29 June 2012

Sampling the Fruits of Originality

What constitutes an original design?

This is a topic that comes up again and again in so many different circles. And one that I am thinking about again as I prepare to follow through on a threat that is more than 2 years in the making: to pitch my own book ideas. So this post may be a bit rambling, but these are the actual thoughts that have been tumbling out of me. Join me in the mind jumble, won't you? If you don't want to sit through my meanderings, feel free to jump to the end where I issue a bit of an informal challenge...


In preparing for the blog hop that I just did with the Bohemian-Inspired Jewelry book, I knew that I wanted to find a way to take the concepts in the book and make them my own. Sure, I could have just as easily taken the instructions and made an exact replica of the piece I saw, but that wouldn't be a challenge to me and it just wouldn't feel right.

I am quite aware that for some, especially those just starting out, that it is very hard to find that original spark. It is just easier to copy a design from a publication or a book. I don't discount that this is crucial if you are learning a new skill. Same is true of a class situation. You do what the teacher instructs and authors are by nature teachers of technique. But it is what you do with that knowledge once you move past the learning phase that makes a difference and really moves you forward to tasting those fruits of originality.

I really don't believe that there is anything new under the sun, and all great ideas are just recycling of a previous one or piggy backing on top of another. I have inspiring designs in my Pinterest boards that are drawn on ancient patterns and classic techniques. I don't do anything myself that is unique to me. I build on all the knowledge that I have gleaned from everywhere else. I know that when I started designing my own pieces I would often try to replicate something that I saw on TV, in a movie, in a catalog. It was more the fun to see if I could engineer it from the picture rather than following step by step instructions (I am horrid at doing that! I make the worst student in class!). In fact, I would rather dig in and mess it up and have to fight my way out of that paperbag just to teach myself something about the process rather than trying to faithfully recreate an exact copy.

I admitted in that post that I am a book junkie. There is not a book that I have met - particularly ones related to crafting, jewelry or other artistic pursuits - that I didn't like. I always find something that turns the light bulb on, something that moves me to act. There are so many great ideas out there that it is hard to reign them in, and over time it is hard to remember where that spark came from to even give credit.

I mentioned to some people who commented on that post that one way that I cope with this idea overload is to put little stickie notes on the pages I love. I also am fond of scribbling in the margins and making notes on alternate materials or color palettes that I would use. When I get a new book and I am devouring it from cover to cover, I like to have some scratch paper or better yet those really nice sized stickie notes handy. I sketch out design elements that I like from the piece and leave it in the page as a rough idea of what my interpretation would be. That way when I am seeking some inspiration in the future, I can just pull any book or magazine from my resources library and find an instant morsel that can whet my appetite and get me going for a full course creative session!

One of the kind commenters on my post sent me an email and asked me this question:

I still am not sure how the copyright works, I would never sell anything that was an exact replica of a design..but how far off the design can one go to be fair to the jewelry artist and be honest to oneself? And can one pin one of [the]designs on Pinterest which gives a link back to [the] book?

I have been thinking a lot about this over the past few days. I do a lot of design work for various companies, blog partner programs, design teams, as well as publications. Anyone who designs for someone other than themselves should consider their feelings on this. Now, I am not saying that my opinion is the right one for everyone, and I am not interested in opening up a kettle of worms on this sticky issue, but I will share with you my response to this question as a jumping off point for your own thoughts.

Any book or publication is meant as a jumping off point. You can see where I took those concepts in my designs and ran with them. I tried to make them my own using their techniques. As such, I feel I would have no problem selling them. But I am quick to give credit where it is due, and that is important. I have seen people who make almost exact replicas of something in a magazine or book and then sell it or take a class or even just read a book and then set up their own classes teaching that material as if it was their own. That is just plain wrong. It is an insult to the original authors as well as to the person who is doing it who doesn't trust their own creative nature. That is why I advocate that you need to look at these things as building blocks to your own style. It is perfectly fine to copy a design for your personal use, especially when you are learning something new, but to then turn around and sell it as your own original idea is not right.

