How to deal with hard critiques

Apr 25, 2019 at 10:00 am by Warlord720


Everyone is a critic and we all have our own ideas about what a critique is. After 20-plus years as a freelancer, I have seen all kinds.

They were varied, some professional, some even childish but all had to be dealt with since they came from the powers that be. Most tried to maintain continuity with the project and with related pieces. Some didn't seem to know continuity existed while others were borderline OCD, a problem we creatives tend to be afflicted with in various degrees.

As stated earlier… all had to be dealt with… professionally and on time. Some of you freelancers are keenly aware of this while others will learn a hard lesson the hard way.

That lesson being… how good you think you are doesn't matter. It's how good "they think you are" that matters at the end of the day.

And while that aspect is important to getting hired, turning in work that meets their expectations keeps you employed much longer than the alternative. In fact… that IS all that counts.

And number one on my list of things not to do when dealing with a critique… is push back.

This doesn't mean to not ask questions or clarify their revisions if you don't understand. Also… the lack of understanding means you aren't on the same page as them. Priority one at this point is to reassess your particular take on the assignment and deliver what's expected.

Without handholding.

Imagine your best photo ever

Your upline supervisors are not your momma or your papa… they are not even a close cousin, so they owe you nothing more than owed to the next contractor or employee. If you truly are special, then you write your own ticket. If, however… you are not at that level of control… then you are not "that" special therefore closely following along with feedback is critical.

Right about now some of you are thinking this is overkill. Doesn't everyone follow directions?

Simply put…. no.

Sometimes people just misunderstand. Sometimes people show off when they shouldn't. Sometimes freelancers just don't see what the hell everyone else is seeing and they must dig in deeper till they do.

Most critiques are simply back and forth revisions. But, how do you deal with a critique that blindsided you so badly that everything seems to be going sideways at once?

I'd love to say I never had this kind of critique, but I have. Not a lot of them. In fact, they were rare, but they seemed so out of left field compared to what I saw in my head that I just had to withdraw for a day or so… not that my employers knew that… and get my head around what I had missed.

All were professional, not personal attacks nor where there any gray areas like personal choice such as colors used and other subjective things.

No… these were straight up… in your face… hardcore critiques that pointed out… rather bluntly… that I had not only missed the train but didn't even show up at the right station and was headed the wrong direction on the wrong tracks.

And here I thought I was on top of it. I couldn't wait for them to see my work, eagerly submitted it and this was what I got back.

I live in a small, dusty Texas town… with no tall buildings so jumping out of a window was not an option unless I wanted to sprain an ankle from a half story fall.

Then came the doubts with all the other projects I had going on at the same time and these weren't even with the same employer!

It seemed things were all but reeling, I did the only thing I could do since I had the time to do it.

I took some time off to decompress and relax for a couple of days.  I didn't give much thought to the whole ordeal during that time. I had no immediate deadlines, so I hauled ass.

One thing my hard-working parents taught me was how to decompress and not think about work. Since most of my family has been self-employed, we put in long hours but when R&R time hits… we take full advantage to clear our minds of clutter and renew the creative spirit from within.

I came back home refreshed, re-invigorated and ready to restart my part of the project beginning with a question and answer session with the powers that be.

Eventually, I got on the same page and went on to work with this studio on many projects over the years.

If this happens to you… don't take it personally. That's important. Even if your supervisors aren't professional (mine were consummate pros in this case) you can be. Put aside any hurt feelings. Those are natural when you are blindsided.  

Even if you are on a voice-only conversation with your bosses put on a smile before you dial in. Check your emotions since you're a pro and LISTEN. Do what you are asked. Try to never make them ask twice.

When overwhelmed by a critique… decompress even if you only have a few hours to spare instead of days. Relax… get over the shock. Be a pro, reassess and deliver the goods.

The paycheck and any bonuses are great, but the ultimate reward for handling critiques properly is another contract for another project.


M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord, is an international award-winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director, and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years.  Now retired, M.D. is currently working part-time on writing and select character development projects. You can learn more about MD on his website




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