Design Epiphany

I've been suffering a creative block since the new year has set in, and it does not really seem to be lessening. It's not a total block, as I've been making stuff all over the place, but it's been very difficult to make these things, particularly any finished bundle design. I think there are a couple of reasons for the block:

  1. I've been doing a large amount of designing without a significant break for too long. Everything I do now feels like I've done it thirty times before.
  2. While that last sentence is true to some extent, I also think I'm having a designer identity crisis, which is masquerading itself in my previous statement.

2011.10.10 - Amman

It only occurred to me last night that while I may be a bit tired of what I'm doing, I'm not really. Is there anything else I'd rather be doing? No. Do I want to make scrapbook layouts all day, every day? Yes. Do I see other designer's work and feel like I want to make more and more things? Yes.

Last night I finished reading a wonderful book, My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss. Near the end she started talking about her failed dinner party:

It wasn't that the food didn't taste good. It's just that it all felt so strained, my relationship with what I'd cooked, I mean. I'd expended a lot of time and energy on figuring out the menu, planning the dinner, sourcing the ingredients, and cooking the food, and then, once my plate was in front of me, it all just felt so foreign, so far away from what I actually wanted to eat. My throat closed right up. It was an unexpectedly upsetting moment -- to be surrounded by nine people kindly devouring all that was laid before them and to feel so estranged from their experience.

If you took out all the cooking reference and replaced them with designing, this passage would perfectly reflect what I've been feeling lately. And then, even better than just diagnosing the problem, Weiss offers a solution too!

After that fateful meal, however, I decided that I needed to approach my dinner parties differently. Clearly the old model was broken. I had to turn away from the complicated cookbooks and highfalutin ambitions and just think about the core of the matter. I needed to think about what I wanted to eat, first and foremost, when I had guests over. That's really all it was about. It was as simple and as complicated as that.

What do I want to eat?

And I think that's really what's been going on. I've been creating so many things, and a decent chunk of it just isn't appetizing to me upon viewing the final product. I mean, I made two bundles about the ocean. Why would I need two? And I'm honestly not super keen on either of them. Which is not to say that they aren't perfectly fine, but just that they don't fill me with satisfaction. And if I can't figure out what I like, how can I really keep doing this?

And so my designer identity crisis emerges from what I thought was just tiredness. It's been niggling at the back of my mind in recent months, that my design style is not really what I think it is. I think I've had certain ideas about what I like and what I like to make, that are frankly just wrong. This isn't really surprising, as whenever you start something new, especially as I did, by just jumping in and flailing around, you're going to get somewhere, but is it really where you wanted to go?

This realization reminded me of some great advice that my high school English teacher gave me, which she said in relation to learning to write, but really is applicable far beyond learning to write a perfect paragraph. She said that we first needed to learn the rules and work with the rules, and only when we'd done our time and proved we knew what we were doing, could we then break the rules.


Obviously, breaking the rules is the fun part, but if you don't know what you're doing, it's just going to be a mess. And I think that's where I am right now. I'm tired of doing what feels like the same thing over and over again, and so I want to branch out. But before I can do that I need to know what I love, as in actually be able to articulate it, before I start changing things. Otherwise, I may break something that really I don't want to break. Or break too many things at the same time and then have no where to stand.

Luckily I think this process of defining my design style will not be too difficult or strenuous. I have access to Pinterest, which has made curating and defining one's style into an easy and beautiful thing. I spent a little time browsing through finished designs, looking for things that I would actually buy and use. From this collection, I've written out what I think my design style is. I'm curious also if some of you would be so kind as to describe what you think my design style is, from things I've published here at Pixel Scrapper. I'm curious to see how closely we match up.

I'll be back soon to share what I've discovered and hopefully a new way forward.