Recently I was privy to a thread in a Facebook group where someone took a design that was pioneered by someone else in the beading community and which was taught to this person in a class...she then recreated the design and submitted it to a magazine. The magazine recently published that design with great kudos to this knockoff designer. The problem is that the publication did not realize their error and the person who took the class and then passed off this design as 'original' to the publication acted like it was no big deal. It takes a lot of time and effort to make something new and fresh and choose the right materials, then write all the instructions.

I would say that making sure that pins have the original links is very important. I try not to repin things that don't go back to the original. I don't mind my own things being repinned as it is a way to connect, and I try to pin people who use my own Simple Truths components to help promote them as well. I think that it is about making connections and building community and I love Pinterest for that reason.

I gave this person kudos for thinking about this topic at all, and I hope that I didn't scare her away with my answer. But I think that it is something to consider if you plan to do more than just make pretty things for yourself.
There have been times when I have been approached by someone about a design they see on my website, in a magazine ad, or my Etsy site and they ask me to provide them with the instructions and a list of materials so that they can make their own just like it. Or the woman who contacted me locally from seeing a necklace at the Gallery Q who insisted that I tell her where I sourced my materials from because she thought the simple design was so clever she wanted to make it herself. Or when I have been told that they saw the exact necklace I created at Kohl's or Target and that they can get it for much cheaper (!). Ummm... no. No, you can't get that from a department store, and no I will not provide that long list of materials and the step by step instructions unless that is something that I was paid for in a publication. It has taken me many years and a lot of dollars invested to source the materials that I use, and while many are obviously available to everyone, not all are. I am fairly open to sharing information and encouraging others to pursue their creative passions, but the intent behind such a request, and the fact that it is demanded matter-of-factly, as if I owe it to them, just astounds me.

I have been working on some design team projects that can get quite involved and I was thinking about this last night. The end result of a piece I made will come off as fairly simple, but I made all the mistakes along the way that you would do if you were coming up with something new to you. So when I write the instructions I will be sharing hours worth of working through a design so that you don't have to make the same mistakes I made. I learned from them and I am passing that knowledge on to the end user. And that is worth something. I am sure that Erin Siegel and Lorelei Eurto and their fellow contributors will tell you that there was a fair amount of trial and error that went into making up each piece in their book.... coming up with innovative ways to use tried and true techniques... sourcing just the right materials and color palettes... recreating it to be sure that the dimensions could be listed just right... and then perfecting the designs with the step by step instructions that anyone would be able to follow. 

With the rise in social networks like blogs that have so many do-it-yourselves and knock off projects and places like Pinterest that are a virtual playground for all that is visually stunning, it sometimes feels like we have let go of the notion that there are limits to what we can do with what we see and are inspired by. It is a double-edged sword. I want people to like my projects enough to pin them but do I want them to knock them off? I guess that is a risk I am willing to take in this day and age. So my question to you is this... where do you find inspiration that speaks to your soul and how do you translate that into an imaginative and inventive design that is original?

Inspiration can truly come from anywhere. That is my mantra and I am sticking to it. We all have the same inputs that we are seeing around us, from Pinterest and Facebook, books and publications, to Etsy and the internet. Truly, I love all of these places. I find myself on all of them every day, pinning and liking and generally soaking it all in. But it has me thinking...with everyone accessing the same things, can anything you make be truly untouched by another inspiration? Can you truly have an original design? 

We have all seen a trend overplayed. Think of the trend to make ladder stitch style wrap bracelets. Is there anything new under that sun? That doesn't mean that you shouldn't do it. Just that you need to work even harder to make something like that your own. What about making that style but not putting it into a wrap bracelet. Hmmm.... That is a challenge but one that will allow you to innovate the design. 

