Art Critique: How to Be Your Own Best Critic

Even veteran artists can benefit from honest self-critique. Watercolor artist Francesco Fontana shares the grading tool he uses to make sure his paintings hit the mark.


“Judging your own work can be harder than judging someone else’s,” says Francesco Fontana. “Beyond liking or disliking a finished painting, it’s crucial to understand where you are in the big picture and what there is to be learned for the next challenge.


“We artists tend to be too involved — either too self-critical or too self-indulgent. In an effort to be as objective as possible, I treat myself as a student, despite my experience, status, and age. I am aware that the highest levels of growth are the hardest to achieve. They take more time and require a greater struggle to master than a beginner-level step. To remind myself of that and to keep track of my progress, I started rating my work on a scale of 1-10 for each major aspect of a painting: mood, synthesis, style, subject, design, value, color, execution.

urban landscape

“The average is the overall score of that specific piece. I flag the lower scores so that I can begin to identify the weaker aspects of my painting that I need to work on and push myself to the next level. This system is also useful to establish a minimum limit. For example, I don’t submit a piece to a competition under a given rating — though a high self-rating doesn’t guarantee an award! Sometimes, I’m driven to paint a new version of a painting to increase my score on the lower marks.

urban landscape

“I try to have my self-evaluation scale hanging in the studio when I’m painting a new work, and periodically check the progress of the painting against my goals. For example, if I continue in this way, is color going to get the mark I want? Every year, I give myself an overall rating and set new standards. Of course, objectivity is an illusion, but self-critiquing your art helps you create discipline and can provide a valuable learning tool.”

Title __________________________
Medium ________ Date __________
1. Mood_____
2. Synthesis_____
3. Style _____
4. Subject _____
5. Design _____
6. Value_____
7. Color _____
8. Execution _____
Total _____ / 8
Average _____ / 10


art critique
watercolor painting


See Fontana in action and learn about his unique approach to watercolor painting in Francesco Fontana: Watercolor The Italian Way!


watercolor painting


Francesco Fontana is a professional artist with many years experience in oil, watercolor, acrylic, and dry media. After art school, he followed a bohemian dream and started his artist journey in bohemian Paris, making a living by drawing tourists’ portraits. In the years to follow, he exhibited his art in Italy and France and his paintings are now in many private collections in Europe, USA, and Asia.


  1. I like this system and would like to offer it to my students, but I need a brief definition of what you mean by synthesis.

  2. Nancy by synthesis I mean the ability to translate and combine the lots of information of the reference subject, in a unitary, apparently simple image. You might call it symplification, but it could be a bit symplistic. Your painting can be very rich in details, yet looking compriensable at a glance. Feel free to ask more questions.

  3. Francesco, I like the idea of rating specific aspects of a painting to monitor and stimulate our development. Thanks for explaining your meaning of “synthesis.” Could you elaborate further, particularly on what you are looking for when you say “style, subject, and value”? For instance, are you looking for consistency of your own painting style? By “subject” are you looking for general appeal in the subject matter or your success in depicting this particular subject? And to what does “value” refer: contrast patterns of lights and darks (which I would consider an aspect of “design”), income potential, social purpose, or something else?

  4. I began using this system right away when Francesco shared it. Boy, what a great way to self-critique! It was so hard to step back and review my own work, but this does the trick. And thanks for the elaboration on synthesis – that was also my question. Clear as a bell now!

  5. Dear Charlotte,
    wish I noticed your question before.

    Style, that’s a challenge. I want to keep the features that represent me. But I research new ways to be completely inimitable. So I cannot be as consistent a sticking to my style and repeat it forever (which would help branding!). To me it’s kinda movable concept. In this rating however I evaluate how much my work is ME versus emulating others’.

    Hope this helps. Will be happy to answer your other question asap. Happy new year!


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