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The art of writing by hand

It’s been a severe limitation in my paper-craft journey that I truly, passionately hate my handwriting.  Whether block letters or script, my writing has always looked (to my eye) crabbed at best and sloppy at worst.   

The best I can say about it is that I think it’s legible, I’ve never had anyone comment that they couldn’t read it.  But not at all beautiful.  I’ve even had it suggested that perhaps I was really meant to be left-handed because my handwriting is so lousy.  I do have several reasons to believe that I was born to be ambidextrous, but the fact is that I learned most skills right-handed so the left hand just doesn’t have the fine motor practice for me to particularly want to train it in skills that the right hand already performs adequately.

While I’m not one of those who lament that no one learns cursive in schools, I do think it’s a valuable skill for many artistic reasons.  How can I make a beautifully titled page or do journaling that I’ll want to look back on if I can’t write beautifully?  I also adore the look of the recently-launched Ali Edwards subscription stamp club, but they seem pricey to me (especially if you also add the cost of her associated monthly Story Kit, which I want too), and what I really love about her stamps is that the style of writing on them is so juicy and vibrant.  What if I could write like that?  I could save a lot of money and a lot of fuss just by being able to write titles in a style that I like.  Not to mention the joy of being able to title things with my own words rather than what some other artist put on a stamp.  My story = my words, right?

I recently read that “there are a surprising number of people who do wish their handwriting was better”, from an article extolling the virtues of good penmanship from The Art of Manliness, (which, as a disclaimer, is a strange website and I can’t claim to understand or have an opinion on it’s point of view, I just enjoyed the article about cursive).  It’s nice to know that I’m not alone in my wish to write more beautifully.  I have noticed this theme in real life as well, as many people comment on the typewriter in my office (we have required paper triplicate forms, I hate my handwriting, ergo typewriter), my response about my hated handwriting more often than not elicits a comment about the visitor’s own dislike for their handwriting.

I won’t belabor the history and practice of script-style writing versus block lettering versus machine-printing, there are a lot of great resources on the web to tell you about the evolution from Spencerian to Palmer to D’Nealian (including the article mentioned above).  What really jumps out at me is that the trend that was in place when I was a child was to make the cursive easier to learn at the expense of beauty.  I’m not faulting the schooling practice, and arguably the cursive form was already quite redundant and useless by the time I reached adulthood.  I’ve only ever used it to write checks after the grade-school learning process, and checks are nearly outmoded by electronic billing.  But maybe if the focus were on beautiful penmanship, a generation of now-adults wouldn’t hate their handwriting.  I have a feeling that beautiful cursive leads to better block letters, too.

So in the last couple of years since I’ve taken up paper crafts, I’ve felt increasingly convinced that I need to re-teach myself writing, both script and better block lettering.  I adore typography, and I have some artistic hand skills, so why can’t I work on perfecting some hand-drawn letter forms?

For a recent pocket scrapbook page, I even went so far as to seek out gorgeous handwriting-like fonts, learn how to use Inkscape since I no longer have access to Illustrator (a vector-based drawing program good for formatting type blocks with more flexibility than word-processor programs), set up a pocket-card sized template, typed up my journaling and titles, printed them onto transparency film, cut them to fit photo-pockets…. and all so I could avoid putting my ugly handwriting directly onto my pretty paper title and journal cards in my scrapbook.  The technique turned out beautifully, but I have to say I’m rather daunted by doing that process again.  And it also looks a touch impersonal.  I don’t think I can avoid it much longer, I’m a hand-craft kind of person, so I really need to work on my handwriting.

And to do this, I need practice.  

Some resources for writing practice workbooks:

Peterson Handwriting

Donna Young’s Cursive Handwriting

  • The Donna Young website also includes Free Printable Handwriting Paper including the 1/4″ size that might be suitable for adults trying to improve their script writing

I’m also eagerly awaiting some Spencerian copy books, which I hope to review in a later post.

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Speedy Successes with Project Life App

Having had some initial success in getting a scrapbook layout done quickly with Project Life, I had some curiosity about the related app.  I couldn’t find ready answers to my particular questions, so as the app itself was quite cheap $0.99 on iTunes, I thought the best way to find out was to experiment.

