I love Todd Henry’s quote from the Accidental Creative podcast, “Cover bands don’t change the world. Don’t be a cover band.”
Initially, I took the quote at face value. Right. Do your own thing.
But I’ve been thinking about it a lot more lately and getting a little deeper with it. It really is not simple or easy…mostly because the market wants you to be a cover band. It constantly pushes you in that direction and you have to not only fight against it, but intentionally focus on doing your own thing.
Think about it. Using the band analogy… If you’re a new band trying to gain footing, are you going to do better at concerts playing songs you’ve written that no one knows? The tunes are unfamiliar and they can’t sing along with the lyrics? Or a crowd pleaser that was already a hit? The audience is fired up, singing along, and there is huge applause at the end.
Transitioning over to our world, as a designer, is it easier to establish your own look or to regurgitate a version of someone else’s signature style that brands and customers are clamoring for? Is it easier to create your own story and style on your blog or Instagram feed or to mimic the accounts and pages that you see growing leaps and bounds? It is so, so easy to play into the sameness. It’s what is working! It’s what customers want! It’s what sells! And, in many cases, it’s what clients are requesting.
I’m sure you’ve experienced this same thing in some shape or form. This push into the mainstream. This pull into uniformity. It’s real and it’s strong.
When this realization first hit me, I honestly felt discouraged at the uphill battle. This battle isn’t a new one, though, but one that’s been exaggerated by social media in recent years. We’re more aware of it. In the creative world, introducing something new has always been risky and typically met with a great deal of resistance. It wasn’t until I went to the Louvre followed by a visit to the Musee d’Orsay that I had an appreciation for how radical the Impressionists were. How far they strayed from conventional art.
So, if the odds are stacked against us, how can we find our own creative voice? These are a few things I’ve started implementing as a part of my own creative process…
I find that I offer this as a solution for many creative struggles, but it really is a creative cure-all. Get off the phone. Step away from the computer screen. There is so much inspiration online, but it’s being done! Take bits and pieces of that inspiration, but don’t bathe yourself in it. Don’t let that be your solitary source of inspiration.
Look at magazines and books. Go to an antique market and find fresh inspiration from decades or even centuries ago. Go to a farmer’s market and look at the colors and textures displayed. Tour gardens and old homes. Travel. Walk. Hike. Listen to music. Read poems and classic literature. Sketch and write. Visit museums. Get out into the world with a notebook and write down everything you see and observe. Let the real world be your creative buffet.
Especially if a part of your business is being on social media, you’re not going to give up scrolling altogether. And, there is a lot of good that can come out of collaboration, being a member of a creative community, and learning from other artists. Do all of that, but curate a feed that is filled with variation. (I’ve shared this advice before, too!)
Follow creative feeds that offer a style different than your own. You’ll find yourself challenged and stretched and you won’t feel so overwhelmed by the sense of sameness that comes from following only like-styled, like-minded people.
Be intentional about seeking out designers, artists, writers, thinkers, makers, photographers, comedians, poets that offer a beautiful, inspiring variety.
look to the past
I’ve always looked to antiques for my primary source of inspiration, but I’ve been diving further into that idea. I’ve been looking at antique textiles for color and pattern design ideas. I read through classic novels, poetry, essays, prose, and philosophy to find quotes and inspiration for words, phrases, similes, analogies, and topics to write about.
It’s no surprise that there is a wealth of inspiration in the public domain to pull from.
I have unintentionally done a lot of reading lately on studies about play, free time, and meditation. It’s been a recurring theme in a few books and articles I’ve read lately and it’s been fascinating! (Essentialism, The Atomic Habit, Harvard Business Review) All of the studies and experts agree that innovation comes out of play and/or when the brain is allowed to wander.
Stuart Brown of the National Institute for Play said, “Play leads to brain plasticity, adaptability, and creativity. Nothing fires up the brain like play.”
As this recurring theme kept popping up, I started to pay attention to how little free time and play time I set aside. If I’m going to be unoccupied for any period of time, I grab my phone or a book or something to prevent boredom, even just for a few minutes. Even in my unhurried creative time, I usually have an objective. So, I’ve been forcing myself to just sit in quiet. On my daily walk, I set aside time without podcasts or audiobooks to just walk and think. And I can already tell you that I’ve had some pretty profound thoughts and realizations during this created quiet space.
As a person who thrives on productivity, I have to admit that this is hard for me, but I’m working on it!
give yourself permission
Any time you’re shifting gears and creating something that’s different – either from the mainstream or from the rest of your body of work, there will be a little resistance. Or a lot of resistance. Or everyone might love it. Either way, you don’t know what the outcome will be when you first launch it into the world and you need to be ready to defend the exploration.
This isn’t something that’s combative, involving intense debate or desperately seeking permission from others, but it’s an internal fortitude; a love for your creative work that can stand up to criticism and people who just don’t like change.
There is an article I loved in the summer issue of the Magnolia Journal. Joanna writes about the freedom to evolve. A body of work, a signature style, the thing you’re known for, can all become boxes; confining and inhibiting growth. It’s okay, and even beneficial, to step out of that box into unexplored territory. Just give yourself permission to do that.
I write on this blog, so that those who read it will be inspired. They will feel braver and motivated when they close the browser. And I hope this blog post accomplished that…