Small Biz Rant: “How do I find my signature work style?”

Screen Shot 2013-06-26 at 1.55.17 PMSara from SoulCandyCrochet (the jar cozies pictured are hers) asked if I had any advice about finding a signature style for her crafting and her shop. In various q&a’s, I talk a lot about how I think it’s super important to have your own voice, so your work can stand out, but how do you find and cultivate that voice? Sara has a pretty clear idea about her work’s manifesto/philosophy, but she is uncertain about how to develop that into something tangible and physical in her crochet pieces.

I think there are probably blogs and books about this very topic, and there are probably like “10 Steps to Blahblahblah” exercises that may or may not be helpful. I don’t fancy myself a small business guru, and I don’t pretend to have all the secrets to success, but I’m certainly open to sharing my story and some stuff I’ve learned along the way!

For some people, finding your signature art/craft style is organic, and you just kinda do what you do, and it’s kinda different and out there, and people notice it, and you get featured on Etsy or Huff Post or Make:Craft blog or what have you. For others, there may be a creative urge and an artistic talent, but figuring out where you stand in the world needs more strategy or intention.

For me, I think there was sort of a mix between organic and intentional.

The women in my family always encouraged us to be creative and “go home and make it” (you may have heard me quote this before!). What I found myself doing was not necessarily making things I wanted to buy, but making things I wanted to HAVE and was not able to find in stores, whether they were presents for other people or just presents for myself. When I worked in an office, my boss always encouraged me to open up my own shop for handmade goods, but I always knew in the back of my mind, that my crafting was all over the place – real cereal picture frames, personalized pillow cases, funky Dr. Seussian hats, handpainted rocks – and that I wanted to have  a more refined concept before thinking I could sell anything to a complete stranger.

So crafting had been in my blood for years, on a casual level, usually as a way to give unusual and memorable gifts to people. But the intentional part came from working in publishing and learning about branding (authors). I had learned that it was important to represent something specific and something unique, in order to appear like a sellable commodity, and since I hadn’t figured that out yet, I didn’t feel ready to put anything out into the world.

In my “about” page and various bios, I talk about how moving to San Francisco inspired me to make myself some scarves. This is 100% true. I started making scarves for myself because the evenings here are chilly, but I wanted to wear something fun, so I had to design and make them myself! I found a hole in the market, and I filled it.

Why food? It’s just how my brain works. When I was buying lumpybumpy handspun yarn, I found myself buying yarn that already looked like food – peppermint candy stripes, vegetable green variations, mint chip swirls. I just took it one step further. As a kiddo, I collected rocks that I thought looked like salami or hamburger buns. I’ve always always been obsessed with faux food and food imagery.

My work is not for everybody. My style is not for everybody. But I think it stands out a little bit, and is a fun talking piece. I didn’t have a brand manifesto or anything back in 2005. I didn’t have a business plan or any kind of goal.  I just put out something I thought was fun, unique, and a little bit wacky. I wanted to make people laugh, and if you are laughing with me, that’s cool, and if you’re laughing at me, well, that’s still cool. At least you laughed today (but you’re going to hell, obviously). I think my point is, don’t be afraid that you won’t appeal to EVERYONE. Don’t water yourself down. (“Water yourself; don’t water yourself down.” I feel like there is potential in that line, but it sounds terrible and kind of dumb. We’ll work on it.)

Another tidbit that comes to mind, is a quote by F. Scott Fitzgerald that I’d use when I spoke at writers conferences. You might disagree with it, and it may sound kind of snobby and elitist, but I think it was a good answer to the oft-asked question, “What’s trending right now? What should I be writing that’s trendy?”

“You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.”

So basically, I would tell writers, don’t write for the trends. Write what you want to write because you love writing. Trends die. If a writer writes a book that follows today’s trend, that trend will probably be dead by the time the book comes out a year or two later. You know, like, stop putting a bird on it.

If you are not sure that you have something to say yet, it’s okay. Maybe it’s not time to open your shop. Maybe you’re still in the cereal-picture-frames-and-painted-rocks stage of life. This is actually a great phase because you are exploring all the possibilities. But I guess the whole point of this rant is to help get you out of that stage and into the next.

