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There are a lot of styles of scrapbooking out there.  Some seem to follow naturally from certain product-lines, like the pocket-style scrapbooks (Project Life, Sn@p Studio, and others) naturally tend towards a similar look because the pockets force the crafter to following the same layout scheme.  I’m not knocking the pocket-style system, May Flaum recently did a nice video on this style and really sold me on how great these systems would be for scrapbooking on a road trip!  So great for gathering ephemera! But the layout is constrained.

I am beginning to suspect other styles are regional.  When I first started following 7 Dots Studio, I thought I was seeing the work of just one designer who gravitated towards single-photo layouts with a foundation of beautiful, soulfully distressed-look papers, fantastic inky-messy splatters, and then the one small square photo encrusted around with embellishments and textures pulled together by ink-washes or distressed paint treatments.  I started to realize that all of the designers who contribute to the blog go for this same style.  I love it, but I started to wonder why it was so prevalent.  I recently started to realize that many of there contributors are living in eastern Europe, when I saw a recent contribution by a scrapbooking Guest Designer who happens to be Russian.

So maybe it’s a regional preference?  It certainly looks different than most of the American scrapbook bloggers that I follow, even those that work in distressed styles.  I’m quite curious about this particular layout and method of scrapbooking, so if anyone knows if this is a 7 Dots Studio-specific thing or a regional thing, I’d be delighted to find out!  Are there other styles of scrapbooking that seem to resonate geographically?

I definitely want to try one or two pages in this “European” style, but I don’t have plans to make a whole album using this small single-photo distressed style.  I definitely want to get my hands on some of the beautiful 7 Dots Studio papers at some point, though!

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Funny sort-of Valentine – Tim Holtz February Tag

When I was in college, my friends and I were part of the medieval club. And in someone’s strange humor, Valentine’s day was dubbed “Gargoyle Day”. As I recall it, regardless of dating status we celebrated with break-up comedy movies, chocolate, and gargoyle crafts. There was also a “Black & White Ball” around mid-February as an official club activity which involved modern formal apparel and medieval-style group dances. Yeah, I’m a big nerd, I own this.

Gargoyle Day and the Black & White Ball were my favorite versions of Valentine’s Day. I didn’t mind the kiddie version of passing Valentine’s to every fellow student and making our own mailboxes. And I remember my parents giving me candy and toys. But I guess I don’t remember seeing big romantic displays of chocolates and roses. If my parents did a romantic dinner or something, either I didn’t know, or it didn’t make an impression on me. I do remember them showing each other love and kindness all along the way, and making time for each other on a regular basis.

So in my own dating life, I’ve voted for regular displays of affection over big romantic gestures. Don’t get me wrong, I like the opportunities for creativity inspired by every holiday. And I’m impressed by the romantic efforts other people go to for their loved ones. And maybe, just maybe I’m looking forward to making pink heart-shaped pancakes and other silly gestures for my little boy in a few years. But otherwise, Valentine’s Day just isn’t my holiday.

So that’s a long preamble for my take on the February Tim Holtz tag. But I felt the gargoyle required some serious explanation! I loved the look of his background of embossed hearts that call to mind vintage enameled heart jewelry. I loved the little Industrial sticker details. I’m not sold on the popular chalkboard look, yet. Maybe it will grab my imagination at some point, but for now I’m skipping that technique.

So then the other thing this Gargoyle Day tag needed was a gargoyle! I drew a gargoyle as Cupid, colored it with Distress markers, and pinked up the edges of the circle diecut with Distress ink.

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Ingredients: Watercolor paper, #8 Manila tag, Industrial border stickers, Distress markers, Distress ink pads, Sizzix Movers & Shapers hearts, Distress rock candy glitter, Seasonal chitchat stickers, Sizzix decorative strip ticket die, Grunge board, Stampers Anonymous Odds & Ends stamp, glitter glue, foil tape

Learning: I feel like I barely squeeked by with the hearts. I had cut them last month from foil-covered Grunge board that was left from the previous tag. I had hoped that I could cover them with red glitter glue and have a cool, mirrored, slightly glittery surface, but I had trouble getting good coverage with the glitter glue. So then I tried to cover with Distress glitter and go with the technique in Tim’s tag tutorial, but I should have just pulled off the foil or removed the glitter glue to switch Glossy Accents, because the glitter glue didn’t hold the glitter on very well when I inked it. Glossy Accents seems to be a really strong adhesive. I did like how easily the Distress glitter dyed with the Distress ink – that is a good trick to remember!

