how to be better at accepting criticism of your artistic work

the return to modern domesticity and girly graphic design


a few months ago i posted about how the first patchwork show never would have happened if I didn’t get my heart broken. Then, delilah posted her own story of patchwork’s humble start. it’s hard to believe that by 2014 we’ll have put on nearly 30 patchwork festivals!

Preparing for the fall 2013 season I set to work last Saturday designing the poster for the shows. I’ve had an idea in mind for months but as any artist knows, once we sit down and start making something, we sometimes have to let that initial idea go and give in to the randomness of inspiration and let the creative process happen. One of my writing teachers used to say “it’s not about the tea, it’s about the tea ceremony” when she was lecturing on the process of writing. I always loved that sentiment. it reminds me to not be married to my original idea or rush towards to finished product.

when i was done, i looked at it thinking damn… i nailed it! i sent it to my business partner/aunt delilah for feedback. this part is always a little rough for me. you creatives know that feeling of making something then sending it out into the world and hoping it’s well-received. off the email went and i watched my inbox for her response. a few minutes later, ‘ding’… new email. “i love it!” she said. Cue my sigh of relief.

most times, it’s not this easy. most times delilah has suggestions. These bits of insight may sting for a moment, but nine times out of ten her ideas change the project for the better. She sees things in the design that I can’t see because I’m too close to it. I’m grateful to be in a partnership with someone who can be honest with me. being truthful is essential to the success of our businesses as well as our relationship. delilah says things like…”change the pink to blue…make this text bigger…what about drawing a camera instead of a stereo…or… my ‘favorite’ criticism… it’s too girly.”

i’ve never really thought of myself as girly. I drink bourbon straight, I can pee in the woods or on the side of the road, I’ve traveled in the open bed of a truck at 90 miles per hour on the freeway and I’ve told a very large man in a bar who was hassling me, “why don’t we take this outside.”

Yet, the past few years I’ve noticed people identifying my work and me as girly. the owner of a studio where i teach diy workshops asked me if i could make my classes and class photos less girly. a few people have commented on how feminine my art is. One of the design projects I’m currently working on was deemed not unisex enough.

I know I’m not supposed to take this personally but for some reason, I get offended by that word. I know what you’re thinking…”nicole, here you are getting offended by a word, that’s so girly of you.” I don’t want to get all feminista-style but why is being girly a bad thing? The movement of women (and men) returning to tasks, hobbies and domestic pursuits that they pushed so hard against is growing. Knitting became punk rock years ago. canning and raising urban backyard chickens are becoming the norm. the stigma of what has been traditionally called women’s work seems to be dissipating. Even the most righteous of feminists are not looking down (at least not as much) on women who are stay-at-home moms. if you’re as interested as i am in this topic, read homeward bound: the return to modern domesticity. we profiled it in our september diy and business book club. I don’t think the point of the feminist movement was for women to not have babies, cook or knit but rather for women to have the choice to do these things or not. Shouldn’t we all (men and women alike) have the choice to spend our days doing what feeds our souls?

I don’t want to alienate men or non-girly women with my art but it’s my art! It’s a reflection of who I am and apparently I’m a little bit girly. Here’s the conundrum… my art isn’t just a product of myself or how I pay the bills, it’s a part of something bigger. that something that doesn’t belong only to me. my designs are used to promote businesses (craftcation conference and patchwork show) that I share with Delilah. Those businesses have their own aesthetic and the images that represent them can’t solely reflect my personal artistic vision. I have to take into account the branding of the businesses as a whole, which includes not only delilah’s notions but the taste of our demographic.

Over the years I’ve learned how to try to design with the bigger picture in mind. That’s not to say that I no longer use pink or hearts in my designs for patchwork show and craftcation conference. But, I attempt to be a little more aware of my aesthetic choices and keep in mind the collective branding of our businesses and audience. Honestly, I could go on forever about being girly, the process of making art and the return to modern domesticity but i’m late for my mani-pedi.

by the way: if you’re a maker applications for patchwork show are open through september 26th

have you noticed the return to modern domesticity? how do you see it manifesting? is there a comment someone makes about what you create that you take personally? how did you deal with it?

-nicole s.

the most recent patchwork show poster i designed that breed this post
the top book is homeward bound – read it!


  1. I just love!!! Reading your stuff!!! It makes me think about my life and the things I do…….and I don’t even make anything!?

  2. My fiance is my critic, and, like you mentioned with Delilah, sometimes I balk a little at first because I think I have created the next best thing since sliced bread, but usually after I hear his feedback and try out his suggestions, I like the final product. He helped me nail down some label designs that had been just out there floating around in the wind for awhile, and they’re on order now. I can’s wait to debut them to the public.

  3. Nicole, the flyer looks fantastic! They always do.
    love your posting…You both have done such an amazing job and are such a powerhouse together! I wish I had a business partner to bounce ideas off of and help with the things i’m not strong in…marketing, branding and social media.

    Anyhow great job and I will be ordering the book suggestion tomorrow 🙂

    1. hi melissa!
      thanks 🙂 as far as having a partner, d and i are very lucky! but that’s not to say it’s easy. i’ll be posting soon about partnerships… hopefully shed some light on it and talk about when you need a partner vs. when you need to hire someone. may be helpful for you 🙂

  4. dude anyone that knows me knows i am true to taurus form- total bull in china shop 🙁
    i am so comfortable with nicole that i dont hide my opinions and i get a little short (like 3 sentence remark)- i am beyond thankful that she has the heart to know that “delilah just broke a whole bunch of vases” when i could have been a little better about it 😉 her talent in design is so beyond me that if anyone could see what i could do in her place…well there would be no patchwork b/c it would be a total joke!! LOL
    might write a post about this- not being a full on taurus!
    love you N!!

    1. ha ha ha! i’ve learned a lot since that first card- “hey d, sit here and be a hand model at the sewing machine… this is going to look awesome!” ha ha. you’re my favorite bull. i think what you said shows a lot about how our partnership has grown! p.s.- posting something hilarious on your fb wall right now!

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