Note: If you don't want to read my novel, please scroll down to the bottom to see a card.
Bahb asked an interesting question in the comments of my Stamp Storage post:
Did it take you long to determine which stamp brands were worthy of focus? I mean, do you have alot of stamps that don't yield a clean image or do you junk them as useless?
While her question is pretty specific, it got me thinking more generally about how my stamp buying has changed over time and how I ended up where I am today, with a bunch of drawers and CD cases full of stamps that, for the most part, I love, and which, for the most part, come from four companies.
For you stamping neophytes reading this, learn from my mistakes. You'll save money and be happier. I promise.
In my beginner's enthusiasm for rubber stamping, I made every mistake in the book when it came to purchasing stamps. I thought StampinUp sets and accessories were waaaayyyyyy too expensive,and while I did buy a few of them early on, I mainly bought loose stamps at Hobby Lobby during its half-price sales. This meant I bought a rather random assortment of stamps of varying quality, style, and usefulness.
Some brands were very high quality, such as Hero Arts, PSX, and Penny Black, and others were not. It quickly became obvious that when it came to rubber, deeply carved was definitely better. Shallowly carved stamps were cheap as dirt, but they stamped crappy and left ink from the flashing all over my projects. (Flashing is the part of the rubber that isn't supposed to stamp.) Those icky stamps ended up in my toddler's craft bin or the trash.
In those early days, I tried some clear stamps a friend had and was horrified at the poor quality of the images, vowing never to waste money on them.
While I quickly learned what brands at Hobby Lobby were good and what brands weren't, I was wash-out stupid about buying the good quality stamps. If I didn't have an image, I wanted it. Not a thought entered my head about how I would use it, of course. I just wanted it. After a few years, I had amassed hundreds of stamps (all bought half-price, of course...what a deal!), yet I was very unhappy with all the stuff I was making. And boy was I making stuff!
Please keep in mind that I had no idea what I was doing, so I relied on the books and magazines available to teach me. Most of these books were about artsy stamping: collage, vintage, brown. They were heavy on cool techniques, so I tried them all. I made paste paper, marbled paper, sponged paper, tea-dyed paper; I wove, distressed, punctured, tore, embossed, and smeared paper; I stamped on velvet, paper, canvas, walls, and wood. I pounded leaves and ferns and flowers into paper with a hammer, stamped with them, made collage pieces to hang in my house.
As my aviator husband would say, I was all speed and no vector. Frantically trying to teach myself everything about stamping without even a vague sense of purpose or taste or style resulted in a bunch of wasted time and money, not to mention storage space in my house.
Who was this person? Well, not me. She was a product of ignorance and the innocent and benign influence of a bunch of art stamping books and magazines. Virtually all those technique experiments either ended in failure or products that just didn't make me happy. It didn't help that I tried to save money by buying cheap products...cheap cardstock, cheap ink, cheap embellishments.
You see, I'd learned not to buy cheap stamps, but it took an embarrassing length of time for me to figure out that if you buy cheap stuff, the stuff you make with it will look cheap. Well, duh.
About this time, I discovered scrapbooking. The clean-and-simple style was right there in the scrapbooking magazines. Remember Simple Scrapbooks? Oh how I cried when that magazine went under. Well, I cried inside. Outside, I just whined about it to my husband. But still. Those scrapping magazines showed me a style that fit me, and gradually, it dawned on me that I could apply that style to my cards and perhaps, just perhaps, feel happier with what I was making.
Splitcoast Stampers helped, too, with members like JulieHRR showing me that cards didn't have to be collaged and distressed to death.
As I realized how much money I had wasted with impulse spending, I put my critical thinking skills to use. SU and Hero Arts both have huge, annual catalogs/inspiration books and both sell coordinating stamp sets and products. I figured if I studied their catalogs carefully, I could strategize purchases better and have an easier time coordinating stamps and product. So I resolved only to buy Hero Arts and StampinUp stamps.
It was the smartest thing I've ever done in relation to this obsessive hobby.
For several years, I ignored every other stamp company and stuck to Hero Arts and StampinUp. I learned how to coordinate stuff: colors, stamps, supplies. I settled into my style and started feeling so much happier about what I was making. Most of my stamp purchases made sense with my style and were easy for me to use. Of course, I still occasionally bought things I should not have, but honestly, I was wasting much less money than before.
I also started pruning down my stash. Stamps that obviously didn't work for my style went away, either given to friends or donated to our church preschool or Salvation Army.
Then I kept reading threads at SCS about how the new Papertrey Ink stamps were high-quality photopolymer, not the cheapo icky stuff I'd tried years before. At first, I bought one stamp set--Beautiful Blooms--to try them out. That was the last time I placed an order that didn't qualify for free shipping with Papertrey.
For a year or so, I seriously continued to limit my purchases to these three companies. but then Memory Box turned my idea for a WWII-era aviator penguin into a stamp, A Muse came out with their oval shadow stamps, and Clear and Simple Stamps released their Wii set. My horizons broadened a bit.
Then, Faith at Mark's Finest Papers asked me to be on their design team and started sending me their high-quality clear stamps. Oh my.
The thing is, I don't feel the need to go hog wild buying tons of stamps from tons of companies. I have so much now...and most of it useful and good for me...that I'm very picky about what I'll buy these days. When I see a cool stamp or set, I ask, "What do I have that's close to this?" If nothing, then I'll consider. But usually I can substitute something I already have. This is why I haven't bought PTI's new leaf set even though it's KILLING ME!!!!!
This whole wacky (and very expensive) journey has taught me some valuable lessons about our hobby.
1. Buy only top-quality products. Rely on reviews at SCS and blogs for guidance on this. If I'd started out buying top quality but LESS, I'd never have wasted so much money.
2. Coordinated product is worth the price. I'm much more confident about mixing and matching after 8 years of stamping, but it really has taken that long for me to feel like I really can take all those loose stamps and combine them to make stuff that I like.
3. You don't have to have every image out there to make wonderful stuff. I certainly have a lot of stamps, but I could throw two-thirds of them away and still have plenty of fun. I toy with the idea of getting rid of a bunch, and who knows, one day, I may act on that. But for now, I have the space and might as well keep the ones I like and that fit my style.
4. Trends are certainly fun, but if you buy a good image, it will last and be useable for years. Coonsider the following card:
How cute is this? Those snowflakes are from one of the first SU sets I bought called Lace Snowflakes. The sentiment is an old Hobby Lobby find (PSX I think). The border punch is a Martha Stewart one I bought this year.
If you made it this far, bless you. I hope all this makes sense and doesn't make me look too stupid or frivolous. I honestly feel it's been a useful learning experience and worth every penny. But perhaps now you understand why I don't have a Big Shot and Nesties and Copics. Self-control has been a hard-fought battle. I don't need any more temptation!
And Bahb, aren't you sorry you asked?