Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Crit of a Crit

We stumbled across a piece on Steven Mardo’s blog about his portfolio review here at 3x3 and asked his permission to reprint it:

My critique with Mr. Charles Hively of 3x3 Magazine

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of having a small crit session with Art Director/Designer Charles Hively of 3x3 magazine. He gave me some amazing words of wisdom and made me re-think my direction as an artist/illustrator. If you don’t know who he is check out this interview from Illustration Age or 3x3 magazine.

When I arrived his gracious partner Sarah invited me in and asked if I needed anything. It was a nice cozy little office in Brooklyn, and it made me feel more relaxed than I thought I’d have been. Mr. Hively came over shook my hand and asked about me, my background and what kind of art and artists I liked. I told him I loved comics as a kid and became more interested in illustration and artists like Arthur Rackham, Winsor McCay and modern illustrators like Tomer Hanuka and James Jean as I had gotten older and attended college. He then proceeded to look over my portfolio.

Now I won’t sugar coat this, Mr. Hively was a tough crit. But, he was genuine and real with what the industry wants to see. I have had some harsh crits in my day so I didn’t take any offense to his words and looked at them as ways to improve. Also, I went in to the critique with a sense of honesty about my own work (this is key for any illustrator or artist in general). What he told me was there was nothing that wowed him and that I had to go that extra mile in some of my pieces. Mr. Hively also told me to stop looking at illustrators for a while. Get inspiration from other avenues: photos, architecture, books, museums etc. I’ve been told this before but, it was refreshing to reminded.

Another eye opening and interesting bit of information that was touched upon was the difference between American and European illustration. Mr. Hively pointed out some of my work differed style wise, American editors don’t want to see that. They want to know what they’re getting up front. They want to see something that’s uniform in your work. European editors are a bit more flexible and will want an illustrator to take on a different style or approach to an image.

This is something I’m coming to terms with in the last few years. I always dreamed of being a jack of all trades, but I find it doesn’t really help your portfolio. Steven Heller once said if you try to be a jack of all trades it shows you’re not really good at one thing. I believe to some extent he’s right. I can paint in watercolor, acrylic and oil pretty well and use other mediums but, I’ve realized that pen and ink is my strong point. That doesn’t mean in 5 or 10 years down the line I won’t want to change my style but, I’d like to be really good at it before I decide to make a new artistic identity.

Mr. Hively also brought to my attention making it as a full time illustrator. He basically told me don’t quit your day job. He didn’t mean it in the suggestion of “quit drawing”. He meant it in the sense of it’s going to take you a good two years if not more of constantly sketching and drawing, sending out mailers, enter competitions and figuring what works for you.

Finally, he dropped the gem I was looking for… Make work for yourself first and people will gravitate towards it. I know this is a golden rule for all artists but, sometimes in this industry (especially when you’re new and trying to make a living off of your art) it can get sent to the back burner. And it is true you can tell when an artist is having fun making work or when he’s just doing it for a pay check. Case and point, when I told him I loved comics he told me “My face lit up” and advised me to keep working on that if it’s true love.

The critique was a great experience, and it was very satisfying to hear from people in the industry that you’re taking the right steps and not walking backwards.  Art is a difficult gig and I’ve found receiving crits and slowly growing tougher skin is half the battle. Well, I hope this helps anyone who’s taking the same path as an illustrator or just wants to have a career as a creative person.  I know it was a little lengthy and if you made it to this point thanks for the read.

Free portfolio reviews take place once a month, follow us on Twitter and/or Facebook to find out dates and times. We’ll be adding a video Skype portfolio reviews next month for those outside the New York City metro area in addition to our monthly, live in-studio reviews.


  1. Great post! Hope to bring my book one day when I have it sorted out.

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