Jan 29, 2012

A Colorful Journey Part 6

By Linda Lover

I remember the first time I came back from a painting show after losing my husband. That he was not at the airport to meet me with his usual big hug; I felt such an ache in my heart. It was a reminder of how much my life had changed. Each adjustment seemed huge and there were so many to work through. I’d always enjoyed being at the shows, talking to painters and seeing all that was new but, even still, I was always anxious to get back home.

At this point in my life, I felt no hurry. It had been a struggle to regain the enthusiasm for painting that I’d once had. I realized it was important for me to pull myself up by my bootstraps and get my mind on what I was there to do. It wasn’t easy but it was good in that it was something to push me in the positive direction that I so desperately needed. Gradually, I could feel myself regaining some momentum in painting but it was a slow process and one of noticeable change.

Though I continued to submit projects to magazines, they were beginning to fall out taking opportunities along with them. So timing couldn’t have been more perfect when I was given the opportunity to do a painting book. Even more of a blessing was that one book turned into a series. Since my self-published specialty brush book had been successful, I thought a follow up would be a good idea. However, the publisher felt that if the book was to have any chance of being picked up by a chain that the brushes needed to be traditional even though I could choose the brand I listed. He felt a follow up with specialty brushes would be better as a second book if the first book proved to be successful.
This turned out to be the best advice I could have received as the first in the series was picked up by a chain. I used traditional brushes but included the non-traditional methods that I’d developed for the specialty brushes, pressing the image to simplify applications. I also chose surfaces that most chains would carry.
Now I had the opportunity to work on a second book using the specialty brushes. This book did not do well despite the fact it was an improved version over the original. So it was a time of evaluation. I was very thankful that the publisher was willing to let me continue with a third in the series despite the results of the second book.

This time I chose a landscape theme using mostly traditional brushes. What a relief to know that it had sold so well that it went into a second printing. All of this helped me to understand the market a little better, something that is always a concern but not necessarily easy to figure out. Interest creates demand for one thing.

The first book came out when specialty brushes were new to the industry so interest was at its peak. As time passed, I noticed it was a challenge to interest stroke work painters in a unique brush; they were happy with their standard brushes and traditional techniques. Painters who purchased specialty brushes at one show returned with comments that they still hadn’t used them.
Though interest remained in seeing what they could do, the result was they weren’t buying more. Specialty brushes were usually offered at shows or through a few small shops, not chains, making them less available as well. About this time, I decided to continue to go with what I loved to paint most, landscapes. So I began to demonstrate techniques with deer foot and stencil brushes. Having always loved impressionistic applications, these were ideal. Methods were fun. A large sky could be finished in a short time with a stencil brush. Stippled trees or other foliage could cover a mistake or quickly create balance in a painting.

The demos were generating interest and at one show we ran out of stencil brushes. But again, loose painting isn’t for everyone, and so for those who liked controlled stroke work, it was a hard sell. It came to where I felt like just crossing my fingers and hoping for the best. It’s actually an impossible expectation to think that everyone will be interested in a new product or application.
The middle ground is the best to hope for but yet it’s important to remain up to the challenge to continue to pursue what seems an improbability.
When the fourth paint book in the series was published, chains picked it up, so all books did well except for the specialty brush one; most likely due to the fact they didn’t carry the product.
Because no matter what brand of traditional brushes are listed, the styles are readily available. There are key factors in doing a book and one is including products of the companies and stores involved in marketing the books.

It’s important to check and find out if surfaces will be available at the time of the book’s introduction. Colors and trends are always a consideration. An editor once told me that a project with colors that “pop” will get attention. A design can be great but if it’s lifeless, it will be passed over.
Trends are a factor and a designer doesn’t want to be behind, nor too far ahead. I learned about too far ahead the hard way. It was with a self-published book that used bright colors, namely red and black, and the theme was predominately chickens. At the time red and black were not “in” nor were chickens, so the book was a dud.

