Why is it so Hard to Ask for an Art Critique?

Asking for help and advice on your art is scary. But staying in the comfort zone and never asking for an outside eye to critique your work also means we might miss out on a chance to improve. Here are some stories of artists whose asking for help paid off (literally), and why it’s a good idea to build up the courage to do it yourself!

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Asking for help is tough as it is. Asking for help on something as personal as your art, whether it’s your personal art or art for a charity you’re running? Downright scary. Because while they say, “they’re not critiquing you they’re critiquing your art,” let’s be honest – when it comes to something you created with your own hands, mind, and very soul of your being…well, it’s hard not to take it personally!

I like to think of this analogy when it comes to asking for design advice: the blind men and the elephant. There are six blind men standing alongside an elephant. When asked to describe what the creature looks like, the man at the elephant’s trunk reaches out and describes it to be much like a snake. The one at one of the elephant’s knees says it’s like a tree. The man at the elephant’s broad side describes it to be like a wall, and so on. At it’s core, this story is about limiting yourself to your own experience and not opening up to other perspectives. By not asking for an outside eye’s perspective on art that you want to improve, you’re boxing yourself in to only what you as the (already biased) artist can see.

So asking for help works, but there are a lot of reasons people don’t just do it. Right off the bat, I think we can all agree that it’s terrifying to put ourselves outside of our comfort zones in a position where we know we might not get feedback we want to hear, or worse – feedback that makes us feel bad (especially on the internet; here be nasty trolls). But when your designs aren’t getting the sales, likes or votes you’d like to see – or when you just want to improve your skills – sometimes you have to ask for an outside eye to help you see what’s not working and what you can build on.

In fact, this happens all the time on the Threadless forums! Take artist Cody Weiler (@csweiler), for example. Cody had been submitting to Threadless for awhile, but his prints weren’t getting selected. So he started getting super active in the forums, asking questions like “Does anyone get this reference?” and “With or without text?” to help make his designs better and more likely to get selected. After awhile of “great design, but no cigar” on his submissions, Cody got three designs selected to be printed in a row, two of which were challenge winners (cha-ching!)

Left: his original “Cubism is Dead” submission from the forums | Right: the revised, winning design after tweaking it using advice from the forums!

In the forums where he posted his design for our cubism challenge, “Cubism is Dead(above), he wrote some of the truest words that have ever been spoken about art:

“After a certain point, I can’t be objective anymore and can use all of the feedback I can get.”

I think one factor in not wanting to ask for help is that we want to be able to say that we did something fully on our own. But that’s not the case at all. In fact, there was some advice Cody didn’t take in the critiques, and he ended up being right for not taking it. It’s a balance between hearing out what others have to say and using your own eye and judgement. You don’t have to take every piece of advice you get – what’s important is that you put yourself out there and take the advice that resonates and that helps you see something that needs tweaking that you wouldn’t be able to see by yourself. 

A similar success story happened with Threadless artist Nicholas Wolf (@NW_Studios). After years of submitting designs to Threadless and not getting printed, he became super active in the forums. He kept trying, kept getting feedback, kept reworking and improving, and recently landed a Threadless challenge win!

In his winner interview for the design, I asked Nicholas about his forum posts and asking about design help. He told me this:

“I can understand peoples’ hesitation to share something personal, but if there is one thing I cannot stress enough, it’s that you can only soar so high on your own wings. We all have something to learn from each other, whether you’re new at your craft or a seasoned master, and if you never allow yourself to be helped you will never achieve your true potential.”

Asking for help on our art can be like twisting our own arm (and at the end of the day, I think it’s actually easier to ask for help about a twisted arm than it is for your art). We have a lot to learn from each other as artists, as visual people, as shop owners. And while it’s not always easy to ask for help, it’s worth taking the leap. Fellow artists are more than willing, even excited, to lend their eye and expertise! Sure, asking for help is confirmation that our art isn’t perfect. But no one’s is! And if we never ask what we could improve on, we might never see it; we’ll be just like a blind man thinking an elephant looks like a giant snake. 

One of the keys to asking for help for your designs is getting good, credible advice. Your Mom and friends miiight be a little biased. If you want to ask for some help on your designs, check out the Threadless forums! We’ve got a whole community of creative people with artistic eyes and some sagely advice! 

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Don’t have an online store just yet? Try Artist Shops for a free online store.

We’re an artist community built on the power of helping each other succeed — if you’re reading this and have tips of your own to share, please do so in the comments! Thank you!

Illustrations done by the amazing Katie Lukes


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