Scrap Happy

Posted: Thursday, March 20, 2003

The word "scrap" does not generally evoke artistic connotations.

A scrap is something that is left over, thrown away or that failed to serve a useful purpose -- like table scraps or scrap metal. As such, scraps are typically relegated to a humble status shared by terms like debris, waste and even garbage.

However, things are looking up for the lowly scrap. Thanks to the growing popularity of scrapbooking, scraps have risen to the level of art form.

Scrapbooks are essentially embellished photo albums. Instead of just sticking a picture of Timmy's first birthday in the album and calling it good, scrapbook makers embellish the page with anything from a preserved candle and other memorabilia to quotes of the comments made by relatives when Timmy fell asleep in the cake. To this is added every kind of decoration imaginable -- fancy paper, stickers, beads, fibers.

While making a scrapbook requires more time and materials than a typical photo album, scrapbook fans say the finished product documents important events, people and memories in a festive manner that captures the spirit of the moment far better than a photograph on a bare page could.

Geri Litzen of Nikiski is an avid "scrapper," and has been doing it since "before it was really very cool." For Litzen, scrapbooking is more than just a hobby or way to organize her photographs -- it is a way of preserving the past.

"My albums keep memories alive, so much more than if I hadn't taken the picture and made a story of it," she said. " ... It completes the whole picture. A picture is just a flat representation"

When her grandmother died recently, the family displayed a scrapbook they had put together of her as a memorial.

"There were more people reading the book than there were at the food table," Litzen said. "It really is a legacy that you can pass on when you put it into a scrapbook page."

Scrapbooking also gives Litzen a way to care for her cherished photographs. As the science of photography has advanced over the years, it has become clear that storing pictures in magnetic photo albums or stuffing them in shoe boxes can damage them. Scrapbook material is acid free and is designed to preserve the quality of pictures, instead of degrade them.

"Think about how much money you spend on cameras, film, film developing -- there are so many aspects of taking pictures that involve money, and then it kind of just stops at the shoe box."

Litzen got interested in scrapbooking after seeing an impressive array of stickers at a garage sale that were being sold by a woman who had her own scrapbook business.

Litzen wanted to give it a try, but made the mistake many novice scrappers make -- getting in over her head. When first starting out, it is easy to amass a mountain of supplies that look cool but just serve to complicate the process.

"(Back then), people were buying more than they needed without directions," she said. "Then they'd be overwhelmed with choices."

It is difficult to create coordinated, thematic pages when there are too many embellishments to choose from. A common evening activity in Litzen's household was for her husband to watch a movie while Litzen worked on her scrapbooks.

"The movie would get over and I usually had one page done," she said.

Since then, Litzen has become a more efficient scrapper, though she still takes her time on her pages.

"I'm a detail scrapper," she said. "It's an art for me."

Litzen's practice at scrapbooking has improved her design skills as well as other skills related to the medium.

"You become a much better photographer when you're doing scrapbooks," she said. "And a much better journalist in terms of remembering events and things that happen."

Angie Daniels of Kenai said her scrapbooking also has had an effect on her photography.

"I used to take one picture of something, now I'll take 10 pictures to get different angels," she said.

Daniels got into scrapbooking when she was pregnant with her third child. She heard that putting pictures in boxes and albums would ruin them, so she dug out her kids' baby pictures to put them in scrapbooks.

"I had them all in a box and I just started and got the momentum to do the other kids' ones," she said.

Daniels now has six kids and scrapbooks for all of them.

"We keep them out in the open so the kids can look at them whenever they want."

Looking through the scrapbooks reminds the kids of family members, trips and other events that may otherwise fade from their memory as they get older.

Scrapbooks can be fun for kids to look through, and even more fun for them to make themselves.

Litzen home schools her children and incorporates scrapbooking into their curriculum because it teaches art skills and writing skills when they add journal information to go along with their pictures.

"I have a background in education, so the teaching aspect of this fills a void for me," she said.

Litzen got her 8-year-old niece, Celina Jackson of Nikiski, into scrapbooking by giving her a starter album for her birthday that she could fill herself.

"I get to put the stickers on there that makes it look neat, and other things that make it stand out," Celina said.

Litzen's scrapbooking expertise is shared with people beyond her own family in her capacity as the Alaska area manager for the Scrap in a Snap company. Scrap in a Snap and similar companies sell scrapbook making supplies through independent consultants, like Litzen. Litzen conducts classes at people's houses where she demonstrates how to use the company's scrapbook theme kits and other wares. She also holds a "crop" once a month, which is like a day-long scrapbooking fest -- kind of like a quilting bee.

"It's evolved from something you do at home to something that's a real social event," she said.

Scrapbookers can drop in whenever they like and purchase supplies, work on their scrapbook projects and get help from Litzen. Litzen's most recent crop was Saturday at the Nikiski Senior Citizens Center, where scrapbookers came and went throughout the day. Celina was there too, getting help from Litzen on her birthday album.

"I get to be with my aunt, I get to be with my mom and my family," Celina said. "I think it's a really neat thing to do."

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