The Fine Line Between Imitation and Inspiration

Mar 6 2017

by Emily McCarthy


The Southern Coterie blog: "The Fine Line Between Imitation and Inspiration" (photo: Kelli Boyd Photography of Emily McCarthy Shoppe for The Southern C)
photo: Kelli Boyd Photography of Emily McCarthy Shoppe for The Southern C

As we live in a creative world full of inspiration around us, I think it’s important for us to really discover that fine line between imitation and inspiration. What is that line? Does it exist in your world?

What inspires you? Is it other artists or creatives? Or is it the physical or emotional inspirations that surround you?

I’m pretty certain it varies from one person to the next. All I can share is my personal commitment to originality and I challenge you to do the same.

In a creative industry full of inspiration and trend-guided designs, I most strongly believe in originality. When it comes to your Signature Style, interiors, design, art and fashion, find your niche and what really makes your heart sing. I challenge you to purposely do what isn’t the trend, what isn’t what everyone else is doing. You’ll find that you feel much more authentic this way. Be a trend setter – not a trend follower.  If you spend your career chasing the coattails of everyone else’s success, I can promise that you will not feel content with your success. It will never be enough. Do you know why? Because those successes really belong to someone else, not you. Why spend your efforts copying what others are doing when you can live more authentically.

Style Quote Originality

How do I challenge you to be original?

First step: Don’t hop on Pinterest or Google to look for ideas.

Instead, think about why you’re seeking a new product or business idea. Does it fill a void? Does it exist? Why doesn’t it exist? If it does, what will you be doing that is truly different than what exists? Why spin the same wheel? Instead, start something new that doesn’t exist. 

Second step: Go read the Purple Cow by Seth Godin. Life changing!

This is a super quick read but VERY impactful for anyone in business.

Third step: (and this has to be your last step!) Do your research.

Make sure there are not competitors, existing companies or ideas. Make sure your favorite artists do not make a similar design or product that you have subconsciously duplicated from memory. Respect those artists, do not copy and try to be like them. Find out how YOU can be your own artist and create something truly different. Rather than trying to be someone else, be the best version of yourself. We weren’t created to be the same, we were created to embrace our uniqueness. 

I would love tell you a little bit about our process in my business in case you can relate or find similarities in how this can help your business. I look for inspiration in products that do not exist. For example, rather than creating a monogram shop that was exactly like everything else on market, I took strides to design my own fonts and combined unique product offerings and services. This helps us stand out and become recognized as our own brand of our own, not the same generic monogrammed gifts you see everywhere you look. Think outside the box!

For patterns, I seek uniqueness in combining contrasting concepts and abstract interpretations of real objects. For the spot cheetah fabric, I took a classic pattern and gave it a modern twist. I knew that cheetah was a popular choice so why create another generic cheetah pattern? I chose to push the envelope and do something unexpected. That same spot cheetah fabric has become a signature part of the brand.

I do hope this truly motivates creatives to respect one another by creating their own path to success instead of walking in the shadows of another. You will be so creatively fulfilled – and isn’t that what we are all seeking in the end?

Now, go make beautiful things! And please share your success!



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4 responses on “The Fine Line Between Imitation and Inspiration

  1. whitney

    Great post with action steps! It’s much like we tell our children – be a leader, not a follower – and this is applicable across the board – work, play, professional, personal.

  2. Melissa Payne Baker

    I have seen so many copy cats in the art world it makes me ill. Sadly, I can’t teach my fun workshops anymore because of this. I always say paint from your heart and not your Instagram feed. Emily, this is beautifully said! Classy, just like you and your brand! Thank you for this post, hopefully it will inspire some people to rethink their actions.

  3. Lidy@FrenchGardenHouse Antiques

    A great post! I couldn’t agree more, creativty knows no bounds. In today’s world of unlimited inspiration, it’s so satisfying to be able to express our unique self, whether personally or as a business, and create something original.

    On a side note, I couldn’t be happier with the gorgeous custom branding Emily designed for FrenchGardenHouse Antiques a few years back. Beautiful. Original. And Professional.

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