Recent Comments

Cynthia Arnett
Cynthia Arnett Thu, 03/13/2014 - 13:49

I find as an artist that it is our lot in life to continue searching for inspiration where ever, when ever, and from what ever we hear, see and touch. We never know sometimes where that next ahah! momment will be found. Could you be in a slump....maybe but I think from your very busy year you just need time to regroup and sort your thoughts. You are a wonderful generous person and have created an amazing site that many people enjoy. As far as your style I believe it might be considered clean minimalistic, but don't stop there jump into another style's your lot in life. Have fun at whatever you do. God bless your future.

Lisa Lavery
Lisa Lavery Thu, 03/13/2014 - 09:14

I think all artists go through this. I think all of us here at PS have experienced a dry spell when working on our layouts. It is normal. I don't know if this would help you, but I recently watched a program on famous artists. I did not know that Picasso in his early days painted very realistic. But he was not happy with that style just because it was the trend. He deviated from it to create what he felt inside and thus developed his own style, which we all know today as crooked faces and bizarre shapes. I think sometimes the block comes when we feel we have to follow trends instead of following what we know inside. A sharp shift, or what seems to be, can sometimes bring a whole new, exciting and refreshing opportunity.

Amara Van Lente
Amara Van Lente Wed, 03/12/2014 - 20:49

I know I am new to this site and community, but I really love reading your posts and looking through your work. You do an amazing job. As a fellow designer in the digital community, I know that it can be sometimes overwhelming knowing that our field constantly changes. It is sometimes a pain, but ultimately what makes us all grow! I love that you are honest with yourself and us and that it is okay to have a mental block and it CAN be overcame. Sometimes, time is the answer. Here's to you, the Pixel Scrapper community and to all of us out there that need to know moving forward is possible and attainable. Happy scrapping and designing :)

Sharon-Dewi Stolp
Sharon-Dewi Stolp Sun, 03/09/2014 - 21:11

Dear Marisa, I find it very admirable that you were able to articulate your troubles and feelings in such a profound way and that you still remain positive, focusing on a brighter tomorrow. Everyone here already said such wonderful things. I agree with them all and couldn't formulate it in a more beautiful way. I also think that it is very important to create what you love and not to create simply to create. There are already so many wonderful pieces published on this site in short periods of time, so it's okay to sit back for while every now and then, to do some self-reflecting and to find new inspiration. I've seen your style change somewhat over the years and always loved seeing you dive into new trends of the digital scrapbooking world, like washi tape, wood, paint, plastic pockets, gold, and lately also the more doodling style. I used to see a lot of grungy and distressed paper textures in your bundles, but nowadays it evolved into a more modern and clean look. What I haven't seen change is your love for bright colors, cute things (like butterflies and flowers and such), your playfulness and touches of fun and your references to paper scrapbooking which I absolutely love! The bundles you create always contain a rich variety of papers and type of elements and your sense of color is fabulous. I always love to create layouts with your designs and am often inspired by it. I hope you'll be able to find your designer identity again and regain your love for designing.

Sunny Faith Rush
Sunny Faith Rush Sun, 03/09/2014 - 16:19

Marisa. I've put a lot of thought into your post. You have had an amazing year of activity and change, including relocating half-way around the world. There is been a heavy amount of work going into building and sustaining the Pixel Scrapper website, brining on new designers, participating in blog trains, book clubs, etc. Frankly, you seem to be able to "Do it all" , and never falter. It's kind of refreshing to know that you are actually human, like the rest of us. Most of us would have been yelling "uncle" a long time ago.

You are a talented, creative, giving individual. Designing is what seems to give you energy and a sense of achievement. Perhaps all you need is to take a different direction with your talent for a few months. Such as, teaching. You already do that on a smaller scale- how about more depth teaching for the pixel scrapper members, from beginning to advanced? Each lesson would have an assignment for each student to finish, and then post the assignment for peer review and support.

Another suggestion would be to write a digital book for kindle publishing, on something like a journal of your travels (showcasing your scrapped photo pages). One of my favorite books is "when wanderers cease to roam" by Vivian Swift. I know that your writing and scrapping would be just as successful.

Well, these are just some thoughts and suggestions. Sometimes, we just need to be still for awhile, to hear that sweet inner voice that tells us the way to go.

