Thursday, January 27, 2011

Creative Musings: Unique...Just like everybody else...

Create your own visual style... let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable for others.

Orson Welles
A few days ago, I was looking through some shops on Etsy and ran across a jewelry shop where the artist had used the tagline "unique". I got curious and started looking through the shop. What I saw was well-crafted and well-designed, but not unique.
In fact, some of what I saw were designs inspired directly from designs that I'd seen in Bead Trends or Stringing, great designs, but again, NOT unique....
So, I did what anyone would do...

Pendant by Maykela
(Truly unique in my opinion.)

I went directly to Etsy and typed "unique" in the search bar. I promptly laughed at the irony of getting back 185,873 hits.
I started scrolling and yes, some things were definitely unique, some in a good way, and some in a strange kind of X-files way.

But the whole exercise got me thinking...
What do we mean when we say unique? When I label a project of mine unique, what exactly am I trying to convey. Do I really know what the word I'm using means and should I be using it? Is it fair to say something is unique if it's a tweaked version of a design I've seen a dozen times before?

A living tree by colorstorydesigns
(The background is recycled magazines, I've honestly never seen this done)
Mr. Webster gives the definition of unique as:
"Being without a like or equal; unmatched; unequaled; unparalleled; single in kind or excellence; sole."

Now, I can look back at some of the things I've designed, and honestly say that they are unique, that they're the product of a hundred failed attempts and one good success.
Those also happen to be my favorite designs,
Well, they're cute and creative and nice to wear, but they're not unique. So I honestly can't go that route in describing them.

(There are some amazing honest-to-goodness unique wedding gowns on Etsy, this is just one.)

Now, I say this to say that those designs, the ones we create that we know are just tweaked versions of someone else's original, still have merit. They can be creative, colorful, attractive, playful, well-made, inspired, cute, chunky...the list goes on. But, they don't have to be unique and that's okay. (As long as they're aren't a copy, but that's a whole other topic)

So, here's my challenge. Set it as your goal to create something truly unique. To use materials in a way that you've never seen them used. To invent a new process, or a new thread path.
The next time you're in a craft store, pick up a component or finding that you've seen a dozen times and ask yourself, how else can I use this? What other potential does it have?
Or, go to another store, one that doesn't carry jewelry components and think outside the box a little. Put all your jewelry design books on the shelf and promise yourself that you won't look at them for a week.

I believe that creativity is a well that won't run dry, but you have to experiment and play a little to do the extraordinary, but the whole point is that you can and what will come out of it will be something truly "without a like or equal; unmatched; unequaled; unparalleled; single in kind or excellence ".

Good luck, and I'll see you on Saturday for Margie and Me!


  1. You raise very good points here. Unique is one of those words that is probably over used. This discussion makes me think of the adage about re-inventing the wheel. I think your challange to put away all of your design books for a week is a wonderful idea. I wonder when the withdrawal shakes will start :-)

  2. You are so special, Marcie. This post really has me thinking about the phrase "one of a kind" which I use a lot. It may be OOAK to me, and I rarely recreate pieces that I have already made, but that doesn't mean that it won't ever be made again (not by me) by someone else and there for not unique. I do seek ways to use materials that are common in uncommon ways. I also seek out things that are not jewelry components and find ways to use them. I can claim one totally unique necklace that used a combination of hex nuts and string, but even that was inspired by something else. Right now I am working on an idea to take a material, little metal stampings, that are cast offs from my husband's plant and turn them into jewelry components. I will keep all your ideas in mind as I do. Thank you for always pushing the envelope for me and showing me that creativity and inspiration are so integrally entwined. You make me want to be a better artist!
    Enjoy the day! ;-)

  3. Thanks so much for your insights, Marcie. I know I have grown as a beadweaver (I don't think I'm up to jewelry artist yet) by participating in your Margie and Me challenges. This post is definitely worth some deep thinking.