This is a preview lesson for “Scrapbooking Everyday Life.” For details on the complete class and registration, click here. To read and print this lesson in pdf form, click here.
Note: the journaling for the layouts here is at the bottom of this post.
Your Everyday Places
- prompts & approaches for: everyday places
- focus on journaling: meaning without schmaltz
- sketches for scrapbooking everyday life
The places we come from, the places we’ve traveled through, and the places we long to visit all inform who we are. How many of you have had the very longing described in the opening quote here? When you experience this kind of longing for a place, the place itself takes on associations and triggers feelings.
Writers and filmmakers understand this connection between place and character, often creating a story setting with such power it becomes a character itself. Think of 1920s Long Island in The Great Gatsby. Its geography and society inform the characters’ actions--both those who’ve lived there all their lives and the newcomer Gatsby.
When I want to plumb my own thoughts on the places in my life, past and present, I often turn to the poem “First Year” by Irish poet Eavan Boland that begins:
our damp, upstairs, one-year eyrie--
above a tree-lined area
nearer the city.
That first stanza can carry me immediately to a “garden” apartment in Silver Springs, MD, and from there I’m recalling the furniture, the deck, the view of the parking lot below it, and even the stories. The ending to this poem drives home this poet's belief in the impact place has on character (and even the relationships that a character is capable of)
Because I am writing this
not to recall our lives,
but to imagine them,
I will say it is
in the first gifts of place:
the steep inclines
and country silences
of your boyhood,
the orange-faced narcissi
and the whole length of the
strengthening our embrace.
by Eavan Boland
Many of my favorite scrapbook pages are those I’ve created as my own nod to the places in my life. “Been There” (above) and “Its Charm” (below) are both about my childhood home--a topic I scrapbook again and again.
prompts & approaches: YOUR EVERYDAY PLACES
To figure out and decide which places of your life to scrapbook:
Pull out a piece of paper and begin making lists that answer the following:
- What are the “MACRO” places in which you live your everyday life? (These would be places like: home, town, work, school, errand destinations, fun destinations, etc.)
- Within each of these “MACRO” spots, what are the “MICRO SPOTS?” (i.e., for the macro spot “home” the micro spots might include: kitchen, porch, desk, garage, garden, driveway, foyer . . .)
- Now go through your lists and check off the spots that compel you. To decide just how you’ll approach documenting a particular place, ask yourself these questions --and make notes as you do. The answers will help you get at the place’s significance in your life, the tone you want to take in your journaling, and even details to include in the journaling:
- is this spot a part of your daily routine?
- is it a place you like to go to? what feelings do you have about it?
- does it have a strong influence on your character (or on that of those living with you)?
- will you remember it in 10 years? do you want to remember it in 10 years?
- what makes it interesting or compelling?
- what do you usually do at this spot?
- who else is with you at this spot?
- what is/are the lighting, the temperature, the smells at this spot?
- what are the most important concrete details about this spot?
- With your lists and answers in front of you, pick a place and decide upon an approach for making your page. In other words, decide upon the scope and angle you’ll take. Will it be thoughtful, documentary, snapshot, or contextual?
Create a thoughtful (perhaps even reverent) celebration of an important place that helps the viewer understand your feelings about the place and the role it plays (or has played) in your life. “Been There” (above) is this kind of page for me. I firmly believe that the place I was raised has left an indelible (and good) mark on my character, and this is one of the many pages I’ve made in homage to it. “Trestle” (at the end of this post) records how the train tracks and trestle near our home have fit into our life over the years.
Make a document or record of your personal world. “Your Room” (below) includes several photos of my son’s room last year. I wanted a record (for him and for me) of the things that he surrounded himself with and the style in which he did this.
“Sweet Dreams” (below) is another bedroom page. The bedroom documented here is the one my sons share when they’re at their grandparents’ home.
Take a (perhaps fun) peek at a very localized spot in your life captured at one moment in time. “Like a River to the Sea” is this kind of a page for me-- I took a photo of the odd items that accumulated on my dresser top recently and then journaling a list and some of the reasons these things are there.
