asking for trouble

Is cuteness bad for craft?

My evening - sanding all these :/

Ugh. I just saw this article on the Etsy blog and heaved a big sigh of despair. As someone who designs cute characters, I see this argument a lot, that what I do is somehow easier or less important than a ‘proper designer’.

For example, I used to enjoy reading and participating in the Spoonflower forum but became more and more disillusioned with the hatred for kawaii on there. Even the Spoonflower owners have said they don’t like kawaii, which is fine on a personal level, but it’s a big part of your audience and buyers. Cute designs were dismissed by forum regulars as a fad, an easy way to get votes in the weekly contests and inferior to the serious design work they were doing. It was infuriating. I eventually left after reading this thread, and in particular, this comment:

“cutesy wins far too often – I think because it doesn’t take any effort to appreciate it, unlike real art. But there HAVE been a lot of beautiful-not-cute winners and top-tenners at SF, so I don’t lose hope…” (my emphasis)

I was quite shocked by that, especially when others agreed. Sure, there is a lot of half-assed cute designs out there that are just something with a smiley face stuck on it, but there’s no more or less skill in making a repeat pattern out of a cute design than a traditional design. Do they think the work of “cutesy” multiple-contest winner Bora‘s work isn’t artistic or well-executed? What about the work of illustrators like Maqaroon or the labour-intensive crochet work of Twinkie Chan? Do they think people just go, ‘oh that’s cute’, and move on, without appreciating the detail, thought process and execution of their ideas?

Plus most cute/kawaii designers are inspired by Japan, a country that has been applying cuteness to everything, with widespread appeal to all ages and genders, for a long time. Hello Kitty has been around since the 1970s so, while kawaii may be fashionable at the moment, it’s hardly a fad.

How artists choose to express themselves is a personal choice  – many kawaii designers (including myself) have Fine Art or Illustration degrees and choose to draw the way they do, although they could quite easily draw in a traditional style if they chose to. I know Gemma Correll gets a lot of flack for drawing like a child, when that’s her choice and she’s quite skilled at drawing ‘realistically’ too.

It’s similar to the thinking that people should “grow up” and stop wearing bright colours or buying things made of plastic, and start buying serious things. Well, to hell with that. My house (which I own with a proper grown-up mortgage and everything) is full of adorable, brightly coloured things and they make me just as happy as my Le Creuset kitchenware :)

Where I work – kawaii explosion!

I realise my audience is not one that needs to be convinced of this, but if you ever hear this argument please stand up for cuteness, and for artists being able to make whatever art they like, without being belittled because it has mass appeal, uses bright colours or looks easy. When I vote in the Spoonflower contests, I pick my winners by skill level, personal appeal and how well they worked with the brief. I don’t just click all the cute designs in a crazed sugar high.

And if this sounds like a rant, wait until you hear why I was even on the Etsy blog. More on that later….


Hello! I’m Marceline Smith, the designer and owner of Asking For Trouble. I create illustrated stationery, accessories and gifts using my cute characters inspired by Japanese kawaii. This is my business and personal blog where I write about my creative doings, inspirations, travels, Japan trips and daily life. Read more »

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