Susan Cantin
Susan Cantin Sun, 03/09/2014 - 09:47

I think what you are going through is part of the process. Art is all about searching ... no matter what that art may be. I have gone through many a metamorphosis through my art life. I find I change and when I change then my art has to change to. Congratulations on being able to 'see' your next step.

Uniq Liu
Uniq Liu Sun, 03/09/2014 - 09:09

Dear Marisa, I'm glad you write your feelings down, share it to us, and I read it. Although I'm new to pixelscrapper world, not really familiar with every designer's creations and styles, however I am surprised that papers mostly I wanted or kits, elements I hearted are design by you. I ask myself too, why? and what it is? May be the well-finished, high standard visual design you offered us. Also, you have good sense in colors. I guess I can share some of my work ( ) with you, perhaps you will find how interesting it is, seeing my projects together with my design style (even the product type) which cannot be describe clearly. I would say you are definitely a designer since you really can design and you're beyond good at it. To me, I try to learn something totally new for a while (a year) so that I don't have to think about what I do now. I believe sometimes I just have to wait, then one day my block will gone, some answers or thoughts will come to me. On the new path I walk I would learn new things, get chance to find a neverland that fresh my mind. After designing products, I begin to learn how to design soft goods, handmade, which is different from what I do before. I feel like I'm alive again. And my product design knowledge become an asset.
Wish your answer goes to you soon and quote from your words: May your creativity blossom again soon!

Amber Button
Amber Button Sat, 03/08/2014 - 19:51

Marisa, wow. I love how open and honest you are about your designer's block and design identity crises. It's hard to be open about that sort of thing, especially to your customers. As you know, I too am a designer and I also jumped right into digital design. I learned photoshop and within a couple of weeks, started selling my designs. I jumped straight into the deep in, over a waterfall and even a year later, when I applied to guest design on sites, I had someone tell me that I had no clear design style and was all over the place. I too was creating just to get stuff out there and none of it was bad but I had to ask myself those same questions you spoke of. "Do I like it?" "Would I buy and use this?" and of course "What do I want to design?" I started really zoning in on what I wanted to create and what sold well for me and looked at how my customers and creative team described my designs and eventually found my niche.

As for what I think your style is, you are quite eclectic in that you are very good at all different types of design which is why it can be hard to pinpoint I am sure but in looking through your designs and thinking of what I have downloaded and used of yours, I believe that what I see as the most inspired designs are the ones that are personal to you like the ones from your travels and your life. The chinese new year or ocean themed collections are nice but they are no where near as inspired and personal as your collections named after places you've been or your artsy packs such as the passport stamp pack and gesso strokes and such. The doodles are nice but again, don't seem personal to you. Your textures and scanned items and things I know you personal created by hand or hand a connection with really stand out as your design style. You love rich colors and metallics and put a bit of fine art into your designs which I LOVE!

Keep on going, we all go through ruts and remember "Not all those who wander are lost." -JR Tolkien Sometimes, wandering and exploring who you are doesn't mean you're lost but that you are simply taking the time to find yourself.

Nadia Slegers
Nadia Slegers Sat, 03/08/2014 - 01:26

I totally agree with Kiana and Sheila. You have to design what you like/love to feel the love and satisfaction.
How you take your journey in this is up to you. You have to figure out what works for you. You are the captain of your ship. Maybe try something new to see what works? Get out of you comfort zone like Sheila said. Maybe go for a walk or something and try to see if you can look for inspiration outside of your computer??
For me your style is very modern, playfull and clean. You use color combinations that are fresh but not tradional (which makes it exciting to see what you have came up with like The Deck Of The Hall Bundle december 2013) and your designs match perfectly with my own designs :) And I always love your designs....don't know why :)

Kimberlee Gerstmann
Kimberlee Gerstmann Fri, 03/07/2014 - 19:41

I don't really have any good advice. I think that you voiced part of what I've struggled with when I've thought about designing. I'd really like to, but there are a whole lot of reasons I don't. I hope that you find a good path for yourself and that you make yourself happy first and foremost. :)

Kiana Fitzpatrick
Kiana Fitzpatrick Fri, 03/07/2014 - 10:05

I think like Sheila, it's better to design the papers and elements YOU would use on YOUR layouts. A few months ago, I started designing, and I was trying to think what others would buy or want. But I wasn't happy and I wasn't using what I was designing. So now I've rebranded and decided to design what I like to use on MY own personal layouts. And with only 5 kits so far, I've used my kits more than I ever have before!!!

