Friday, September 16, 2005

My Life as a Designer (so far)

I thought I'd write a little synopsis of how I stumbled down the path to becoming a craft designer. I'm still a newbie at designing, at least it feels that way. I've been trying to assess where I need to go from here, and writing down where I came from might help me with that. And if it helps any other wanna-bes out there, that'd be swell, too.

I started scrapbooking in February 1998, and I fell head over heels in love with it right from the start. In 1999, I came across the world of scrapbooking message boards, and fell in with a wonderful crowd at Scrapbook Addict. In 2000, a group of us (23-24) broke off and formed a private board.

I'd been a devoted scrapbook magazine reader from the start, but it wasn't till I built up these friendships with this group of women that I finally started thinking about submitting my work. We all encouraged each other along the way. From that original group, we had quite a number of CK Hall of Famers and PK Power Teamers in the first couple of years, and many of the rest of us also had work published here and there. These girls are talented, is all I'm saying!

I wasn't in the exalted ranks of the HOFers, but I did get a couple things published in Creating Keepsakes in 2001, as well as an HOF honorable mention in 2001. Then in late 2001, I really hit the jackpot with the new CK heritage book that was being released. I ended up selling them eleven layouts, and it's still one of the total highlights of my publishing life, LOL.

During these first few years, I also had some design team experiences, some writing experiences, and some teaching experiences that sure didn't seem like much to brag about at the time, but that I can see were really valuable, now that I look back. At that stage, every little thing I tried added to my skill level, and became something I would build on later in some way.

Throughout 2002, I had a few layouts published in Creating Keepsakes and Simple Scrapbooks...not a lot, but it was nice. Submitting scrapbook layouts became frustrating for me, though, as the style of the work and the quality of the photographs being published became dramatically more sophisticated during that year in particular. I mean, it was like a quantum leap in scrapbooking that year--and although it was wonderful to see scrapbooking becoming more and more artistic, I felt like I could not keep up, between making sure I had ALL the new products and taking high-quality photos of everything in my life. I got sick of toting a camera around! And although I felt confident that my style and talent were good, I definitely didn't have that "extra-extra something" that we started to see in scrapbook designers around that time, and continue to see.

And the painful thing about submitting scrapbook work is that you start to feel like your life itself is being judged and coming up lacking. Scrapbooks are so personal--the photos, the stories--and when they're rejected, you feel like your life is being rejected. I know this isn't true, and the feeling wears off over time and as you continue to submit (thank goodness), but I know there are some reject-ees out there who will agree with me--it smarts.

So by early 2003, I was starting to back away from the world of scrapbook submissions. Then somehow, I saw a call for submissions at the Creating Keepsakes website. However, it was not for CK, but for Crafts magazine, as it was known then, which is published by the same company, Primedia.

Crafts was putting together a card idea book, and posted their call at CK, which, to my knowledge, they had not done before and never did again. I had not done a lot of cardmaking, but I sent in a few cards, and they requested two. This book became Card Creations, which has had two very successful follow-up versions published since then.

Crafts magazine morphed into Paper Crafts magazine right after this Card Creations call, and because I had had a submission accepted, my name ended up on their designer list. This meant that when a new issue was being put together, a call for submissions would go out to the designers on the list. It completely blew my mind to be "in the know" for once in my life!

Paper crafting for publication was so much easier than scrapbooking for publication! Not easier in the sense of technique and effort, but emotionally easier. If my card or my craft idea is rejected, it feels SO much less personal than having my scrapbook page with my beloved photos and my personal journaling rejected.

So I started submitting to Paper Crafts, and to its sister publication Stamp It! I didn't have a landslide of acceptances, but enough to keep me plugging away at it. Having stamp projects published was especially gratifying, because I was newer to rubber stamping than to scrapbooking, and had gotten dragged into it kicking and screaming, LOL.

Late last summer, I received a call from one of PC's writers, who had been given my name by one of the editors. They were putting together a series of project inserts for Fiskars, and the inserts would run in three consecutive PC issues in 2005. Was I interested in designing for them?

Well, the only Fiskars tool I was really familiar with was their orange-and-grey paper trimmer, but I wasn't going to turn down the opportunity. So I was shipped two big boxes of stuff and spent the next four months working on projects for the inserts. There were five designers selected and we all contributed projects.

This was a real challenge for me--in a good way. It was the first time I began to understand the real job of a designer--to make the company's products look good! It was the first time I got a tiny glimmer of an idea about being a designer "for real" and maybe starting to think beyond the comfy groove I had worn for myself in magazine submissions.

