Advice from a college senior: how to build and maintain your confidence as a young designer


portrait-deanna-blackToday, our Kutztown University Communication Design Illustration Showcase opens in our farmhouse, featuring the work of more than 30 students in the program. We’re highlighting their work in honor of Kutztown alumna Kathy Davis, founder of the Scatter Joy Center for the Arts.

Our guest blogger this week is Upper Moreland High School graduate Deanna Black, a senior graphic designer and illustrator in the school of Communication Design, who will have several pieces on display during the exhibit. 


I have always been passionate about art and knew that I wanted to pursue a career in the arts long before the thought of college. I studied drawing and painting at Upper Moreland High School and chose Kutztown University to continue my arts education. The Communications Design program here offers intense design classes that push conceptual thinking — all of which I have greatly enjoyed taking.

Now that I’m a senior, I often think about my time here at Kutztown. I have had my fair share of ups and downs through the years in this program. The most important thing I have learned from my professors and classmates is to work hard and be confident about the work you show. It’s not always easy to do this, especially when there are harsh critiques and rather negative feedback. To combat this, I’ve learned a few techniques for staying positive about my work that I’d like to share.

1. Ask your peers for feedback often — Sometimes we can get too caught up in our heads about how a design looks to our own eyes. Take a step back and ask your classmates, including upperclassmen, about your design. They can offer a lot of advice on how to make your design even better and point out any mistakes. More ideas are always better than none. tricons-deanna-black

2. Post your work on social media — Putting your work online opens up your potential audience to the whole world. Many designers upload their work to creative sites such as Behance, DeviantArt and Flickr, but even Instagram can put your art in front of people. More viewers leads to more feedback, which I have found to be very positive. This is a way to connect to other creative people and to affirm your design style.

3. Go to a Portfolio Review — Many schools have Portfolio Reviews each semester for students to get professional feedback on a breadth of work. I have found going to a review to be very helpful in building my confidence. The mentors will view your portfolio as a prospective employer would and give you honest advice on how to improve your projects for better success. Their advice is invaluable for making a confident portfolio presentation to a potential employer.

4. Remember why you chose to study art — Sometimes it’s really hard to remember why you got into art in the first place, especially if you aren’t getting any positive feedback. It may help to just sketch and do a personal project to connect to what got you excited about design in the first place. I find it is also helpful to look at past projects and sketches to see how you’ve improved. A mental break is often the best tactic when you’re in a slump. However, at the end of the day, always remember you are a good artist and that your decision to pursue a creative career will require a lot of hard work but still be rewarding overall.

Deanna designed these posters for a theater company.

Deanna designed these posters for a theater company.

5. Be authentic — Designing with your core inspirations in mind will always make you feel better about your work. You will reveal more of yourself in your overall design if you do something authentic to your style. When you agree with the original concept, it’s easier to defend and feel strongly about the product. If you copy other styles or don’t feel passionate about what you’re doing, it will definitely show in your final design. The process will not come as naturally and will have less of a connection to your work. Always be authentically you, and work hard so you can be proud of your creations.

To see more of Deanna’s work, check out her online portfolio.

The Kutztown University Communication Design Illustration Showcase runs Sept. 23 through Oct. 19 at the Scatter Joy Center for the Arts, 305 Horsham Road, Horsham, Pa. 19044. The opening night reception takes place from 5 to 8 p.m. on the 23rd. The show features a mix of digital illustration and traditional drawing with digital painting or editing from both undergraduate and graduate students. 

Kathy Davis, who also serves as CEO of the lifestyle and social expressions brand Kathy Davis Studios, has dedicated the show to the late Sue Schilling. An alumna of Kutztown’s Communication Design program, Schilling was also a friend and colleague, who was once a part of the KDS team. Over the years, Kathy has hired several talented graphic designers from Kutztown to join her Studios.