…the Internet trolls start hating on you. It’s one of those things you always half expect to happen as a working artist (or just as a healthy, functioning human being who interacts with the outside world, I suppose), but it’s no less shocking or upsetting when it finally does happen.
My initiation to the sad, twisted world of unhappy Etsy trolls happened today. Mere minutes after receiving a new order and while still riding the high I get when I’m preparing a shipment for a new customer, I opened my email to find this:
Initially, I intended to show my sweet little troll’s user name to properly call her out as the shameful coward that she is, but a quick Bing search suggested that, although it’s likely this handle is used by one individual all over social media, it’s equally possible that there is more than one person going by that name. I don’t want to inadvertently disparage someone by that same name who does not run around the Internet verbally attacking people behind the guise of a nameless, faceless Etsy user profile. So, I’ll just refer to this individual as My Pet Troll or MPT from now on.
I replied immediately to MPT and invited her (I presume she’s female, based on her user name) to a very open and honest discussion about which pieces in my shop she feels are stolen. Needless to say, the response to my invitation has been deafening silence thus far. I’ll let you know if she does accept my invitation to hash things out.
Here’s the thing: an unfortunate reality of being a working artist and throwing your work out there for all the world to see is that people are going to knock off your designs. That’s just the nature of art as a business. If I had a dime for every one of my designs that I’ve seen pinned to someone’s “Projects to Try” board on Pinterest, I’d make way more money than I’ve made from sales of those same designs through my Etsy shop. The numbers aren’t even in the same ballpark, as a matter of fact. One of my most popular items on Pinterest, my Trumpet Vine Earrings (pictured below), has been pinned nearly 1000 times through multiple image sources to inspiration boards all over Pinterest. I’ve yet to sell the first pair of those earrings, which is a shame because they are truly lovely. Photos simply don’t do them justice, but I digress.
Am I under any illusion that people aren’t already knocking off this lovely earring design? Nope!
Do I care? Honestly… a little, but not as much as you might think. For one thing, I know perfectly well that I’ve drawn inspiration from other wireworkers while honing my own wire work skills over the past several years. I still draw inspiration from other artists, to some degree, though the field of artists who inspire me narrows as quickly as my own design skills and confidence improve. I don’t believe I’ve ever overtly stolen another artist’s designs, but I’d be lying if I said I never got ideas from other people’s work. I don’t live in a bubble. I see all the same things on Pinterest as everyone else who shares my interest in wire jewelry, and with a nearly photographic memory for things that catch my eye, it’s virtually impossible to erase anything I’ve ever seen from my mind.
One of the ways I strive to stay true to my own creativity is that I don’t keep any visual references within eyesight while I work. My laptop is not even in the same room while I am designing, and I have to get out of my chair and walk clear across the room to reach my bookshelves if I need to refer to a book or magazine article for technical reference. The only time I keep a visual reference in front of me is if I am consciously recreating a project from a purchased tutorial or book, and as of last year, I’ve stopped purchasing books or tutorials for wire wrapped jewelry, which is my primary discipline. I reserve browsing Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook for times when I am away from my workbench and out of work mode, and then I consciously stay off the Internet and away from photographic images of jewelry when I sit down to work.
I’ve also been signing up for a few classes in other jewelry making disciplines, such as bead embroidery and micro macramé, for two reasons: First I feel it’s important to give myself a mental and physical break from wire wrapping now and then. Secondly, I’m interested in further setting my work apart from other wire artists by integrating other techniques and disciplines that interest me.
If you’ve been paying attention to the progression of my work, you’ve probably noticed that I’m starting to do a lot of multi-media pieces, like this Starfish Necklace, which I recently completed in response to a design challenge proposed by micro macramé artist extraordinaire, Sherri Stokey of Knot Just Macramé on the wonderful blog to which Sherri contributes, Love My Art Jewelry:
My system for maintaining design integrity isn’t perfect. I don’t doubt that the work of certain artists I admire clearly influences my own work, and I openly address that fact in my product descriptions as well as in my Etsy profile. Short of properly crediting those artists when I do create something designed or inspired by them and continually policing the visuals available to me while I am in design mode, I don’t know what else I can do to ensure that my designs are purely and clearly my own.
Several hours after reaching out to her, I’m still waiting for MPT to tell me which of my designs she believes have been stolen from another artist, but I won’t be surprised if I never hear from her again. Not directly, anyway. If she stays true to the tried and true Internet troll formula, she may very well start anonymously bashing my work on every social media platform where I have a presence. And my response will remain the same. I’ll invite her to engage with me in a civil discussion about my work so we can get to the bottom of this “creative theft” nonsense.
Thankfully, I recently had a very different conversation with a happy repeat customer who sincerely admires my work. Had I not already been actively engaging in a discussion about the evolution of personal design style, my response to MPT might have been far less calm and rational, so I owe this wonderful customer a huge debt of gratitude for that as well as for her continued encouragement and support.
According to this lovely lady, who makes no effort at all to hide her true identity in her own Etsy profile by the way, my work has a certain recognizable style that she feels she could identify even if not clearly credited to me. That, of course, is the highest compliment any artist can ever hope to receive. That unique individual style is what every working artist strives to achieve because no one with even a modicum of integrity wants to be accused of creative theft.
Life is hard enough without hating on random strangers we encounter on the Internet, isn’t it? One of the things I told my lovely customer, who is also a jewelry maker, is that there’s more than enough room at the table for all of us because we all have something unique and special to offer the world. I hope to be the sort of artist who encourages up and coming artists to spread their wings and fly.
I’m on the fence as to whether or not I’ll start offering any of my designs for sale as tutorials or start formally teaching classes. Part of the challenge of that for me is that I’m left handed, so writing tutorials and taking photos that will make sense to everyone may be tricky. That said, I trust that those who admire my work will treat my designs as respectfully as they’d like me to treat their own designs. If we all do that, we’ll all thrive. Believe it or not, there are enough potential customers and admirers out there for all of us.
A message for MPT, on the offhand chance she’s reading this: There’s no reason to be so mean and spiteful. If you feel strongly that someone is stealing another artist’s work, it’s not unreasonable to confront her about it, but do it respectfully and don’t hide behind an anonymous user profile. Any artist who is worth her salt will welcome a respectful dialog about the origins of her designs, just as I have.
Life is short, people–much too short for petty nonsense from nameless, faceless trolls. Do what you love, do it with integrity, and never let the haters bring you down.