Something I tried with much more success was masking off part of a stamp. I don’t know if other people do this, and maybe there is a better way, but this is the method I came up with. I used bits of painter’s tape to mask off a section of the stamp I didn’t want to print, inked the stamp, pulled off the tape and stamped it. This gave me a nice blank space to scrawl “Gargoyle Day” instead of Valentine’s day.
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My lettering on the ticket is kind of primitive, and I like to think that my gargoyle was taking over Valentine’s day, like maybe Cupid needed a day off or something. I think I could have pushed that idea a little more, but I didn’t have any other ideas.

Loving: I may have said this before, but I really like how the Odds & Ends stamps go with the Ticket Strip die. It’s just really cool to stamp a custom ticket, and I’m getting a lot of mileage from the concept.

I like the background every bit as much as I imagined, and despite the minor glitter losses I like how the Grunge board hearts came out. I like my gargoyle Cupid too, at least conceptually. I still haven’t decided if I like my “cartooning” style. But that is an issue for a different time.

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Alethiometer – January 2014 Tim Holtz tag

My husband and I recently finished reading the His Dark Materials trilogy. In these fantasy young adult fiction books, a spunky young girl gets into all manner of adventures across many worlds and is helped along by friends and a marvelous “truth-teller” device called an Alethiometer (aka a golden compass, but don’t bother with the movie of that name because they really muffed it).

So when I saw the January 2014 Tim Holtz tag with the “pocket watch” die, my mind traveled to a pocket watch version of the Alethiometer that I made him for the holidays.

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I dissected a pocket watch and attached a printout that I had carefully sized and sealed to the watch face.

It turned out really well, and still works as a watch, even!

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But when I made it, I regretted that I didn’t have time to draw the many symbols myself. I just got the imagery from the internet and combined with some pearl inlays I had created previously in photoshop for a different project.

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So I thought it would be great to use the pocket watch die to make an Alethiometer of a size where I could draw the symbols in for myself. Otherwise, I followed much of Mr. Holtz’ tutorial for the pocket watch and the background.

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Ingredients: Manila tag size 8, Sizzix Frame Pocket Watch die, Sizzix Alterations Circles, Super fine gold embossing powder, Glossy Accents, Sizzix tickets decorative strip die, Tim Holtz clockwork stencil, Holtz Grunge alpha stamp, Distress inks and markers, Martha Stewart lettering stamps, Stampers Anonymous Odds and Ends, Archival ink, Idea-ology game spinners, Micron pen, Darice embossing folder, Grunge board, Tarnished Brass Distress paint, and some words I printed. Whew!!

Learning: I screwed up the count on this. For some reason I thought there were 32 symbols, but by the time I got to drawing to the last few symbols, I realized that there were supposed to be 36! Oops! At the same time, I don’t think 36 would have worked out proportionally. It was hard enough to draw in those tiny spaces as it was!

My other mistake was that I had the foil side facing up when I went to cut the pocket watch. So I had to flip it and reroll it in order to get that impressed inner rim. This made the whole thing a bit more fragile, so I backed it all with a diecut piece of paper.

Loving: Grunge board was really fun to work with, very pliable, fun to cover in foil and cut! I also loved how nicely the ticket stamp matched the ticket die.

The words on the ticket die were a happy accident. I initially tried to spell out my quote with Martha letter stamps but my experiment didn’t fit well. So then I printed out what I wanted in a small font. I was going to just use a fresh ticket diecut, but then I realized that my printed word strips were so small that they fit between the stamped lines for a cool echoed sentiment. I love the way that worked and will file that idea for use again!

I also like the way the embossed word “Alethiometer” looks. I had to cut apart the Grunge alpha stamp which was tedious but so worth it! To make the gold pop a bit more, I blended more black soot ink over the gold embossing.

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Together in spirit

Over the holidays, I had planned to meet up with my oldest and dearest friend. She lives overseas, but comes back home at most twice a year. I dearly wanted to meet her new and very significant other, and I also wanted her to meet our new baby! Sadly, our baby picked up something very contagious at daycare and shared it with his parents, and by the time we were all well enough for visits, my friend had already returned to Italy.

I hear that such things are quite normal with small children. Oh well. So I wanted to send her a nice card. I chose stamps with flowers that remind me of Ohio summers, thinking of our youth and Girl Scouting adventures. I also wanted to give my newly expanded set of Distress markers a good test.

