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Saturday, March 20, 2010

If you're inspired, are you really a copycat?

This week an article I saw on Decor8, a design blog - completely unrelated to weddings - made me take pause. Is inspiration really just wholesale copying? Is "Do It Yourself" the same as "Duplicate It Yourself"?

Now, I come into this debate - "Do it Yourself" versus "Duplicate it Yourself" from two perspectives. As a photographer who has had some of my images used or resold without permission. And as a budget-conscious bride. And maybe because I've absorbed/inhaled every design magazine and architecture or interior design book I could get my hands on since I was a kid, I see the purpose of these magazines and books as "to inspire" - specifically to give you ideas that you can combine and replicate (duplicate) in whole or in part in your apartment or home. Many of the magazines even offered detailed instructions for recreating a certain look. I became the queen of creating glamorous high-end looks from budget purchases. Even the layout of the magazines and books has given me ideas for yearbook layouts in high school and photo album/magazine style layouts for products I offered as a photographer.

So does this mindset make me someone who "Does it Myself" or "Duplicates it Myself"?

When I first thought about wedding decor - before I started following any wedding blogs or frequenting any wedding-themed communities - I'd envisioned candles in wine bottles and stacks of vintage cookbooks on each guest table. Other than a candle in a chianti bottle in Lady and The Tramp and other movies or television shows depicting Italian Cafes, I'd never seen beer or wine bottles used this way. Once I filled my Google Reader with wedding porn feeds, I realized this wasn't an original idea. Other than in home decor magazines like Elle Decor or Country Living I hadn't seen stacks of books on tables as a focal point. Now I realize that this is all the rage and Martha Stewart had a DIY post on using books for table numbers. I was (and still am) going to use them to vary candle heights and as entertainment for our guests to peruse.

My first DIY project - escort card holders made from corks - was from a photo I saw on Bonafide Bride. Now before you say this is a "duplicate it yourself" and not a "do it yourself" project, all of the corks - as with the beer and wine bottles - we're using have been collected from celebrations with family and friends over the years. We entertain. Our friends entertain. We choose wines to compliment the meals we serve. We have corks from those celebrations readily available. Because someone had this idea before us and because options to purchase pre-made holders exist does that mean we're stealing if we like the idea of including all the previous celebrations we've had with friends and families in our wedding celebration?

My second DIY project - shadow box signs - was"inspired" from a Book & Tree Wedding Paper Cut that The Dog N' Bird Artful Wedding Blog had highlighted and a post on The Bride's Guide about memory keeping. I write "inspired" in quotes as the end product isn't a derivative of either. If I hadn't told you that was my inspiration would you see a direct link?

A mock up for our RSVP cards that I did yesterday was "inspired" by a CD cover design on the front of this month's Disc Makers Catalog. The simplicity of the hearts in two colors lead to keys in two colors. I write "inspired" because I saw the catalog cover and immediately thought of the RSVP design and went to Photoshop and created the card. If I hadn't told you that was my inspiration would you see a direct link? I try very hard to note what inspired me - even if that inspiration is from a completely different treatment.

My background on my laptop is a path of white gladiolas left by a flower girl (a photograph I took at a wedding I worked). I've always loved the simplicity of this flower path. I saw a tablescape with what I thought were paper flowers on Bonafide Bride which reminded me of the white gladiolas. At the time it appeared that EmmersonMade was selling only the napkins on their tablescape (they since introduced Blue as well as love letter flowers, bouquets, etc.) so another DIY project was born - creating paper dahlias that would match the fresh dahlias we're going to use in our bouquets on our tables. When I visited Jo-Ann Fabrics a couple of weeks ago I found Real Touch Silk Dahlias and Peonies that would be beautiful strewn in a path down the center of our reception tables. New DIY project (insert rejoicing of my mom here) - chopping the stems off the silk dahlias and peonies and laying them on our tables instead of creating paper flowers. Here, even if I hadn't told you my inspiration, if you looked at the EmmersonMade ad and our final tablescape you would see a direct link.

So for me, my personal answer is that I'm creating not copying. Which is why two comments in the thread Diana Strinati Baur (#84) and Melanie's (#102) resonate so well with me:
  • "[T]hat is really the difference for me. To take the colorboards and other inspirational material (like what we find here on your website) and use the ideas in combination and make them our own to bring our own work to the next level is the trick."
  • "My opinion is that transparency is the solution to all of this. When everyone attributes, the observer can decide for herself whether the final result is too offensively close to the inspiration. Honesty is the best policy."
Do you worry that you're copying someone else? Are you struggling to come up with that one unique DIY project that has never been seen before?

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