Many of my watchers, particularly those who are also budding illustrators, are aware that my activities are not limited to creation. One of my greatest pleasures is sharing the things I have learned with others. If art creation grants me the privilege of becoming a positive influence on the lives of art appreciators by passing on the messages and feelings contained in an illustration, then tutoring allows me to become a positive influence on other art creators themselves, by helping them fulfill their art creation potential.
Now, I'm not (and I'll never be) an art teacher or anything of the sort. This didn't stop me from having, in several occasions, tried my best to help my artistic-minded friends, by going step by step over the many phases of the art creation workflow, using my limited self-taught knowledge to give them suggestions on how to make their output match their vision, giving them critique that is mindful of their experience and proficiency; And when advice is harder to convey in a verbal manner, offering to respectfully demonstrate, on their own canvas, the ideas that I believe will contribute to lift their work up to the next level (something that is commonly called redlining
). It makes me happy, it helps them evolve, and hopefully it contributes to better art. Everyone's a winner.
Over time, I've been able to communicate extensively with all the friends that I have endeavored to help, and gain some degree of sensibility in regards to important aspects of acting as a tutor to others and offering to redline their work. You see, as well meaning as you may be when you get the idea of "showing them how it is done" (to use a deliberately patronizing, but plausibly rationalized as harmless, expression), there is a very real risk that things may backfire, owing to the very subjective nature of artwork, the perception the artist has of his own work, and the way he interprets other people's reaction to it. Without care, you risk accidentally offending your friends and passing off the impression that you're doing all of this for your own ego's sake.
This text aims to share ten among these aspects that seem most important to me, translated to rules that seek to prevent awkward situations of inadvertently hurting the feelings of the ones you're trying to help.
1 - Search your own feelings.
Before setting off to share your knowledge with others or offering to critique or correct their efforts, consider exactly why
you intend to do that. It's essential to act out of a legitimate wish to help your artist friends elevate themselves and their skills in order to reach their potential. Consider backing off if you can't dissociate your actions from a desire to show off your own skills or establish a clear comparison between your skill level and theirs. Showboating is belittling and nothing good comes out of it. Even the most well meaning of tutors can fall to this trap, and this is something that I'll go over near the end of this text.
2 - Don't help people who don't wish or didn't ask for help.
You can't force people to accept your help. In fact, you should assume that they don't really want it, since that makes it easier for you to avoid patronizing, even if they indeed end up taking it. Artists are, generally speaking, a proud bunch that don't take kindly to being carried along, and even upon hitting a hurdle, they may insist on facing it by themselves, or simply take a different path. If you really want to help, it helps to have another kind of relationship with the helped artist beforehand. Friends are more likely to share their art creation concerns with you, and are more receptive to help offers.
3 - Make sure that you and the artist you're trying to help are on the same wavelength.
You look at your friends' creation, and you see something that looks off, or that you feel could be done in a better/more effective way. Your immediate reflex is to offer your help to "fix" it or "improve" it... but hold it! Are you really sure that this is something that needs to be fixed or improved? Consider the alternatives. Maybe it was intentional. Maybe it's something that is an important part of their style. You can, of course, point it out to your friend, which is safer to do by inquiring about the intention behind the particular aspect that seems off to you. Communication is all-important while offering your help, and particularly crucial during this "negotiation" phase. It is essential that whatever you perceive to be an issue worth addressing, is also perceived as such by the assisted artist.
4 - Ask for permission before redlining.
An artist's canvas is sacred territory. Each illustration is a deeply personal endeavor, and to interfere with that process, even out of good will, may be perceived as an insult. Sometimes, words are not enough to get your point across regarding something that your friend could do to improve, for instance, a perspective effect or an anatomic detail on their illustration. On these occasions, it may be easier to show rather than tell. It is time to redline, and such a delicate time it is. After all, you'll have to overwrite your friend's hours of hard effort. It is for a good cause (or it should be), but still, it can be extremely hard to see your work scrapped in such a way - even harder if you haven't given your consent for it to be done. It is of paramount importance to ask an artist permission to redline his work beforehand, and it should be done in an humble manner. "Would you be willing to let me try something on your canvas?" is admissible. "Give me that, let me show you how it's done" is a big no-no. Additionally, be sure to make clear which parts of his work you are going to touch on.
