Commenting Workshop #5 - Tone

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ProjectComment is a Group that provides Guaranteed & Constructive comments for the DeviantArt community. By discussing what makes a great constructive comment, we aim to support the awesome commenters out there through a workshop where, twice a month, we will be conquering the challenge of commenting.

Welcome to our fifth commenting workshop on tone!

How do we sound in our comments? Do we sound welcoming? Are we helpful?
Tone can help with these concerns!

What is tone?

Regarding constructive comments, tone is the general character or attitude conveyed by the commenter. Our choice of words and how we express our ideas can affect the tone of our comments. When speaking, our voice can convey our mood, emotion, attitude, intentions and more. However, when typing on the internet, we are unable to convey these things. Instead, we use certain words to make our statements, and by extension ourselves, appear more welcoming, helpful or kind. Similarly, certain words can make our statements and ourselves appear cold, harsh or rude.

Let us look at an example:

With this piece, don't crop, don't digitally edit it. It just isn't right.

How is the tone expressed here?
  • "Don't" - The use of "don't" or other definite terms that involve the use of 'not' (e.g. "shouldn't", "mustn't", "couldn't", etc.) trap and restrict the artist. These other words that involve 'not' can convey many different things. Perhaps an artist may feel pressure to conform to a viewpoint they may not necessarily believe in. Perhaps the commenter sounds arrogant, condescending, offensive. While these other words can be used in many different contexts, "don't", in particular, is an imperative and the use of "not" makes it a negative imperative. What this means is that when we start off sentences with "don't", we almost place ourselves in a position of authority, a position that the artist may not be able to understand or relate to. Furthermore, such a use makes it seem we are giving orders, bossing people around and trying to make them do something (or not do something) they may not necessarily believe in. It also prevents the commenter from using creativity to help develop alternate options that could potentially be used. The bottom line is that if we want to give advice, there are more constructive ways of doing so without making our tone offensive to the artist.

  • "Right" - The use of "right" or "wrong" conveys a sense of morality or subjective viewpoint. Something may have been done "right" or "wrong", but there are multiple paths artists may take that are not strictly defined as "right" or "wrong", especially as this is your definition of it. Instead of using words that carry these kinds of implications, it may be more powerful and accurate to use other words like "effective" where we would focus more on desired or intended result, rather than whether what was done was actually "right" or "wrong".

Do these words make the comments inaccurate?

Not necessarily, but it can make the comment not as helpful or useful to the artist. Using such words can create distance between the artist and the commenter (for example, you could be placing the artist below you while you remain on your pedestal), which can make it more difficult for the artist to improve their work and the commenter to learn from their comment.

If you really think about it, as an artist, would you want a comment that used negative imperatives and other words where the commenter could imply they know more than you, can do better than you and more? Is that really the most constructive thing we can do as commenters?

If our tone was more helpful, encouraging and geared towards building someone up (instead of tearing them down), this would allow for a closer connection between artist and commenter. There is a saying that we must first tear things down to build things back up again, but there is also a saying that it is easier to tear down than to build up. If we really want to tear something down, why walk away and leave without giving the time, effort, resources and more to help build things back up again? An indication that you are willing to support the artist would open doors, not close them. The artist would be more willing to ask questions, and the commenter would have more of a chance to really help someone.

Final Points

Remember, it is subjective!
In the end, when we comment, we are giving our thoughts and opinions on a piece, something that many artists would like. However, there are many different ways to achieve a certain aspect within a piece and, typically, we are not able to share all of those ways with the artist. Anything that we do suggest, whether it is new techniques, ways to improve or something else, is simply that. Suggestions. It is not just one path that the artist must follow. The choice of further action resides with the artist, and shouldn't be forced upon them. To really emphasise this to the artist, use "suggestion" or "suggest" in your comments, as well as "[I] believe/feel/think" to reinforce our wish to share our personal thoughts and feelings, and that these are not representative of the whole community and do not reflect the whole community.

