studies and sketches leisurely until you feel up to it again!

  • There's been lots of great feedback so apologies if I'm repeating what's already been said! I think I read through everything but may have missed some-

    Totally love the dark humor and the expressions! I agree with previous comments regarding the stiffness of the characters though- with how stylized your work is and how intense these expressions can be, you can push the body language a lot further with these!

    The biggest thing that stood out to me with this piece is lighting. There isn't a clear light source here and the similar level of contrast/saturation/values across the three pigs and the wolf make the piece have less of a focus on the glowing bacon. The highlight on the apple for example is away from the glowing bacon. The pig with the bacon has highlights under her eyes which makes sense with the lighting from below you're going for but the rest of the figure lacks the necessary highlights and shadows to make the lighting effect convincing

    For example from this photo from

    alt text

    There's highlights under the eyebrow area too. With the angle the bacon is at in relation to her face, I would expect a little around her forehead and the edge of her snout

    The intensity and saturation of the colors on the other two pigs draws too much attention and makes for a lack of focus on the subject of their shock in my opinion. I feel if the colors were less saturated or cooled down in contrast to her colors, it may read better especially since their wide round white eyes will provide good contrast already even if their pinks are toned down a bit.

    This is a wonderfully detailed and funny piece! Keep up the good work!!

  • @VivianTong Thanks for linking to this Photography post I found it really useful.

  • Hi. I understand how you feel. It is hard to not knowing what to work on. I often has the same feeling: I had a strong piece, but it was not picked.

    I want to offer a suggestion that may sound counter-productive.

    • try to make art that does not look like yours at all for a bit, and see what happens.

    I always immediately can tell which piece is yours everytime I scroll through the contest thread. Many people may say that is a good thing - an artist with his own distinct voice. But I find it problematic especially when the distinct style does not get enough traction (from contests or portential desired clients).

    I have gone through this process myself several times during the past year. I tried this not only with techniques, tools, but also with the kind of stories I tell with my images. The reason I do this is that I try to find a sweet spot: the kind of art that I enjoy the process, and my audience enjoys the results.

    I think we all need to improve the fundimentals all the time. But we artists are also easily get caught up by lighting, brushes, textures and forgot about the story. In the end of the day, we want to make stories that resonate with the audience. I really think you have strong enough fundation to carry out any story succesfully. The bigger issue is the story itself. Like @Nathalie-Kranich said, it is a strong story, but does not really match with the childrens book world.

    I am interested in hearing how other people go about this process of "deciding your style". (For me, it is not so much about finding a style, more like deciding, if that make sense.)

  • Before I knew about the SVS forum, I used to watch everything Will Terry had on YouTube, and I still remember a third Thursday critique I watched, way back when, of one of your pieces. The fact that I can remember your image so clearly, amidst the hundreds of other critiques I’ve watched, is hopefully encouraging to you. You have the artist fire lit, and it seems to burn strongly! It has endured for years! Any artist with passion and extreme determination can make it, in my opinion. Perhaps it’s about finding the other people who will remember you. Thanks for all you do for this artist community. You’re so helpful to so many!

  • Hi Chip 🙂

    I didn't want to read and run and thought I'd offer my two pennies worth on your illustration. I haven't seen the other entries yet.

    The issues for me are:

    • The glowing bacon makes no sense and has no context - they appear to be in a standard cafe/canteen rather than somewhere magical.
      -The characters need work - if you're going to have pigs sat in a canteen using forks, they're going to need fingers and thumbs to make that look feasible.
      -Why is the canteen dark at lunchtime? I can't make sense of the situation I'm looking at and there are no clues to help me. It suggests a power cut, but no one is acting like there's been a power cut (carry candles/torches/looking stressed/trying to scare each other etc).

    I think the textures you use are great and your use of line and expressions made me think of Axel Scheffler. I thought about how Scheffler draws pigs and the shapes he uses, and why they're successful. I think that comes down to the cuteness factor - his look like kids. Your pigs look older and I think it's down to too many depressions/bulges in the overall shapes. Their arms look muscular rather than chubby and cute.

    I hope this is helpful - it's coming from a good place. I can see how helpful you are to so many on here and thought I'd offer some honest critique in return.

  • SVS Team SVS OG

    Thank you everyone for the feedback. I can see that my vision was really only clear to me and not the viewer. I truly appreciate all that everyone has said. It gives me a lot to think about while moving forward.

