Sunday, February 17, 2008

Scrapbooking 101, for those of you who might be interested

As you probably know by now, my hobby of choice is scrapbooking. Actually, if I were being truthful, my hobby of choice would be cigarette smoking. But since it’s smelly and expensive and I don’t want to wind up in an iron lung, or lugging an oxygen tank around with me (you guys KNOW how I feel about having tubes in my nose or anything obstructing my airway) then I guess I’ll just stick with scrapbooking to fill my free time. Probably just as expensive as smoking, but it won’t turn my teeth yellow or lead to emphysema.

As far back as junior high, I scotch-taped newspaper clippings and pictures and concert ticket stubs (and all other kinds of various and sundry crap) into construction-paper albums. As a young adult, I was faithful about putting my newly developed pictures immediately into flip-sleeve photo albums. I used peel-and-stick albums for things like napkins and newspaper clippings that were unusually-sized. Eventually, I even bought those photo albums with the little strip of paper that ran horizontally between the pictures so I could write a brief description of what the pictures entailed. But the act of actually “scrapbooking” my photos, combining the pictures and the memorabilia and the stories into one album, wasn’t introduced to me until I moved to Ohio and joined my mother’s club.

A large number of the moms in my mother’s group did it --- I guess the act of wanting to document their babies’ births and first years and childhoods and all the special moments in between got a lot of them into scrapbooking. I thought it looked like a neat hobby, but to be honest, I wasn’t willing to put the sort of time and commitment into it, like some of my new friends did.

So for a while, I just watched, and observed, and made comments out loud about how I wasn’t willing to do that much work. But secretly wished I had such neat albums from when Brayden and Kellen were first born. And then I had to admit that their albums, not just the baby albums, but all their albums, were pretty awesome, so I started putting a few stickers on my own pictures. You know, just sort of dipping my toe in the water.

Then, I had to acknowledge that preserving the memories and the stories behind the photos was the most important part, and I just didn’t have room to do that on the tiny strip of paper in the traditional photo albums I was using. And so one thing led to another, and to another, and my best girlfriend Kim took me to my first-ever scrapbook store (gasp!) and before I knew quite what had happened, I had ripped all my old albums apart, taken the photos out, and starting putting together new albums, that were much cooler and more creative and way more special-er, and then all of a sudden one day I looked up and viola! I was a bona-fide, hooked, dyed-in-the-wool, true-blue scrapbooker.

It’s been nine years and I haven’t stopped yet, although my style has, er, “evolved”, thank goodness. My early layouts had no sense of design or technique or color scheme or, or, or ANYTHING, and it looked like the sticker aisle from Michael’s had thrown up on the pages. As I started paying closer attention to idea books, and other (better!) scrapbookers, I began to embrace the theory that “less is more”, at least for me, and toned down my style quite a bit.

But here’s the thing to remember, if you’re just getting started, or thinking about getting started: There is no right or wrong way to scrapbook. It’s about arranging your pictures and memorabilia in a way that is pleasing to YOUR eye, and sharing the stories behind the photos. That’s it. Accomplish those two things and you can consider yourself a successful scrapbooker.

Here’s one rule you must follow: Make sure you are using archival-quality, photo-safe products. The old construction paper albums, like those I used in junior high, are loaded with lignin which will eventually turn yellow (think newspapers). Make sure the plastic sleeves in your albums are PVC (poly-vinyl chloride)-free because PVC contains softening agents (or something chemically ... ermmmm... BAD) that will discolor your photographs over time. All products should be acid free, so as not to damage your photos and memorabilia. Basically, make sure before you buy any albums or papers or embellishments that they say “photo safe” on them. No sense in going to all this work, and spending this kind of time and money on a hobby if you don’t do it properly.

But other than that, pretty much anything goes!

If you’re just getting started, buy a few basic, must-have products ….. and then S.T.O.P.!

There are about a squillion products on the market, maybe even a squillion and one, as far as decorations go, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed if you think you need one of everything right now. Otherwise, you’ll buy all this crap that you never use and it will rot in a drawer because you either forget you even have it, or by the time you get around to using it, your tastes have changed and you’re left wondering why on earth you bought that awesome metallic glittery Mardi Gras page topper when you’ve never even been to Bourbon Street, for goodness sake, just what did you think you were doing?? (ahem, not that I would know about that). So just buy a few things to get started --- you can always go back for more!

You’ll need some basic tools -- a paper trimmer, a good pair of scissors, some adhesive. You don’t need every cool new tool on the market and half of the ones you buy you won’t use near as much as you think you will. So start slow, and make your way. (See: same theory as above for decorative items.)

