Making a Tough Decision: My 3 Reasons for Retiring from Digital Scrapbook Design

If you had asked me even a year ago if I would ever be retiring from personal use digital scrapbook design, I would have said you were crazy – that could NEVER happen! Well, a lot can change in a year and I'm not the same designer I was 12 months ago (and I don't see that as a bad thing).

I had (and still have) so much love for the digi scrapbook community and have enjoyed watching my designs get used by countless, loyal customers. So why then, have I made the decision to retire my personal use store?

I never like to make rash decisions, so it's something I've given several months of thought to. And the truth is that my decision mainly boils down to three reasons:

Reason #1: Scrapbooking Is My Job, Not a Hobby

I started in this industry like many others; it was a side hobby while I worked a "regular" job and then it eventually became my full-time job. I've been a scrapbooker since the age of 13 and after receiving a design degree, it felt natural for me to design products for a hobby I enjoyed so much.

At first, designing scrapbook products actually fueled me to scrapbook my own stories more often. I started participating in Project Life, created vacation albums again, and even enjoyed making pages for store challenges. But that feeling didn't last and scrapbooking started to lose its luster.

One of only 6 scrapbook layouts I completed in 2015.

One of only 6 scrapbook layouts I completed in 2015.

I didn't notice it at first, I only knew I wasn't scrapbooking as frequently. I used to believe it was simply due to a lack of time, but then I realized that was only a small part of the puzzle.

The main reason I had lost the motivation to scrapbook was because it was no longer a hobby for me; it had become part of my job description. For the past 3-4 years, anything I scrapbooked was created to help promote my business. Scrapbooking for scrapbooking-sake was no longer my primary motivator, it was all about showcasing my products as best I could or to illustrate tutorials I wrote. And bit by bit, I stopped enjoying the "hobby" of scrapbooking.

And that's makes me sad. Knowing that I took a hobby I've enjoyed for almost two decades and reduced it to nothing more than a marketing tactic. I know I always want scrapbooking to be part of my life, but I want it to become a hobby again and not "my job" anymore.

Reason #2: My ROI (Return on Investment)

For the first two years I was designing for the digi scrapbook industry, I spent about 75% of my time developing new product. The other 25% was mostly admin tasks, plus a little bit of marketing. I didn't have a creative team to manage, I didn't have a newsletter to send out each week, and my blog was only used for announcing new product and sharing personal interests like recipes and vacations.

Day Glo Papers: A favorite digi paper packs from the early days of my scrapbook career.

Day Glo Papers: A favorite digi paper packs from the early days of my scrapbook career.

Fast forward to the last two years and the percentage have reversed. Now, I only spend 25% of my time on designing new product (some weeks it's more like 10%) and 75% on administrative and marketing tasks.

And it makes sense. It's inevitable that as a business grows, it will become more complex. And there will come a point where you have three choices: cut your design time so you can complete all the other business tasks (which means you never put out new product), ignore the list of business tasks so you can keep designing (which doesn't help your business grow), or hire someone to do those things for you.

But here's the rub: I'm in an odd spot where I have enough admin tasks to fill my days full-time, yet my business isn't large enough to be able to support a salary for myself AND an assistant.

Now I'm successful digital scrapbook designer and I can afford to pay myself a bit from my earnings, however, living in the Bay Area means that my income doesn't stretch nearly as far as it can elsewhere. That's why I am so very thankful for the most supportive husband I could ever ask for, who works at a job he loves that can completely provide for our family.

And even though our family is financially secure right now, that doesn't mean we always will be. Just last year, Jeff's work project was cancelled which left him without a job for three months. During his "time off", it really made me realize that I want and need my own business to grow, so I could help support our family during rough times.

However, with digital scrapbook products being sold at such a low price point, I analyzed my business from the last three years and found that I needed to have the ability to churn out collection-sized releases each Friday and I just don't have the bandwidth to do that. So right now, the reality I'm facing is that in order to be able to grow my business, I need some things to change. Which leads me to reason #3...

Reason #3: Too Scared of Change

Ever since I fell in love with patterns during graduate school, I've been in awe of the massive industry that is surface design. I remember my professor explaining the possibilities of surface design and about Surtex (the premier surface design and licensing trade show in the US). It was an inspiring moment for me; I knew in my heart that I wanted to be a part of that industry and dreamt of exhibiting at Surtex someday.

Nani-Kapa: Meaning "beautiful cloth" - it was my favorite pattern I designed during graduate school. It's inspired by traditional hand-painted tapa cloth.

Nani-Kapa: Meaning "beautiful cloth" - it was my favorite pattern I designed during graduate school. It's inspired by traditional hand-painted tapa cloth.

But when I finished graduate school and tried to pursue a career as a corporate graphic designer (it's what I went to school for afterall), I completely rejected my dream because I felt like I couldn't abandon the career I spent 7 years in school to get. Looking back, I can tell you with absolute certainty that my decision was based on my fear of failure and of the unknown. 

