Thursday, April 17, 2008

Scrappy Scrapper

I think scrapbooking is weird, and sometimes actually a little troubling. I like the combination of photography and memoir, which is why I, myself, scrapbook, but I'm uncomfortable with the level of consumerism that often seems to be involved and I've always been uncomfortable with the sap.

I've been reading a lot of library back issues of Scrapbooks Etc. (1-year) this week--I've been trying to figure out the whole scrapbooking phenomemon on an intellectual level, and I'd also like to improve the look of my own photo/memoir displays...see, I'm even a little weirded out by referring to what I, myself, do as "scrapbooking," even though it is. So maybe it's the scrapbook publications that are warping my worldview, but so far it seems like the creation of a good scrapbook layout is all about the stuff. Not only are there tons of ads, obviously, but all the how-tos and model layouts are stuffed with product--patterned paper, chipboard (whatever that is), die-cut letters and decorations, rub-ons, ribbon, plastic letters and decorations, glue and paint and glitter. And you apparently need a special paper cutter so you don't make the newbie mistake of having crooked photos (oops!) and you need to take your newspaper clippings to the copy shop so you can copy off an acid-free color copy in the perfect size to scrapbook (as if the original piece of ephemera isn't important--an archivist would freak!). I find this consumerism extremely unappealing. One of the magazines, for instance, advertised a $17 pink little iron kind of thing that you can run your ribbon through if it's kinked or wrinkled, and it will flatten it out. I'm concerned about the consumerism involved in this unnecessary little purchase. A practice in which you feel the need to acquire a lot of stuff and to even use a lot of stuff cannot at this time be a healthy practice for mind, budget, or the planet.

I also think it's strange that in many of the magazine layouts I've seen, these embellishments don't necessarily seem related thematically to the subject of the page. In one layout in the May/June 2007 Scrapbooks Etc., for instance, an artist is showing her page about the removal of her daughter's braces. So on a 12x12 layout, there are three photos, one large and two very small, of the girl smiling. There's a pale blue cardstock background, a vertical strip of orange polka-dot paper on the right, a vertical strip of patterned paper with words/phrases like "simply irrestible" and "that's my girl" next to that, a plain orange paper as a mat for the big photo on top of a plain white paper where all the other embellishments are, some little fabric flowers attached with those plastic retail clothing tagger things on the left of that, some circular transparencies with "attitude" and "diva" mixed in with the flowers, a little luggage tag thing that says "smile" and a label with the date on it. First, how much would it cost to buy all the packages of stuff that all this stuff in the layout came from, but second, and this is the weirdest to me, why the flowers? No flowers in the photos, braces have nothing to do with flowers, is it just because she's female? They're so prominent, though, that it seems to me they ought to relate thematically to the display concept. Smiley faces, maybe? Something metallic? Otherwise, it just seems a waste of a chance to further the story.

And geez, the potential for sap--I have a peeve against the use of "so," "really," and exclamation points to add extra emotionalism to emotional language, and I have a scrapbooking peeve against layouts that use their memoir space to indulge in sap instead of tell a story that might more intuitively reveal the deep feelings behind the scene. In the same issue of Scrapbooks Etc. there's a layout entitled "Momma's Girl," with some patterned paper, some plain paper, one photo, some rubber stamping, buttons, paper flower cut-outs, rub-ons, and stickers. The journaling reads, "You are my baby doll, a total momma's girl and I love it! The time we spend together is so special. I never want it to end!" I doesn't say anything that you wouldn't already know a mother feels for her daughter. Contrast that with another layout, same basic theme, but in that journaling the mother writes that when she was a child, she wanted to have three boys when she grew up and she even picked out names for them--and now she has three boys! There's an interesting story there, and without spelling it out, you know that this mother has wanted these children all her life and sees them as a dream come true, etc.--it's touching.

It's interesting, though, that in a late-night rant to my partner about this (we'll stay up until 11:30 pm discussing the ethics behind scrapbooking or the changing dynamics of Superman throughout the decades, but this morning at 5:30 am, we both were woken up, in separate beds with separate children, by an EARTHQUAKE of all things, in INDIANA, and we each independently decided, "meh," and went back to sleep), he came out on the side of the scrapbookers, and actually gave me a different, more positive perspective. He's a graphic designer, and pretty much had only positive critiques about the design merits of the respective layouts I ranted about, and finds no problem, from a design perspective, with the plethora of embellishments--they're expressions of exuberance, and sheer decorative elements that add elaboration and beauty to the layout, he says. I realized, then, that scrapbooking is yet another medium of a practice that I love--outsider art, in which artists who are not formally trained in a specific form nevertheless practice that form, often riffing off of technical elements they've never officially studied, bringing a sincerity, creativity, and often refreshing perspective back to the form.

With that in mind, I can allow myself to take some inspiration from the layouts I see, and I think there's quite a bit of room in the practice to embellish primarily with recycled or repurposed materials. The girls and I have been working off and on throughout the week on some scrapbook pages back from Willow's birth--the girls color and collage on 12x12 pages, and I sit next to them on the floor and scrapbook. Inspired by the magazines, I put more stuff on my pages than I normally would, but I tried to make my "embellishments" relevant to the layout in theme or color, and I recycled them from repurposed materials:

For this page of the congratulation notes and cards we received, I added stamps from my childhood stamp collection (these are all worth about a penny apiece, but I did discover that one of my stamps is worth $250, if only I can find someone to sell it to!), red and white fabric from some free fabric swatches I ordered online a while ago in my search for postage stamp quilt fabrics, and cut-outs from some greeting cards I didn't use on the pages. Notice that on the card in the upper left corner, I removed the bottle from the series of paper appliques--we're vehemently anti-bottle in this house! Next time I'll cut some sort of discernable pattern out of the fabric, so it makes better sense on the page.
In the page I added mat board and orange ribbons from my stash, although I should have chosen colors that matched my title and I should have used a different glue on the ribbon. I drew frames around the photos with a permanent marker, and I cut the journaling out of a random blue piece of paper I found in my computer paper stash with a pair of the pinking scissors I bought the girls on sale a while ago. These pages are both still pretty lame--it will be interesting to see improvements in my layouts and the precision of my work as I continue to focus on the design skills necessary here. I wonder if this practice in two-dimensional design will improve my quilting, as well?
I have been warped a little by the consumerism in the magazines, though. I totally want --I'd be sticking perfectly cut out words and little flowery things all over everything in the entire house if I had one of those babies--and I was already thinking that maybe I'd find some scrapbooking stuff at a garage sale this summer. We love ourselves some garage sales here.

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