Scrap a page that’s not specifically about a place, but that uses photos of place to provide context. In “See Why” (below) the farmland in the photos sets the context for my Dad’s story and allows me to make a record of what his land looked like at this time.
focus on journaling: MEANING WITHOUT SCHMALTZ
Purple prose, sentimentality, schmaltz: all of these are ways of describing writing that uses exaggerated or affected emotion. Sentimental writing relies on cliches (“heaven on earth,” “a feast for the eyes”) and abstracts (peace, despair, joy) to grab at a reader’s heartstrings rather than taking the time to render a subject with complexities and specifics. The result is writing that we don’t quite believe and definitely don’t feel.
Try these techniques for pages that have meaning without being “schmaltzy.”
- Pay attention to concrete details.
In both your writing and your photos, focus on conveying how you experienced something concretely (as opposed to naming your feelings) including any of the five senses for which you have relevant information. Relevant is key -- detail for detail’s sake can weigh things down and make it hard for the reader to figure out what’s important.
Photos can show lighting, colors, and specific sights. In your writing, you can include smell, sound, touch, and taste.
The best way to do this writing is to allow yourself to initially free write and then revise with a checklist:
* Use no more than 20% abstract concepts and 80% concrete description. (See sidebar here.)
* Avoid “pretty prose” by eliminating streams of adjectives, adverbs, and metaphors.
* Avoid clichés, simplistic expressions, and “Hallmark”-isms.
* Be clear. Revise language that’s “fuzzy,” i.e., sweet and abstract, and replace it with concrete details.
Concrete details are those of images that can be sensed (seen, heard, touched, smelled, even tasted). Including details gives your image specificity. “Creature” is a vague word. “Animal” is more specific but still leaves a lot to the imagination. “ But tell us about your “long-haired Persian cat with a wide face” and you’re getting specific.
Significant details are those that matter to the story. You don’t need filler. A significant detail suggests an abstraction or feeling like beauty or stress or joy without using that abstract word. When you write the detail rather than the abstraction you’ve got a more compelling piece.
- Evoke an emotional response with color, image, motif, and design choices.
On a scrapbook page, you have more than your journaling available for conveying a feeling. It’s possible to use a combination of images, color, and motif to convey the joy or disappointment of a moment, place, or subject. In writing about art (specifically about Hamlet), T.S. Eliot talked about the “objective correlative,” a set of objects, or a situation, or a chain of events that evoke an emotion in the audience. Rather than writing “He felt sad,” in a story, the author can use weather, gestures, and even the things the character observes to the same purpose. On many of the pages you scrapbook, you will absolutely have a feeling or attitude about the subject you’re scrapping. Consciously think about every choice you make to create a whole that’s evocative of a mood or emotion.
Specifically, you can work with:
* color associations
* pattern (oversized, stylized florals convey a different tone than bright dots on white background)
*photo cropping and editing
* image and motif
The layered papers along with curled and worn edges and warm colors in “Sweet Dreams” convey a cozy tone that goes with how I feel about this room. A bedtime motif of the cow jumping over the moon and a gingham bow complete this feeling and support the subjects
- Show don’t tell
Hold back from telling the reader what they should think about your subject (or at least save it for the end). Trust that if you report an experience as truly and accurately as possible that it will speak for itself. Do not try to shape a response, but, rather, seek to present the kind of clear picture that lets readers come to their own understanding of meaning. The journaling on “Its Charm” above accumulates details that work to earn the abstract “charm” in the page’s title, listing the many aspects of life at my parents’ home that are both different than those at my home and that my family loves.
The journaling and photos in “Trestle” also accumulate details. The photos were taken in different seasons and from different angles. The details accumulated in the journaling are of incidents relating to this place. Together they sum to show just how this spot fits into our lives now and in the past.
sketches: FOR SCRAPBOOKING EVERYDAY LIFE
Click here to download layered psd files of these three sketches.