So, let’s see what my brain thinks of right now:

1) Have fun, and create to make yourself happy. If your craft brings you joy, there’s a good chance it could bring someone else joy.

2) Consider your world view and general state of being. Do you sometimes have an odd take on the universe? Can you translate that physically into your work?

3) Be brave. Don’t spend a lot of time worrying about whether your work will appeal to the masses. If you’re kind of a weirdo, embrace it, develop it, hone your weirdo mojo. There are other weirdos out there, and you could be the hero of all weirdos. I know this kind of seems like the opposite of trying to sell your work, but, I think that eliminating the “fear of acceptance” element is important creatively. Push yourself to make something crazy just to see what comes out. You can always rein it back in later if you want, but if you never try, you never know. You might pop out something you never expected, and that could possibly become Your Thing. I equate this to “free writing,” when you’re just supposed to write non-stop for a certain amount of time, like 30 minutes, no matter how stupid all the stuff you write is. You just keep doing it and up-chucking it to loosen yourself up, and sometimes, you up-chuck a gem.

3) If you feel like your work is all over the place and lacks focus, try to pick 3 pieces that you love best, and use them as seeds. How can you evolve one piece into something different that you love even more?

4) Mood/inspiration boards help a  lot of people. Collect images from magazines or the internet that you love and paste them onto a big piece of cardboard or foam board and see where it all takes your imagination.

If you’re like Sara, and you have a conceptual idea of what you want your pieces to convey, make a list or a mood board of visual/tactile/physical items that convey those conceptual ideas to YOU. Like, if I’d started with the concept that I wanted to create cute, colorful crochet items that are wearable/useful, I would then think of stuff I thought was cute and colorful, and my mood board would probably end up having lots of candy and pastries on it. But someone else’s board might have flowers. And someone else’s might have baby animals. And someone else’s might have baby humans. And someone else’s might have vintage cars. And so on!

5) In a similar skein (see what I did there?), make a point to sketch out  at least one new idea a day. Force yourself to do it, and commit it to paper or your computer (just thinking about it doesn’t count). Most of your ideas probably won’t be winners, but keep at it, and keep your creative brain on the move.

6) Take a look at your stuff. Your clothes. Your home decor. The books/magazines you read. The movies you watch. Can you translate the stuff you like and own into your work? My point being, instead of thinking about how your craft can be honed to appeal to others, think of what appeals to you and how you can apply it to your craft in a unique way.

Okay, I’m starting to see a pattern here, and I find myself repeating myself. It would seem like my best advice for honing your crafting voice, is to look inward, and make what YOU like. What makes YOU feel good? I strongly believe this personal and authentic touch will make your work successful. This sounds really obvious, but I think that people can get overly wrapped up in what will sell the best to the most people. Art first. Commerce second. You’re not WalMart. You’re the next new thing on the craft scene!

(p.s. If you have a specific question related to starting or running your crafty business, or some topic you’d like me to discuss that would fall under “Small Biz Rant,” just contact me! Please be specific, though! Thank you!)

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19 Responses to Small Biz Rant: “How do I find my signature work style?”

  1. SoulCandy Sara says:

    Thank you for this post Twinkie! You pointed out some things that hadn’t yet crossed my mind and I appreciate you taking the time to answer! <3

    • TwinkieChan says:

      Thanks for making me think about this part of small biz a little more! It was actually hard to think of good tips. I think that means it’s a tough nut to crack, and just involves some soul searching! 😉

  2. Charity says:

    This is actually the single most helpful article I have ever read on finding your niche. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my creative identity but I didn’t know how to fish out what that is (being too close to the situation obviously). Your article has really given my tips on how to re-focus and I appreciate that a lot.

