How (Not) To Respond To Criticism

Getting used to feedback about your work takes some getting used to. With a lot of practice, you get used to putting yourself out there and hearing what others have to say about.

Imagine the many tasks you do in your daily life that you would have no defensive response about. If a friend told you that orange is the best color. Sure, we all know that the answer is blue. Most of us wouldn’t correct others about most things. Our defensive reaction is about us. Our feelings about ourselves.

In 2014, Mallory Ortberg wrote an incredible hilarious piece of satire entitled “How to Respond to Criticism”. Every artist, creative, and human needs to hear these! Here are some key highlights:

  • “Stop doing everything. Don’t say anything or be anything. Get as small as you possibly can without disappearing. Don’t exist. Or keep existing, but differently than before.”
  • “Apologize, but don’t really mean it, and plant a seed of secret resentment so deep in your own heart that years later you can’t even remember that you’re the one who nurtured it and made it grow, it seems that much like a native part of you.”
  • “Be sure not to separate the tone of the criticism from the content. If it was said ungracefully, it cannot be true. If it was said reasonably, it cannot be false.”

Here’s an amazing reading of the full post by the author herself:

What techniques help when you receive criticism?

So that’s what you don’t do. Acting on a full reversal of avoiding everything is the best case scenario. Other than avoiding the pitfalls, how can you get the best out of feedback?

Actively seek criticism. Look for the situations, individuals, and relationships in your life that lean toward being both supportive and honest. Talk to experts about specific details. Weigh their ideas and thoughts. Take what works for you and be thankful for the rest.

Learn from their thoughts. Make a positive experience where you’ll learn as much as you can.

Learn to be your own critic. Ask yourself why you think as you do. Explore your wants. From there, plan for the possibilities.

Understand how criticism is a compliment. For whatever reason, this person decided that you are capable of growth. You may not want to grow in the way they specify.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

Is there a way I can develop a more creative mind?

“Is there a way I can develop a more creative mind so that I can come up with ideas?”
Anonymous asked on Quora

Applied creativity is a practiced skill. There are infinite ways to understand the ways you already use this skill and to figure out the next steps:

Notice how you’re already creative.

Every action you take is creative. You’re taking something from your inner world and making it real. You created your life today. You could sleep in and instead you wake up. You could quit your job; instead, you work. You could abandon your relationships, instead, you keep them. Life is an act of creation.

“Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope.” F. Scott Fitzgerald, Great Gatsby

You can play with your life in small creative ways. Plan in areas that you’re spontaneous. Be spontaneous about details that you often plan. Take a different route to work. Try something new every day. Quit doing something that you never want to do again or find an easier way to do it.

Clarity comes from action.

Research ways to be more creative. Read articles and tutorials. That’s just a start. And most importantly, try the ideas!

“If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.” Ecclesiastes 11:4

Notice what’s around you.

Every moment has an infinite number of facts. The feeling of touch of the keyboard or phone as you type. The sound of your breath. The color of your walls. The taste in your mouth. The scent of your clothing, hair and environment.

Engage your senses in any moment. You’ll notice something you never noticed before. The more information you have, the more you can use this in your creative pursuits.

Think of an artist drawing an ordinary object. Even if it’s a very minimalist representation, capturing some small detail of the original object is engaging. Imagine an artist sketch a silhouette of various objects. With a single line, you can capture texture, size, and relationship.

Listen and be curious

Often we listen with envy, wishing we can do what others do or have what they have. When you notice this feeling, engage with curiosity instead. Understand how they became who they are and do what they do. Notice how you’re alike and different. It’s okay and completely expected that everyone has a unique perspective.

“Fools say that they learn by experience. I prefer to profit by others experience.” Otto von Bismarck

If someone has an idea, try it without resistance. Being a good listener means having lower defenses. The more comfortable we get with understanding the thoughts of others as ideas rather than judgement, the easier it will be to apply those ideas to our own creativity.

“Don’t take anything personally…What others say and do is a projection of their own reality. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”— Miguel Angel Ruiz

Write it down

This is one of the tips that works really well for me. Write lists, organize them or leave them messy. Read about mind mapping techniques and play around with the. Take out a piece of paper and scribble over it.

In cognitive science, this concept is called Distributed cognition. As I was saying earlier, creativity is taking the thoughts from your inner world and making them real. So the more you practice finding ways to turn your thoughts into actions, the more creative you’ll be.

Sketch it out

Draw doodles. Turn words into pictures. How do you see things in your mind? If you have trouble building associations, go to google image search and Pinterest and doodle what you see. The very act of doodling will give it the uniqueness of your eye and your hand.

Get a sketchbook. Or often that feels that’s too precious. So scrap paper, cheap dollar notebooks, and old envelopes from junk mail are also amazing tools

Answer questions

“Make statements” as Tina Fey says. She advises that we turn questions into answers. Statements are where the real work is. Whether it’s making statements about questions on quora or testing the statements that are responses to your own questions. If your statement is wrong, just make another one.