Robyn Denton
Robyn Denton Thu, 03/06/2014 - 18:33

Marisa, I'm too new a scrapper to have any opinion on what your design style is, but I think the important thing is to design what YOU love, what satisfies YOU. Life's too short to be doing something that isn't what you truly want to do. Pixel Scrapper is the most amazing site, and that is all down to you and Jordan - which just shows what kind of generous, creative people you are. So, just keep doing what makes YOU happy.

Elizabeth Minkus
Elizabeth Minkus Thu, 03/06/2014 - 16:29

somethings to consider: your recent move, the huge growth of your website and all it's admin needs, the explosion of change and diversity in the digital scrap world in the past couple of years....
ideas for finding more joy in your work: new sources of inspiration including: music, art, drama, literature and basing designs on what you like - looking for new websites/galleries that you haven't spent time on before, especially if they are really different from what you are used to -
the addition of multiple designers has added to the volume and variety of your site and may free you up a bit to focus on what you really enjoy and not have as much pressure to meet all the needs of your users.
you and jordan have the best scrap site on the internet (always have) that is based on a generosity and love for digital scrapping. you have loyal and grateful users that support and wish the best for you! please allow yourself all the time and space you need to sort through this period. all artists and their work go through seasons of change and growth, and it will be a delight to continue to watch your art grow in whatever way brings you satisfaction and joy. your experience will help many of us with our own struggles. your art work and website have brought so much joy to me (and so many others) over the years and i wish for it to return to you double.
I do not know if my perspective on your art work is accurate, but my guess is that it is based in traditional scrapping with a fun, playful and upbeat feel to it. (no idea if that's any help at all!) i'm always grateful for all you continue to do!

Kim Legerdemain
Kim Legerdemain Thu, 03/06/2014 - 15:36

I haven't been into digiscrapping too long, but I think your most appealing kits are when you play with textures and patterns. Your paper templates are fun and unique. It seems your most successful bundles (I wouldn't know if this translates in sales) is when you create some great papers and then the bundle flourishes from there into shapes and elements. I think when the creative faucet runs dry, it's time to replenish and explore things that appeal to you (like pinterest), and eventually it will start to translate into renewed creativity. Give yourself some time and space to refresh.

Sheila Reid
Sheila Reid Thu, 03/06/2014 - 14:44

What a well written article, and reading Weiss's answer to it was very encouraging to me. I have been flailing around for the past 3 years now and am only just discovering my niche, and it wasn't what I expected. You giving us challenges here at Pixel Scrapper has really taken me out of my comfort zone in designing many times....I struggled and pulled my hair out at trying to figure out if I was making something for others, that I didn't put my heart into and feel happy about, or if I just wasn't happy about designing anymore, period. After a couple of really hard challenges, I just started making what I would put on a layout, what I loved. It turned out to be whimsical, vintage, metal bits and pieces, and things like that. I cared for each piece as I designed it, and the satisfaction of the finished kit filled my heart with joy. Sure, I want to make sure I design things for everyone, with a variety of some kind, and as always, continue to challenge myself now and then as you did that brought me to this understanding about my designs, but overall, I also have to remember that it was my passion, love, and experiences of life that I wanted to translate through my designs somehow in the first place. I can see (in my perception of your designs) a fun innocent child in a toy store with great imagination and fun type designs on one hand, and then I see a very sophisticated organized practical side of your designs, so its hard for me to pin point your style, it seems to vary, but always ends on a "fun" note, if any of this makes sense, haha. Anyway, I am interested to see what creative, fun designs come to you in this season of your life.