Why it hurt but helped when I asked for my first feedback

feedback chicken
“Feedback” – by Romica Spiegl (2015)

This post is about my personal experience with fear of feedback. Furthermore I’ll mention points about receiving and using feedback that I found to be very important to succeed at my first application.


Winter 2013 – I took all my courage and hopes and decided to try and apply to a Graphic Design college in Vienna. I asked two friends of mine, who already have been studying there, for some advice.

It turned out that this was one of the most valuable pieces of advice I have had concerning how to get and use feedback and that helped me all throughout my other (successful and unsuccessful) applications.

1. Establish a personal connection

They suggested to e-mail a professor to ask for a portfolio review, which was already promoted on the school’s website but I haven’t seen yet. I was encouraged to receive whatever he/she will tell me but the most important point is, to not get discouraged and …

ASK, ask many questions,
be stubborn,
ASK what can be improved,
ASK what they see as my weaknesses,
what they see as my strengths.
ASK what they are looking for.

And that’s what I did.

The portfolio review and my first rejection-resurrection

The day had come. I received an invitation for a max. 10 min review. Nervously I unpacked my tiny A4 plastic flower portfolio, already regretting that I have come, while the professor was chatting away with two others. By their looks at the plastic folder I felt I already received a rejection but I tried not to show my embarrassment.

A few pages were flipped, it was very quiet. Then he looked at me and said: “With this, you have no chance”. I was devastated, speechless. It was my best work at that time, everything that have taught myself over the years, all the hard work. I never liked showing my artwork to people, who “know their stuff”, because I feared their judgement of something that is so personal to me. There I stood, tears creeping to my eyes. He already wanted to send me out, when I remembered my friend’s advice.

2. Ask, ask many questions – ask for detailed feedback

I knew this was my chance and I had to take it. I wanted to walk this path too badly to just get destroyed by this comment. I took all my remaining courage and started to ask.

What is it that you like in my portfolio?
What is missing?
What do you see as my strengths?
Where can I improve?

3. Be passionate and show it

Suddenly the atmosphere in the room changed. I felt stronger and more passionate. I really wanted to make it into this course – and then, he could feel it too. This made the difference.

Suddenly he said, that I do have potential, that my feeling for colours is good but that I’m lacking composition and drawings from life. As these are some of the major points they want to see in their students work and see as essential, I wouldn’t be able to compete against the other few hundred applicants with previous art education.

… So, do you mean I have a chance?

Wow, I was jumping around overjoyed (in my imagination) and the tears were long gone. I knew why he got such a bad image about my compositional skills. I hadn’t given him any evidence, like my photography, were I do really pay attention to composition. Also I have never done any drawings from life, never had to, never really wanted to until that time. Part of the application process is a 5h long drawing and design skill test. One of the most important parts is a drawing of some sort of object e.g. a cup. I would have never been able to achieve a decent drawing due to my lack of knowledge of perspective.

4. Define new goals that you want to work towards

There I was, I knew what to work on, I knew I wasn’t hopeless and I knew I had a chance.

The next weeks and months I improved a lot where I was lacking, drew many sketches from life, learned about this thing called perspective and applied to the course.

I passed the drawing test, achieved high scores in important sections and went on to the last interview.

What did I learn from it?

By being brave and challenging his comment I could actually work on my skill set. Furthermore, I convinced him by showing my interest and passion for design, that I’m worth tutoring. He let me come 2 more times before the actual drawing test to check on my work and improvements.

Just imagine, I would have left at that moment, when I received my first honest feedback. I don’t know if I would have tried again so soon. I was so sensitive about my work, that I can imagine it could have really discouraged me.

So this is what I want to share with you, who are still unsure about if they should try or not …

Be brave. Everyone had to learn those skills. Understand what you are good in, but don’t be afraid to ask for critique. Ask, ask, ask. Use the feedback to become better at what you do.

In a future post … essential points about application interviews.


If you would like to know more about how to get feedback and improve, check out this excellent article / Click here to read Arron Barnett’s post on feedback.