And what about materials? I bought a lot of pricey gems at Bead & Button, but I also bought a lot of very inexpensive things. I am fond of mixing the mundane with the magnificent for intriguing results. I am not a bead snob whatsoever. If it has a hole, it is fair game. If it is the right color of metal, I don't care if it is precious or plated. I like what I like. I have seen some threads in posts that put down materials from one store because they don't feel that they are worthy. Truthfully, I have found good quality and bad quality from all retailers across the board whether they are an online giant of a wholesale only company, a big box craft store, a local bead store, or an Etsy seller. Often it is the cheapest strand in my collection that I have loved the most. I don't believe that you have to have the fanciest materials to make the most impressive things but you do have to have a vision for what you are doing and where you are taking it. That is where your unique personality and sense of style come into play. And I believe that we all have that and we need to trust in it. It is easy to be inspired by someone else's design sense, but it takes someone truly confident in their own creative self to turn that design inspiration into something that is truly their own. 

I want to be able to continue providing my own designs are jumping off points for others and inspiring people to be creative in their own unique way and I hope that in some small way they have inspired you. I need to write those books that I have been storing up inside my heart to encourage others to find their favorite piece of the puzzle and build on it to become their own work of wearable art or just to follow your heart wherever its creative path may take you. And I believe that there is enough creativity to go around so that no one needs to feel like they have to knock off a design of someone else in order to be a success. 

After all, that is what tasting the fruits of originality is all about, isn't it?
What about you? What do you think about these concepts? 
Is there a truly unique idea out there that has not already been tried? And if you had it would you actually share it? ;-)
What do you think about all the websites and blogs and tutorials showing how to knock off a particular style? Is that just crafty cleverness or could that be considered stealing? 
Do the materials you choose make or break a piece or is it more about the inventiveness of the design?

Now for the {informal} challenge....  should you choose to accept it ;-)...

Find one of my designs in my Etsy shop (for sale or sold) in my website , on my personal design board on Pinterest, or on this blog... Now I want you to take break it down to the parts... consider the focal, the clasp, the bead shapes, the patterns, the textures, the colors....whatever it is that draws you to it. Pick the one part you like the best, not the whole piece, just one thing that I have done... now add that one thing to something you are creating.  Then be sure to share the results!

I suppose I am taking a risk in asking you to do this, but I believe in you and the fact that you can make something amazing from that one piece of the puzzle. I want to see what you do! Go ahead and try it. You might be surprised at how 'you' it will be! (And do be sure to share it with me so that I can share it with everyone else on this blog and on Pinterest as well!)



Brandi Hussey said...

Can you have a truly original design? Yes, I think so, but I think it's rare in this day and age of instant internet searches and online sharing for something to be truly brand new and different. Rare, but not impossible.

As far as jewelry goes, there have been several times in the last five years where I've been totally blown away by designs and skills. Shops that have made me stop and go, wow, that's incredible. Pieces that I've never ever before seen anything like it. I can call up some big (and big-ish) jewelry names that are definite innovators; they were innovators because they took the same materials, the same techniques, and whipped up something totally new.

That's the challenge for jewelry designers, isn't it? Take the same things everyone else has and put your spin on it.

And in that vein, while I think it is possible (though rare) to have a truly original design, I don't think it's possible to not be influenced or inspired by something. It doesn't have to be another jewelry piece - Art Bead Scene is completely indicative of that, where the monthly challenges are inspired by great works of art. Artists are always inspired by art or beauty or color, no matter the medium.

Now as far as copyrights go... always a touchy subject. My feeling is that if I'm working off of another design in a book or magazine, where the artist has given permission for others to follow along, I still have to bring myself to the piece. Not just for legal or whatever reasons, but for my own personal integrity. It needs to feel like someone I would do or create, bottom line.

But you're right - anyone with an original design has to deal with the conundrum of sharing it or not. Although there's always a risk of copycats, especially if it's completely innovative, I think I'd still share it. If it's my work and I'm proud of it, yeah, I'd share it.