So here was my coloring progression.

The stamped image:

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A base of the darker colors. In general, darker and cooler colors should go where you think would be furthest from your imaginary light source.

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Then I blended the colors a bit with my waterbrush before moving on. I wanted to see how much coverage and mid-tone I would create with the water before moving on to lighter and brighter colors.

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Lighter colors came next.

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Again, I spread the petal colors with the water brush. Then I moved onto the centers of the flowers. Brushed Corduroy is greenish, and therefore a cooler color, so it became the base for the shadowed areas of the centers.

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A little Walnut Stain for the darkest areas, and to color in the stamen.
20140119-233644.jpgI later went back with a Micron to outline some spots where the stamp impression came out a bit too light.

I finished up with some green for the stems.
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And the finished card:

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I’m entering this into the Anything Goes challenge at Simon Says Stamp Monday Challenge blog.

Ingredients:
Distress markers, Archival ink, Sizzix Tattered Flowers die, Sizzix Thinlits circles, DCWV Blue Citrus papers & solid card stock, Flourishes stamps, Stampers Anonymous Nature’s Moments, glitter glue

Learning:
I feel like the biggest area I can improve on with this card is my stamping. I’m having fun combining stamps, but I need practice creating combinations that don’t overlap in awkward ways. Maybe masking would help. I also need practice getting a good impression for the purpose. I feel like in stamping to color, an even impression is really important. I think the lower flower came out too dark, obscuring the coloring’ and the upper impression of the same stamp came out too light, forcing me to outline with a Micron to prevent it from looking too different from the other flower. Fading stampings might be a great way of creating distance in uncolored stampings, but it didn’t work well for me here.

Loving:
I love the color combinations and how the markers worked out. Those watercolor brushes are so much fun to blend with! I also had a lot of fun alternating colors with the Tattered Flower die, which I hadn’t used much before. My favorite thing was combining the stamps, because I feel like they made a great wildflowers scene, despite some of the impression issues.

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Distress test pattern and labels

Last night I got a chance to sit down and play with some Distress inks and markers.  First, I tackled a labeling project that I’ve wanted to do for a while.  I got this idea because StAz-On comes with little labels for the sides of their inkpads, and I felt like my Distress inks really need side labels too.  Besides, because Distress is water-reactive, I wanted a label that showed the real ink as it prints, and as it looks wetted.  The retail labels on the top are nice, but I don’t feel like they really depict the ink color well – this happens because the label-manufacturer’s colors may not be an exact match for the inks.  Color matching is pretty tricky across media.

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Labeled Distress inks

So I sat down with a sheet of return-address labels (Avery 8195 was what I had on hand).  Without removing them from the label sheet, I wrote the color name on the labels first in waterproof Micron.  Then I swiped the bottom of each label with the corresponding ink pad.

Finally, I used a wet paintbrush inked with the same ink pad to paint a watercolor sweep across each label.  I let them dry and stuck them to the sides of the ink pads.

The label size was almost perfect, but they were just a teeny bit tall, so I folded the top and adhered to the horizontal surface as well.  Some of them started peeling back up on the top a bit, so next time I might just trim them.

I’m so excited about how nice they look all stacked up!  I also think this will make it so much easier to reference the real color instantly.  The labelstock handled the water brushing surprisingly well!

My next little studio-reference project was to fill in a color chart.  I found that the MarkerPOP! blog has nice color reference tools including blank color charts for their markers including Distress.  So I printed a blank chart on a linen-finish bond paper.  Part of my goal was to have a real-color reference chart – again, manufacturers have a hard time matching color, so retail labels and plastic caps may not be the best color guide.

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My Distress ink color chart

I also wanted to have a reference to compare Distress ink pads to Distress markers.  I know they are supposed to be a coordinated palette, but do they really match exactly?

I’m also curious about how they blend with water.  Does water shift the color?  Do the ink pads and markers blend differently when wetted?

For this little experiment I got to play with my new Ranger waterbrushes.  You can see them along the right side of the color test pic.  Basically, they are a brush with an attached cartridge that you can fill with water.  I have to say they are pretty neat to work with and the ink cleans off of them very well.  I’m looking forward to doing some coloring during my lunch breaks and the waterbrushes should make my operation more portable.  I think with practice I can probably get as much control over the flow as if I use a regular wet brush.

