If you're in the gym and trying to lift something heavy, odds are you need a spotter. Even if you fancy yourself to be a big strong macho man (or woman). You may think you can just do it yourself (and maybe you can), but wouldn't it be safer to have an extra set of hands to yank that weight off your chest if you try to bite off more than you can chew? Perhaps you and your silly pride can struggle through it, but odds are you're going to have bad form; the sloppy reps just aren't going to deliver the results you were hoping for. Creating a piece of artwork is no different. Sure, you can do it all by yourself and get something done, but it's always a good idea to find an artwork spotter to have your back.
I reach a point in every one of my edits when I think the image is finished. (I'm always wrong.) After I'm "done," I drop it into my "safety net." (Yes I know I've switched analogies on you; chill out. I couldn't decide. You wouldn't try to tightrope walk without a net, right? Ok, glad you're with me. Moving on.) By "safety net" I mean my wife, Sara, and my cousin, James. One precaution is great, but two is better. #math
Sara is an incredible artist and creates an illustration for each of her posts over on her food blog, Cake Over Steak. She went to college for illustration and acquired lots of handy knowledge that she can apply to my images. There have been times when the picture I'm working on is an expansion, so I feel the need to use as much of the stitched image as possible. But she will look at it and say something intelligent like, "If you cut all of this off it will lead your eye to the subject better, and you won't really be losing much because there isn't anything going on over here." I usually show her my image several times throughout my editing process to make sure I'm heading in the right direction, and that there isn't something I could nip in the bud early on.
My cousin James (much like myself) is a photographer and retoucher. I'll email him my "finished" artwork and he'll take a few minutes to look it over, circle things in red, and write little suggestions all over it. So many of his suggested corrections are things I can tell you without a doubt I would never have noticed. Once pointed out I'm always like, "Oh .... yeah for sure, why didn't I see that!?" When I've been staring at an image for so long there are parts of it that I just become accustomed to. Tiny problem areas might not jump out as odd at all, but someone else's perspective can often pick right up on them.
When you're looking for a spotter/safety net of your very own, one of the most important things to consider (other than whether or not they are artists you respect and whose opinions you trust) is if they are going to be honest with you. Having two people who are not afraid to "tell it to me like it is" is so valuable. Obviously neither James nor Sara are going to be straight up rude and/or mean about how they point out areas they think could use some improvement, but they are without hesitation going to just tell me. If your spotter in the gym is too weak to lift the weight you're working with, then when you need help ... well you're probably going to get crushed. So be sure your spotter isn't just going to butter your bread ( .... unless it's actually bread with actual butter in which case bring it on, #MmmCarbs). But seriously it will do no one any good if all of the feedback is nothing but, "Wow you are so good. It's perfect. I love it just like it is. Here is a piece of bread I just buttered for you."
One of the other perks of having a safety net of artists is the "checks and balances" part of the arrangement. Both Sara and James always have me take a look at their finished pieces. When you're returning the favor and sitting in the seat on the other end of the equation, it forces you to look at the composition, coloring, contrast, and all the little details of their image that might need tweaking. It starts to train your eye to notice certain things. Then later on when you're editing one of your own pictures you'll remember a correction you suggested and therefore won't make the same mistake.
I guess what I'm saying is: THANKS JAMES AND SARA! You're an integral part in keeping the quality of my images top notch. (Oh and obviously thank you so much as well to my awesome and talented friend Madeline for modeling and letting me shoot her beautiful sari!) So friends, if you don't have this system in place already I highly recommend you all find a good buddy, close relative, maybe a person you married, or just about anyone mildly artistic who is willing to take a few minutes of their day now and then to give you some unfiltered feedback before you post your sloppy piece of crap image. Whoa ... took it a bit far there. Sorry guys your image is beautiful; it just might need a bit of polishing.
The particles used in this image are from here.