Welcome to the final part of my three part series on Design Teams. If you missed the first post all about the pros and cons of Design Teams, along with my survey results, you can find it here. For the second part of my series, I interviewed Ashley Horton about her Design Team experiences. You can find that interview here. To conclude my series, I interviewed Christy Strickler! I came across Christy through Simple Scrapper and I have been a fan of her work ever since. She balances a very busy schedule being a wife, mom, designer, podcaster and blogger. I thoroughly enjoyed her interview and learned a lot about her unique creative perspective when it comes to completing her Design Team assignments.
1) For my readers that aren’t familiar with you, can you tell us how you got involved in the scrapbooking industry?
I started scrapbooking in 2001 when I attended a Creative Memories party. I loved it and tried to become a consultant. Sadly, I failed miserably at selling supplies that way. I decided to keep it mainly a hobby. Many years later, I joined Club Creating Keepsakes and was inspired by fellow message board friends to try out some challenge blogs. Over time, I got invited to guest and sometimes join a few of the design teams.It gave me the courage to keep applying and submitting my work to other venues.
2) What design teams are you currently on and how long have you been on them?
I am currently designing for three teams. I have been working with Layout a Week Challenge Blog since last September.I have been a member of the Simple Scrapper DT for about a year and a half. I have been with Get It Scrapped for the longest.It’s about 4 years now!
3) From your personal experience, what are the unique advantages to being on a design team?
I always joke about it, but what I am going to say next has a bit of truth to it ( sometimes I feel a bit greedy for admitting this). I initially joined the teams to take advantage of getting free stuff. In my earlier scrapbooking days, we were on a very tight budget and being on design teams helped me to get a few new supplies here or there. Over time, I found the real value behind being on the teams were the friendships I made. I have close friends around the world whom I might never have met. We feed each other creatively and continue to do so, even though we aren’t always still on the same teams.
Aside from the usual things most people mention (like gaining exposure for your blog or building your resume), I feel that being on a team pushes you harder creatively. You have to learn to be more confident in yourself. You learn what you do well so that you can more readily try new things without faltering. When you first start out on a team, you almost always feel nervous. I had a tendency to look at other team members and wonder how I was good enough to work alongside them. When it came to making the pages, I would often shuffle things around and second guess what I had done. I wanted the pages to be perfect. I had to learn not to compare myself to others and to embrace how I worked (mistakes and all). Being on teams forced me to look at my work flow process. I now know what I do when I make a page and how I like to do it. Having that understanding means I have a foundation to work with. It makes it so easy to build upon that when it comes to using new products or new techniques. It also means I can make pages faster. When I first started scrapbooking, it would take me days to finish some pages. Now I can do one in under an hour and still love it.
Being on a design team also means I am held accountable for making pages. I start off each month knowing that I will get X amount of layouts complete. It’s not that I won’t scrapbook on my own. It’s more a matter of my needing that extra push to keep my mind focused. Prior to being on a design team, my record of having completed projects was quite sporadic.
4) From your personal experience, what are some of the disadvantages of being on a design team?
The work load can be hard, depending on the design team. It’s really important to understand what a team expects of you before you apply. You also need to be able to judge how many teams you can handle at one time. If you start doing too much for a team, you can get to a point where you fall out of love with creating. I have a hard time saying no, so often, I would volunteer to help out when other team members were sick. At times, I would be doing so many projects on short deadlines that I was getting very little sleep. I would go in these long spurts putting my all into it and then, fall into periods of time in which I just could barely even scrap a page. When that happened, I would be putting in the bare minimum of effort to make my projects. I was making very few things outside of DT work. I really had to learn to better balance what I was capable of producing with good self care. Self care isn’t just about sleep. Creative self care is managing what you do so your creative energy doesn’t burn out. It’s about understanding the energy you have throughout your entire creative process so that you can learn to properly utilize it.
5) Take us through your creative process – Is it the same for each design team or different depending on the type of product or project?
Though I store my pages in the albums in order by date, I don’t scrap chronologically. It gives me a lot of freedom in choosing the right photo(s) or story for the right project. I strongly believe in creating real pages with real stories for all of my creative team projects. I don’t want to stage a photo or create a page just to create it. Sometimes, a creative team assignment will inspire me to tell a story I wasn’t expecting to tell (another advantage of being on a design team). Generally, this means my process is going to be determined by the assignment or if I have a specific goal in mind for how to share that page. My creative work fuels a lot of my blog posts and articles.