Back to my color chart: On the left side of each square of the grid is the Distress marker swatch, and on the right is the ink pad swatch.  Interestingly, the Fired Brick, Brushed Corduroy, and Walnut Stain colors shifted a little when wet.  Also, some of the colors were pretty hard to spread (it might be the paper).  This isn’t a criticism, just media behavior I need to be aware of so that I can compensate if needed.  I’m going to keep this chart handy when I color as a good reference.

I haven’t filled in all of the stamp pad colors on my chart because I own just a small selection of those right now.  I recently got the full basic line of the markers (the 36 colors shown above, plus white), but I will probably prioritize getting reinkers over getting the full line of ink pads, simply because there are more distress and splash techniques that can be done with reinkers.  Right now, I prefer to stamp in Sepia or Black Archival ink and then color with watercolor.

Until next time, keep it inky…

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As I get more into the paper craft world, I’ve been investigating which marker system I want to invest in for both the near-term and the long term.  Markers are popular both for writing and drawing by hand, as well as coloring in stampings and printed digital stamps.

Alcohol-based Markers:

First and foremost, I needed to figure out what the big deal is about Copic markers.  They are everywhere!  Clearly they offer a huge range of colors, which can be really helpful for producing quick coloring.  This is why we’ve invested in a massive quantity of Reaper acrylic paints for painting our gaming figures – of course we can blend color, but when you want quick consistent results, having a large pre-packaged palate is incredibly helpful.

On the Nattosoup blog, illustrator Becca has done some extensive testing to compare all of the alcohol-based markers.  A craft discount retailer near me carries Spectrum Noir, and I have been curious about them, so I really appreciated her detailed comparison.  Copic Sketch vs. Spectrum Noir
She also compares Prismacolor, ShinHan, and several other popular Copic alternatives to the Copic gold standard.

The short summary is that Copic Sketch has a lot of advantages.  Blendable and refillable, with interchangeable nibs and a compatible airbrush system, Copic Sketch also carries the most hefty pricetag.  Which is why the alcohol-based alternatives are worth checking out.

But what about comparing the big apple to the big orange?

Watercolor Markers:

Tim Holtz’ Distress Markers are the big brand of watercolor markers that most paper-crafters talk about.  The color palette is no where near as large as Copic Sketch’s, but the colors can be faded and blended with water just as alcohol-ink markers can be faded and blended with a blender solution.  And of course, watercolor markers have a different possible range of techniques and effects that depend on the water reaction:  blooming, using wet paper, soft or hard edges, fading, washes, and transparency.

Since I have always wanted to invest more time into watercoloring, but never really had project ideas that would suit the media, incorporating watercolor markers into my paper crafting seemed like a great idea.  Plus, Distress markers are a fraction of the cost of Copics!  There are other brands of watercolor marker (here’s a review of Letraset’s Aquamarkers, for example).  But I already have (and love) several of the Distress ink pads, which use the same color palette as the Distress markers.  Ok, and admittedly,  I’m also somewhat sucked into the whole Ranger brand.  It started as a Tim Holtz designer-crush and it’s just spread to their stable of other amazingly talented signature designers.  Don’t let me gush, now!

Here is a great review and test of Distress markers that shows some of the techniques possible with Distress ink.

Maybe some day I’ll try out the alcohol inks, but for now, I’m all excited to use “aquamedia” (the cool term for water-based supplies ranging from water-reactive inks, to acrylic paint).

One big disadvantage of water-based media is that not all papers stand up well to the extra moisture.  Wrinkling, layers rubbing off, and even surface cracking if embossing is combined with wet media are all potential problems I’ve already encountered.  So far, I’ve had the best success with watercolor paper, but I hope to sit down and do some experimenting with wet media on different types of paper very soon.

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Clear stamps: techniques and tips

In a previous post, I was lamenting the difficulty I was having in getting good stamp impressions out of some of my cling stamps.  I did some research across various forums and websites, and here are some tips I ran across.  I haven’t had time to try all of them, but my results are improving, and I am highly optimistic that after some experimentation I will find a method that works consistently for me.

