Family Album 2013

Family Album 2013

Family Album 2013: Incorporating a Child's Art and Schoolwork

This post is part of a series where I explain in detail how I approached and built my 2013 family album that was printed  by Blurb. In a hurry? View the completed photobook, now.

So, confession time:

I have only made one photobook dedicated to telling my daughter's story, and it only covers the first few months of her life. It was one of the first photobooks I ever made and I did it using a simple drag-and-drop template through iPhoto.

While I have had Create a Baby Book for Lyra on my to do list for 7 years, I have yet to get around to it (It has moved up in priority, though, and I hope to share that process here as I walk through it). And, though I have saved and scanned a good chunk of her art and schoolwork from her first two years of school, I just isn’t sure how to approach building a photo book for her that I wasn’t planning to publish for more than a decade.

Of course, the typical solution would be to make a traditional school album or even one based on pocket pages. But, doing that would mean getting “stuff”. and storing it. And cutting. And…ambivalence. The decision-making that has to go into creating traditional, paper-based layouts just paralyzes me. I have to be true to who I am and that means making clean, neat, bound photobooks.

But, there will still the problem that creating a photobook to document Lyra’s school years could mean preserving a set of digital files for 12 years. It just didn’t seem practical. 12 years ago Photoshop was on version 8. They’re now on version 16.But they may as well be on version 2000 for all that PS CC 2014 can do vs PS 8. So, that option was really out.

Then it occurred to me: my child is an essential part of our family’s story.

The work she does in school, the growth she experiences intellectually and artistically as she grows physically are an essential part our lives. Our walls are often covered by current drawing obsession. Pulling schoolwork out of a stuffed backpack is an essential part of our story right now. There was simply no reason to document that part of the story separately. Because creating and learning is her job as a kid. Our family changes as she changes.

Gathering the stuff

I allow Lyra to self-select schoolwork that she wants to preserve. She has a drawer in her dresser dedicated to this purpose. And when it gets full, we go through and purge. During that purge a lot of things that seemed important to her when she put it in the drawer, no longer are. We let go of those items. I keep things that speak to me. If she has made 50 puppy drawings, I keep 1 or 2. If she brought home an alphabet worksheet everyday for 6 months, I pick one that shows her squiggly handwriting and maybe another that shows her skill growth. Memorabilia from awards or special events are also saved.

Most of these items are simply stashed and then scanned or photograph some time over summer break, after the school year has ended. For me, the distance is important. It's really hard to know whether a worksheet or fish drawing is significant in the moment. Or whether it will still feel significant a year from now. But, months out it's just easier for me to tell what pieces are really part of the story and what pieces we can let go of.

Anything significant gets scanned. Some things get photographed. If I absolutely love it and can't bear to see it go, then I save it. But these are very few items.

Laying it out

I tend to create two different kinds of layouts with Lyra's work: grouped with a photograph that completes the story, or stripped-down as a single image on a page.

Blurb's 8x10 size makes it easy to keep  most objects "life-size." And I love visual impact of pages like the one below, where the artwork is allowed to be presented on its own. I find that adding a little bit higher contrast and sharpening to the scanned artwork helps the paper texture and crayon marks to come through in the finished page.

In this example, I have scanned in an award certificate along with the essay Lyra wrote that won the award. I explain the story behind this award on a previous intro page. If I hadn't, I would add captioning here to make sure I knew what I was looking at 10 years from now.

Organizing within the album

Within the album my approach is simple. I add school-related items with the season in which they occurred. I am loser with artwork. I add it wherever I feel a visual break is needed from the other content, unless it's something particularly seasonal (jack-o-lanterns, snowmen, etc.).

In terms of process, Much of the artwork and schoolwork were added to the album last. And, after the album was laid out in Lightroom I moved some pages around for visual harmony.

More inspiration

I've pinned a few different examples over the years of how other memory keepers have created projects incorporating their child's artwork. Links are below.

More About This Project

  • Want to know why I decided to make a 2013 family album? Check this out.
  • Would you like to know more about how I organized this project and the tools I used? See here.
  • Curious about the cool navigation technique I added to the fore edge of my book? Want to know what the heck a fore edge is? Read this.
  • Want an in-depth look at an entire season from my photobook? Stay tuned.


Family Album 2013

Family Album 2013: Colored Tabs on the Fore Edge

This post is part of a series where I explain in detail how I approached and built my 2013 family album that was printed  by Blurb. In a hurry? View the completed photobook, now.

