As a freelancer, I often find that although I have the freedom to choose the projects I work on and the people I work with, working alone gets, well, lonely.
A Little Background
Ok, let's step back a little, before going on my own back in March of last year I was working full-time as a graphic artist/web specialist for a Federal agency. I was part of a small but very close team. My coworkers were my friends, some for over 4 years. We worked together on projects, bounced ideas off of each other and supported whoever needed assistance.
It was a very drastic change seeing friendly faces every day and being able to ask people for their advice or ideas by calling over a cubicle wall. Now I rely on myself to make decisions and my clients for revision recommendations. I'm not complaining but being a freelancer definitely changed how I had to approach jobs and execute design decisions.
Now that I can't rely on my friends and coworkers to bat around creative ideas, I've started getting more active online. There are many sites like Behance or Facebook groups where you can share work and allow others to comment or critique it. I really enjoy interacting with others, especially commenting on other's works. I've always been a shy person but I find communicating with others "behind the screen" really easy, and fun! There are a lot of talented people out there who I feel I can learn a great deal from and it's really cool when I leave a comment about their work and they actually reply! (Ok, I know I'm such a geeky newb.)
Critique vs. Critical
Ok, to the main point of this article! I think that a lot of people nowadays seem to mix up critique and being critical (or substitute the latter for the former). In college, we'd have weekly critiques where we'd all pin up our artwork (as sensitive, impressionable students) and then the rest of the class would have a field day commenting (or bashing) our work. Early on, I decided that I HATED being negative so I would always preface any possible comment that may have been taken negatively with something positive about the piece. I was one of the older students in my class (returning student after graduating) so I understood how everyone was just learning and no one's work was going to be spectacular. I always wanted to both point out something that could be fixed or revised along with buoying up the student's confidence.
Now, there would always, always, be one (or more) students who just didn't get that a critique was to help a student better their work and not just point out every single bad thing to make that person feel like poop. I'm not sure why these people felt the need to make a person feel extremely bad about their work in a very public setting but it always got on my nerves. Please remember I had already gone through 4+ years of this previously and this was my second time around after gaining a degree so I personally didn't care about the truly negative unhelpful rocks that were thrown my way. I still didn't like seeing my fellow classmates getting bashed.
So, my main point is that when you are interacting online it's important to remember people put their work out there for critique and not for criticism (well, most people). Here is a short list of what to think about when critiquing someone's work or when you want to put your work out there for review:
When Giving Critique
Don't just leave a negative comment. It's not helpful. If you have to say something critical be very specific to why you feel it needs work and how the artist may fix the problem. Offering negative comments without advice is pretty much just bashing the person's work.
Don't be mean. Even if you have to give constructive criticism it can be done nicely. It takes guts to put yourself and your work out there in public (especially online) so be kind. If someone is asking for creative input, they probably are hoping for truly helpful advice.
If you feel a work is so bad that it can't be helped, it's probably better to just not comment.
When Receiving Critique
If YOU receive a negative comment on your work, don't take it personally! The person leaving the comment is most likely a stranger that you'll never meet and they either didn't understand you were looking for helpful advice or they just enjoy making people feel bad about their work. Concentrate on the positive comments and advice that come your way.
Don't put your work in just any arena. Do some research and find sites or social media streams where you'll most likely find people who will give you the best and most appropriate advice.
When Giving Critique
Give advice to help the artist improve their work.
Point out specific elements instead of being general. It's often clear to you what needs to be fixed but not so much for the artist.
If there is something you like about the piece, let the artist know. Although they may not take your critique negatively necessarily, it still doesn't feel great to know there may be something wrong with your work. It feels nice to know that while there may be a problem, someone appreciates something about your piece.
If you can direct the person to help (whether a tutorial online or a digital tool that may help). It's amazing how much help is available online with tutorial websites, YouTube and sites that sell digital tools. Of course sometimes finding the right help can be like looking for a needle in a haystack so if you can point the person in the right direction, it will be much appreciated.
When Receiving a Critique
Do thank a person if they give you any helpful advice. Being gracious and appreciative always brings good things, plus it did take time for the person to check out your work and put thought into their comment.
Do post a follow up of your work if you did revise it due to advice you received. It's always nice to show the people who helped you your work after you implemented their comments.
At the end of the day, art is such a personal thing. People who are serious about their work put a lot of time, heart and effort into their craft so when they put themselves out there for critique please remember to be helpful, nice and positive.
Are you an artist that shares your work online? Do you often seek comments or suggestions on how to improve your work? If so, please feel free to share the sites you share your work or experiences (both good and bad) you've had with critiques.
My Thoughts on Spec Work: Before signing on with an illustration agency, I hadn’t really heard of or had been asked to produce spec work. “Spec work” or speculative work, is work a client may request from a designer or illustrator to submit so that the client can determine if they want to use that designer for a project. In most cases, this work is not compensated for and landing the project is not guaranteed.