The previous book with lots of blues and greens and winter whimsical designs was a success and I probably should have continued with that, hindsight being what it is. However, I’d always liked chicken designs. About two years later, they were showing up in magazines and books, as were bright colors. I thought maybe my book might have a revival, but by then it was history. Designers who attend shows and have a booth or teach or have a website can generally carry their books much longer. I know of a designer who still sells books from twenty years ago.

Unfortunately, I found myself in a situation that I hoped had been resolved previously. It was difficult for me to understand how someone involved in the decorative painting industry in various capacities for thirty years could overlook a basic principal of copyright.

Before using the original work of another designer, particularly for commercial purposes, it’s necessary to seek permission. However, this can play out in two ways; a request has the potential to be refused. Or an acceptance could involve royalties or another shared financial arrangement for use. So by simply ignoring the proper thing to do, which was to ask, it avoids either probability. Instead, it creates an entirely new problem.

I found myself in a very similar situation once again with the same designer. It began when a friend attending one of the shows came across a notebook of designs and thought they were mine. It was revealed that these were an introduction for a future plan. This happened at a time when I was grieving the loss of my husband, and I didn’t have the energy to deal with it. After a while, I eventually contacted the marketing rep that didn’t feel that there was a problem!
Since no one had bothered to inform me that my techniques and designs were being used in such a way, I did feel there was a problem. I also wondered why this incident as well as the previous one coincidently occurred at times I was unable to attend shows. Though I hadn’t seen the notebook, I felt my friend had a keen eye and trusted her observation.
When I returned to attending shows, I was curious to see these designs, but they were not available and no one seemed to know anything about them. Naturally I found that odd. Not long after, I discovered that the material was being marketed in a commercial format benefiting this designer. To further complicate the issue, she had mixed her original material with my copyrighted material.

I was frustrated with the lack of respect for my work, having what was original to me being used in such a manner without my knowledge or permission. The loyalty I felt toward the company was a consideration and played a large part in a decision I had to make, even though I was disappointed that no one in the company had kept me informed. I guess this was the point where I began to sense a crack in what had been so important to me, and that was working as a team.
It’s difficult to understand the mindset of any designer who’d knowingly take the work of another, but it goes on.

I’ve heard of incidences from several others through the years, and two just recently. When SDP changed their copyright statement, it happened to coincide with a situation that might have otherwise involved their having to deal with an infringement. Companies and groups want to remain like Switzerland and I totally understand their view for neutrality.

They are in business to market product and issues between designers are simply that…between designers. What I don’t understand is supporting any designer whose ethics knowingly aren’t in tact. When a designer does address a copyright issue, they might as well know that they are on their own in doing so. This is why too often they move on rather than upset the apple cart.

For most designers, infringing is utterly impossible to contemplate, so it’s difficult to grasp how any designer might have no qualms about doing it. Once I decided to get into freelance design, I chose not to take classes in the hope that I could keep my style and discoveries original to me. As a result it does make learning to paint a much slower process but I’ve been pleased with my decision in the long run.

It’s helped to set me apart from other designers. However, it’s still somewhat of an asset to take notice of what others are doing and what seems to be generating interest in the decorative painting industry. But since freelance design is a commercial enterprise where selling designs and ideas is the end result, it’s a given that any work being sold by the artist should be original to them. The work shouldn’t be identical nor should it be so similar as to be mistaken for the work of the original creator.

A designer once shared with me that there are countless snowmen designs but each is original to the artist as long as they set it apart from something another artist has already done. I remember when apples were popular, and I was just starting out. At first I thought I couldn’t paint a red apple because it had been done. But it was what I did with that red apple to make it a unique design, that’s what it was all about. It’s the same with most subject matter…a daisy is a daisy and a bluebird is a bluebird, but it’s what the artist does with it that makes it an original to them. This is why, to be a freelance designer, creativity is the biggest part, and one can be inspired or influenced without copying. Originality is the biggest asset to designing and a key factor in its success.
To be continued…….

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