by Ruby Bisson
I’m often greeted with a lingering eyebrow raise when I reveal that the person I stay with a couple of times a year is actually a 40-something year old with a house and kids of her own and that, more importantly, I met online when I was 13.
I get similar strange, distant looks when I say I am a “professional” scrapbooker. Immediately people assume I adhere to the ‘clean desk, straight lines, mum- material’ stereotype.
I entered the small scrapbooking pocket of the internet in an unlikely way. In year seven I started making jewellery, selling my necklaces and earrings from a little pink box in the school yard. I would walk from group to group and open up my case of ziplock bags and let the seniors flick through what I had to offer. If they were cool, I’d offer them well below cost price (50c a pair!). If they brought lunch money to school every day I’d increase the price- having money at school wasn’t exciting for them so they were happy to let it go (price raise to $2.50!). I did this because I needed a way to fund my hobbies. This venture was as successful as it could be considering my prices. I’d bring my box once or twice a week and make on average $7-$15. With this I could buy a new pair of pliers, or a couple of bags of glass beads. I was happy.
On a cloudless day during lunch break in 2007 a girl in my grade brought a scrapbook to school that her Mum made and laid it out on the oval for us to gaze at. There were photos of her alongside Christmas trees, photos of her jumping into swimming pools, with friends in first grade, with her pet dog. I was mesmerised. I wanted to make something like that. I wanted a place to stick all of the photos I’d been taking; I wanted to write down my stories. And just like that I dropped the will to thread beads onto a wire. I had a new drive, a new motivation.
I decided to look online for tutorials and ‘Must Have!’ supply lists. I wanted to be smart with the little savings I had accumulated from selling jewellery. I stumbled across a chat room, a whole world of people who were crafty and blogs where people shared photos of what they were making. I lingered on the sidelines for awhile before making an account (which my mother- for legal reasons- signed permission for) and at 13 joined my first online forum.
Then the wave of excitement- I started a blog and began to post photos of all of the leftover necklaces and earrings I had. I wrote how much it cost me to make and sought to swap scrapbooking supplies totalling to the same price. What eventuated was something quite remarkable: a complete sell out. I sent out my jewellery all over Australia and boxes of supplies started arriving on my doorstep. But these boxes weren’t limited to the amount of the jewellery I had swapped; these were huge boxes of supplies that a kind soul across the land had generously sent out of the kindness of their heart. Some weeks I’d receive three parcels and many from women who weren’t swapping jewellery- they simply saw a young enthusiastic girl and wanted to make her happy. For that, I am immensely thankful. My parents were dumbfounded and didn’t understand why or how this was happening. My collection continued to grow and five years later I bought a caravan to store it all in.
I became acquainted with the ‘big names’, those who were making their own product and jetting around the world to teach this so-called ‘scrapbooking’. There were ‘celebrities’, paper-craft shows and opportunities to work for manufacturers, local stores and magazines. As I participated in competitions and bought more products, I developed my style and improved my technique and began working within the industry. I was by no means a ‘name’, but I got some gigs that sent me running around the house jumping up and down, searching for someone who would understand my excitement. Each month I would receive a box with sometimes hundreds of dollars worth of products. I would make whatever I wanted to, photograph it and email it off to the company to use on their blogs, in their catalogues or craft shows. I occasionally wrote an article for a magazine and often got work published.
It was a world that operated not by 24 hour time, but by the American Craft and Hobby show that occurs every year where all brands would release new lines of product and compete in chat rooms to claim the title of Next Best Thing. It was a paper world. We’d send paper money to receive prettier paper and so the industry operated. I couldn’t publish a work as easily if I was using old stock, so I became familiar with brands and their lines – I could tell you what brand to use, what had a bad reputation, what year that line with the owls came out (at least three years ago) and by whom (hello, Basic Grey) and what was in store for the brand in the shelf behind that. I became a raging paper snob and nobody at school had any idea.
The industry isn’t all pretty papers and little books of memories. It can be a huge bitch fight and one in which the majority involved take very seriously. There was a blog, the Gossip Girl platform of the industry where an anonymous would sit and report on the ‘big names’, the ‘new products’ and the latest divorces amongst scrapbooking celebrities. One day I found my name woven into a post, along with 350 grey faced comments. I was being slammed as a copycat, as a young naïve 14 year old who shouldn’t have access to the blogs and forums that they loved to lurk. I was being shammed by a bunch of anonymous, middle aged women with clearly nothing better to do with their time. I had just changed schools because of bullying and then within moments of typing in a URL I learned that bullying doesn’t stop when you get older. It simply gets smarter and more personal. I learned to look past it thanks to the small and incredible supportive community I was a part of.
It is these people that make this creative process as meaningful as it is for me. Yes, I catch a train up north with 30kg of supplies a couple of times a year to stay with a woman who is more than double my age, but it’s not about that. We sit and drink and play with paint and colour until 4am every morning. We eat sherbet lemons and drink stollies and take photos on the beach. We have a mutual vested interest, and we encourage each other to express ourselves through our art practice. We are a community that gather in a lighthouse by the sea to laugh and swap supplies and learn from each other, we are a community that comes together when an online friend’s house burns down or when one is diagnosed with a horrible disease. We drive hours and hours, sometimes we catch planes to meet and create together. All for the love of that not-so-straight-edge scrapbooking.
I made a family online that is bound by paper and stitched with love, each page filled with colour and personality and texture. So many think I’m crazy, but when you find a community of people who like the same shit and understand your love of that new print on your Thickers by American Craft, you’ve just gotta stick with it regardless.
All photos by Ruby Bisson.
You can view a recent DIY Art Journal Tutorial by Ruby here.
Ruby is a university student who is best known for her creative methods in avoiding class. She prefers to gallivant in forests and under waterfalls, attempt pottery and mixed media and read novels completely unrelated to her degree. She is loud and messy and contemplative and struggles to stay in one place for an extended period of time. You can usually figure out her location via her blog/ Instagram.