A Polymer Penchant said...

I mostly reside in the camp I there is nothing new under the sun. I say mostly since as a Science student I learnt to never talk in absolutes. Especially with this subject it's so many shades I grey. Perhaps I have a more liberal view as I'm not in a position where I'm the one being copied. Perhaps I find that those that give the subject the most thought and anguish are those least likely to be "copying"
In large part I think it comes down to intent. Is your intent to be inspired, to take a start or are you here saying hey I could make that too and it's a different colour right so I'm good. Please. I guess if someone wants to sell knockoffs I see it as art with no soul and likely no stayin power. When I've participated in the ABS challenges I've stayed out of the Flickr pool until the very end as to not "taint" my ideas. But you know, often the thoughts are similar, and I'm not the least but surprised by that.

We are all human we are all programmed to be attracted to certain things for survival. So it's no wonder that being insPired by te natural world can sound cliche but seriously you would be hard pressed to find an artist who isn't in some way since we're all human. We find babies cute for a reason - so we will take care of them. Baby lions look like their fathers so the fathers are assured they belong to them and not eat them. Too far? My long winded point is that really the differences may at times be small since we are all humans creating art. But here is where you hope the intent, the soul shines through. I like the way you propose the challenge, but honestly Erin your work is inspiring, I'm attracted to your aesthetic but if I throes to pick one specific thing well my intent would be off, my piece would fall flat I'm sure. Well that's my 2 bucks on the issue :)

Alice said...

Lots to think about here. I had to read this post twice in order to digest it all. So far I do mostly stringing and a bit of wire wrapping, so I don't believe I have anything orginal in this case. What makes my piece original is the components I use and how I put them together.

I buy jewelry instructions books, lots of them. But normally the only thing I take from them is a spark of an idea, or a new resource for beads, or even just add the artist to my blog reading list. I never copy a design and it's sad that others do so willingly and feel that it is their right just because it is in print for everyone to see.

If I ever did have an original design idea I would most definately share it. I've come a long way in my jewelry because of the artists who have shared so much with me along the way.

Thanks for a great post, and the chance to be inspired by one of your lovely creations.

Kim Stevens said...

Oh this is such an interesting conversation . . . I believe art is inspiration, breathed in from all of our senses and the world around us, and there isn't a person that hasn't been influenced by someone else in some way. Your question is it possible to have an original piece - yes and no. Yes, I believe it is possible to have a piece that is orininal in the sense that isn't directly influenced by a specific piece someone else made, but by a combination of our own creativity and in being authentic to who we are and not trying to be someone else. Remember my heart enameled necklace? That piece is completely original to me, it started out as an idea completely different to how it ended, it was a process of thought. I used stencils and free handed the enamels and it tells a short story, my story about loving nature ( hearts and flowers), and the keyhole and key represent nature having the key to my heart. But it's not original in the sense that hearts and flowers and keys are not a new concept. Even though I didn't see a piece that directly inspired my design, I was influence by the world around me and I think we are subconciously inspired as well. Art is inspiration and ideas, our own and each others that are built on top of one another, over time and why there is a cycle of style. I know I have sketched ideas just to see someone has made something similar (after the fact) because some concepts are just not that original. It's when we aren't true to who we are as artists, designers, creators, to our own authentic selves that our work then ceases to be our own.

Okay, I've been rambling and I'm not sure if I have answered all the questions so I'll just leave it at that! haha

JeannieK said...

I think everything is derivative

Kristen said...

Oh what a topic. As a beadweaver I totally agree with you there are really no original stitches. There are unique ways of using them. I like you love the books on my craft and I love taking my favorite designs and morphing them to what appeals to me and have found that when I do that and give the designer credit and show them what they inspired me to do I receive so much more appreciation from them. I have just been branching out into design and it is not so easy to make something original. A unique approach to putting it all together is what I work towards.
As far as your challenge my friend.....I can not. Not because I am out of time but because each one of your designs speaks to me in a way that breaking it down in my mind would be like ripping up a Picasso. I just can't do it.