  • Moderator

    I'm coming to this late, but I respect you as an art friend so I don't want to let this go by. I've been looking at your Instagram page this last week and have come to the conclusion that your art is well suited for teens. There are only a handful of images there that are mild enough to be oriented towards young children. That being said I have a 10 year old niece that would LOVE your art, she watches Pet Cemetery on a regular basis😜. You have a very unique style with your cartoony drawings that stands out in the crowd. I want to say something that was said to me. Don't let what you believe to be your style keep you from growing. I tried to draw in the same way for a very long time because I wanted to be recognized by my "style" and as soon as I decided to change it up, I recognized a huge growth spurt in my skill. My friends did as well. Your cartoony images while immediately recognizable as yours are very juvenile. I mean that, they are a little disproportionate, perspectives are sometimes different in the same image, the value and color schemes fight for the spotlight. I think that if you left off the black and white outlines, your characters would be lost. You may want to try leaving off the outlines in your process until your color and values are strong on their own and then put in your signature contour lines... if you feel that they are still needed. I found that i didn't need my outlines after I improved.
    I'm sorry if I was too hard on you. Please consider it tough love, because I know you have it in you. Your 100 horror somethings are truly very cool. Don't give up. Find your audience.

  • Chip, your piece is great! I love the macabre take on the three little pigs concept, and the cackling wolf/teacher. You do a great job with storytelling and the contrast and lighting makes the focal point stand out. I'm not sure exactly what their criteria are for the contests, but please don't be disheartened. I look at this piece and can't wait until I have gained the skill to create something like this!

    Great job on the steam clouds coming from the hot pork products, but I'd love to see how she got them so fresh and steamy-good. It could be funny if she has a mini electric griddle and is cooking them right there or something, making the smell of grilling pig permeate the cafeteria. You could even have some of the background pigs be looking over in horror (but of course, this is your piece and it's great as it is too!).

    You could also possibly play with the wolf teacher - I love the laughing, amused versio, but you could also explore a more menacing wolf, getting ideas about the pigs from seeing and smelling that tasty bacon.

    Anyway, this piece is fantastic, and I can't wait to see more of your work! Don't give up, and you will be recognized for your work because you've put your time and effort into making it great.

  • SVS Team SVS OG

    @burvantill not hard at all, I am taking it all in. I can't thank this community enough for getting behind me and pushing me. Total support and I love it. I did get away from the white lines on my larger pieces like this one. A few contests back there was a lot of feedback on removing the white line and working on values more. For my quick pieces that take about an hour I add it.

  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    Chip Crit.jpg

    I asked @Chip-Valecek if I could show this and he said yes. It's a quick crit that highlights some of the things we are seeing with his images. I hope this might help both Chip and other people to gain some insight to things we think about when judging images. Note: this is just an opinion and there could be other judges that say the total opposite.

    The crux of the problem with Chip's images is they seem to be right in the middle of and illustration and a Sunday "comic" panel. If they leaned more into illustration and less toward the comic side, it may nudge it in the right direction. OR, he could go totally to the comic side of things. But being in the middle is tough because it doesn't fit in either category really well.

    Take a look and hopefully this makes sense! We love seeing all the work you guys do and we respect each and every one of your entries! Keep 'em coming! : )


  • @Lee-White this is really good advice, and it helps understand your judging. I do have a question on how Jake Parker use of hard and soft edges, what do you mean by how he uses them?

  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    @Heather-Boyd jake really understands lighting quite well and uses that to his advantage. When he is making a form shadow across a form, it's very soft (like it should be). But jake keeps the edges of his shadows hard everywhere else (cast shadows, etc.). Also, the edges of his objects are very controlled with hard objects getting hard edges and things that are in the background getting softer as they recede into space.

  • SVS OG

    This post is deleted!

  • @Lee-White Very useful info for everyone Thanks for this Lee.

  • SVS OG

    @Lee-White thanks for chiming in! You guys created this forum to help artists help artists. It truly has created friendships that we all want each other to succeed. I know I try to offer advice that will help, but i don’t have the credentials to back it up. So again, thanks for leaving your words!

    @Chip-Valecek good luck! You have some things to think about. Hang in there and we all can’t wait to see what comes next.

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