Okay, so. Recently, I’ve noticed (and I know I’m not alone in this) a fair bit of less-than-original content populating the ‘gram. I don’t want to come across as negative here, and this isn’t aimed at anyone directly - I’m really just hoping to educate anyone who is new to using social media for their business, or just struggling to fill their content calendar.
It’s no secret that over the past few years, Calligraphy & Hand-Lettering have gone from being a lost art to something that everyone and their cat has tried. To a lettering artist, scrolling through an Instagram feed full of other lettering artists can be inspiring, but it can also stifle our creativity. All we ever look at is OTHER people’s work. We don’t look at our own work. We don’t sit down in a room with no screens, pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist, and look at what we’re capable of making on our own - if there was no Instagram. Every day we see what kind of art is popular and gets the most likes, & we think that’s what we should do too, to be successful - to be noticed. Inspiration turns into Imitation and before you know it you’ve seen the words “Rosé All Day” written in the same bouncy style so many times you want to rip your eyes out.
By the way, that was me throwing shade directly at myself, because I am absolutely guilty of this shit too. Exhibit A:
I used to just do what I thought people wanted to see. But eventually, I made the conscious decision to do some serious introspection and develop my own aesthetic. To be as original as humanly possible. It’s something that I am still mindful of every time I go to post something.
Don’t get me wrong - I know it’s not easy to just snap your fingers and come up with original, one-of-a-kind content. It’s one of the hardest challenges facing anyone who uses Social Media for their business. And the newer you are to it, the more difficult it is to find your place. There are literally thousands of images posted on Instagram every second of the day, every day of the week. It’s overwhelming. I get it. I really do. I’ve been unoriginal a bunch of times. For example, the teal chalk wall in my old apartment was 1000% inspired by Lauren Hom. I gave her a shoutout for it every chance I got, and I also went to one of her workshops, and I still feel weird and guilty about it. I’m sure there are other times where I’ve let myself get too inspired by another artist’s work. It does happen, and it’s not necessarily malicious, but we do need to try - collectively - to do better.
So how exactly do we do that? How do we come up with new ideas and original material when we’re bombarded with images - all-day-every-day - that were created by other people?
The key, like with many things in life, is to put in a little more effort.
…Now that I’ve written my Thesis on Why Being Unoriginal Sucks, let’s get down to the point of this blog post - Here are my main tips for coming up with original content so that you can stand out on social media (which directly correlates to building a strong brand, FYI):
First things first: Put your goddamn phone down. Seriously. For like, an entire day at least. A weekend is better.
Speaking as someone who spends way, way way too much time on my phone - I know how hard this one is. But all that time “under the influence” of social media, so to speak, is more likely to have your spiralling in a comparison trap nightmare than sparking your creativity.
Make a list of all the weird shit you love the most, and go from there.
General rule of the universe: for every “weird” or niche interest you have, there are probably literally thousands of other people out there who are super into the exact same thing. Make a detailed list of your absolute favourite things (and get specific, babes), and I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll feel compelled to create something inspired by an item on that list. Take the ladies of my personal favourite podcast - My Favorite Murder ; who randomly decided to start a podcast based on their mutual morbid interest in true crime. They are now wildly successful and have hundreds of thousands of listeners, because - as it turns out - all of us true crime nerds (now known as Murderinos, just FYI) were just waiting in the wings for this podcast to come into existence, without even knowing it. Whatever your specific & unusual passion is, odds are there is an audience out their just waiting for you to create content about it.
Make the things you wish existed.
This is a pretty basic piece of advice that in and of itself is not actually that original (#ironic) but nonetheless, it’s the best thing to keep in mind when you’re stuck in a creative rut. Do you wish you had a painting of Leonardo DiCaprio telling you how pretty you look hanging above your bedroom mirror? Boom. Make that. It’s that simple.
Aggressively avoid bandwagons.
Is there a new trend circulating that everyone is clambering to get a piece of? Instead of hopping on board the bandwagon like a teenager in the early 2000’s who just received a chain e-mail (how much did I just age myself with that reference? If you don’t know what I’m talking about please go here ) use that big beautiful brain of yours to think for yourself. For example - while something like 100 million people on Instagram were posting their “2018 Best 9”, Illustrator Abbie Paulhus chose instead to create her own, by illustrating 9 of her best memories & moments from the year. She took a trend and instead of following it, pushed it further and created an original piece of art. (That post has over 4000 likes, btw). So next time you spot a bandwagon popping up, either run in the other direction, or take it as a challenge to make something even better.