Did you know that the edge of a book opposite the spine, where you open the book, is the fore edge? Neither did I. That is why I had to google the phrase, “what is the part of the book opposite the spine called?” Thank You Ms. Internet for always having the answer to my questions.

Anyway, I have Pinterest board that is dedicated to Photobook Ideas. Right as I was in the planning stages of my album I came across a pin with a creative layout for a Table of Contents. The original pin is gone, but it was something similar to this:

I thought it would be neat to have bands of color running along the edge of the book that signifies different events and time periods. My hope was that it would be a visual cue even when the album was lying on its side, and that it would make flipping through the album to find a particular image a bit easier.

Here is what the Fore Edge looks like on the finished album:

As you can see, only the blue band of SUMMER and the green band of SPRING are noticeable. In hindsight, there is a good reason for this: full bleed images. The other colors I chose for the tabs are simply too light to compete with the colors in the images.

For my 2014 album I plan to repeat this concept, but I will definitely have to think about my color choices and opt for something just a little bit bolder. I also wish I had thought to build a simple Table of Contents page that introduces the colors at the beginning of the album. I plan to do this in 2014.

Here is a step-by-step as to how I designed the colored tabs and how I used them throughout the album:

  1. I drew a rectangle using the shape tool and duplicated it 5 times so that I tabs for the four seasons, as well as one for MILESTONES (this is my word for those things we do each year, i.e. traditions) and CELEBRATIONS (birthdays, holidays, anniversaries).
  2. I re-colored each of the rectangles according to my specified color palette for the book.
  3. I selected all of the shapes and used the Align tool to adjust spacing, careful to make sure all of the tabs would fit within the Text Safe margin as defined by Blurb
  4. I used the Type tool to overlay a title on each of the rectangles.
  5. I selected the type and the corresponding rectangle and created a smart object for each tab and gave each layer a logical title.
  6. I grouped all of the tabs and gave it a logical name.
  7. I copied this group into each of the template PSD files.
  8. When creating a new spread I simply turned on/off the appropriate tabs in the file and deleted any layers I didn't need. For instance, in the spread below, the tabs for SUMMER, MILESTONES, and CELEBRATIONS were all turned on:
8x10 Blurb photo book | annual family album table of contents |

More About This Project

  • Want to know why I decided to make a 2013 family album? Check this out.
  • Would you like to know more about how I organized this project and the tools I used? See here.
  • Want to know how and why I incorporated my daughter's artwork into this project? That's next!


Family Album 2013

Family Album 2013: Organization + Process + Design Tools

This post is part of a series where I explain in detail how I approached and built my 2013 family album that was printed  by Blurb. In a hurry? View the completed photobook, now.

I am a digital memory keeper. I make photobooks. I like the symmetry of factory-cut pages and the precision of a single, professional printer generating the colors of my layouts. There's also something mystical that happens when I take something that I have only worked with digitally and am suddenly holding it in my physical hands.

And, for me, expense is an issue. I can buy or create a digital template or stamp and reuse it infinitely.   Once a piece of paper is cut, there's no going back. Stamp ink runs dry, has to be replaced. A sticker gets used once and it's done. Physical product always has to be replaced. Albums can only hold so much content and take up a certain amount of room. Photobooks are simply smaller than an equivalently sized album. And I love that I can easily have a version printed for my family and another printed to send to extended family.

I experimented for a month with Project Life®, and quickly became overwhelmed for a number of reasons I won't dive into here. Although I loved seeing pocket scrapbooks from others, I eventually realized that what makes my heart sing are large images, full bleed, 2-pages spreads whenever possible. I also realized that what I really loved were photos and words.

I like images and image series that tell a compelling story. And I like filling in the blanks of a story when an image doesn't say enough. I decided to give myself permission to write my family's story in a way that worked for me: through photography, some journaling and captions, and not much else.

8x10 Blurb photo book | annual family album |

Layout Template

For the bulk of the album I used the Photobook Frenzy templates from Nettio Designs. These were originally designed for a Week in the Life™ album, and I adapted them to tell my longer story. The number one reason I used these templates is because of their emphasis on large images. I also liked that they were designed for my favorite photobook size, which is the standard portrait photobook from Blurb (size 8x10). I have made books this size for clients in the past and the scale feels just-right. And, maybe it's because I spent so many years in school, the 8x10 reminds me of a textbook. I have made square albums in the past and I just never like them as much as I have liked this more rectangular layout. It just feels right.

Organizing by Seasons

Sample template page with all tabs showing.