Think about what it is you want to accomplish --- a baby album? School album? Vacation album? Anniversary album? Christmas album? Family album? And then select only the photos you want to use for that project. I’ve heard time and again that people don’t know where to start, so they don’t start at all. So, to avoid that, make a decision about selecting a project, pick your photos, and work on just that project until you finish it. At the beginning, I think that gives people the best sense of accomplishment and makes it easier to see your progress. Then, as you get more comfortable and decide this really is something you enjoy doing, you can branch out into other scrapbooks.

Decide on an album size for your particular project --- standard sizes are 4x6, 6x6, 5x7, 8x10, 8x11.5, and 12x12. Smaller albums work better for “theme” albums, and I prefer the larger 12x12 for our chronological family stuff. The kinds of layouts you’re going to create, and the kinds of papers and embellishments you will use, depends on this decision. It’s frustrating to buy a bunch of stuff that you love, only to realize none of it really works for the size album you are using.

So, to summarize, buy some basic tools, decide on a project, pick your photos, then your album size, then your papers and embellishments, and you’re ready to get started.

It’s great if you can find a friend who already scrapbooks, so they can give you some guidance and help you begin. You might want to consider finding a local scrapbook store, or Michaels or Hobby Lobby and taking a class. There are some great home-based scrapbook companies (Creative Memories comes to mind) that work like Tupperware, where you can find a consultant and get help from them. Buy a few idea magazines --- I prefer Simple Scrapbooks, or anything by Cathy Zleiske. There are companies that sell layout kits, with matching papers and embellishments, so some of the decisions are made for you. Try to find and attend a “crop”, which is a group of scrapbookers getting together to work on their albums for several hours at once. It’s a great way to see what everyone does, look at different styles, and get a feel for what appeals to you. Plus, there’s usually food there, so you can’t go wrong. (Hey, works for me!) Really, there are lots of options out there to help you if you’re just starting.

Basically, make sure you don’t get too overwhelmed at the beginning (ie, “I have seventy-five boxes of photos in my closet and I can’t jump in because I don’t know where to start!”) That’s the number one reason I’ve heard that people don’t attempt scrapbooking --- they just don’t know how without feeling snowed under. Remember, there’s no right or wrong way, so just do it. And if you do it and decide later that you did it wrong, no biggie --- you can re-do it (see: Everything Kristie did before 2004, when she *finally* figured out what she liked) I’ve re-done my first few albums because they were so awful ….. and I’m thinking about re-doing them AGAIN. Styles change, tastes change, there’s no harm in that, so don’t worry that you’re making irreversible decisions. (Although, that could spark an entire ‘nother post about making sure you always, always, always ALWAYSALWAYSALWAYS save your film negatives, and back up your digital prints on cd ….. )

Just remember this – pictures IN an album, for you to share with your family and friends, even if it’s not done as well as the professionals, is still a heck of a lot better than “shoved in a closet, still in the photo sleeves from Wal-Mart.” So grab those photos and just have fun with it!


Anonymous said...

***Sigh*** My son's baby photos are in a plastic Kroger bag and my daughters adoption photos are in a Publix bag...Everytime I see a scrapbookers album I am so jealous! Maybe next year...
Debbie E.
Peachtree City, GA

Renee said...

Another must have is Becky Higgins' Sketches book!

Anonymous said...

I was laughing out loud when you talked about buying stuff that you then later wondered why you ever thought you'd use that or why you ever even liked that. I've done that so many times. I don't have any scrapbook stores close to my house so I used to always stock up on stuff when I was at a store. But, I've found that a lot of that stuff I never use or end up not liking. They are coming up with new stuff all the time and what seems cool now will seem hum drum after a few years. So, now I try to limit the stuff I buy to the stuff i know I'll use in the near future. Not that I'm always successful. It's addicting. Scrapbooking supplies just make me happy.

Lisa in CT

Estrelleta said...

Thanks for the advice, now if I can just dive into my "postcards from around the world, every country I've been to" collection, and get that finished already, that would be enough for me.

Anonymous said...

But, what do you do with the rest of the photos that you don't use in your books? Put them in the traditional photo albums? I usually take way to many pictures and it's so hard to choose which to include in a scrapbook and those to leave out. This is where I get "stuck".

Kristie said...

Dear Anonymous, regarding which pictures to scrap, and which pictures not .... this is where I differ slightly from the "scrapbooking community at large". Your idea, about scrapping only some of the photos, and putting the rest into simple, traditional albums, is what the "experts" at Simple Scrapbooks recommend. Their philosophy is that you'll never be able to scrap all the photos you take, so let some of the pressure go of thinking you have to scrapbook every single picture.

