Being a freelance illustrator can be a lonely and insular experience. One of the things I miss the most about working in an art department is the ability to stick my head over the top of a cubicle and say, "Hey, come look at this and tell me what you think?" Getting input from your peers is an invaluable tool that can help you catch errors that you've become blind to, give advice and help problem solve on issues that have you blocked, as well as give you ideas for new directions you can take your illustration that you may not have thought of on your own. Your peers can help your art grow and speed your development as an artist.
A great way to get this input is through a critique group. A critique group is a gathering of individuals who have agreed to share work with each other and get honest input on it based on their experiences, taste and talent.
I have been members of many and have enjoyed some and loathed others. The problem can emerge when you are dealing with other artists that you may not truly consider your peers. Most crit groups I have joined were with strangers. I wasn't familiar with them, there artwork or there temperament and they weren't familiar with mine. This can make it difficult to want to share your artwork and open yourself up to critical input. Many of us have very personal ties to our artwork and having someone tear it apart is like having someone criticize our children or a dear friend. (This is something we have to get over as professionals, but I acknowledge that many of us are still developing that thicker skin.)
The result ends up being that after a person posts an image, many are afraid to say anything negative. Some after posting an image and getting critical input will never post anything again. So how do you solve this problem and create a strong group of individuals to share your work with? A friend on Facebook inadvertently gave me the answer.
I've cultivated a number of relationships with fellow artists through social networks. Many I have to come to admire and respect as my peers and fellow professionals. One of them recently sent me a message that included five other artists. They were asking for advice on how to solve an issue they were having with their image. Within minutes a few had responded with advice and direction on the image. As they made the changes suggested they posted the newer images and we'd all continue to give input until the artist was satisfied with the image. Ladies and gentleman, we have a critique group.
I then tried the method myself. I went through my friends list and selected five or so members that I admired and respected and presented my image and asked for input on it. The response was immediate and hugely beneficial to the final product. As one person chimed in, others would react to their input, as well as offer their opinions and advice as well. It was like having a conversation amongst friends. (In a controlled manner!) I'll definitely be doing this again and I can only hope that the artists will return the favor and do the same with me.
The good thing is that your group is able to float. You can custom create your group for each individual problem or circumstance. If anyone you have messaged doesn't want to participate they can leave the conversation of their own accord. Details below!