This is a subject that's cropped up a lot recently so I thought that by detailing my accounts it may help some people who are starting their own papercut business not make the same mistakes that I did.
Like many crafty folk I'd already dabbled in glass painting, card making and other craft hobbies and I'd decided I'd try papercutting after seeing it on Etsy back in 2010. I made one for myself and uploaded it on Facebook, then a few more and very soon I had old schoolfriends asking me if they could buy them so I opened a page. Extra money for Christmas, awesome! I was the first crafty papercutter on Facebook. Oh, you should have heard me roar when Amy from Paper Dreams rocked up selling them too, haha! (Best of friends now, thankfully). Imagine it though, being the only one and there's hundreds now! Being the only one meant I was hugely naiive though, and I didn't have anyone to discuss anything with. Thankfully it's not the case now.
This is where I bare my soul - don't judge me too harshly!
In the very beginning (first couple of weeks) I used Google images to add accents to my papercuts. I thought that the skill was in actually cutting the paper neatly rather than the design aspect, like "look at what I made! See how it's all attached and cut from paper?!' rather than 'this design is a reflection of what I was feeling that day and it's soft lines...oh, and it's also cut from paper'.
After a while I found Shutterstock, a bank of designs and images that you pay for. I had also found some papercutting buddies by then, too, so we all grouped together and bought a subscription. Suddenly we had all the images in the world! Brilliant. And we'd paid to use them so it was all good. We assured eachother that there were plenty to go around and if xxx was making that design then xxx wouldn't. Excellent. No problem there then. Or was there? See, after a while we realised that the images had a little bit of small print that said 'not for commercial use'. Did this apply to us? Oh dear, yes it did. Pants. Scrap that idea, then.
The key then was to obtain swirls and accents and to make them unrecognisable from the original, so a bit of a design helping hand. So you take a bit of swirl from one vector, then a leaf from another and maybe alter the shape a little by tweaking the nodes. That, and we found websites that offered commercial images for designers. Yes, you have to pay, but if you can't draw then it's the best way forward. I'm not sure the swirls I used were unrecognisable enough though, and by this time I was a bit spooked and unsure of what was and wasn't allowed. I couldn't draw myself. Hadn't done it for 15 years so I couldn't possibly make drawings good enough for papercut designs. (haha!)
At this point I decided to make papercuts using purely typography. Fonts are pretty in their own right and don't need accents! Hooray! Hang on a sec...why are some free and some you have to pay for? Here's that 'personal use only' term again. But I use loads of fonts!!! I have to pay for them ALL? Well, yes, yes you do. Your papercuts are getting quite expensive to make by this point, huh?
I went to buy a pencil.
A customer approached me and asked me to make a papercut based on their wedding invitation. I said yes, of course, but I'll have to alter it to make it my own. So, I redrew the invite, cut it out and it was lovely. I was so proud of myself, I'd drawn my own papercut design!
No, no, I hadn't. I'd taken somebody else's original concept and slightly adapted it, to which I found out when the original designer contacted me with a 'cease and desist' formal letter. I had never felt so bad since the day I gave my neighbour a cat foot sandwich instead of beef paste and she ate it (I was 10). I felt sick to my stomach. I honestly thought I'd done the right thing! I couldn't apologise enough and spent all evening in a turmoil. The lady thankfully believed that my intentions were good, forgave me and helped me with the best bit of advice I ever had, and that I'll pass on to you:
If you are an artist/designer/crafter and you sell your items then it's your duty to read up and know about copyright.
I have never been more grateful in my life for this piece of information that seems obvious enough, but it's not. Don't guess because it'll come back and bite you in the ass. She pointed me in the direction this book: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/patents-copyrights-trademarks-for-dummies-henri-j-a-charmasson/1100297683?ean=9780470339459
and for a few months it sat beside my toilet. It was really interesting and as well as telling me that I'd so far pretty much done everything wrong it also gave me some excellent tips for my new business.
The lass also went through my gallery and pointed out that the hare from 'to the moon and back' was copyright, even though it was silhouetted. The recognisable song lyrics (that weren't also regular everyday sayings) were copyright. The photographs I'd silhouetted? Also copyright.
I dumped 80% of my online gallery in the bin.
After this I went and purchased all of the fonts that I used regularly. I contacted a few font designers directly and got bulk deals in some cases.
I contacted as many of the Shutterstock designers that I could remember (and find) to offer them the profits I'd made from using their designs in part or full as my own and my apologies for not knowing any better. Funnily enough none of them ever came back to me, probably because they weren't interested in the measly £20 I'd made in profit and I was being up front and honest that I'd done something wrong.
I scrapped every single old design that 'I'd' made and started again. With a pencil and a sketchbook and NOTHING ELSE.
Funnily enough that's when Paper Panda took off and became popular. It never really was about the skill factor of being able to cut paper (in fact I know some papercutters that suck at cutting but they sell really well because their designs are the shizzle) but it was about the composition, the drawing, the characters, the originality of design.
I hold my hands up in that I did wrong, I absolutely did wrong and I totally should have read up on the whole shebang before I ever started selling papercuts (or anything else!) but now I know and I wouldn't go back again for the world. Want me to make a Tinkerbelle for £1000? No thanks, contact Disney.
Now there are thousands of papercutters in the UK and the trend is spreading daily. Many of them are going on to sell their wares and bloody good for them, I think it's marvellous. There are lots of papercutting groups you can join that give advice and hopefully you'll be told immediately if you're doing something wrong - or you'll read this, and it'll change you for the better. It took me a good long while, trial and error, being shouted at and talking with my very small group of about 5 papercutters before I got it right. Hopefully you'll get it right from the get-go and will never have to feel the way that I did when I recieved the email from the lady that changed the way I worked forever.
(Thank you to the Hummingbird Card Company).