A consumer packaged goods expert recently divulged to me that she never, ever looks at her competition. That really took me by surprise, because I always over-research everything. (My local branch librarians know all about me and my extensive interlibrary loan requests.)
Instead of looking at the competition, she told me, she examines parallels. What else do people in the target market desire? [Related: this customer profile worksheet from my book.] How can she make the product remind them of those other things, or draw on the best qualities to incorporate into her own design? For a high-end chocolate product, for example, she might look at Sephora’s prestige cosmetics packaging for inspiration. She pays no mind to Hershey and Nestle.
She confirmed what I’ve been thinking lately, that the best ideas come when you’re looking where no one else is. I love trolling through old books and magazines. You might love hiking in the woods or beachcombing or looking at art or gardening or visiting factories. All of these places are rife with things that could inspire you to make something you’ve never made before. Chris Glass refers to this as grazing. Cows do nothing but chew on grass all day. It doesn’t seem like they’re doing much of anything. But if they didn’t graze all day, they couldn’t produce milk. It might not feel like you’re working when you graze, but without taking that time to browse and nibble and ruminate and digest, you can’t make anything of value. This video of Chris Glass’s talk from Creative Mornings Cincinnati (which includes his bit about grazing) is 43 minutes of awesome:
I know a lot of writers, artists and designers who straight up don’t read blogs about their industries. When you spend a lot of time “keeping up” it can start to feel like an echo chamber. There’s a difference between keeping up on the news and falling into a state of obsessed self-flagellation. This is even applicable to journalists. Sure, there are lots of interesting blogs about the journalism business, and it’s important to follow your competitors to make sure your coverage is on point. But staying inside your bubble of contemporaries isn’t going to help you find great story ideas. Lisa Congdon recently illustrated this quote from Jack London: “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
Hunting down your inspiration should also help with avoiding committing plagiarism and following trends. Craft trends bug the hell out of me. It’s not that I hate mustaches (except that I totally do) — my problem is more with the idea that some crafters feel like they have to jump on a bandwagon to be successful. It’s much better to be a trendsetter than a trend follower, and to do that, you have to look outside your field. If you’re a crafter, stop scrolling endlessly through Pinterest. When you’re trying to develop a new product or design, look at anything other than other crafters: grocery store displays, florists, flea markets, old magazines, architecture books — whatever gets you going.
I also kind of hate pre-packaged “inspiration” for crafters, designers and artists. The idea that someone can hand you a pile of stuff to be inspired by seems counterproductive. It just keeps the same aesthetics and motifs circulating. (I also really really have no patience for step-by-step craft books. Partly because I hate following directions, but also because I don’t see the point in making something to look exactly like something someone else made. You feel me?)
We recently had an Etsy #craftparty here in Cincinnati, and as people were arriving, I made examples of what people could do with the materials we had. But I wasn’t making things for people to imitate or really following the provided instructions at all. I let myself go with the flow and make whatever felt right at the time. Being truly inspired is allowing yourself to be in the moment and do what you feel. And all of what you’ve seen and read and digested before helps you find your way.
My first adventure of 2013 (hopefully the first of many) is going to San Francisco for about a week in February and March. I love the Bay Area will take any excuse to spend time there. I’ll be teaching some workshops at Makeshift Society, which I’m so stoked to finally check out. Here are the three crafty/DIY workshops I’ll be doing the first week of March:
Get Your Book Published
Monday, March 4, 6 to 7 p.m.
Do you have a killer book idea but don’t know how to get it published? I have plenty of practical advice for you. In this hour-long workshop, we’ll talk about:
- developing your book idea
- preparing a proposal
- finding an agent
- pitching it to publishers
- actually writing the dang thing
- how to make it a success
Cost: $30 per person ($25 for Makeshift Society members) — REGISTER HERE
Coptic Stitch Bookbinding Workshop
Tuesday, March 5, 6 to 7 p.m.
I’ll teach you how to sew a sketchbook in just one hour in this workshop. The coptic bookbinding technique is great for journals because the books lay completely flat when open and you can make them out of any paper you like. We’ll even send you home with a few essential tools and resources for binding books on your own.
Cost: $50 per person ($45 for Makeshift Society members) — includes all materials — REGISTER HERE
Zine Making Happy Hour
Wednesday, March 6, 6 to 8 p.m.
Kick off those heels, loosen your collar and come make a zine at Makeshift Society after work. These photocopied little magazines can be anything you want them to be — a manifesto, a bitchfest, an art project or a dream. We’ll provide the scissors, glue sticks, paper, ephemera, examples and wine — you bring your friends and your ideas.
Cost: $25 per person ($20 for Makeshift Society members) — includes all materials and lotsa wine — REGISTER HERE
Etsy surprised me with an envelope full of goodies recently, and included in it was this gorgeous 2013 calendar/planner. So cute! The chipboard cover looks letterpressed with gold filigree, and the insides are well-designed, too.
I already have a 2013 dayplanner started (Paperblanks forever), but I can’t let this beauty go to waste! Leave a comment on this post, and I’ll select someone at random to send it to. It’s my Christmas gift to you!
Edited to add: I guess I should’ve put an end date on this! Post yr comment by noon on Dec. 24, and I’ll pick a person at random on Christmas Eve!
Edited again to add: The random number is 8, which means the winner is Vicky! :)
Can you make things that look like copyrighted characters and sell them on Etsy? My friend is making really cool Oscar the Grouch hats, but could she can get in trouble for selling them?
As a general rule, you shouldn’t sell crafts with any character, image or logo that’s not your own. Etsy can and will remove items or ban you for selling work that infringes on others’ intellectual property rights — that includes copyrights, trademarks and patents. So that includes Oscar the Grouch’s face, the Steelers’ logo, the Nike swoosh, a Jeff Koons sculpture, and on and on.
In some cases, companies even restrict the commercial use of fabric or stamps they create. You’ll often see “for private/personal use only” printed on the selvage of fabric. If you want to use commercially produced supplies in the crafts you sell, you should check for the company’s angel policy first. For example, here’s the angel policy page for EKSuccess, which is very specific about the procedure to follow if you want to sell items made with anything they produce.
Aside from the fact that Etsy can take your items down or ban you entirely for selling items with copyrighted or unlicensed images, it’s better for business to make and sell only originals anyway. By creating your own images, patterns or characters, you can establish a visual brand for yourself that’s unique and recognizable.
Instead of making plushies in the image of Sesame Street characters, create your own lovable monsters. Rather than buying commercially printed fabric, create your own patterns and designs on Spoonflower. Instead of using stamps someone else made, carve your own! When in doubt, DIY.
Caveat: I’m not a lawyer. But the folks over at the Art Law Center are.
It was so fun to hang out with Sister Diane last night and talk about craft business! We probably could’ve talked for hours, but somehow we kept it to 45 minutes. :) Thanks for having me, lady! And if you watched the hangout and would like to get a copy of Crafty Superstar, head over here! Here are the highlights, with links to relevant websites:
- I give shoutouts to Cameron of 1337motif and Esther of Torn Angel
- I wonder if there is such a thing as a Renaissance crafter
- We talk about Regretsy as a mean little David to Etsy’s Goliath
- Indie craft trends, as predicted by CraftsarethenewCrafts.com
- I give props to the Bloomington Handmade Market, Crafty Supermarket and Handmade Arcade, where I’ll be selling my crafts this fall
- I reveal why I love selling at shows so much
- and it just devolves into a total lovefest
Etsy sellers and buyers: In case you were wondering what the hot new craft trends for 2011 were, here you go: