Christmas in September


Critique away folks! Feel free to comment on anything, even things that seem like a basic lack of technique. I have no training, so any comments about technique will help greatly. Please disregard the sloppy edges. I wanted to preserve the painting asap, because my 2 year old has learned to doodle…all over my original paintings and book dummy.

Thanks in advance. Also, feel free to check out my original blog post. 




7 responses »

  1. Amy, I love your blog. Keep on writing and illustrating, you are a natural. One suggestion, please crop your illustrations so we don’t have to scroll so far (up and down and sideways) to see your large images on the blog.

  2. Well done, Amy. It’s a very pleasing painting–colorful, expressive, and tells the story. Mom and dad are excited, perhaps relieved, and as Priscilla mentioned, very human (which is a definite plus in my book.) I kind of like the streaky sky. Combined with the rounded shape of the gold part of the ground, it gives a bit of a halo effect to the whole family, which is nice, but more subtle than the traditional head halo. I am a bit bothered by the fact that where the grass meets the sky it is darker than the rest of the ground. Have you tried masking fluid? If you haven’t used it before I can tell you about it. It’s great for reserving areas that you don’t want covered by darker paint. One last thing–composition-wise, I really like that the family is all one shape, when you look at the negative space of it. Well done!

  3. Hi Amy,

    I’m glad to see one of your pictures on the blog after our meeting!

    I am amazed that you have no formal training. This piece is lovely! I like the expression of joy in Mary’s face and the look of peaceful contentment on Joseph’s. Some other things I appreciated were the natural way Mary’s hair falls over her shoulders, the colors and shadings of the faces, and the values in the clothing. Additionally, I liked where and how you chose to feature your text. It drew my attention to the scene yet didn’t distract my focus from the family, and the white ties the composition together.

    What I think might make this piece a bit stronger would be a smoother application of the watercolor for the background and the grass. Part of me likes that the blue background seems to radiate from the little family, but it might look a bit nicer if there wasn’t a color overlap of lines where the paint pooled. I’m not sure what I would recommend for the grass, but there’s some color and line overlap there, too. I’m not a watercolor artist, so I’m afraid I don’t know the technical terms for that or how to remedy it, but I bet there are several resources on the web that can help. Saturday’s class affirmed for me that I should do much more tutorial googling!

    Another thing I noticed is the boldness of the outline around Jesus’s face. When compared with Joseph and Mary’s softer outlines, the technique seems a bit out of place–like it was sketched in pen instead of pencil. Personally, I prefer the softer lines because it makes the scene feel more tender. It would also be nice to see more of a natural gradation in Jesus’s swaddling clothes (like you did for Joseph and Mary’s outfits).

    I don’t believe there’s a need to include a golden halo around Jesus’s head. While he is often portrayed that way in classical paintings and stained glass, etc., it’s not required. I like that you chose to emphasize his humanity in this illustration.

    I hope this critique helps some. I do think you’re on the right track.

    Thank you for sharing! I’ll look forward to seeing more of your illustrations in the future.


  4. Hi Amy, I like your illustration. I don’t think it looks untrained or unprofessional. It looks good. I like the structure and form of the three characters together. Nice. And the Dad is holding the baby 🙂 If it were my pic, I might change the shape of the background to compliment the characters in the foreground; so cropping the background to be more vertical.
    The only thing I’d look more at is Mary’s chin —-It’s very central –or first to catch the eye. It has the most line and contrast, but seems slightly cropped short.
    Joseph’s expression is lovely. Baby Jesus is too, but hard to see because of Mary’s hand: his blanket, and his face and hair are all very similar colors.
    All the colors are very nice. Maybe just a hint of warm reddish hiding around a bit will bring out those golds and blues just a bit more— til it pops.
    I like this. I like the font too.
    You might want to experiment with the light and darkness of the background. If it changes more from top to bottom and from inside to outside, you can use that to make the faces really stand out. Try a black and white copy of your picture, or stand back and squint your eyes at the color version. If you lose something that way, you’ll know what needs to change slightly in value (darker or lighter) of the nice colors you already chose.