In some cases, I am given a product or products to use. I will go through my photos to find the ones that I feel work with the given supplies. If it’s a product I am comfortable with, I might try to determine if there is something I can share about my process to help other scrapbookers better incorporate that product into their pages. If it’s a product that doesn’t fit in with my usual style or even the stories I generally tell, I have to identify how I can to use it. This could mean finding alternative meanings to a motif or identifying hidden or deeper stories within my pictures. For example, Last year I was on the Traci Reed Design team and she had a basketball themed kit for school sports.My son has no interest in basketball or school sports. I found photos of him playing with a ball and hoop as a toddler and instead told the story of how we just aren’t a sports team kind of family. You can read about that layout here.
One of the reasons I like being a part of the Layout a Week Design team is that it encourages me to identify “problem” products that are sitting unused in my stash. In those cases, I search my stash, find a product and then build the layout with the goal of using it while observing my process as I work.
Some of my most challenging (and in many ways most satisfying work) has been done when I have a specific challenge to start with. This can be a journaling/story prompt ( as with Simple Scrapper) or a trend driven or design driven challenge ( as is often the case with Get It Scrapped). Both Simple Scrapper and Get It Scrapped have a wonderful way of sharing prompts that inspire story driven pages. They have taught me to take a simple photo and tell deeper stories. Get It Scrapped has taught me how to take a trend, product or page design and use it to fully support my story. The prompt is my guide and yet, it’s open ended enough to allow me to explore how I implement it. The prompt guides everything: photo choice, page design,use of color, typography and the supply choices.
Not all of my layouts are made with deep thought involved. I love sketches. Over the years, I have worked with them often enough that I can make quick, detailed pages in short time frames. If I don’t want to think hard and I just want to create, sometimes I will pull out a sketch and the first supplies I can grab that match the photos.
I often sit with a notebook by my side while I work. I can jot down notes to use for blog articles. If I am making a tutorial, I outline the steps before I begin working. I decide whether it’s going to be just photos, a video or both. I try to gather all of the supplies before I start working so I have as clear a path as possible toward the end layout. Preparation is especially important when filming videos.
6) When it comes to deadlines, do you have your projects done ahead of schedule or do you work best under pressure?
I do a bit of both though, I often end up working under pressure. As each assignment comes in, I generally have an idea of how much time I should allot to it. Some I do right away and then I let them sit. I find when I come back to them, I can tweak things a bit for a better end result. Usually this is the case for tutorials or larger scale projects. Other times, I know it’s a quick project and I don’t work on it right away even though I probably should. In those cases, I can get easily distracted and may start working on non-creative team work. The next thing I know, I am near the deadline and I need to get working.
I also have to take into account where I am at in the creative cycle. My energy seems to naturally ebb and flow during the year. I try to create more during high energy periods so that I can simply rest and share during the low energy parts.
7) Besides scrapbooking, what other hobbies do you enjoy?
I play a lot of video games. In fact, both my husband and son do as well. We are often playing co-op style games together. I used to do a lot more bead work and drawing. I am trying to bring those back into my creative life. I hope to learn how to crochet this year too.
8) Have you ever been rejected from a design team? If so, how did that experience make you a better scrapbooker?
I have been rejected so many times that I have stopped counting. I have submitted multiple projects to magazines that were never chosen. In the early days, I would take it personally. As I became more experienced, I realized that it’s not necessarily that my work is horrible. It might be any number of things like: my style doesn’t fit the current trend or the particular style they need to fill on the team, I may have recently used a product that competes with one of the team’s sponsors (some can’t hire you on the team if you have used or shared projects on your blog using those products within a certain time frame), they think I am too busy to devote enough time to their team’s needs or they had an overwhelming number of applicants and I just didn’t make the cut. In most cases, you will never know why they rejected you so you just can’t dwell on it.
Over time, I have developed a thick enough skin that I can just shake it all off when I don’t make the cut. I learned that there is a positive way to compare your work to others and a negative one. I don’t view another scrapbooker’s work as better than mine, just different. For the teams I don’t make, I analyze the styles that comprise the team. I look at how they photograph and display their work. I also look at their blogs. I ask myself what they are doing differently than me and what I can learn from them while still hanging onto who I am. I have certain quirks that are not always desirable to some of the teams. For example, I know my penmanship and sometimes my crooked pages bother some people. I have made peace with the quirks that make up my personal style.They are a huge part of me and at the end of the day, the people who will value my pages are my family. It’s so easy to get lost in the need for producing a finished project for a team rather than creating for yourself.
9) You’re also a co-host of a podcast called the Digiscrap Geek, how do you balance doing that along with your design teams?
