Pretty Pictures Or….

by seanlow on April 23, 2019

I spend an awful lot of time looking at the digital media of creative businesses of all kinds.  First, the positive.  As a general rule, the quality of images that I see has dramatically improved over the last ten years, exponentially better over the last five.  The value of Pinterest’s IPO speaks to the power the image represents today.  Hard to imagine any creative business could be relevant without a terrific Instagram feed.  The bar has definitely been raised — your work must be displayed beautifully in high quality images or you will be run over.  Most creative professionals have embraced the challenge and we are left with images of tremendous work spilling out everywhere.

The question then is what is next?  If all pictures become pretty, pretty will stop being enough to be dispositive.  Pretty will be necessary as an appetizer but the meal has to be something else.  What that something else is is, of course, story.  Not the story of any particular project, which is always interesting, sort of — seeing project after project is fun as you look into how you, the designer, contemplated the challenge and met it.  Rather, it is your story as an artist and what drives you to get to the place where you find a solution to what is in front of you, far more than the solution itself.

The question then is how to tell that story, your story, visually in a way that connotes your talent, wisdom and experience, while at the same time demonstrating what drives/compels you to create in the first place.  You can scream to the rooftops how much you love to do what you do, but unless you are captivating in your passion, you will not reach those who you need to care about what you do.

No doubt, you can write a book, produce a video, blog, vlog or web series, though these are simply tools.  The idea is what can you share that provides a window into what you are all about. When you care deeply about the “thing”, whatever it might be, it becomes resonant.

Need an example:  check out this video from Jacobsen Salt. Salt??? Yes, salt from Oregon.  When you care and believe as Ben does in the power of salt, then you can charge what he does and build the size of business he has (i.e., it is not small, think millions not thousands).  A little price comparison for you: a 3lb bag of Kosher Salt costs $4.99, a 5lb bag of Jacobsen costs $250.  The reason the value is there is the story and the way Ben tells it.  Of course, there is all of the digital support to make the business go, but it is driven by the compulsion to make great salt.  No better commentary on the power of niche and how to make the point of the earth’s bounty, over and over again.  Great stuff.

In my mind, the ability to define what drives you to your niche and how you are obsessed with its translation has to be front and center today.  Some have tried to do this with a “things they love” or a well-crafted bio, and those are great, just not enough in today’s visual digital world. I do wish that I had the specific answer as to how to craft your story in the most effective, powerful way, sadly I do not.  What I do know though is that it is on-going and never a single moment.  Just as so many of you are constantly posting on Instagram, YouTube, etc., so too the storytelling of what lies underneath.  Perhaps your website has a grand statement and social media moments in service of the statement. That part is up to you.  Vulnerability (i.e., the willingness for the disbelievers to hate your work) is the key though.  Pretty shuns no-one, least of all the disbelievers.  Time to leave pretty as a stand-alone and find your way to specificity, authenticity and integrity.  Be the essence of who you say you are.

Pass the salt.


Stealing The Light

by seanlow on April 17, 2019

I wrote a column for The Business of Home this week on plagiarism and how to deal with it.  To summarize, I said that there is mostly no point in screaming that it is yours but rather a quiet confidence in knowing what you have (and have not) done as an artist.  The response I have gotten from the column validates the idea that there are more than a few who would take short cuts to find their way to success that they themselves have not built. Others will simply want to say they are the original so as to demonstrate their own prowess.  Either way it is about being derivative or accusing someone of being derivative for your own aggrandizement.

David Tutera’s thought in the book, Ladies Who Punch: The Explosive Inside Story Of The View, that Melania and, specifically, Preston Bailey copied Star Jones’ 2004 wedding to Al Reynoldsfor her wedding to Donald Trump in 2005 is an example of accusing someone of being derivative for your own aggrandizement. I was President of Preston’s company in 2005 and had an upfront view to the whole undertaking of Donald and Melania’s wedding.

Preston is one of the most creative event designers to have ever lived – his six books on the subjectspeak to this truth.  Preston imagines a world very very few of us could even contemplate, let alone bring to life.  In the time I worked for Preston (2003-2009) as I am sure it is now, most of his inspiration came and comes from nature, fine art, theater, food and travel.  He largely never looked at other designer’s work as reference to his design process, especially when it came to creating his vision for any event, Melania and Donald’s wedding very much included.  What David accuses Preston of doing is factually inaccurate.  Wildly so.  Makes for great copy though, which is, of course, the point.  Such are the times.