I decided  to organize my album by seasons versus weeks or months. Since I started my album in late summer, I had several months of photos and memorabilia to sift through. I immediately noticed that while we had done quite a bit and I had taken a lot of pictures during the summer, the spring had far fewer, and the beginning of the year (late winter) was even more skimpy.

I tend to start the year a little uninspired and burnt out from the frenzy of the holidays. At any time I may take 300 photos on a single day at a single event. I may also go weeks or months without feeling any desire to capture my life in images. I used to get hypercritical about times when I didn’t want to shoot, now I have come to accept it as part of my cycle. I ride it and watch what happens when I come out on the other side.

Rather than let my lack of photographs from any one month keep me from getting anything done, I decided to simply let our album reflect a kind of poetic reality: our lives are different in different seasons. We live differently in the summer than we do in fall. Our traditions are different. Our pace is different. It’s okay for our album to reflect that.

However, I was flexible in my interpretation of "seasons." For instance, my daughter's school starts in mid-August, which literally falls in the season of summer. But our perception is that summer is over when school begins. And while winter may not literally start until late December 21st, my internal sense is that the Christmas season falls in winter and Thanksgiving signals the end of Fall. This is arbitrary and it makes sense for my family. There are no photobook police and it's okay to be creative with your sense of time if that makes sense for you.

Digital Tools  + Process

I subscribe to the photography plan of Adobe’s Creative Cloud. At $10 per month it is more than worth it to me to have access to the very latest capabilities in Photoshop and Lightroom. If I used a more stripped-down tool like iPhoto or Photoshop Elements, I know I would quickly become frustrated.

I shoot in RAW and use Lightroom to process my images. On only the rarest occasions do bring my images into Photoshop for processing. I do, however, love using Photoshop for building my layouts and finished pages. You can build photobooks in Lightroom without ever going into Photoshop, and I have built two books using this method in the past. However, since I had opted to use the Photobook Frenzy templates, this is what my workflow looked like:

  1. Process Images in Lightroom
  2. Export groups of images a JPEGs
  3. Build pages in Photoshop
  4. Save the PSD file in a folder by season
  5. Save a JPEG copy of the file to Ready to Upload folder
  6. Import the Ready to Upload folder into Lightroom
  7. Open the Book Module
  8. Drag drop the images onto the layout pages
  9. Export the book from Lightroom to Blurb

I’ll be going over the workflow in more detail in future posts in this series. But if you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

More About This Project

  • Want to know why I decided to make a 2013 family album? Check this out.
  • Curious about the cool navigation technique I added to the fore edge of my book? Want to know what the heck a fore edge is? Coming right up!

Family Album 2013

Family Album 2013: Introduction

This post is part of a series where I explain in detail how I approached and built my 2013 family album that was printed  by Blurb. In a hurry? View the completed photobook, now.

I recently finished up a huge documenting project for me: a 150+ page photobook documenting my family's life in 2013. Although I have made several small photobooks and calendars (most frequently as gifts), in 2013 I had an unexpected, emergency surgery and spent a good portion of the year in recovery.

The surgery gave me a serious pause. It made me think hard about my legacy and about the story of my family. It called bullshit on all the things I put on my I Should Do That Some Day List. it was a big flashing sign that said,

"You don't know when your Some Day may become No More Days. What have you left unsaid? What have you been wanting to try, but to afraid to fail at?"

I was working a limited schedule due to pain management troubles,so I used the time I couldn't work in my professional capacity to start telling the story of my family's year. I began in August 2013. I finished the album in August 2014. But that story has now been told. It's in my hands. And it is beautiful.

Memory Keepers, please hear me:

Feel no guilt about how long it takes for you to tell a story. If you are telling a story that no one else is, you are doing a sacred task for your family. You are their canning jar. You are putting up preserves on the shelf. We we bite a pickled cucumber in the heart of winter, we do't care how long it took you to put them in the jar. We simply smile and remember the feel of sun, the sound of crickets, and the smell of dirt, and are grateful that someone found a way to take us back there.

In this series, I'll walk through my approach to the 2013 album. I'll highlight a few spreads, walk you through the ordering process, show off the finished photobook, and talk about any lessons I learned along the way.

8x10 Blurb photo book | annual family album |

As of this writing. I'm just getting started on my 2014 book and hatching a plan to tackle 2015 closer to real time. Thanks for following along! And if you have questions, please ask.

More About This Project

  • Would you like to know more about how I organized this project and the tools I used? That's coming up.