My word for 2009 is Fearless, and so far it is working for me. I’m writing more—though not as much as I would have hoped—so I need to focus on increasing my output, especially for my book on autism. The best success of my Fearless project has been the launch of my stamping blog, an enterprise that scared the heck out of me because I truly feel my cards are okay but not exactly special enough to support a blog.
My attitude toward crafting is shockingly democratic. I believe that crafts, in contrast to fine arts, give us ordinary folks who lack artistic genius the opportunity to express ourselves creatively. What we make can be as kitschy as a crocheted toilet paper cover or as gorgeous as a perfectly turned piece of pottery. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that we feel a sense of satisfaction in the act of creating, like a kindergartner who makes an Easter bunny out of a paper plate and cotton balls. That elemental creative pleasure is all a crafter needs to make the time and effort spent entirely worthwhile.
Over the past few years, my hobby of choice—rubber stamping—has grown in popularity, and like other hobbies that become popular, it has become increasingly trendy, complicated, and professionalized. What was once a fun and accessible hobby that “anyone can do” has developed into an intimidating activity that seems to require actual talent as well as extensive knowledge of a huge variety of products.
I frequent an online stamping community called Splitcoaststampers, or SCS for short. The gallery at SCS contains hundreds of thousands of handmade cards to inspire and motivate other stampers. The stamp-related forums are friendly places where perfect strangers will take time to help you figure out how to pierce a straight line of dots or choose the best ink for clear stamps.
The trend toward more embellished cards came to my attention gradually through the Favorites of the Week thread, started every Sunday morning in SCS’s general stamping forum. Anyone can post links to their favorite cards for the week. When I first started looking at this thread several years ago, the styles of favorite cards were quite diverse, with everything from very simple to very ornate represented.
Gradually, however, as the embellished style became more popular and product choices expanded, fewer simple cards were posted. Seeing as I have precious little artistic talent, my forays into the gallery at SCS in general and into the Favorites thread in particular became increasingly intimidating. All those beautiful cards with ten layers of cardstock embossed and distressed and embellished into little works of art are beautiful, no doubt about it, and I admire the talent and time put into creating them. My personal style, however, is cleaner, simpler. If I were a graphic design artist, I’d want to design print ads for the Gap. Anything with lots of restful, empty space attracts my attention.
I had quit visiting the Favorites thread until January, when I decided to see what styles were getting posted. Trends change, after all, and I knew the pendulum would swing back to cleaner, simpler cards eventually.
The pendulum hasn’t swung back yet. I clicked on about 40 cards and every one was like the first: eight or more layers of cardstock, multiple embellishments, time-consuming techniques, embossing, outline stamp images artistically colored with Copic markers, and so on. Every single one was stunningly beautiful. By the time I reached the end of the thread, I felt like a total loser: that kid in junior high who suddenly realizes her project for the science fair looks like it was made by a five year old, while all her classmates’ projects look like graduate students made them. I felt embarrassed I’d ever posted a card at all, much less over 300 of them. I wanted to delete my whole gallery and slink into oblivion.
Those of you who know me personally know that I do not have low self-esteem. Years ago, I overcame my tendency to beat myself up for not being perfect. Yet there I sat, staring glumly at my computer, feeling totally beaten up and humiliated because my cards didn’t look like the cool kids’ cards.
This is what happens when you compare yourself to other people, and forget who you are and why you’re doing something. The results of such comparisons are never, ever good.
Then I remembered Julie Ebersole. Julie makes “clean and simple” into high art. When I’m thumbing through a stamping magazine, I can pick out her cards without looking at the credits. I want to be her when I grow up. I thought about Krystie Lee Hersch, who credits Julie as her major source of inspiration and makes gorgeous cards I adore, often with a single piece of cardstock and some ink. I thought about Nichole Heady, whose success with clean and simple designs led her to start up one of my favorite stamp companies, the enormously successful Papertrey Ink.
These women taught me a valuable lesson: celebrate who you are, and create what you love. I love clean and simple cards, and there’s nothing wrong with that, even if it’s not exactly trendy at the moment. These positive thoughts began to ease my humiliation, and it occurred to me that if I, with my, um, comfortable self-esteem, could feel intimidated and humiliated, there must be others who felt the same way…or worse. I brainstormed ways to celebrate the clean and simple style. The most obvious and easiest thing to do was to start a thread at SCS titled “Post your Clean and Simple Cards Here,” and here’s what I wrote:
“Okay, just checked out the favorites of the week thread and my ego has been battered to a pulp. Ouch! I've stayed away from that thread for months and months for just this reason. Those Totally Awesome Stampers ROCK!
”But for those of us who don't do techniques that require anything like ‘talent’ or ‘skill,’ who don't layer our cards into inch-thick confections of pure gorgeousness, who don't have all the latest nesties or copics, who don't have coloring skills above kindergarten level, and who do love to make clean and simple and, most of all, EASY cards...please post your favorites from your own gallery, the ones that make you happy as long as you don't compare them to what the Totally Awesome Stampers are making…. Rather than feel sorry for our simple, easy, and basic cards, let's celebrate them...because they really do deserve to be celebrated!”
Putting my neuroses out there for the whole world to see made me nervous, but something amazing happened. People admitted to feeling the same way I did. Many said they had always felt too intimidated to start a gallery themselves, but after seeing all the clean and simple cards linked to that thread, they felt energized and eager to share their work. Some people even sent me private messages thanking me for being so courageous in standing up for clean and simple stamping.
Courageous? Me? Huh? I hadn’t thought of it like that, and I guess from a certain point of view it was rather fearless of me to buck a trend. The truth, however, is that talented clean-and-simple stampers like Julie, Krystie, and Nichole have been bucking the trend all along, fearlessly doing what they love. They are the leaders, and I’m just a devoted follower who knows how to make a little noise.
You just never know what the consequences of your actions might be. Because several people suggested it might be a good idea, I started a regular Clean and Simple Favorites of the Week thread, which has turned out to be quite popular. Then, a wonderful stamper named Jen started the Clean and Simple Weekly Challenge on SCS. I’m on the first Design Team for it and post a card each week to inspire others in the challenge.
You have no idea how truly strange this feels to me…being an inspiration to others. Heck, I just wanted to feel better about my creative vision, and now lots of other people feel better about their vision, too. I’m giddy with joy over this beautiful example of my karma working for good in the universe. Too often, karma is biting me on the butt.
During this clean and simple love-fest, lots of people (well, more than five, but I’m easily influenced on things like this) asked me to start a stamping blog. I’m a first-born pleaser, so of course I had to do it. Simplicity by LateBlossom is the result. I still don’t feel that my cards are “blog worthy,” but you know what? It doesn’t matter whether they are or aren’t worthy. What matters is that I’m having fun posting them and at least a few people are having fun seeing them.
Best of all, the gallery at SCS now has many more clean-and-simple cards posted every day. Those cards inspire me and put a very silly grin on my face every time I visit the gallery now. Long live Clean and Simple!
So far, living my word Fearless hasn’t gotten me published, but I’ve made new stamping friends and once again feel like a kindergartner with an amazing work of paper-plate-and-cotton-ball art to show my mommy. Knowing that I helped others feel the same elemental joy of creating something beautiful for themselves motivates me to create more, stamp more, share more. If there’s a downside to this situation, I’ll be darned if I can find it.
Now it’s time for me to get to work “creating” that book about autism. I feel pretty Fearless about that.
So please do tell, how’s your word working for you?