However, even with my initial rejection of surface design, my passion for patterns slowly crept back into my life in the form of digital scrapbook design. These past six years have allowed me to experiment and grow as a surface designer, so much so that I even now teach other designers how to create their own patterns (I absolutely love being a teacher and plan on continuing to be). And I'm proud to say that I finally have the confidence in myself and my abilities as a surface designer and believe that it's time for me to take the next big step in my career.

I want the opportunity to design patterns and illustrations for companies like Target, Hallmark, West Elm, and Disney. I want to spend more time experimenting with my design style, using new-to-me techniques and learning from leaders in the industry. I want to build a recognizable brand aesthetic that's attached to my name, Shannon McNab. And most importantly to me right now, I want to exhibit my work at Surtex in 2017.

Unfortunately, in order to be able to dedicate myself completely to my dream of becoming a surface designer, I've had to make a tough choice. I know I simply don't have the stamina or time to continue designing PU products while pursuing surface design simultaneously. And I'm tired of letting my fear and indecision rule my business choices.

Do I know if I'll succeed in my goal of becoming an incredibly successful surface designer? No, I don't. Do I know whether I'll ever come to regret my decision to retire from the digi industry? No, I don't. I just know that I don't want to put off pursuing the dream I've been holding onto for nearly a decade anymore.

10 Photoshop Keyboard Shortcuts Every Digital Designer Should Know

In the summer of 2014, I found myself having an increasingly tough time keeping up with my design commitments. The strange part was that it wasn't because I had overbooked myself by taking on too many projects, it's that my design methods weren't time effective. And I decided something had to change.

10 Photoshop Shortcuts Every Digital Designer Should Know |

After analyzing my design process, I found that one place where I knew I could improve upon was learning more keyboard shortcuts for both Illustrator and Photoshop, so I wasn't constantly hunting things down in the drop down menus.

Obviously there are hundreds of shortcuts for each program, so learning them all sounded way too daunting. Instead, I needed to be strategic and focus on learning shortcuts associated with Photoshop tools I used everyday.

So over the course of a month or two, I taught myself at least a few new shortcuts a week and I'm happy to say it's had a HUGE impact on how quickly I work in Photoshop. Now I can create a collection in days, not weeks!

As someone who doesn't like to keep a good thing to myself, I've got a FREE 3-page Photoshop Keyboard Shortcuts for Designers PDF.

Feel free to can download and use it to help learn a few new-to-you shortcuts for Photoshop. And if you want to know the "hows" and "whys" behind my Top 10 Shortcuts (on page 1 of the PDF), I've got it all spelled out in a video developed for my sister site, Scotty Girl Design: 

Now I would love to hear from you! Please comment below and tell me all about what shortcuts are your favorites (especially if I didn't them in my own top 10 list).

Happy New Year | My 2016 Design Goals

As I reflect on the past year and look towards 2016, I definitely feel like this year is going to be a year full of change. While I've been giving most of my energy for the past two years toward my "side" business (which frankly, became my main business at the beginning of 2014), I have been a bit restless working solely within the confines of the digital scrapbook market.

Happy 2016 |

And although I never like to make "New Years Resolutions", I still think it is important to choose a few goals – things to focus on that keep me moving forward in my business. Right now, here are my two main design goals for 2016:

1. Focus on Continuing Education

I've always been interested in trying new techniques or learning a few new-to-me keyboard shortcuts in Illustrator, however, I've barely focused on my creative development as an artist over the past two years. The result is that my business is not where I'd like it to be.

Education is such an important part of growing as a designer whether you're a newbie or a veteran in the industry. It's funny to me that I continually tell my pattern design students to keep learning and practicing, yet I haven't been taking that advice myself.

So one of my main goals for 2016 is to sign up for a few design classes that I've been wanting to take. Not only will it help me gain a fresh perspective on my work, but I also believe it really does help reignite that passion I have for what I do.

2. Work on my Drawing & Lettering Skills

If you've been following me on Instagram this past year, you may have noticed that I've been posting a lot more doodles and hand lettering in my sketchbooks in recent months. While I absolutely adore Adobe Illustrator and can work happily on the computer for hours on end, I've really been yearning to work in more traditional mediums lately.

Practicing my hand lettering skills |

Fancy computer programs and fun digital gadgets like Wacom tablets are great, but they'll only get you so far. The best way I know how to get better at something is to practice... A LOT. And I didn't do that much practicing in the first half of 2015 (and I feel like the quality of my design work suffered as a result)

I know my pattern making skills are great, but I feel like I still have lots I can improve on in regards to my illustration and hand lettering skills, so that's where my focus will be in 2016.

