Last week, I ran into Hobby Lobby because I needed a couple of new Copic markers. Apparently, purchasing a Copic marker requires a national security clearance: they are kept in a locked case, which must be opened by a manager, and then the manager escorts you to the cash register.
And I know, it’s an expensive marker, and I suppose if I were the kind of person who steals things, it would be easy to steal. But there are plenty of more expensive things I could easily steal which don’t require FBI clearance.
(I’m really not the shoplifting type.)
At any rate, as the manager escorted me to the cash register with my two purple markers, he said “You must be an artist if you’re buying these markers, what kind of art are you making?” and I said “scrapbook layouts” and he said “oh, so, not an artist.”
Except, really: I’m not an artist. I never have been.
Instead, I’m a scrapbooker because I am a writer.
I love pretty paper and embellishments and making stuff with fonts, but you could take that all away; if all I had was photos, white cardstock, and a printer, I would still make scrapbook layouts, because for me—a non-artist but a writer and a lover of stories—the purpose of scrapbooking is telling stories. Sometimes I have a story I want to tell, and I’ll find the photo that goes with it. (Sometimes this means taking a photo that supports it; sometimes that means making a layout without a photograph at all.)
But sometimes I start with a photo and find a photo to tell about it.
I know that not everyone loves writing scrapbook journaling though. Some people do scrapbook because they are artists, and their focus is on the visual, so the story matters less. Some people just have a hard time with writing.
Sometimes it’s hard to find a story.
If you look at a photo as an opportunity to tell many different stories, though, that makes it easier to find an angle. No photo has only one story, and once you start developing a process for finding them, it gets a little bit easier to find them.
Here are two examples of starting with a photo and finding a story to tell.
I took this photo of me and Kendell last week, sitting on our back porch:
Here’s a list of the stories I could tell:
- Why I took the photo. After way too many weeks of not shaving or cutting his hair, Kendell was finally ready to get rid of the scruffy mess he’d grown. I took the photo to document what he looked like before he finally shaved.
- My opinion on his hair and beard.
- A history of his facial hair (which is usually a goatee anyway).
- A list of the places we like to go together. (You don’t really have to write a story that goes exactly with the event or experience that the photo came from.)
- The story of the recent experiences we’ve had together that have brought us closer and made our marriage stronger.
- Why I am lucky to have him (I took the photo the day before St. Patrick’s day!)
- Why he is lucky to have me.
- 25 facts about the past 25 years (we celebrated our 25th anniversary last month, and while I meant to have my son take some pictures of us on our anniversary, I never quite managed it).
- Five things I love about our life together right now. (Or even five things he does that make me nuts!)
- How he is recuperating from his heart surgery last fall.
And here is the layout I made with the photo:
There are things I would change about this layout—I should've cut the "thanks, honey" from darker paper, for example—but I like the little snippet of our lives together right now that I wrote about. I like to think that one day, when we're both gone, our kids or (future) grandkids would be happy to read these little details. The journaling is a combination of some of the items from the list I made, and it all clicked for me when, the day before I made the layout, Kendell took care of a bunch of stuff when I was at work, and when I came home I told him "thanks," and he said "you don't have to say thanks, that's what husbands do" and then I started thinking about what else I could thank him for.
But Amy, you might be thinking, what about older photos you didn’t take last week? You can still find some stories. Sometimes the photo itself will spark memories—look for little details that help you remember something. If I really can't remember much, I will look through my social media posts, my journal, my blog, or my emails for memory sparks. Take this photo, which I took in 2011:
Some ideas for stories:
- Why I took the photo. (Notice that I listed this twice? It’s a good place to start, especially for older pictures, because if you keep following your "why," you'll come to other details, too.) I came into the living room and found my son Kaleb reading with this knight (which was left over from his birthday party) right next to him and it totally cracked me up.
- The type of books Kaleb liked to read.
- A list of his favorite books from this time period.
- His relationship with reading.
- My thoughts about him learning how to read and how it might change our relationship.
- A list of the things he was learning in first grade, what he thought about his teacher, or a description of his classroom.
- Something totally unrelated to him sitting on the couch reading: who his best friend was, what toys he liked to play with, what his favorite meal was.
- A list of things he did that made me laugh.
- How much he loved that green shirt, and how he would seek it out the second it came out of the dryer.
- How the picture makes me feel looking back now—how young and little he looks, what I miss about that phase of his life, how he was sweet & kind & spunky then and how that has changed and stayed the same in five and a half years.
Here’s the layout I made with that photo:
(I can't tell you how much I adore those book stamps. I use them every chance I get! They are by Elle's Studio. As are the patterned paper and the puffy stickers.) I Photoshopped and uploaded this picture (along with a few others) right before I went to bed, and when I woke up I had the title in my head. Love that! This journaling captures a little bit more of Kaleb's personality quirks; I feel like the photo itself visually illustrates his social nature, and the details in the journaling backs it up with words.
The stories we can tell have meaning and value and they are, I believe, an integral part of our scrapbook layouts. (Or your journal, or your blog. You don't have to scrapbook. Just write them down!) And while writing might feel a little less sexy than playing with embellishments and paper, there is a great sense of satisfaction to be found in finding your way to a story you want to tell. If you allot some time in your scrapbooking process to drafting a story, to thinking about what you want to say and where you want to put it, you'll start discovering you can find a story.