I've been writing a series of posts about micro businesses and branding but I'm going to back up, just a little bit, here. I'll be talking about starting a jewelry micro business but these things apply to any artisan/craft biz.
There are a lot of factors involved in starting your own small business. You can see a quick and very simple list, here. This list of 10 steps is very basic, and there is much more involved...time, research, development, monetary investment, practice, practice, practice. What I'm going to give you in this post is the very first step...the most basic and important step that you MUST address before even thinking about going into business and/or selling your work. Here's the must-do:
Develop your own personal style.
What exactly does it mean to develop your own personal style?
Inspiration and Imitation: Let me begin by saying that there is a huge difference between inspiration and imitation. Take a look at this Pinegate Road post by Kelsey Kronkhite called Inspiration vs Imitation. Learning begins by imitation...imitating the masters, imitating your instructor or imitating someone else's design. That's a great way to learn! It's how we all learn. You're inspired by what you see...then you imitate it. In that creative process, you learn techniques that enable you to move forward with your technical skills. This is just the beginning of developing your own style.
Take the next step: The imitation step is a great way to learn, I think we all agree. But, if you get stuck in imitation, you will NEVER develop a unique style to call your own. Being stuck in the imitation stage is like being stuck in grade school; you want to move on to high school, then college, then out on your own, don't you? Yes! The "out on your own" stage is where you have practiced and perfected your techniques, to a T...so much so that an amazing transformation happens: you see a distinct style emerging, that is your very own.
So, the next step after learning your basic techniques is...practice and research. Practice, practice and practice some more. Try new techniques...and perfect them. This practice should not involve techniques alone, but also design. Practice design? Yes! If you have a tendency to stick to symmetrical designs, try something asymmetrical. If you're still making that same thing you learned in class, expand upon it...make it your own design. If you don't know much about design, research the elements of design. This is important because if you don't understand the principles and elements of design, how will you be able to apply them to your work? This is the main thing I wanted to share in my book The Jewelry Maker's Design Book...what the elements and principles of design are and how to work them. There's lots of info, out there, about design...make sure you do your research!
Make it unique to you: Once you've got your technique down, and you've researched the elements and principles of design, figure out what you like. What's unique about your approach to making jewelry? What sorts of materials or objects do you like to use? Maybe you have an affinity to certain colors. Maybe you've been able to tweak a technique into something different that hasn't been seen. Do some soul searching and brainstorming about what you want to express in your creations. And, make sure that whatever you make comes from the heart.
So, what's the big deal? Why is it so important to develop a unique style?
You don't want your work to reflect the design of another artist: Trust me on this, you don't want people to think of another artist when they're looking at your work! You want everything that comes from your studio to scream your name and be original. It totally benefits YOU to do what it takes to develop your signature style. It comes from the soul, remember? Your soul, not your instructor's or some other artist's. When that happens, your passion shows through and the time and attention you took to practice, and research, and practice some more...will all pay off.
It hurts you if you don't develop your own style: Again, you're going to have to trust me on this one. It will hurt you to put out pieces that are not of your own unique design. Being inspired by a piece, then going a different way with the design, is a wonderful creative process. However, be very careful about using a design that is not your own and merely making a minor change: for instance changing up the beads, or an image, or trim, or a type of metal from the original. That is NOT enough. People will not respect or admire you, or your work if you're using a design that is not yours. Most specifically, the artist who originally designed the work will not be happy. Especially if you are selling that work for less (underselling or undercutting) than she/he would. The art world is a fairly small place and, believe me, people will notice. Just like in grade school, we don't want no name callin' 'round here: check this post Copycats, Copycats, Copycats by Harriette Estel Berman. Remember, we want to move beyond school to "out on our own!'
It's wrong to use designs that are not your own: Much has been said about copyright and copying so I won't go into that too much here but let me give you another great link from Harriette Estel Berman called Copyright Issues for Artists. There are several great articles there. Also, I've written some about this, as well. Check my post, What Not To Do where you'll find a terrific letter written by the editor of Art Jewelry Magazine, Hazel Wheaton (with permission, of course!) in which she very briefly and effectively addresses the issue of artist's copyright.
The painful truth is that I've dealt with these issues, myself. I think most artists have at one time or another. I've been on both sides of this issue and it's not pleasant, either way. I've always, always tried to keep my work as original as possible but what I'm going to tell you is that there is a lot of inspiration available to us, these days. I've found myself in the position of unknowingly designing a piece that was too close in design to another artists's work. Being appalled, of course I changed my design. Subconsciously, we absorb much and we must guard against letting that negatively affect the originality of our work. Also, I've seen artists, myself included, who unknowingly make pretty much the same thing, at the same time. Interestingly, it does happen sometimes.
I've also found myself in the position of being falsely accused of imitation, and that wasn't fun, at all. One of the very worst feelings is that of being wrongly accused...firestorms are easily started on the internet.
Just as unpleasant...I've seen many, many direct copies of my designs, out there. Some selling for much less than what I sell them for. (insert sad, frowny face here.) I always try to counsel my students to develop their skills, as well as their design skills, to avoid just this very thing. If your aim is to open an Etsy shop or start a small jewelry biz, the best thing you can do is sell YOUR designs and be known for the uniqueness and beauty of them!
All of this to say, again, that it's so important to be original and have your own individual, unique design style. It benefits you, the artist, and your business, as well as your artistic community.
Alright, my friends. I know this has given you some food for thought. Be well and be creative!