5 - Limit your redlining to the minimum necessary.
It's enough that you're overriding the assisted artist's work out of necessity - don't do it out of a whim. Limit your intervention to the minimum necessary, and don't take advantage of the situation to start nitpicking on every "off" looking detail of the redlined work, and redlining those as well. Accepting to be redlined is a concession to humility from an otherwise proud artist - and humility shouldn't be rewarded with humiliation.
6 - Don't drown the original artist's work.
This is sort of a corollary of the previous rule, but I feel that it is worth its own rule. While redlining, you may be working on the assisted artist's canvas, but this is not your work. It's his work, and that should not be put in doubt at any moment. Any extra strokes you make should be put in their own layer, and contrast vividly with the assisted artist's original work. This is why it is called redlining: it is commonly done in bright red for easy separation (unless the underlying illustration is bright red as well, of course). You are not replacing the artist's work. Everything you do are mere suggestions, and as such, shouldn't be allowed to drown his effort. If you overdo it so much that it is barely identifiable as the assisted artist's work, then you are doing it wrong.
7 - Consider the assisted artist's skill level.
While communicating critique or redlining, you must at all times be wary of how far along the assisted artist is in the path towards art proficiency. Use their previous and current work as reference to ascertain their current level in order to avoid treating them like a noob or, on the contrary, using advanced concepts or techniques that they may not yet be at ease to assimilate and use. These two extremes expose you to the risk of being perceived as a patronizer or a showboat.
8 - Don't assume that your suggestions must be implemented.
Talking about suggestions: that is all that your critique and redlining is. For all that you believe you are helping your buddy by pointing out flaws and redlining, it is still their work, and they're the one to decide how it shall be ultimately implemented. For all you know, they may feel that they're not ready to integrate your suggestions into their piece, or have no time to do so, or lack the tools, and decide not to implement them. It does not mean that they're not grateful for your intervention, or that they learned nothing. If they're improvement-minded artists, you can bet that whatever you said or did will be taken in consideration in future projects where those same aspects may be relevant to implementation. A few more steps, and they may be able to use what you taught them.
9 - Pay attention to your friends' evolution.
If the artists you assist are also your friends, it is likely that along time, you will have several opportunities to assist them. A certain degree of intimacy may mean that some of these rules may be relaxed, but it doesn't mean that they should be completely forgotten. This shared path also grants you the opportunity of following their evolution as artists, which in turn will allow you to tailor your advice and help to address lagging aspects of their technique or style, optimizing their further improvement. If you're playing your part as a tutor right, you should be able to gain the sensibility to discern your friends' strengths and weaknesses as an artist, and help them address in such a way as to minimize the time until your assistance is no longer required, which should be the goal of every tutor.
10 - Avoid patronizing.
This one is the last, but the most important, and the hardest. Boy, is it hard - so much that I still occasionally fall into this trap. Assisting someone as described in this text puts the pair of people in question in a complicated relationship, one that follows a delicate dynamic. I won't call it a "teacher-pupil" relationship, for a couple of reasons. First off, the pupil in that relationship is a much more passive part, in contrast with the assisted artist, who should be actively probing and striving for the completion of their artwork and the improvement of their artistic skills. Second, the "teacher" part implies a component of authority and superiority that I don't believe one should hold while assisting others with art. The "teacher-pupil" relationship is patronizing by definition, and should be avoided at all costs. Instead, it helps for the tutor to see the assisted artist as a fellow traveler, an equal who is not yet as far along in the path that they both are on. Your goal as a tutor should be to pull your fellow artist forward until you are side by side - not to belittle them for lagging behind or to brag about how far ahead you are. While discussing their current position, do not focus on where they are, but encourage them towards what they can achieve, and try to help them open a path towards that place. If you play your cards right, you'll earn their eternal respect and friendship - not to mention that if they end up surpassing you, you may end up having someone ready and willing to help you reach your own potential and help you when you're the one in need of assistance.