  3. TwinkieChan says:

    Aw, I’m so glad! After I started writing, I didn’t feel like I was saying anything new or helpful, but I kept going, because I think at least hearing about someone else’s journey can be helpful. Good luck with your adventure!! xo

  4. This is so cool, Twinkie! You’ve already inspired me to get back into the knitting/crocheting world after a five year hiatus, and I’ve even started designing my own stuff for my own use. I would like to add a thought to your already rant, and that is: It ain’t over til it’s over. I’m 50 years old and I realize that as long as you keep your mind open, you can still experience new and exciting things and ideas!

    • TwinkieChan says:

      Hi Glenda! That is also a really great piece of advice!! I think if you are feeling blocked or uninspired or frustrated, walking away from it and taking a break is absolutely necessary, and the cool thing is, that the craft will always be waiting for you!

  5. I just started my crochet blog an I am still looking for my niche. This post will help me to sort creativity files in my head. This is really helpful!<3

  6. Janet Weidner says:

    Glad I came across your blog tonight- Twinkie. I have been having a very difficult personal time & was at a real low tonight. I haven’t read the whole article (it’s very late & I just found it) I’ll come back & reread in the morning. What I did read–spoke to me in a different way. It read as saying–don’t give up– try & try again. There is value in what you do. I needed a positive personal boost!!! Thank you! You never know how you will affect others! Thank you again & Big Hugs!!!!

    • TwinkieChan says:

      HUGS, JANET!!!!!!

      Someone else commented something similar above. She said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” 🙂

      xoxox

  7. Aleana says:

    Thanks for this post Twinkie! I’m trying so hard to come up with my own crochet designs but haven’t had much success. To me this industry is so saturated that its hard to stand out. With your help I’ve realized that I’ve been doing it backwards! I’ve been looking at others to find inspiration, but haven’t looked at myself to discover what I’m really about. I’m going to work on a mood board and go from there.

    • TwinkieChan says:

      Hi!!! I think that looking at the world for inspiration is definitely a part of our creative process, but I would say that it’s also helpful to look OUTSIDE of crafting for that inspiration, too. Not just look at other people’s stuff, but just the world in general, the trees, the buildings, etc etc. Sometimes I get asked, “What inspires you?” and I think a good answer is to just always keep your eyes open, and just think of yourself as an inspired person, who picks up on details others might not, and can find inspiration everywhere!

  8. Anzouya says:

    Great article! Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us! You are right. We can’t be “the right fit” for everyone, we just have to be true to ourselves.

  9. What a great article. You have totally hit the nail on the head with saying that you should just focus on doing what you love, and not following trends. Thats what i try and do with Dolly Cool, and it works for me! Embrace your inner weirdo, yes indeed 🙂

  10. hazard says:

    I agree with all of this!! The moment you stop giving a s**t what other people think is the moment you open yourself up to countless new experiences and ways of thinking, being, doing, and creating.

    I made an “influence map” a while ago, it’s a really neat and quick way to organize your biggest inspiration influences. I made this a couple years ago and it is still quite relevant, though some categories might need some resizing. :p Best wishes to all who are embarking on their journey within their creative self! It is a blast, and a life-long one if it’s really your passion. I freaking love art. <3

  11. hazard says:

    The moment you really stop giving a shoot what other people think, is the moment you open yourself and your mind to countless ways of thinking, doing, seeing, being, and creating. It is self-liberation.

    I made an “influence map” a couple years back, and it is still fairly accurate. Even if photos don’t explain your influences/inspirations, you can find one that symbolizes it and know for yourself later on when you need inspiration. It helps me try to combine multiple aspects of my favorite things/styles, which ultimately gets me really hyped up about new projects! Give it a try maybe? :p

    For all of you who are embarking on the journey to your inner creativity, it is a blast! It can be a lifetime long if it’s really your thing, and what a wonderful life. I freaking love art. <3

  12. Salena says:

    Great post Twinkie! I do find myself stuck at times, especially when I forget to listen to my inner creativity and start comparatively looking at what other crochet designers are finding success with! I found a lot of truth and encouragement in your words, thank you!

  13. Holly Stephenson says:

    This post was really helpful, thanks 😀
    As I am 15 and still in school, I don’t have much time anymore to think of new projects and make them, but now I can organise ideas more effectively :3

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