Right about the time the first Fiskars insert came out, in the April May 2005 Paper Crafts issue, I got a call from one of the marketing people at Fiskars, asking if I'd be interested in coming to Wisconsin for a day-long seminar. I wasn't really sure what to expect, but it sounded promising, so I flew to Wisconsin at the end of May.

The seminar itself wasn't terribly enlightening...Fiskars had a lot of new-hires, and they had put together a day of classes to familiarize employees from all areas of the company with the craft and sewing products Fiskars makes.

What made the day mind-blowing was that Fiskars had also pulled together a group of women who have done design work for them over the years, as well as designers who were newer to the fold (like me). I met designers that I had seen on TV, designers who had written books, women with years and years of experience in the craft business in general.

By early afternoon, I was so overwhelmed by how far I was in over my head, I had to go to the bathroom and have a little anxiety attack.

One of the designers had shared a cab with me from the airport to the convention center, and she took it upon herself to introduce me to some of the other designers there and make me feel welcome. A group of us had breakfast the next morning, and then shared a shuttle and an airport lunch before heading off in our different directions.

The breakfast and lunch discussions changed my life, I think. I learned about the Society of Creative Designers and what being a member could do for my career--this was when I started thinking of what I do as a "career!" I started to see how vital networking is, and how desperately I needed to polish my professional skills. It was like the windows opened and I began to see dozens of possibilities for myself.

These women were some of the kindest, most generous people I've ever met--so eager to give me information and advice, so eager to hear my thoughts and experiences. I can't thank any of them enough for what they did for me in those few hours.

So I came home and did some thinking. Think, think, think. And that's about all I've been doing. Right on the heels of that trip, my LSS job slid from 25 hours a week to 30 hours a week, and somehow that change, with the later addition of having to teach classes, has really put a crimp in my designing time and desire. Maybe I'm just lousy at time management, I don't know, but I feel like I'm running in circles most of the time and never finding time to devote to design work. It could easily be a full time job, between following magazine calls, keeping track of submissions, applying for design teams, attending trade shows, and of course, actually sitting down and making stuff, LOL.

The way things are now, I come home so sick of scrapbook stuff, that the last thing I want to do is go upstairs to my study and look at more scrapbook stuff. And my DH wants attention, and the house really looks better when it's not encrusted in filth, for some reason. And I let most of the optional calls and deadlines slide, because I can't turn my mind to it.

I'm not a novice at frittering away time--I did it before I had the LSS job, too. But having this job, and realizing I want that time to pursue something else, has made me really determined to do better for myself once this job is over. And I know the end is coming with the job. Either I'll quit within another couple months, or the store will close and save me the trouble.

So I feel like right now is the time for me to definitely do what I can, designing-wise, and meet the challenges that pop up. But more than that, this is the time to plan what I will do once the job is over and I have the time to really walk down the path with purpose. I've only taken a few steps, but I have a feeling there is more to see and do in the near future. I just have to be prepared for it.

I highly doubt that all this is as fascinating to anyone else as it is to me, LOL, but I thought maybe someone somewhere might like to hear how this process has been for me. If anybody has any designing stories of their own to share, please do! I'm eager to hear them!


Jan Hicks said...

Janelle, I found your comments very interesting. I am just starting down this desginer wannabe road, so it was neat to see how several, what seem to be unrelated occurances, did help take you along the road to where you are now. Very interesting. Thank you for writing your comments, and good luck on your next step!


Mimi said...

What an interesting story, and I appreciated it very much!

Good luck on your continued endeavors!

beth said...

I found you!
So, when do my classes start - you will come over to my house and hit the submit button for me - won't you!!! ;)


beverly d said...

J-- I found your post to be very enlightening. I'm very proud of you for turning what most consider a "hobby" into a "career" (even if you have a hard time thinking of it as such.) I brag about you all of the time.

I checked out that Society of Creative Designers because I hope to some day be to the soap designing and soap making world what you are to the world of paper crafts. I was a little surprised to see that the HQ is in Zanesville, OH. I never really thought of Z'ville as a mecca for crafters. ;)

LisaS said...

Fascinating read!

I got a little verklempt reading about our origins.

Love ya girlie!


BeckyD said...

I really enjoyed reading your post. I'm at a point right now where I need to decide where I want to go. I need to decide what makes *me* happy. You post was every enlightening.

btw, I think I know you from a couple boards. I used to post as Basketmom years ago at SBA then spent some time at a private board that was basically NSBR most of the time.

Sara Dickey said...

Very interesting read. I've just started doing submissions to magazine and DT, and I feel some of the same feelings you felt about the rejection, etc. I go back n forth on trying to take my "love" to the level of a job. I wonder, will it still be my love?!
Sara Dickey
Richmond,VA ( Hampton Native)