So here’s a quick overview of answers to a few of my questions, in case it helps you:

  • In-App purchases:  While there are some, depending on your intentions using the app, you may not need any.
  • Layouts:  There are many layouts in the app that are equivalent to the in-person pocket-pages, and they are named in a corresponding manner.  However, not every app layout accessible appears to be available physically, and vice versa.
  • Card sets:  I haven’t explored these exhaustively, but there are definitely card sets available in-person (e.g. the Animals theme pack) that are not available for the app.  I don’t know if the reverse is true.

So, if you’re not reading this because you found this blog looking up a quick answer to one of those questions, then maybe you are wondering why I asked those questions.  I had the notion that maybe I could use the app to plan layouts that I could do later with the physical materials.  Let’s face it, it’s a lot easier to tote around my phone or maybe our iPad than it is to tote around a box of photos and a bag full of card kits.  So when I have a spare moment during the day, I can set myself up for a faster craft session later by figuring out a layout.

This has been fantastic!  The app is fun, pretty, and easy to use.  I did buy all the extra layout packs for versatility, and a handful of the card themes.  Laying a story out in advance on my phone or iPad has helped me crank out several new pages already, in one or two evening sessions.

But there are limitations, particularly in ways that the app doesn’t correspond perfectly to the real-life version.  I’m comfortable with this and learning to work around it, but I’m hopeful that the company will eventually take steps to fix some of these things.  They aren’t bugs, just limitations.  And really, they are only limitations if you are using this app to draft layouts for redoing as real-life pocket pages.

Let’s consider the app in more depth.

In-App Purchases:  For my purposes, buying the extra layout packs was essential.  There are 3 at $0.99 a piece.  You wouldn’t need these if you were using the app for digital layouts or layouts that you planned to print using the app’s associated printing service.  Likewise, there are a few card sets (3 or 4) included in the app, such as Kraft and Midnight, so depending on your plans, you would not necessarily need additional sets.  If you did choose to buy extra card sets, they range from $0.99-1.99 each, depending, I would guess, on the number of card options within each set.  I bought a couple of additional sets to play around with, but mostly I am using the cards as placeholders, since I will be redoing each one as a physical page.  If you felt you needed to have everything, I suppose this could get very pricey, as there are a lot of card sets available.  I count about 35 sets as of right now.

Layouts:  There are several layouts included with the app, plenty to play with if you don’t want to buy more.  Each layout pack has several layouts (maybe 8?  I didn’t count before I bought the rest).  For my purposes, having layouts that correspond with the real-world available pocket pages is essential.  Each pack, including the set that comes included in the app, contains a few of the most popular real-world ones plus some extra from a “Squared Away” series of 15 designs that seems to exist only digitally.  The “Squared Away” designs feature tiny little squares that are probably 1″-3″ when printed out.  The remaining designs are labeled Design A – Z, but as far as I can tell only Designs A – L have been produced as real pocket pages.  [3/19/15 UPDATE:  I don’t know if I missed it when I first wrote this post, or if this is a recent release, but there do appear to be “Small Variety Packs” that cover the remaining L-Z designs available for physical pocket scrapbooking.]  The naming convention is the same, with in-app Design A being the same configuration as the real-world Design A pocket page.

The great news is that the app layout designs include some of those clever narrower design pages G – J that allow you to add some interesting variety to your real-world scrapbook.  I’m pleased to be able to experiment with these in the app before committing to buying the real-world version.  I do wonder if you printed these pages using the app’s associated printing service, if it would be difficult to find a page protector that matched those dimensions nicely?

Initially, I was disappointed that the 8×6″ designs were not available, but they actually exist in the “Photo Collage” section.  I am excited about this, as I have been working on an 8×8″ baby book, and hoped to add some of these 8×6″ pages, but would like to play with the app version first.

I am not concerned that designs M – Z are not available in-person, nor that [update 3/19/15:  M-Z are available] the “Squared Away” designs are not available in-person.  I have to figure from the company’s standpoint it has to be cheaper to program a set of layouts for the app than it is to produce, market and ship a physical product.  If they’re clever, they may even have a way to track what layouts people are using most in their apps, and might use the app as a testing ground for physical designs.