There truly is nothing original in this world.  However, originality defined as being pristine and heretofore unheard of is a fools errand as value based solely in the uniqueness of a thought is one in a billion, if that.  No, value is in the ability to define the thought with a unique, ethereal and deeply personal take on it, to reshape an idea as you would have it be seen and THAT is what becomes original.  Now, stealing another’s idea blindly and then calling it your own is not what I am talking about, that is plagiarism and theft and no creative business owner should ever go there.  What I am talking about is standing on the shoulders of giants so that you become ever able to see and relate to us a new vision.  The world is forever changed when we share the vision since it presumes there will be another to follow as we reach ever higher.  Moore’s Law.

The insidiousness of plagiarism or similarly accusing someone like Preston of being derivative is to call into question the absolute value of the creative universe as if it is, in itself, limited.  We all lose when that happens.  Instead, we have to be better at acknowledging what folly drives those who would be derivative (i.e., plagiarize) or accuse someone of being derivative when they are not (i.e., David).  The answer is in the fragility of the human condition and our incessant need to be someplace we are not.  Every step of the path has to be walked.  You may not skip ahead because you pretend to be someone who walked before you, nor is your path easier or superior because you seek to diminish another’s in service to your ego.

The point of creative business is transformation.  Give yourself permission to go as you would go and refuse to be a bastardization of what has come before.  You will only diminish yourself and the energy coming before.  Yes, sometimes first wins, but Father Time is undefeated.  Better will carry the day.  Always.  Shame on plagiarists and David, not so much for stealing what is not theirs, but for besmirching what has come before.  Cynicism is the death of creativity and we all need to do better at being intolerant to those that would feed it.  As Seth Godin said today, we make things better by making better thingsand we are permitted to make better things when the truly original idea (i.e., the idea generated honestly and intentionally by an artist) is rewarded because of the idea’s relationship to those you, the artist, seek to move.  The rest is just noise.


What About Those That Care?

April 10, 2019

All things being equal, the tie should go to the one that cares the most.  About themselves. There is no question that amazing customer service, with a focus on being responsive to your client, proactive with your process and diligent in maintaining the flow and management of the relationship will do wonders for any project […]

Read the full article →

Signaling, Activism and Creative Business

April 4, 2019

It is too easy to dismiss the work of creative business as only a reflection of the wishes of the patrons who hire them.  If a designer is hired to transform a residence, what bearing does that have on society? Does the designer have not only an impact on the perspective of her clients, but […]

Read the full article →

Scale and Leverage

March 29, 2019

There is a ton of discussion these days about how to scale your creative business.  Dane Sanders does a great job of distinguishing solopreneurs from entrepreneurs.  The first is always dependent on the core artist and the second is where the organization serves the art.  Typically, a solopreneur is not scalable where an entrepreneurial enterprise […]

Read the full article →

The Subtleties of Power

March 21, 2019

Many of my clients have been and will continue to be women, people of color and gay men.  Overarching all, including straight men (and women), is the stereotype of the flighty artist.  No matter the size and scale of any project, the prevailing bias is is that the creative business is not “serious” in the […]

Read the full article →


March 14, 2019

Maybe it is a sign of the times.  We are all inundated with people who want to communicate with us. Email, text, private message, phone and, yes, even snail mail. Even as I write this post I am simultaneously texting and emailing.  With all of the bombardment, I suppose it is a natural outgrowth that […]

Read the full article →

It Is Hard Because It Matters

March 8, 2019

We all want to take short cuts.  Sometimes those shortcuts are actually really helpful and make our lives better.  Most often though, shortcuts excuse the hard work and let us be the “regular kind” as Seth Godin is fond of talking about.  Except. If you are truly in the business of being creative, by definition, […]

Read the full article →


March 1, 2019

You have been in business for forever or you adhere to the teachings of those in your industry who have.  You have worked on many many great projects over the years. Lately though, well pretty much for the last five years, life has become increasingly more difficult. It used to be that clients gave you […]

Read the full article →

A Duck Is A Duck No Matter What You Call It

February 21, 2019

For so many creative businesses, there is a grand debate about how to charge— a flat fee, commissions (known by the client), retail mark-ups, even kickbacks (i.e., commissions NOT known by the client); maybe even some combination of all three.  Truly, who cares? If you have no idea what the basis and import of what […]

Read the full article →