Category: Creative Process

These 4 Questions Will Make You a Better Artist

How to use criticism and not let it cripple your creativity

If you’re creating things, at some point you’ll face criticism and how you deal with that can improve and inform the course of your work. Or, it can stop you in your tracks. Here’s how to receive and use criticism and not let it cripple your creativity.

Questions to ask

When faced with criticism of your creative projects, your first reaction is to ask a series of questions. The answers will guide you toward how to evaluate the criticism you’ve received and take the parts that are useful to you.

Did I Ask You?

Did you ask for the feedback? If you’re posting on the internet – anything, anywhere – you’re asking. There’s always someone willing to give their opinion on something that’s available. That includes personal posts to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, your blog, etc. Even if you think it’s private, you’ve still asked for feedback. It can come from surprising places, so be prepared.

Sometimes you show a new project to a friend, your spouse, significant other, mother, father, brother, or sister and the response isn’t as positive as you expected. That happens because you weren’t asking for a critique; you were sharing the excitement of creating.

That unexpected criticism can be shocking. The lesson for creators is that sharing something with someone who isn’t accustomed to giving knowledgeable feedback may be less than helpful. Knowing this can help you judge when and how to show your work.

What Do You Know?

Is this person qualified to give a useful criticism? While it’s nice to hear that someone loves your work and thinks it’s pretty – sometimes that may only be because it’s blue and that’s their favorite color. Worse is when they hate it because you’ve created a large abstract canvas and they really don’t understand abstraction.

Useful feedback generally comes from someone with knowledge in related areas. That doesn’t mean you can only get help from an art major, but judge the feedback against the expertise.

If your friend the graphic designer notes that your abstract canvas composition is static – that comment has merit even though she’s not a painter because design principles still apply. If your brother-in-law the attorney says he thinks it looks like something his kid could do and is too red – that comment isn’t so helpful.

What’s Your Agenda?

Does this person have an emotional interest? Friends and family often aren’t objective. While they may, or may not, have your best interests at heart, they can be working from their own agenda. Sometimes they aren’t even aware of their internal conflict over your work.

Less connected people are more helpful because of the lack of attachment. That’s not always the case but it’s best to be careful when soliciting advice and criticism from close friends and family.

Does This Make Sense?

Is any part of the criticism accurate? There can be a kernel of truth in even the most vague or mean spirited comment, but it’s up to you to find it. This part of using criticism is tricky because it requires you to be objective about your own work. One way it is to put the project, and the criticism, aside for a while and let it rest.

When you return, you’ll have a better distance from both and be able to discern the parts of the work that need attention and if the criticism has merit.

What do I do Now?

What do you feel is worth pursuing? Not every criticism, valid or otherwise, is worth altering your work for.

Some things correct themselves over time with practice and development such as message and voice. Others may be a part of your personal stylistic imagery such as rough sketchy drawing or particular images you use.

However, issues that hinder the development of your work need attention. These include working to improve your drawing skills or developing a more cohesive approach to color theory and management.

The balance is in choosing areas that strengthen your work rather than alter it to fit a particular perspective. My experience has been that deepening skills and knowledge is the way to improve rather than focusing on superficial issues like a particular color or style.

Have you had an encounter with unexpected or unfounded criticism? I’d like to hear how you handled it!

Quotes to Add Fuel to Your Creative Fire:


The Creative Process in 4 Understandable (but not necessarily easy) Steps

Creative Process Schematic
Click to download

The creative process can be broken down and explained like any other process – from how to produce a slide presentation to fabricating steel thing-a-mummies*. Once you understand the process, you can use it to produce results.


The process starts with a question, problem or challenge. Sometimes it’s a project with a business purpose like an e book or white paper. Other times, it’s in response to a need, either in the market or inside the company, like a non-boring informational video or an instructional course.


The investigation phase is about research and gathering information. During this phase, you collect background material, begin to form project goals, make notes and sketches and other ways of recording ideas. Classic brainstorming is often used to illustrate this phase, but that’s only one small part of the process and is insufficient as preparation


This is the black box of creativity. You’re not actively searching for a solution, just mulling everything over. The basic ideas and information are there but they need time to form and mature. Because this phase involves both the conscious and subconscious minds, you may not be fully aware of the process.  This is the part of the creative process that is most easily disrupted with distractions, hustle and hurry.


The classic Aha! moment. An idea has matured to the point of being consciously grasped and often springs up as a surprise epiphany.  These ideas frequently come at times when your mind is diverted but not wholly absorbed – driving, in the shower, housekeeping, cutting the grass and similar activities. The biggest challenge is capturing the idea immediately before it dissolves, so write it down!


The shiny new idea is examined and construction begins. Evaluation is also part of this stage in that you begin to consider the idea for feasibility and it’s often adapted and changed. Then, work begins with writing, drawing, filming, etc.

Caution: Don’t kill good ideas before their time by prematurely examining them. It takes several perfectly good ideas to arrive at one that will be taken to fruition.

Many times you’ll try multiple avenues and even different ideas before you find the one that will lead to the end point you have in mind. These starts and re-starts cycle back through the prior steps in tighter circles as you rework and hone your ideas. This is the most labor intensive phase of the process as well as the most visible to observers.


Finally, after first drafts and edits and perhaps even a total do-over, you have your finished project. It almost never looks like the idea you envisioned but it is a fully formed creative product that has never existed before. Time to celebrate!

We all use the creative process in different areas of our lives – from hobbies to home décor. This is a simplified version, but it gives some clarity. Take it a step further into business and get results you’ve only dreamed of that will bring you the business you really want.

If you’ve got a project you’d like to make happen but don’t know how to start, drop me a note and let’s talk about it.

*The Tin Man’s undead cousins.