Card Sets:  I mentioned that there are over 30 card sets, and they seem to cover a lot of the currently available stock.  I didn’t explore the correspondence on these exhaustively, but I can say that there is an app version of the Maggie Holmes mini kit that I have, while there isn’t an app version of the Animal Theme pack of which I have a physical version.

For the most part, I am just using these cards in the app as placeholders, but there are a couple of advantages to picking up the app versions if you plan to buy the real versions. The first is the same as getting the app and layouts, it’s just nice to be able to flip through the options when you are away from home.  The second is the opportunity to fully preview the set.

I got the app version of the Baby Edition for Him core kit as a way to preview it for possible real-life purchase.  For $1.99, I was able to check out the cards in-depth, play around with them in layouts and consider whether they might work for one of the two scrapbooks I am currently working on that include baby pictures.  My determination is that while they are cute, and the journaling prompts are helpful, I have already gotten a lot of the basic information and layouts already done for my baby book, so this won’t help me much for current projects. There you have it, I have just saved myself $28 since I don’t have to run out and buy that particular core kit (MSRP $29.99).  I will say that I will consider picking up a Baby Edition core kit if we have a second kid… I’m pretty sure that it would be a big help when starting to plan a baby book, and I highly doubt that I will ever have as much time to scrapbook as I did when baby #1 was still a sleepy newborn.

General Pros:

  • It is really easy to make pretty happen with this app.  You can drop in photos and pretty cards quickly, swap layouts and card sets easily if you want to try different looks to go with your pics, and type on the journaling cards in one of a variety of fonts and sizes.
  • You can gain a lot of scrapbooking opportunities that you might not otherwise have had. I did three layouts in a 30 minute workout on my stationary bike using our iPad!  Yes, I’m weird, but I really like to not think about how boring it is to be working out (normally I play videogames).
  • A seamless photo previewing interface with your iDevice’s photostream or camera roll.  It can apparently also do Dropbox, which I need to explore for those handful of photos I take with my nice camera.
  • Nice options for exploring layouts and card sets that you don’t necessarily have to buy in real life.
  • I haven’t tried this out, but other fans of the app rave about being able to easily order prints, and the joy of getting 12×12 prints done for you.  One website apparently even offers waterproof scrapbook-sized prints (Persnickety Prints?).  I’ll have to consider whether my kid needs a bathbook version of his scrapbook.  I’m only partially in jest.  I think there are some creative opportunities here.
  • Even if you aren’t doing prints, it’s easy to export the digital version (see below!) for your website or wherever.
  • I haven’t tried this yet, but I think it might be really smart to layout photos shortly after you take them, and use the add-text feature on the journaling cards to write out your thoughts on the story shortly after it happens.  That’s the sort of advice I see in books about traditional scrapbooking.  It has never before translated to my real life (I usually get prints months later, and never ever journal).  With this app, I might actually do this sort of thing.
  • Based on the bullet point above, I can see a world in which I am actually mostly caught up with my current-life scrapbooking, and can turn my attention to other scrappy projects like the family history book that has been more of a wish than a reality.

General Cons: 

  • No way at this point to save your progress from one device to another.  So at home, I may want to use the iPad, and on a break at work I might want to use my iPhone, but the layouts in-progress cannot be sent from one to the other.  They say in an FAQ that this is an issue they are working on, so that could be a plus later on.
    With version 1.6 released a couple of days ago while I was working on this post, they have fixed this issue so that working files can be exported by email or Airdrop to the Project Life library of your other compatible devices.
  • It seems like the option to add text is limited to cards that the company has decided are “journaling cards”.  I don’t know how other people use these cards, but I have definitely used some of the lighter patterned cards for titles or small amounts of text.  It would be nice if more cards had an add-text feature.
  • No way to easily view photo orientation (explained below).

Photo Orientation:  So far, this is my only real beef with the app.  This issue maybe has to do with the Apple interface, but the pics are all shown in the app photo selection stream as squared, and automatically size themselves nicely for your selected orientation. 

Which is great, except that if you are trying to translate this to real-life scrapbooking, you may end up investing valuable time in a layout that is inappropriate to the orientation of your selected photos.  

This is something I’m trying to get better at, but I feel like the app developers could maybe add a setting or something so that people could check orientations quickly if they wanted to use the app that way.  At least they do make it easy to swap out layouts on the fly.