20131208-215358.jpgStamp Quality:

  • Not all clear stamps are the same.
  • Photopolymer process stamps tend to be easier to ink, and work with, but also more expensive (e.g., Flourishes, Simon Says Stamp brand, My Favorite Things).
  • Cheaper silicone or acrylic clear stamps might take more experimenting to get a good impression (e.g., Scrappy Cat, Inkadinkado).  However, not all “acrylic” stamps are equal either.  There are reports that a few brands (e.g., Penny Black, Recollections, Martha Stewart, Fiskars), are acrylic but are less squishable and less prone to image quality problems.
  • Photopolymer stamps often have a weird initial smell, in case that helps identify what you have.
  • Now that I know there is a difference, I realize that I haven’t had a problem so far with the photopolymer clear stamps, just the acrylic ones.  And I’m curious now to try the “better quality acrylic” stamps, like the Martha Stewart ones I have picked up, to see if they less troublesome than other acrylic brands.

Stamping Surface and pressure:

  • Many users recommend using a mousepad, a pad of papers, or some other cushioning under the paper for a good impression.
  • Make a test stamp on scrap paper, and try different paper types as well if image quality is a problem.
  • Be careful not to use too much pressure, as some clear stamps, especially smaller designs, can be squished out of shape causing a blurred impression.  I have seen this problem on some small snowflakes that I have!
  • There are some acrylic blocks that have foam feet that are meant to both give cushion and even pressure, although they seem like they would be annoying to ink to me!

Inks:

  • Of course, everyone has different favorite brands.  But it seems that the acrylic stamps do better with types that are pigment-based, or water-resistant “archival” inks.
  • Dye-based (e.g., Distress inks) tend to bead up on the surface of clear acrylic stamps, giving a poor impression.  I have certainly experienced this, as most of the ink colors that I have are dye-based.  I never realized there was so much variation in ink types!
  • Solvent-based inks (e.g., StazOn) are supposed to lead to deterioration of clear stamps, although I’m not sure if this includes acrylic as well as photo-polymer stamps.  It make sense to my mind that solvents would be bad on photopolymer, as I think it’s more chemically fragile.  I would be surprised if the acrylic stamps were as susceptible to damage from solvent-based inks.
  • A lot of people in forums specifically mentioned having good luck with Colorbox Chalks on clear acrylic stamps.  Although both Colorbox and Colorbox Chalks are pigment-based, the Colorbox Chalks are considered quick-drying while regular Colorbox have glycerin-extended drying times to make them better for embossing.  I suspect the glycerin would cause beading up just like water-based dye pads.

Cleaning the Stamp:

  • The manufacturing process may leave residues on the acrylic stamp.  Supposedly this is not an issue with photopolymer.  Washing clear stamps with mild soap and warm water may help and certainly won’t hurt.
  • After reading this tip, I used a strong light and looked at some of the stamps that I hadn’t used yet (and had never cleaned).  I noticed that the unused acrylic stamps did seem to have a bit of slightly yellowish residue on the surface.  Cleaning the stamps well did seem to help the impressions a bit, but alone did not seem to be enough to get a perfect image.
  • Beware of lint.
  • Avoid using solvent-based cleaners and cleaners meant for removing solvent-based inks, as these may lead to deterioration of clear stamps.

The Stamp’s Surface (*WARNING: none of these tips are universally recommended, use extreme caution because these methods may ruin the stamp):

I am providing these tips, with warnings, because sometimes it’s better to use a potentially tool-destructive method than not be able to use a tool at all.  I am optimistic that these won’t be necessary if some of the other methods are employed first.

  • SEE ABOVE WARNING*: Some users recommend scuffing the surface of the acrylic stamp with a pink or white eraser.  More recommended the pink.
    • UPDATE:  I have discovered that Bo Bunny Stamps recommend on their packaging to rub their stamps with a pink eraser before each use for better inking.  So maybe this is not such a dangerous idea after all.
  • SEE ABOVE WARNING*: Even more scary, some users had success scuffing the surface of the acrylic stamp with very fine sandpaper!  I would say this should be a last resort.
  • SEE ABOVE WARNING*:  Some users had positive results by inking the stamp first in an archival or solvent-based, letting it dry, and then inking in the desired manner.  As an added step, some of these users recommend never cleaning off that initial layer of ink.  Again, not recommended because of the risk of the stamp chemically deteriorating over time.

Stamps Losing their Adhesion to the Acrylic Block:

  • Double stick tape, or Aleene’s Tack it Over & Over will get the job done.

So that’s what I’ve learned over the past few days!  I’ll try some of these methods out over the next several days as I finish up my holiday card-making.  I have to say it’s a little frustrating to find that these acrylic stamps are so fiddly, since I have a few of them around.  Hopefully, I will get a good solution worked out.

Until next time, keep those fingers inky…