B.Y.O.B {Q&A} Lyndsay Johnson

Tell us a bit about yourself : name, business, profession, years in business, etc. (describe your style and medium), website, blog.

My name is Lyndsay Johnson, and I have been a graphic designer and illustrator for over 10 years. I have worked primarily in print design (publishing, scrapbook paper & product design, personal branding & identity, to name a few). But I also love design and illustration for children and family. In recent years I’ve branched out to blog design. And currently do a bit of that, along with my online shop, Sprig & Sprocket, where I sell fresh and fun designs. I’ve reigned it in since having children (I have two very spirited little ones). I am a stay at home mom now, happy to work on creative efforts whenever I have the time.

My shop:

My blogs:

have you ever been copied (your work, art, ideas?)
I think it’s hard not to be copied when you are part of an online community (whether it be blogging, Etsy, etc.). I see other designers who have a very similar style to mine Iand vice versa). I think the closest anyone has come to copying me would be with blog design. I design Stephanie Nielson’s blog (www.nieniedialogues.com). And I saw very similar blog styles cropping up everywhere when I first started working on her new blog style. Blog designers were quickly making that their new signature style.

How did it make you feel?
I tried not to take it too seriously. Since I knew it was a style that was starting to catch on anyway, it was just a matter of time. And I didn’t solely inspire the trend, of course. I just recognized something that people were gravitating towards, Stephanie especially, and went from there. So I just tried to take it as a compliment, and realized that in most cases, my style and craftsmanship were more experienced and cleaner than some of the other attempts.

What did you do about it? I make sure that I always include a copyright statement whenever I post my designs, or in my shop (for example: “ All designs are © Lyndsay Johnson. Any copying is unlawful.”).

(if you haven't been copied directly - have you seen it happen - how did you feel?) did you confront the situation? I have seen many friends copied in their work. Etsy jewelry artists, especially. And it’s awful! It leaves them feeling like the quality of their work is diminished, their creativity lessened. I have one friend in particular. Her designs are often poorly copied, and they sell for less, so people buy them more readily. And it has left such a sour taste in her mouth, that she often talks about not wanting to design anymore. This is a real problem, because over time copying can lead to a decline in quality. When artists who lack original ideas start pushing out the trendsetters, then we are left with poor copycats.

do you feel "copying" is black and white... or is there gray area?
(like copying ONE of something just for yourself vs. a manufacturer copying an item and mass marketing?)

I do think there is a gray area. I have been inspired to create items that I couldn’t afford to buy myself, or were not available at the time. So I recreated the design for personal use only. But I made sure to change the initial design enough, so that I left my own fingerprint. Here is one example:

It’s important to note that I share a style that is part of a popular niche right now. And we often share similar (sometimes identical) text/phrases on our posters. But I have not copied that style to define myself as a designer. It’s been a natural development of my personal design style. I try to keep that in mind when I am creating, so that I produce something slightly different from what others are offering. Also, when I am referencing other illustrations while creating my own, I absolutely change it enough (the general rule is 20%, but overcompensate when unsure). And when I do use stock illustrations in my designs, I purchase them (from istockphoto.com, for instance). Here is an example:

what is your creative outlet? Design and Digital Illustration for my online shop. It is the most enjoyable form of design for me, creating something that is not for a client. I love illustration, as well, when I have time. And I also write, but that’s more of a personal pursuit at the moment.

how/from who/ where do you seek inspiration? I love modernism, and Scandinavian design, paper & textiles, architechture, children’s books. On a more internal level: song lyrics, unexpected color palettes in nature, spiritual/inspirational quotes. And of course I am inspired by other designers. We will always be inspired by other works of art.

why do you thing "copying" is bad? I think it can be dangerous. If you see and are inspired by someone’s work, that’s one thing. But taking credit for someone else’s original idea is obviously wrong. It’s important to delineate between copying and inspiration. Listen to your gut. If you feel bad about being too closely inspired, it might be copying.

what do you think could be done to eliminate copying? (realistically or otherwise!) I don’t think it can ever be totally eliminated. But we can take a personal stand against it. It’s a moral choice, really. And we can promote original work and discourage copying within our own creative communities. And certainly throughout the blogosphere. Also, if there are other artists who share a very similar style (which is common, and certainly in my specific line of work), befriend them. Create a community. Help promote and encourage each other, so that no one is harboring feelings of resentment—a sure creativity killer.

please define, in your words the concept of - "inspired by vs. copied from" Well, there is the famous quote by Pablo Picasso, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” One of my graduate school professors told us this. And I remember it often. Because when we all continue to copy each other’s work, we are left with mediocre, unoriginal work. But when someone sees an idea, then takes it to a whole new level, something new is born. “Steal” isn’t necessarily a bad term here (unlike “stealing” someone’s design and literally saying it is your own). Stealing here refers to seeing something and recognizing that you could take it somewhere it hasn’t gone yet. It’s owning it. That’s healthy and essential artistic progression.

define what "original" means to you. It’s a feeling for me. It can be a subtle difference, often intangible. Two products can be similar. But when true talent is coming through behind design of any kind, you just know it. It’s exciting. It’s what makes you want to own/wear/view/hear/experience that piece of work. It’s also the same thing that causes people to want to copy. Originality is a highly coveted thing!

do you have a favorite inspirational/motivational/ creative quote or mantra? I have this printed out above my desk:
“Creativity comes from trust. Trust your instincts. And never hope more than you work.” ~Rita Mae Brown


  1. thank YOU Lyndsay! some wonderful insight!

  2. Lyndsay - i so agree with this point you made - "This is a real problem, because over time copying can lead to a decline in quality. When artists who lack original ideas start pushing out the trendsetters, then we are left with poor copycats." - thank you!

  3. I LOVE this!! I have a 'nothingspectacular' blog and even I have had trouble with this. Especially on my ancestor blog. I've had to put that one on private because I don't want somebody using MY ancestor photos for a collage on their wall. But at least they asked me first. Sadly, if it's on the internet, people are going to steal.