I really don’t always have myself all put together, though sometimes, from the outside looking in, it may seem that way. I do my best to prioritize my life. My first priority is to my husband and son. I have to place commitments to design team work after family along with the podcast (both on equal level). There are deadlines associated with those and people who expect me to follow through. The blog comes last because really, I have no commitment to write or publish something other than what I choose to share. I do my best to remain consistent, but I also realize that not publishing a post every Tuesday at a set time hasn’t hurt my blog growth. I am fully aware that all the blog gurus recommend consistency, but I also know that stressing myself out for not getting an article published isn’t worth it. It’s an area I have allowed flexibility. I am also learning to place my health and self care as a higher priority.
I have had a hard lesson regarding balance and flexibility over the past year. It was a lot easier to maintain balance when we lived in the Bahamas. My life was a lot quieter and there was very little fluctuation to our weekly schedule. Last summer, I found out we would be moving to Abu Dhabi and I knew I was going to have to learn to let some things go. This is very hard for me as I really want to do so many things.
Starting last summer, I began stepping down from some of the design teams when the terms ended (at one point I was working on six teams at the same time). I wanted to continue but I also knew that staying on would have meant not producing the best work I could for them. I knew trying to keep the deadlines and the quality of my work up would stress me out. Early last year, my blog was thriving. I was publishing to my blog and website quite frequently. I thought I had planned ahead to accommodate the move, but it turned out, I didn’t have enough extra content ready to publish. We planned for my move with some time off from the podcast, but then my move happened almost two months after the scheduled break. At times it was stressful and I definitely wasn’t balancing things well. Sometimes you just don’t. The move was exciting but even the positive emotions I was experiencing were wearing me down.
After we settled into our new apartment, I went through an extreme burnt out period in which, for several months, I wasn’t motivated to create much of anything. It was like the creative part of my brain was numb or crippled. It’s a normal part of my creative cycle, however, I had not anticipated it this time during the excitement of the move. It made it that much harder to get myself back into a good creative habit.I bought a craft project to do with my son for Christmas and then, we never made it. Often, I would feel guilty about not blogging or making pages. I even felt guilty about buying that craft, telling my son we would work on it and then never bothering. That guilt was a huge obstacle that I had to move around first before I could even start back to being balanced.
I’m very happy with this new chapter in my life (Abu Dhabi is an awesome place to live), but I am also figuring out how a faster paced lifestyle fits in with creative life. I have moved past the guilt stage and now am constantly evaluating everything I am doing so that I can find the balance between my blog, design team work, the podcast and family life/ homeschooling my son. Some days I succeed and feel balanced. Other times I am failing miserably.
The key to balance seems to revolve around understanding what is most important to you, being flexible and being willing to drop projects that might cause you stress or less joy. You have to realize that you have a set schedule with what is sometimes a small window for creativity. Focusing on how little time you have or that you aren’t making things only serves to paralyze you. It can force you into a growing cycle of inactivity. It’s easy to say this but not always easy to remember or move past, especially when you are in the middle of that numb,non creative guilt part of the cycle.
Right now, I am analyzing my energy levels along with the tasks I have chosen to undertake. I am trying to build in extra time so that my schedule is more adaptable. I have set goals for myself and as a team, my co-hosts and I have been looking at where we want the podcast to go. On a personal level, I know I can’t get caught up with worrying about the balance. I just need to keep moving forward, making realistic goals for myself along the way…not letting my failures or a bad day get to me. Balance will come back. Remember that everyone falls out of balance every now and again.
10) What is your absolute favorite thing about scrapbooking? What is your “why”?
It’s hard to pick just one thing or one “why”. I guess overall, my “why” is just because scrapbooking makes me happy. There are aspects of each part of scrapbooking that bring me joy. I love the process of buying or getting new things. When I get something new, I love to shuffle the products around, thinking about their potential. I also enjoy putting them into kits or placing them in their respective homes in my scrapbook. Putting stuff away makes me feel grateful for having the supplies. I love sorting my photos and rediscovering things I have forgotten. Then there is the process of creating. It brings a different kind of joy. I get a lot of satisfaction from the process itself…placing each element, overcoming mistakes, and then, finding that I am content with the page and stopping to admire what I produced. Finally, there is that moment in which my family wants to see the pages, or we take down an album and look back on old memories. In those moments it’s not about how I placed each element on the page,but rather, just taking time to enjoy our story and reconnect.
Big thanks to Christy Strickler for taking time out of her busy schedule to let us get to know her better. You can check out more of Christy’s designs on her blog, “My Scrapbook Evolution.” I hope you enjoyed this series all about the pros and cons of Design Teams. I enjoyed gathering all of the different opinions and learning about all of the ins and outs from actual team members. Design Teams are an integral part of the scrapbooking industry. Designers make the products come to life with their creative imaginations and we all benefit from it!