Me? I love pressure. I THRIVE on pressure! --- No, ok, I'm kidding. But I do take the opposite approach. I don't want to have two separate storage systems going, one of scrapbooks and one of regular photo albums, so I *do* scrapbook every single picture.

Thanks to digital, this is much easier than it might sound. I only print out the photos that I know I want to scrapbook. I think about layouts ahead of time, and print the pictures that I want. I do, however, save every single picture on CD, "just in case", for the future.

Now, that's not to say I never have extra photos. In fact, I print duplicates (or triplicates or more) of the photos that I use. Those photos, and any photos that I planned to scrapbook but for some reason didn't, go into photo storage boxes. I have one labled for Brayden, Kellen, Kendrie, and one for Family. All the extras go in there, in chronological order. That way, if I ever need a copy of a photo, chances are good I'll have it.

This is also good to have for those "Getting to Know You" poster projects kids have to do in school, etc. The photo boxes don't take up much room, and can hold a LOT of 4x6 photos. Each kid also has a storage envelope for bigger photos that won't fit in the boxes.

Simply put, if I don't think I'll use it, I don't bother having it printed, although I do save it just in case. If I like it enough to print it, I usually print two or three and keep the extras.

Hope that helps!

Kristie said...

I should clarify, I have one photo box for EACH kid (actually, at this stage, they are all three filling up their second box) and another for family (also on the second box.)

Because I'm a moron, I didn't bother to print extras or keep my negatives of photos "back in the day" --- so from 1985, until 1999, I have very few pictures. When Brayden was born I started printing duplicate copies, but still didn't save negatives. Then, about the time Kendrie was born, I saw the light regarding the need to save negatives and print extra copies, both. Thanks to digital, I have back-up of every picture I've taken since about 2003.

And I've been surprised at how often I go back and re-print some pictures.

mom25in5 said...


Thanks..I am teaching a scrapbook class this week (we're making 12 pages, no pics, just pages) for the very first time. I have newbies and experienced.

Your blog is going with me (as long as you're okay with that?!). It's exactly what I would say to my newbies if I had the wherewithall to put it together as well as you do. Funniest thing in all this? I don't scrapbook! HA

With 5 kids I figure I'll be dead by the time I was caught up, and the task is just too overwhelming for me right now!

Thanks for some great information...


Crionna said...

I was hesitant to get in on scrapbooking because it just seemed to me that every woman I knew that went through that door came out crazy. But, I had to do something about all those photos in bags and boxes. This revelation came once I visited my older sister who showed me her collection of family memories she inherited carelessly tossed into a trunk in her basement. Photo after irreplaceable photo was bent, moldy or useless. Determined that would not happen to me last summer I bought an album (Walmart), embellishments, paper, etc, etc (Walmart) and thought "Gee,, I did good, this wasn't very expensive." Then I discovered Archivers and many other sellers and sites that swore they had what I needed to be a better scrapbooker and I fell for it all to the tune of about $5,000 to date. Wish I had as much sense as I have money, and I don't have much money.

I love the feeling I get going shopping and thinking about a new page while shopping, it transports me to a place where I am not concerned with all the things going on in my world and the world at large that makes me sad. (For those of you who read this and think you have a penchant for psychoanalysis, I know this self-description smacks of some kind of mania and i don't want to hear about it so save it for some other poor soul.) Anyway, getting "lost" in creative thought is a refuge that I visit often. I know the things I create mean nothing to anyone but me. I've even received criticisms of how I waste my time but, hey, I'm not out there in the world creating chaos, I'm minding my own business, trying to stick with thinking loving thoughts while I crop a page of a relative who really does not like me. Seems a perfectly docile, harmless way to reach a place of loving. Those are my thoughts.
Love the site, the posts - thanks.

Crionna said...

I remembered something else I wanted to add that I discovered saves me money. I no longer print out my own photos because it costs $72 at Costco for printer cartridges for my printer and they only last a month (I take lots of photos and have completed 5 15-page albums since last August). I discovered that if I drag and drop photos I love onto Shutterfly and purchase a prepaid account my 4X6's only cost me 19 cents, 5X7 99 cents and 8X10 for those special pages are only $2.99. I then back up every photo on my Mac after editing, delete photos I'm not likely to use frequently off my Mac memory freeing up space for the next batch. I also use the "burst" feature on my digital so that i can capture those spontaneous moments and that "perfect photo". A lot of those photos are not usable or ones I want to keep but I get the perfect photo every time especially with babies.