“I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.” Oscar Wilde

Share often

Ideas don’t develop in a vacuum. With the internet, it’s easy to put your work out there. Get used to putting your work in front of people and not taking feedback personally. Feedback isn’t always true. It’s just the thought of others. Mostly developed through their own inner worlds. Enjoying this play between your thoughts and the thoughts of others is the heart of the creative mind. Your ideas can spark ideas the mind of others.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

What are your top five sketchbook prompts and ideas?

For this week’s Q&A Monday, I asked this question on Quora. Here’s a list of 30 answers:

“What are your top five sketchbook prompts and ideas?”

Read Jade Kandel's answer to What are your top five sketchbook prompts and ideas? on Quora

Read Patrick Hochstenbach's answer to What are your top five sketchbook prompts and ideas? on Quora

Read Marc Holmes' answer to What are your top five sketchbook prompts and ideas? on Quora

Read Kathy Staton's answer to What are your top five sketchbook prompts and ideas? on Quora

Read Racer Maximiliano Rodriguez-Avellan's answer to What are your top five sketchbook prompts and ideas? on Quora

Read Nat Love's answer to What are your top five sketchbook prompts and ideas? on Quora

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

How do you start an art project?

I have an individual art project with the theme ‘change’, any ideas where to start, I’m new at this?”

Anonymous on Quora

Starting an art project can be an exciting adventure, but it can also be overwhelming, especially when you’re new to it. It’s easy to feel like you don’t know where to begin, and the fear of failure or not being good enough can be paralyzing. The good news is that you don’t have to have it all figured out from the beginning.

The key is to take it slow, take small steps, and be compassionate with yourself along the way. In this article, we will guide you through the process of starting an individual art project with a focus on compassion, self-compassion, and taking baby steps.

Whether you’re a seasoned artist or a beginner, this article will help you break down the process into simple, manageable steps.

Step 1: Getting the Mess Out! Don’t Overthink It, Let Your Ideas Flow on Paper.

To start your creative project, the first step is to capture all of your ideas. When I start an art project, I find that it can be helpful to just make a mess of ideas.

Try this: Take out a blank sheet of paper and scribble down anything and everything that comes to mind.

Quickly scribble words, doodles, and notes. Get everything that you could want to do with your art project and write it down. Once we write things down, it feels real.

And you’ll no longer be worried about where to start. Because you will have started! Write down the words and any related ideas that come to mind. Focus on getting the mess in your head onto paper.

Capture all of your goals-related ideas for your art project and keep an ongoing list. Use an app or paper and pencil, whichever works best for you. As you capture your thoughts, remember that the goal is to keep them out of your mind and free up mental space for new ideas and inspiration.

You may find it helpful to use a trigger list to spark new ideas to capture. A trigger list is simply a list of prompts or questions that can help you think outside the box and approach your art project from different angles. For example, you might write down prompts like “What if I used a new color palette?” or “How can I incorporate texture into this piece?”

In addition to a trigger list, it’s also useful to create an “areas of focus” list to keep track of the different aspects of your art project that require your attention. This list could include categories such as composition, subject, color scheme, and materials.

By regularly reviewing this list, you can ensure that you’re devoting enough time and energy to each area of your art project. These are more examples of ideas that you might capture or create prompts around:

  • Composition: experiment with different layouts or arrangements of your subject
  • Subject: explore different themes or concepts that interest you
  • Color scheme: play with different color combinations and palettes
  • Materials: try out new art supplies or techniques to create unique textures and effects

For a more detailed guide on how to work through a project, I have a longer guide – How to Plan Then Execute Goals – that offers a helpful framework for engaging in natural planning.

Step 2: Organize.

At this stage of your art project, it’s helpful to identify the exact “Next Action” for your goal. This means breaking down your project into manageable steps, such as gathering materials or sketching out your ideas. Being specific and detailed is key to making progress.

To keep track of your progress, you can keep an ongoing checklist to schedule your tasks. This will help you stay organized and focused on what needs to be done next. If you need to take a break, your list will be there to help you jump right back in.

“Next actions” help with that feeling of being overwhelmed. Rather than feeling like you have to complete the entire project at once, you can take small steps to make your vision start to develop.

In creative projects, it’s easy to get distracted by incomplete tasks. By writing out all of your reminders of what you might do, you can focus on the task at hand without being distracted.

As you work on your art project, you may come across ideas that you’re not sure if you’ll have time for. These tasks could include things like experimenting with different colors or techniques, or trying out a new art supply. If you feel like these tasks aren’t necessary for your project’s completion, you can add them to a “Someday/Maybe” list.

This “Someday/Maybe” list is a place where you can keep track of low-priority tasks that you’d like to revisit later. Perhaps you’re okay with the current progress of your project for now and want to focus on more pressing tasks. However, you don’t want to forget about these ideas either. By adding them to the Someday/Maybe list, you can review them later and determine if they are still relevant to your project.

Step 3: Keep lists and/or collections of reference material.