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14 thoughts on “Why it hurt but helped when I asked for my first feedback

  1. β€œWith this, you have no chance” That is real harsh, I guess that’s the brutal industry of the arts huh?
    You are really amazing. I think the one thing that has been holding me back from trying/pursuing arts is my fear of failing… fear of being told that I have no chance at it.
    One thing I’d like to ask, did going to art school really helped? Do you think you’d be able to improve your skills on your own if you didn’t? I’m starting off slow, with sketching too πŸ˜‰

    1. ^^ oh yes, It was quite a slap in the face. However, because I challenged him I could understand what I’m lacking and also any harsh comment or critique after that didn’t really hurt or endangered me of giving up completely.
      Actually I never went there in the end, even though I got accepted. I also applied for a Master Degree in Communication Design (basically Graphic Design) and also got accepted. So I cancelled my application for Vienna. Um, let’s say I’ll just start this autumn to go – FINALLY – to uni. I got enganged and decided to leave Austria behind so that’s why I couldn’t really start yet.
      I will tell you how helpful it really is, after I started my course. I do believe it will help me a lot for my part. That’s why I’m willing to do another degree basically. I think I can improve by myself but I feel a bit stuck in my comfort zone and I’m really slow. So I really want someone to give good feedback and push me a little harder.
      But I know that people made it without going to uni or art school. There are a lot of really cool tutorials that helped me to learn a lot – like online courses, that cost a fraction of university education and are led by professionals. I do really recommend http://www.creativelive.com and their free live streams. If you try it – let me know what you think. Everyday they offer different things and I just found them really helpful.
      If you have some sketches and would like to share them, I’d be really happy to see them πŸ™‚

      1. Thanks for sharing! Yes… art is just so subjective. But I feel that I would benefit from art school because they teach you how to think and see things in a different perspective which I do not feel I have just yet. Esp lacking for someone without a strong art background I suppose.
        Appreciate you sharing you experience and look forward to learning (and be inspired) more by you! xx

    2. Oh, something just came to me, that could be interesting for you. I can really recommend this online course by Stephanie. She is a wonderful and very successful creative woman. I did her course while I was contemplation if I should really dare to follow my dream and I should give her some credit, because I think this course really helped me to find myself creatively. She just offers her last online class, so if you want, check it out and see for yourself if it could help.
      http://www.stephanielevy.com/creative-courage

      1. Wow, very unlike anything I’ve come across… I can see myself being motivated and inspired by her course. Cheers for the share! Now all I need is time ahaha πŸ˜‰

  2. Wow! You must have had to gather all your inner strength to be bold and ask for feedback.

    It’s quite inspiring, I am learning CSS, HTML and other web geek skills, and it’s hard to put it out there. Your “Be brave…” comment is simple, but so powerful.

    1. Thank you Linnifred πŸ™‚ it was a very crucial moment and I’m glad that I made it. So cool that you are learning new skills. I learned html basics back in high school but very little css. I really think you should try. From my experience you can only become better and grow πŸ™‚

  3. A really inspiring post! Sadly, the people who are in a position to judge creative work can often be too harsh or not very communicative. You did the right thing by asking questions and getting feedback to help you. Kudos!

    1. Thank you, I also think that ideally if you are a teacher you should point out the good and the bad. But I feel more prepared now for whatever comes along my way πŸ™‚ and in the end it did help me to become better, so hey, it’s the past. My main point I wanted to emphasise is that, most of us are probably afraid of some feedback like this, and never ask for any feedback. But even if you will encounter this sort of feedback, you can still conquer it and make the best out of the situation πŸ˜€
      thank you for your kind words, have a nice day

    1. You are welcome, I just thought that you gave a different angle and you already have more (professional) experience. I don’t want to talk about stuff I haven’t tested/experienced myself so I thought whoever is interested in feedback would really find your post helpful as well πŸ™‚

    1. Thank you, Claremary. I also thought personal taste can influence decisions like this, but I found there are some design principles that I professors want to see. And that didn’t depend on their taste I assume, because they were from very different unis etc. Maybe it also the current “taste” of the graphic design world. I wonder how we’ll see our work in 50 or 100 years or if the principles will be timeless and universal. We’ll see ^^

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