Tuesday, October 13, 2015

How to critique someone's model

Our good friend Doog recently wrote about the attaboy culture in our hobby, the tendency to offer only compliments on others' models. I found myself agreeing with him, particularly having spent a number of years painting figures, where the community of painters eagerly seek feedback on their painting skills from respected, more experienced painters.

How would you critique this piece of crap?

Look at that landing gear! What do you say to that?

So what if you're the person who's asked to provide that feedback? How do you deliver a helpful critique without coming off as a jerk? Here are some ideas.

When someone asks you for feedback, I know what you're thinking. "He only wants to hear something positive. He doesn't really want an honest critique." I'd suggest you begin by asking the guy what he likes the most and the least about his model. That should open an interesting conversation. You may agree with what he says, which makes your critique a bit easier if you're not willing to put yourself out there with a critical assessment. For example, if he says he doesn't like the paint, you might say, "I think you're right. It looks like the consistency of the paint was too thick for the pressure you used."

Without an opening like that, I like to begin with a compliment. Open the conversation by telling the modeler what you like about his model. Find something, anything. I remember being a high school student, new to the hobby, and bringing a younger, even less-experienced friend to an IPMS meeting. He brought a really shabby looking A-10. He was maybe 14, really didn't know how to build a model beyond simply assembling it and painting it with a cheap brush. Nonetheless, the club president complimented him on his decision to display it on a base. It was a simple gesture that made my friend feel good about his efforts.

If you're asked to provide a deeper critique, it's important to realize that most feedback falls into one of two categories. The first are "mistakes," items that would typically be noted in a formal contest environment. For example, you might point out a visible seam on the fuselage spine. Or you might point out poorly aligned bombs under the wings.

The other category consists of more subjective feedback. These are the items that one modeler may like and another dislike, such as panel line shading, weathering, and paint choice. When I address these items, I always add a disclaimer. For example, "I think your weathering is a little too heavy, but that's just a reflection of my preferences."

No matter what feedback you provide, ask a question or offer a solution. "I see a seam on your wing tanks. What kind of putty are you using?" Or, "The paint looks a little dark. Next time you might try adding a little yellow to the mix and see if you like it." Ultimately this process is about helping, not judging.

I can't stress enough, always comment on some positive aspect of the model. Find something, even if it's nothing more than the modeler's choice of subject matter. "I really like your P-51. I could look at that plane all day long." Or, "It's really great to see a P-80 in the contest. You rarely see them built up." Remember, we all have an ego, even if it's a small one, and we like to be complimented from time to time even as we endure the discomfort of growth through critique.

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