Elly Snare said...

I found this post very interesting, especially as I have just started to sell my jewellery online (well, attempting to!) and the idea of being 'original' keeps coming up when I compare my own style and pieces to other people in the same arena.

I think originality is a misconception, and instead more important is the concept of uniqueness. Originality stems from a complete 'newness', which is always going to be impossible to achieve (and that's not a bad thing); uniqueness stems from being able to use un-original elements (like a technique or an object) and make them into something new. I tend to draw techniques and materials from others as inspiration, rather than a specific design; my work is unique to me yet it has definite influences from certain jewellery 'movements' in the overall feel and some techniques.

Tutorials are designed to guide someone in a technique, not as a template, and should be treated like that: a place (as you say) to jump off from. Saying that, I feel fine with a tutorial showing how to create an imitation of a large fashion or accessory brand product, but not so happy with a tutorial which shows how to mimic the style of an individual artist.

Regarding materials: for me, this has been the biggest revelation when looking at inspiration sources. I don't always use expensive materials but some things - like the switch to using Czech glass rather than any other - has been through looking at others' work and realising the benefits of that material and the quality it exudes.

I think your challenge is an interesting one, and I would like to investigate it a bit further (if I don't get distracted by all the awesome!)


Lori Anderson said...

Sometimes I see things that I think are very very similar to someone else. Even on the covers of magazines. And I wonder how that person, who knows the people whose works she's very very similar to, doesn't see it. I think 95% of the time, it's innocent. But when there's a trend, not so much.

Lola said...

I love this post Erin! When I first started making jewelry I was hyper-sensitive about not copying another’s work, but confused when seeing so many similar designs. Now I believe that even the most unique design, as unique as the person who created it, can be linked back in a six-degrees-of-separation sort of way to some other unique and original item. Inspiration is indeed everywhere and sometimes our minds are unaware of what our hearts and souls are being drawn to and storing for later use. =)

Cherrie Fick of En La Lumie're said...

Miss Erin, Yes much to digest in this article. As always much thought went into it. I encourage you to write your own book. You are so amazing at telling stories and with your designs I would love to own it. You have paid your dues its your turn.

About this post, I struggle with this issue as well. I have been fortunate to be published and as we do work through the long process of designing for magazines, and writing the instructions. It is a time consuming difficult process that we choose to do. I often wonder how someone could even take instructions step by step and copy someone. How would they ever find the exact materials. I find my materials all over. I have collected for years and sometimes I don't even remember where I found something. I take inspiration from what I see. Yes there is so much out there to suggest to us what we could do. Some days I feel very intimidated by it. Then I sit down with an assortment of beads in a particular color way and see what direction the beads take me. I might pull an idea I saw into the design but often I just play with the piece until it is mine.

The idea of sketching as we consume our new magazine or book is a good one. I have just begun sketching after encouragement from my husband. That is how he designs everything.

We took a long class recently and the fine edge of what we were learning and what we were creating to sell had to be considered. Of course the techniques will be similar. After much thought I realized some of the basic steps are out there all over the place and not unique at all. The more difficult steps needs some tweaking and different interpretations to make it ours. That is how we end up designing anyway.

I have had another known artist nearly copy my necklace and put it on her blog. She told me about it and I felt it was ok but it isn't something I would want to see happen very much. I have another friend who has a complete copy cat buying from her sources, and selling for less. This is not right.

I agree with you that our long list of resources is not ok for someone to suggest we just hand over. Not unless it is volunteered by us to a friend. There is plenty of information out there and all a new artist has to do is be inspired and play until they find their style.

Cynthia said...