Do your homework.
Sometimes we think we have an amazing, original idea - but then one quick Google search shows us our amazing idea has, in fact, been done before (#soulcrushing). This totally blows, for sure, but it is important to validate an idea (especially if it’s something you’ll be using to profit from, like a print or a product of some kind). It’s much better for your career, and more satisfying for your creative soul, to be totally sure before making something that you’re not stepping on another artist’s toes. Like I said before, it’s happened to all of is and usually isn’t malicious. But it should be common practice among creatives to do our research first, and be respectful of something that another artist made first. I had a design professor in college who said the words “Give credit where credit is due” so many times I thought my head would explode if I ever heard them again, but now I understand why. (He also struck fear into my 18 year old heart by calling out a girl in front of our entire class for copying Aubrey Beardsley’s work too closely for an Inking assignment, and letting us all know he would be giving her an F…ouch) (…just in case you thought art school was all unicorns and rainbows!).
Go Outside/Travel/Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone
Okay this might sound rich coming from me, seeing as I’m basically a hermit - but trust me, this works. If jumping on a plane to Europe and visiting the Louvre is an option for you - then please do that. If not, try checking out a local art show or museum exhibit, be a tourist in your own city for a day, etc. Sometimes all you need to get inspired is to get out of your bubble and immerse yourself in an aesthetic that wouldn’t normally be a part of your world.
Embrace your imperfections
Thankfully, as we all recognize that social media is not great for our mental health (but unfortunately for those of us who rely on it to promote our businesses, it’s a necessary evil) the idea of showing highlights only is fading into a more honest and realistic approach for a lot of people. Many are choosing to be more open about their struggles and shortcomings instead of only ever showing their best self - and this is one bandwagon I can get on board with. We’re all flawed, fragile little creatures just trying to make our way in this extremely strange futuristic world (Like, we’re all carrying around computers in our pockets, when only 50 years ago they looked like this. What is life) and being vulnerable has a lot of value. At this point, I think we can all agree that nobody needs to letter “She believed she could so she did” ever, ever again. Try taking a done-to-death inspirational quote and putting a satirical spin on it, and people will be a lot more likely to engage with it, because they’ll actually be able to relate.
She believed she could, but she was really fucking tired, so she put that shit off until tomorrow.
Alright my dears, so that’s about all I can think of for now, but you get the idea. There are tons of ways to kickstart your creativity if you really want to. To summarize: Get off your phone. Go out into the world. Make things you’ve never seen before, instead of making your version of something that’s been done a thousand times. Be unapologetically you.
Creativity comes naturally to some people, but I recognize that this isn’t the case for everyone, even artists. Sometimes you’re just having an off month and need to get re-inspired, sometimes you’re stuck in the Comparison Trap, and sometimes you just need to dig a little deeper to find your Creative Voice. But it really is in there, I swear.
Spend the time. Put in the work. I can promise that you and your career will be better for it in the end.
P.S: It would just be silly of me to not take this opportunity to plug my Online Course - The Calligraphy Style Masterclass. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but it’s pretty much the ultimate resource for kickstarting your creativity and finally nailing down your own unique calligraphy style! Check it out here, babe!
Thank you for reading, babes! I hope you found this blog post to be helpful - If you did, it would mean the world to me if you could share it on Pinterest!
(Like, I would send you a box of warm, homemade chocolate chips cookies as a thank you, if I could)
To share on Pinterest, just hover over the photo below and click on the little Save button!
Addendum | Kinda why I wrote this post
I have a long list of Blog topics that I plan on writing about this year, and this one was not on there until recently. I decided, a bit spontaneously, to write about this subject for somewhat selfish reasons.
When an artist/creative notices their work has “inspired someone a little too much”, let’s say… they have three choices (shoutout to Jesi of Cabin Calligraphy for coming to this conclusion first!):
Ignore it. Eat some ice cream, drink some wine, look at the post 55 times before realizing it will be better for your mental health if you just block the person so you can’t look at it anymore. Live with the feeling of being punched in the gut for a little while until you get over it.
Privately contact the person who has imitated your work and try to explain kindly to them that you are hurt. Attempt to educate them on the subject and hope they react well.
Publicly call the person out, and watch as your followers & friends rake them over the coals, pitchforks in hand. (Not recommended)
…Okay actually, 4 choices - Option #4 is to write a semi passive aggressive but also educational blog post about it.