Critique Guidelines for Illustrators/Visual Artists

The purpose of an Illustration/Visual Art critique group is to encourage each participant through comments and suggestions to enhance the illustrations and other types of art work intended to “illustrate” a children’s book, as well as to affirm what has been created, pointing out areas that need to be strengthened, removed, or clarified. Illustrators/Visual Artists’ groups can be much more informal and subjective than writers’ groups, more like art school critiques.   

Overall Roles

Of the Illustrator/Visual Artist Whose Work is Being Discussed

1-Introduce the artwork.

2-Share it with the group. Unless your work was emailed ahead of time and members are coming in with their comments already prepared. 

3-Absorb the feedback. 

4-Ask questions if you need more information to understand the feedback. 

5-Later on, after you have time to absorb the feedback, decide which advice to take (you don’t have to agree to make changes in your meeting).           

Of the Critiquer 

1.  Start with the positive aspects of the work. 

2.  First, point out those things the Illustrator/Visual Artist is doing well, such as overall presentation, continuity, consistency, subject matter, perspectives, composition, and marketability. 

3.  Point out where the artwork may need tightening or clarifying but speak from your own perspective. Use “I” statements rather than “You” statements. For example: “I like how you used motion in your illustration,” or “I am confused because I can’t clearly see the hero in your illustration…“ 

4.  Be specific. Instead of saying, “You need to work on composition,” try to offer a specific way the Illustrator /Visual Artist might improve the composition. 

5.  Keep in mind that your comments are your thoughts and can easily be subjective, so try to review the work from the perspective of the general population (children age X) or a specific population (i.e., librarian, teacher, social worker, etc.). Remember the Illustrator/Visual Artist has his/her own vision for the story’s artwork. You are there to help enhance it, not re-do it for them, nor to ask that s/he re-create it the way you would prefer to see it according to your own personal vision. 

6.  Bring something new into the discussion. Instead of repeating what’s already been said, try to find something new to add. It’s okay to say, “I agree with what’s been said,” and then pass to the next person.        

Process Suggestions 

When You are Being Critiqued

1.  Introduce your artwork. Identify the genre and details of the work being reviewed today: “the thumbnail sketches for a picture book about a boy who gets his first pet” or “my finished double-page spread where the boy’s mom gives him a dog for his birthday” etc. Note: often the artwork will show the story’s text so the reviewers should have a good feel for what the artist is trying to do to further enhance the story. If you have any specific feedback that you are looking for in particular, don’t hesitate to make that clear. You may want help to make a scene more dynamic, or with an appropriate color scheme. If you communicate specific questions, then more of your feedback will be framed with your current goals in mind!

2.  Show your artwork straight through, with no digressions or side remarks. During the review, you may find yourself identifying new problem areas you want to revise later, but jot down those notes quickly and quietly for your own use later.

3.  As you show your work, do not excuse or explain. “This is a really rough draft, or I worked on this late last night…”  As Linda Sue Park, Newberry Winner and SCBWI Board member, states on her website: “…the work must stand or fall on its own. When the piece eventually gets submitted and is read by the editor, the Illustrator /Visual Artist won’t be there to say things like, ‘Well what I meant there is…’ or ‘That’s supposed to refer back to…’ “

4.  Give the group the chance to fully evaluate your work. Everyone’s training and art style is different! What is confusing to one may be perfectly clear to another. So answer any questions that someone asks of you to help clarify it for that person so they can provide you with good feedback.

5.  Try not to be defensive. Remember your goal: a stronger portfolio and/or book dummy, etc. The group is offering ideas to help your work become stronger. So, try to relax and remember that other people’s suggestions are just that--suggestions!  You may explain the intention or goal of the art piece in response to critiques, but do not argue with the comments.​ If you don’t agree with it, do so silently and let it go.

6.  Listen for patterns in the feedback. If several reviewers agree on one aspect of your work, that may signal that you need to separate yourself from your art and listen to the suggestions being offered.

7.  Some groups have guidelines that encourage the Illustrator/Visual Artist to just listen as the group discusses the work. ​​

8.   You, the Illustrator/Visual Artist, always has the option of setting aside any critiques you feel do not apply. Remember not do that out loud. Ultimately, it is your work, and the final judgement is yours.

When You are the One Providing the Critique

Take notes during the presentation of the artwork. Be sure your notes are legible, and the suggestions are clear, so you can provide effective feedback when it is your turn.

If you are adding notes directly onto a printed copy of the artwork, one idea is to put a (+) by the things you like, a minus (-) by the ones you don’t, and a question mark (?) where you get confused or didn’t understand something. (If you think something was funny add a LOL! or smiley face.) 

If you are making notes on a blank paper instead of a copy of the artwork, include reference details for the convenience of the Illustrator/Visual Artist. 

It’s okay to ask the Illustrator/Visual Artist for a quick re-review of part of the art piece (if the work is being reviewed out loud and your comments are not expected to be prepared ahead of time.) 

Add your name and date and hand your notes or return the art printout to the Illustrator/Visual Artist after verbal critiques are done so s/he can review it again at home.

Be sensitive to feelings:

  • Start each critique with a positive statement, even if it’s only, “This has a lot of promise,” or “This is better” or “Nice title…good humor…great colors…etc.”.
  • Make sure your verbal critiques are brief and clear. If you have trouble being brief, consider giving only the most important suggestions verbally, then let your notes do the rest.​
  • Don’t compare the Illustrator/Visual Artist to others in the group.
  • Direct the comments about the actual work you are reviewing–not the Illustrator/Visual Artist’s abilities. For example: “You aren’t very good at making the character show up” (not helpful). Instead use: “I don’t see your character clearly” (helpful).
  • Don’t push for change, even if you are sure something isn’t working about the art piece.
  • How your comments are offered is just as important as what is offered. Not helpful: “There’s no way a 9-year-old would look like that.” Or “Your hero is way too adult.” Instead, offer suggestions like, “I’m not sure I’ve seen a 9-year-old wears clothes like that.” Or “Are you illustrating for the 2-to-6year-old age group or the 6-to 8-year-olds? I can’t quite tell.” 
  • Do not make a suggestion more than twice, no matter how strongly you feel about it. The Illustrator/Visual Artist owns the responsibility for any changes to her/his story.
  • No need to say more than, “I agree with (another Critiquer) about _____” when someone else has already pointed out a problem or a job well done. Don’t go into detail. Instead, move on to your next piece of feedback.

(Kind thanks to SCBWI Los Angeles and New Jersey for this information. Additional edits by CenCal.)


Please note that while we are happy to help assist you in pursuing your interest in joining (or forming) a critique group, by your utilizing SCBWI or SCBWI-CenCal information you are acknowledging that you are solely responsible for all related outcomes including but not limited to such activities related to forming and/or participating in/and or managing critique groups. Neither SCBWI nor SCBWI-CenCal creates/monitors/controls critique groups. That is up to you as individuals.