Bottom Line:  If you want to try the pocket-page scrapbooking thing, I would highly recommend experimenting with the Project Life app.  It’s a low investment threshhold if you already have an appropriate device (available currently for Apple iPhone/iPad, I think coming soon for Android?).  It is really easy to use.  And it makes pretty things out of your photos.  Even if you never want physical photobooks, there is some value, I believe, to taking all those disparate photos and putting them into a context to enjoy later.

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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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Gesso is a girl’s best friend

Just a short note, as I have been down with a cold and need to catch up with posting. I have really been loving using gesso to “push back” busy papers. This has worked out great for my wish to reuse some of the holiday cards we received this year. The gesso pulls together the different card styles. I think I could do more to pull it together, but this is a great start. The photo for the upper left circle window can be pulled up to see the whole picture.

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The gesso came in a sampler set from Faber-Castelle. I think I’ll need to get a whole tub of it when I run out!

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A you’re Adorable

A you’re Adorable/
B you’re so Beautiful/
C you’re a Cutie full of Charm!

The “A is for” challenge at the Simon Says Stamp Monday Challenge blog, initially made me think of the word “alethiometer”, but that’s a project that I’m planning for the Tim Holtz January tag, and I don’t like to mix challenges. I’m just mentioning this as a tease, in case my husband is reading. He’ll be quite interested in an alethiometer project.

So my second “A is for” thought was of a John Lithgow kid’s rendition of “A you’re Adorable”, and who is my little charming cutie these days? My little boy, of course! I just had holiday pictures printed out, so it’s high time to make a 6×6 scrapbook spread for my son’s baby book.

My other little idea was that I wanted to use some of this season’s received holiday cards in the background. I tried to tie it all together and push the bold cards into the background with some gesso and a little Perfect Pearls for shimmer.

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Ingredients: Reused holiday cards, gesso, Perfect Pearls, Distress marker, Sizzix Christmas tree die, Distress Stickles, Martha Stewart letter stamps, Micron pen

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Learning: This was my first experiment with gesso, and I really like the translucent coverage. I’m not the most experienced with scrapbooking, but I think this went better than some of the previous ones I have done. I think doing a two page spread was a good idea, giving me 12×6 to work with, so I will definitely try that again. 6×6 is pretty tiny, but it’s for a baby book and I want little hands to be able to hold it in a few years. Also, I need to work on my photo setup for large scrapbook pages and spreads!

Loving: I’m happy with how the photos look fussy cut. I really enjoyed giving some of the holiday cards a second life. I think the gesso really pulled everything together, and made a great surface for writing on. And of course, being sentimental, I really love seeing my baby’s great pictures! He is the most adorable in my eyes!

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A new chapter: Papercraft

I always joked that the only crafts I didn’t care to do were paper crafts, but that if I ever had a kid, I’d get into scrapbooking.

Well…

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I had dabbled very briefly in card making, because I really hate the sense of obligation to buy an impersonal card with “personal” sentiments. But in the days before blogs and Pinterest, it was hard for me to find inspiration, or to know what tools would help me on my way. So I had a few rubber stamps, brads and some papers in the back of a closet, but that was the extent of it.

I am great at jumping down the rabbit hole, so when I discovered the mixed-media, altered art style that many modern scrapbookers are using, I found myself deep in a new craft obsession. Not only is my son’s baby book coming along nicely, but I’m also working on a scrapbook for myself and one of family history.

Oh, and I have purchased a BigKick die cutting machine, and started amassing a small horde of dies, embossing folders, inks, mists, and these new-fangled cling stamps. All within the couple of months since I recovered my craft mojo post birth. Sometimes I scare me!

One thing that I adore about mixed media scrapbooking is that it gives me a chance to use all my other supplies in new ways. Fabric, jewelry bits, yarns, paints, and drawing implements are all fair game. I also like that it’s pretty modular and fast, meaning I can complete one or two steps per night (some even sitting on the couch), and have a finished piece in a few days at most. That feels pretty good for a time-starved first-time mom. Mind you, I am writing this at 4am, because baby got back to sleep and I couldn’t. That’s life with a new baby, I guess. But I wouldn’t trade my little guy even for time to craft all day – caring for him is the best “project” I could ask for, and every artist needs a muse.

Until next time… Keep the inspiration churning.