Miss Erin, What a great post. I really hope you write your book(s). I'll be in line to buy it (them).
As far originality goes, I think we believe we're original, but in reality, we probably aren't. We are influenced by everything we see and do and hear, etc. So, just because I think of a clever, fantastic idea for a jewelry design, it doesn't mean I'm the first one to think of it. It's not that a designer is copying another designer, perhaps she was influenced by that designer, or maybe the 2 of them we're influence by a third designer.
I will take up your challenge, in the form of making all my simple truths into my own creations. I have been working hard to get ready for the July 13th hop. I would bet money that all the sampler club members' creations will look different, even though they all started at the same jumping off point.
You continue to be brave and put yourself out there. And I'm very glad you do!!

Anonymous said...

I'm a bit late replying as I've been away, and it's hard to reply properly from a phone ...

Anyway, from the perspective of a relative beginner ... I can kind of see both sides of the coin. Yes, sometimes I want to make something that is a copy of something I've seen either in a magazine or a tutorial online. But even then I probably don't have the exact materials available to me. And I might not follow the instructions completely either. Such is the process of learning.

Other times I want to make my own version of something from, say, the Sundance catalog or Anthropologie. Is it stealing? Maybe. It's my own interpretation of a design, and I certainly wouldn't make it for sale! But it's something that prompted me to start beading in the first place, that feeling of "I could make that!"

And then there is the grey zone as I try to define and refine my own style. I have a Pinterest board with 100s of images that have caught my eye. I do worry that I will inadvertantly copy something I've seen. But I think it is more likely that I will take a little bit of this and a little bit of that and my own little stash of beads to come up with something that is me.

As for your challenge, well, we'll see what I come up with! You definitely have some designs that inspire me in one way or another! I'll be sure to let you know what I do.

Shaiha said...

What a great post! You brought up a lot of things to think about.

One thing that I have been pondering is how long you continue to give credit to an artist. I also collect books and use them for a jumping off place. Lately I have been inspired by Bohemian-Inspired Jewelry: 50 Designs Using Leather, Ribbon, and Cords. However it is more like this book has given me permission to use all the ribbons and cords that I have been collecting for so many years. So I have used a few techniques but haven't designed anything close to what they have in the book. So for how long do I give them credit for that when I have made it my own?

And I wish that I could join in on this hop but with my elbow throwing fits again, I think that I had better stick with what I have already joined in on.

queenofcuffs said...

What a fantastic post - so honest and so well said .
There is a huge busy sea of images on the internet/blogs/pininterest/etc and we
are all swimming in it. It cannot fail to effect what people create.

Would artists/designers making in isolation come up with the same things - I think not.
Is that good or bad . . . hmmm . . not sure.
I realise that nobody really designs in isolation - they are influenced by what they see or feel
in their life, their surroundings, nature, dreams.
But there is the argument that the availability of such a sea of ideas makes us create in too
many diverse directions - we loose the sharpness and personal style - it is possible to have
‘idea overload ’.
I admit I am still trying to ‘find my style’ and I yearn for it to be all mine !
I too love books / blogs and I also place notes with ‘sketches/ sparked ideas/ what I could do’
in the pages and keep an “I like” folder on my desktop.
Here’s my problem . . .
I get excited by a sparked idea - I am running off in that direction - I get distracted - then off in
another direction . . . sometimes I think I was actually more creative pre-internet (age telling here!).
Yet I am totally addicted - it is a peep show of the best kind - impossible not to look - but there are
times I go cold turkey and just look at my stash to create.
• I do think there are still unique ideas out there - and often the people making them have got a
totally unique look to their work - I admire their work - I will not copy - I want to be me, not a
mini them.
• I love sharing - but - I have been copied and was not a happy bunny about it.
• Worst thing anyone could say about my work would be “You copied that” !

We are all influenced daily - I never want that to stop - I so agree with the way you describe the
urge to make it your own, add that twist, take things to another level.
Your style is expanding - yet it is your style and recognisable - that’s what I am aiming for.


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