Starting an art project is just the beginning of the fun. One important part of the process is to keep track of all the ideas and inspiration that come to mind. Keeping lists and collections of reference material can help you stay organized and focused as you work on your project. These can be valuable resources when you need a creative boost or want to explore different ideas.

For example, you can create a doodles list to keep track of any spontaneous sketches or drawings that you want to create. You can also create an inspiration list to collect images or ideas that inspire you. Additionally, you can create an articles list to keep track of any articles or blog posts that provide helpful tips or techniques.

Start Small, Dream Big

Remember, these are just a few ideas to get you started. You can tailor your lists and collections to fit your unique creative process. By keeping track of your reference material, you can enhance your creativity and stay motivated throughout your art project.

Don’t let stress hold you back from enjoying new experiences! Instead, set yourself up for success by taking the necessary steps to prepare. With a bit of planning, you can dive into new activities and adventures with confidence and ease. Embrace the excitement of trying something new and focus on the fun, not the stress. You never know what amazing experiences await you on the other side!

What next? How do you keep your project going?

Next, you’ll want to manage your ongoing projects, define what makes the project complete, and move toward that goal:

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

Is imagination a gift or a curse? 9 Tips to Manage Yours

“Is imagination a gift or a curse?”
Anonymous via Quora

Worry is Imagination. And so is Hope.

Both are taking current events and guessing at a possible future. Usually without much thought about how likely the events are. And often without much thought on how we apply those thoughts to the present.

Our thoughts and imagination can be trained. We’re training them every day. From Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Positive Psychology to Meditation and Yoga, there are many methods of training our thoughts.

We often live out the story we imagine for ourselves. To change your life for good or bad, all we have to do is imagine it.

“Everything you can imagine is real.”
Pablo Picasso

Tackling our negative imagination:

Tip 1: Compartmentalize. In his book How to Worry Less and Start Living Life, Dale Carnegie gave some great tips on how to minimize our worrying thoughts. One very strong thought is to contain bad events within the day they happen. Anything bad that happened yesterday has happened and can’t hurt us today. What happens today will be done and gone by tomorrow. And tomorrow can’t leak into today. Accept the events that happen and let them go.

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

Tip 2: Improve. Since we have an imagination, might as well use its powers for good. Learn what we can and look for opportunities to make our lives better. Sometimes the lesson is that we’ve put enough thought into something and even a moment more is not worth it. Plan a trip to getaway. Think of your life goals, career, and education. What have you always wanted to do?

“Imagination does not become great until human beings, given the courage and the strength, use it to create.”
Maria Montessori

Tip 3: Visit. Visit someone else’s imagination. Listen to your friends and family. Talk to people on Quora. Read a book or articles. Watch a television show or movie. Memorize the lyrics to your favorite songs. If you love your imagination, then put it to work by visiting fiction and nonfiction.

“Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all is a form of planning.”
Gloria Steinem

Tip 4: Keep busy. Write down ideas of things you love to do or need to do. When you’re imagining problems, use that time to focus on other things. It’s the perfect time to start cleaning, working on projects, and organize your junk drawer. Your imagination is just looking for things to do. Apply it to some real tasks and you’ll start coming up with amazing solutions

Encouraging positive imagination:

Tip 5: Doodle. Research shows that doodling helps us focus. Get a sketchbook and doodle about all of the good things in your life. Food, shelter, love, health, minor and major kindnesses. If you let yourself be creative, you can train yourself to notice all of the things you have going well in your life. Have you ever had a moment of courage, hope, or peace? You can probably fill a sketchbook with images of your happy thoughts. Pull it out when you need a reminder and keep adding more.

“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
Albert Einstein

UC-Blog-Quote-GiftTip 6: Love your enemies. While you’re doodling, try making notes of all of the great qualities of people you have problems with. Even if the best you can come up with is “Not a murderer.” “Not here right now.” You’ll start to see yourself as someone who can see the good in anyone and any situation

“You may think I’m small, but I have a universe inside my mind.”
Yoko Ono

Tip 7: Project. We all often tend to project negatively on others. Projection in psychology is applying traits and motivations on others based on our biases and experiences. Practice imagining other people around you are happy thoughts about you and themselves. Even if they don’t say it out loud. For example: “My boss is grateful that I’m taking care of this! Even if he doesn’t know about the details, it’s one less thing he has to think about”

Tip 8: Transform criticism into compliments. Imagine that anything negative someone says to you is a compliment. If someone says you need to do something better, think to yourself “Wow, he must really think I’m capable of improvement if he decided to share that.” And for times when others don’t believe in you? It’s just a compliment to be noticed.

“Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.”
Dr. Mae Jemison, first African-American female astronaut

Tip 9: Change external circumstances. A study showed that students who transferred to a different University had an easier time changing other habits at the same time. Any time you have a new habit you’re working on, change your external world as much as possible. Consider ideas like always sit at your desk when you work on your art instead of sitting in bed with your laptop. Go to a coffee shop, art museum, or park to spark your imagination.


Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.