Why Taking a Month Off Was the Best Business Decision I Ever Made

It feels good to be back in the swing of things after I made the decision to take all of March off from my business. However, I should confess that there is a tiny part of me that is sad my "vacation" is over.

While I got several things accomplished, many of which I had been meaning to tackle for years (top to bottom house cleaning I'm talking to you!), I came back last week not entirely sure I was ready to settle back into work.

We took a weekend vacation during my break to Monterey and the change of pace it provided was very refreshing.

We took a weekend vacation during my break to Monterey and the change of pace it provided was very refreshing.

Fortunately, I was happily surprised that I got more accomplished in 4 days last week than I did in two full weeks pre-break. So what's the difference between Feb 28th and now?

Well I'm not 100% sure, but I know I can attribute a big part of it to the shift in my attitude towards my business. Before I went on break I was drained of creativity, having become a self-mandated digital scrapbook collection making machine for the past two years.

That design mentality was toxic and it made me resent and regret certain choices I had made.

And more importantly, it meant that I started to lose sight of the reason I started this business five years ago: because I have a passion for designing and enjoy seeing what scrapbookers can do with my kits.

So while starting my design break with a less-than-awesome mentality and after taking four full weeks off to do whatever I felt like, you'd think I would either be:

  1. Completely uninterested in design and ready to shut the doors on Scotty Girl Design and move on to other creative endeavors OR
  2. Exploding with design ideas and salivating at the thought of building my first new kit in over six weeks.

Well, the truth lies in the shades of gray between those two options. During my time off, I did sincerely contemplate moving on from scrapbook design, but I had to be honest with myself that I'm too fond of the industry to move just yet. And while I wasn't bursting with new design ideas, I did come back last week with a renewed sense of purpose and a slightly altered mindset, a happier one at that.

So while I wouldn't say I found the meaning of life or the key to my business's prosperity, I do know I want to continue to search for what will make me happy and successful.... one design at a time.

Getting Inspired at CHA 2014

Last fall I promised myself to make it to CHA this year. It's been three years since my last visit to the trade show and I really missed getting to drool over all the products and chat with all the amazingly talented people. Luckily for me, I also got to travel with some of the aforementioned talent - most of them being fellow designers from Pixels & Company.

Pixels & Company Designers visiting CHA 2014 together |

Clockwise from top left: Jeryn, Deena, Kelleigh, Laura, Gennifer, Amber, Shen (and daughter), Me

We decided to walk the CHA floor on Saturday. I've never been on the floor with such a large group of women and although it was sometimes like herding cats. And every time we went to a new booth, it seemed like one of us would know someone there to chat with.

Meeting Mari Koegelenberg at CHA 2014 |

Kelleigh and Laura both knew Mari Koegelenberg (above) from their time at The Digi Chick together, so we had to make it over to the Pink Paislee booth to see her new collections – all 4 of them. Seriously, this girl is a design making MACHINE!

I've always been a HUGE fan of Mari's digital designs and never thought I'd be pouring over her paper collections with her standing right beside me. And did I mention she is truly is the sweetest lady in the world and lives less than an hour from me?? I may have made plans to go wine tasting with her in the near future.

The most memorable moments of the day were getting to see my fellow P&Co designer's new product lines in the flesh. I felt like a real scrapbook groupie!

Amber LaBau in the Becky Higgins booth at CHA 2014 |

Amber (above) has a brand new Core Kit with Becky Higgins' Project Life. And our store owner at P&Co, Gennifer, had her first ever line, Just Splendid, debut with My Mind's Eye. I'm hoping someday I'll be able to walk the show floor and be able to see my own work up in a booth.

My only regret of the trip was that I hardly took any photos of new product. There was so much to look at and too many people to talk to that my brain was truly on creative overload. Despite not being able to share photos of new goodies I'll be coveting, I did notice a few major trends:

  1. Non-symmetrical geometric prints

  2. Handwritten & watercolor typography

  3. Travel/vacation themed lines – I was surprised to see them out so early in the year

  4. Specialty albums – Instagram sized, PL centric, etc.

Overall it was a really inspiring day. I just hope the inspiration will last long enough for me to get some major design work done.

Then on Sunday, while a few girls opted to leave Anaheim, the rest of us headed to Disneyland. Several of us are big Disney fans – and me being married to a Disney employee helps – so we had to go and let off a little steam at the happiest place on earth.

Pixel & Company does Disneyland at CHA 2014 |

And since I was the designated "tour guide" of our group, I gave them lots of fun facts about the park. I always worry about being too chatty about my park knowledge when I go to Disneyland with new people, but these girls totally indulged me. They sounded genuinely interested in all the crazy facts I had. 

All in all I think every single one of us found it to be a really successful weekend. We finally got to meet each other in person, made great new professional contacts at the CHA show, drooled uncontrollably at all the new pretty product, and even got to act like kids while spending the day at Disneyland. I couldn't have asked for a better weekend!