  5. I enjoyed talking with you at the meeting last weekend. I can tell you’re very enthusiastic about becoming an illustrator. I know we discussed how you hate meaningless pats on the back disguised as critiques. So, I’m going to give you a real critique on this piece and I really, really hope I don’t hurt your feelings. But, like we were discussing, it’s better to know than not.

    The first thing I’d address is what you mentioned. You don’t have any training. I don’t think one necessarily need an art degree, but a few art classes are a good idea. Your technique looks unschooled. There’s some things you can pick up on your own through online tutorials and such, but sometimes you need a teacher to point out where you’re going wrong.

    One of the big things I see about this piece is errors here and there about the pose. Mary’s head is positioned too high, making her neck too long. Joseph has an awfully skinny neck and torso for a man. Joseph’s face isn’t shaped right. You’ve got a problem with the line from the base of his nose to his chin compared with the base of his nose on up. That line is too far back compared to the nose and brow. Also, the details of that area of his face are kind of muddy and hard to make out. His foot is also drawn wrong, with a very dramatic and unrealistic bend in the middle. As a detail on that, I’m not certain Joseph would be barefoot. He’d probably have sandals or boots. Mary’s eyebrows need to be further forward, on her face and her smile, in that position, would show her top teeth. Joseph’s hand on her arm looks very tense, as if he’s really gripping her arm hard, which doesn’t go with the expression on his face. I’m not sure Mary’s expression is right for the scene. She looks delighted as if she’s just seen something amazing. But, unless Jesus just did something adorable, that doesn’t seem quite right. Since they’re all dressed and out in a field, this isn’t the first time Mary’s held Jesus. A more serene expression might be more appropriate. Mary’s forearm looks too long in proportion to the rest of her figure and her hand doesn’t look quite right. The position they’re holding Jesus in isn’t very natural. Not an impossible position to hold a child. Just not a very natural one. It would look better with Jesus held in the crook of her arm. You’ve drawn everything so that you can have all the characters in profile. Perhaps it’s easier for you to draw faces this way, but that sometimes makes for awkward poses. In real life, it isn’t that common to catch someone in perfect profile and even less likely to find three people together where they’re all in profile. Turning them so no more than one person is in profile would look more realistic and give you a chance to have Joseph really embracing his entire little family here.

    I think you could benefit from a life drawing class to get better at drawing the human figure in different poses. Also, get yourself a reference book like this one full of lots of different human poses and advice on drawing them. That’s the one I have and I’ve gone to it for references lots of times. Practice drawing from some of these images. Even if your work’s kind of cartoony, you still can benefit from knowing how to draw the realistic pose first.

    As an illustration of this biblical scene, you might want to include more biblical imagery. Like stars in the sky with one shining far brighter than the rest. Or have them inside the barn with all the animals around them. Also, isn’t Jesus usually depicted with a glowing halo around his head? Sorry, I’m a little fuzzy on the details since I’m not Christian.

    Also, consider your light source. If they’re illuminated by the moon and the stars, they should be colored with a bluish cast to them and if they’re illuminated by a lamp or lantern, it would be a yellowish cast to the light.

    You could use some help in the technical part of your watercolor painting. The first thing I noticed is that your paper seems to be dramatically wrinkled. You need to learn to stretch your paper. Merely taping the dry page it isn’t enough. Here’s a post on my blog dealing with that. One note, this post was awhile ago. Since then I’ve settled on either using prestretched pads of Watercolor paper (which still do wrinkle ever so slightly) or stretching it on a thick wooden board with staples around the edges when I do watercolors (which isn’t that often).

    You’d also benefit from some watercolor classes. Your grass isn’t very realistic and you can really see the brush strokes on the sky when it should probably be smooth like a wash. I’m not very good with watercolors myself, so I’m hesitant to complain about yours, but it does look like you need to learn some landscape painting techniques for this. Perhaps that’s something you can get from online tutorials, but you might learn it better in an actual class. Watercolor is a very common medium, it should be easy to find a good watercolor class.

    Now, it’s not all bad. I genuinely like the way you drew Jesus’s face. It’s very cute and sweet. Made me go, “Aw”. I still think he’d look better if he wasn’t in profile, but as it is his face is very nicely done. I also like how you did the swaddling around him. Keep practicing and you’ll get better. I know you can do it. 🙂


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