1. Do the work
2. Find a group of critical friends
3. Ask the right questions
4. Reach out to others
5. Find you
Find a group of critical friends
I don’t mean friends that always talk about you negatively, or those that gossip behind your back. I also don’t mean someone who will take credit for your work, steal your ideas, or minimize your talents. Criticism is not mean; it should be an objective assessment of something against set standards.
Find a group of friends, peers, colleagues, or mentors that inspire you, which you trust to help you.
I have a group of friends, and my best friend is probably my biggest critic. However, we have our own language. We understand the subtle differences between showing off work, and looking for critique or suggestions. Good critics know when to let you be finished, and when to suggest a tweak that would make a huge difference. Good critics can also tell you why they like or dislike something with specific examples:
Unhelpful Critic: “I don’t like that. It’s ugly”
Helpful Critic: “The colors on this seem not to be working well together. Have you tried a different background?”
Unhelpful Critic: “You should try and be more like XYZ. They make great stuff”
Helpful Critic: “Have you looked at how XYZ uses gesso, I think you might be inspired if you look at it.”
They also know how to challenge you into trying something outside of your comfort zone. Having critics takes a huge amount of trust, but the rewards are incredible.
The hardest part of finding critics is being ready to hear honest feedback. It is difficult to hear from someone you respect, that something needs more work. It becomes important to find people who understand you as an artist. Each artist has their own goals and niche, and my group of critics is quite diverse in style, but understands and appreciates our differences and preferred medium. A good critic knows how to push your creative boundaries without watering down your unique style.
Honestly, the best way to find a good critic is to learn to be one. Here are my tips:
1. Compliment specifically. While “I love it” makes everyone feel warm and fuzzy, it doesn’t provide any feedback about what you are enjoying in the work.
2. Recognize when someone is just sharing work. There is a difference between asking for a critical review and showing a completed project. Know the difference.
3. Appreciate the difference between styles. The thing I like best about the people from which I solicit opinions is that they all have completely different styles, and are talented uniquely. This varied perspective offers great opportunities for growth.
4. Understand the elements and principals of design. They are a way to provide objective feedback. Learn to recognize elements across styles. It doesn’t matter if the piece is Shabby Chic, clean and simple, or whimsical, good use of color is a part of everything.
5. Ask for challenges. Once you have a group that understands your style, they will also know how to push you outside of your creative comfort level.
I challenge you. Find a group of inspirational friends. Ask for feedback, and have fun. If you’re doing critical friendship right, everyone feels supported, challenged, appreciated, and of course inspired.
Would you like to be one of my critical friends?