Something you dislike or you find "wrong", the artist may have done intentionally for a personal reason. Before criticizing an artist, it helps to really understand why something is the way it is. Why did the artist crop the piece? Why did they digitally edit it? Going in half-cocked only shows that you were poorly prepared in commenting an artist's work. Rather than seeing 'constructive commenting' as an excuse to tear someone down, utilize a more conversational tone to allow the artist and commenter to feel they are on the same level.

Emojis, Emoticons, Emo...
It is not always the case that emojis, emoticons, etc. will solve an issue with the tone. If the tone already appears cold or harsh, adding an emoji or emoticon would not soften it. Rather than falling into the mindset that adding :D or ^^ or (: will compensate for your tone, consider altering certain words and phrases to really change the effect of your words.

Helpful Tip

Try to shape your comment to indicate possibility, rather than a criticism or negative judgement. Some great words to use are "could" and "if", for example:

:bulletgreen: "Perhaps this could be traditionally edited..."
:bulletgreen: "This could be very interesting if it was kept in its original form without the crop..."

Yes, there is a good chance you will use more words, but the tone is clearer and more supportive. Overall, there is nothing wrong with giving our thoughts and opinions as long as they are constructive, or, better yet, given constructively. One way to give constructive comments in a constructive way is to utilize tone and really help guide artists on their path or a different path. As commenters, we take the responsibility of making the first step to support the artist.  

mel--mel, Nov 21, 2015:
Haha, this is as creepy as it should be!
I really like the way the upper piece of the pumpkin is connected to the rest of it. I find the idea ingenious as this indeed happens in real pumpkins, but here it looks like the brain of the creature is stretching, on the brink of tearing apart, still connected with poth pieces of the head. The fact that pumpkin Palooza himself doew this to his own brain is what gives the viewer the chills.
What I also really like about the piece is the yellow-orange glow of the eyes and mouth. It is really lively, looking like a flame is indeed burning in there.

What I do not like about the drawing is the way it is cropped and digitally edited.
According to my opinion, on the bottom the suit should rather finish up in a straight line or continue until the end of the paper. The way it is presented here it gives the impression of an unfinished piece. On the left, the elbow is cropped out of image and gives the viewer a sense of imbalance, as the right side of the creature is located well inside the drawing area. What's more, there is a grey gradient on the left side of the image. I am aware that this can be caused due to scanning but I would suggest you fixed it via digital image processing. This is a nice tutorial with little tips and tricks on the topic.
All these may seem minor details but I think that although fixing them is easy enough, they can make a difference between a professional and an amateur-looking piece, and as a result, for a viewer to click or not click on your deviation.

As for what you could improve.... I think straighter and more decisive lines would be a great plus to the piece. But I'm sure this will come with time. :D (Big Grin)

I really hope I was not extremely hard on you and that my Constructivecomment will help you improve your techinique in the future. Hug

How do you express tone in your comments?

Have you ever been concerned about the tone of your comment? Too serious? Too relaxed?
Have you been affected by the tone of a commenter?

Check out our other Commenting Workshops!
:bulletgreen: Guidance
:bulletgreen: Balance
:bulletgreen: Resources
:bulletgreen: Research

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pawcanada's avatar
I've often found comments that take the tone into consideration are the ones I tend to take on board more easily. I've had people come onto my pictures and read off a small essay on everything that's wrong on the piece in a way that makes me wonder if they're a robot. On the flip side of the coin I've also had people comment in a more friendly, compassionate way (and perhaps only pinpoints a few issues) and often understand trying to improve in art isn't necessarily easy.

As I'm sure everyone has guessed by now, I tend to find the second kind more beneficial. The tone and way the comment is written usually comes across like the commenter views me as an actual human and that can go a long way in providing good feedback. That in of itself is something I feel people tend to forget when they're commenting; the artist reading the piece is themselves another human and one who may have poured every shred of time, effort and talent into the piece. Even if your comment is ultimately going to have more negatives than positives, the correct use of tone and way you treat the artist can make it easier for them to understand and digest the feedback you've given them.