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Interview with Marie Browning:

"It's definitely genetic..."

Marie Browning photoMarie Browning loves gardening at her home on Vancouver Island in Canada, but her love of crafting may have deeper roots. "I don't recall how early in life my passion for crafting began, but I do know it was definitely genetic! You cannot grow up in a family like mine, with its quilters, woodworkers and artists, without developing a respect for human creativity." This pedigree is channeled through her many distinctive craft books, stencil and stamp designs, and other crafting products. Marie Browning stands out among craft authors internationally. Her authoring output is one clear distinction – 32 books and counting. Her books are produced by the aptly named "Prolific Impressions" team. Also impressive is her creative merging of computer technology, in the form of digital imagery, with traditional craft techniques. "I find the more I progress along the technological path of today's computerized society, the more I value those age-honored skills of the imagination worked out through human hands in the form of arts and crafts."

We were first introduced to Marie through her seminal book on crafting with photography, Memory Gifts, an essential reference for those who love working with modern and vintage images. We talked with Marie in March of 2009 about her 20-plus years of experience and some of her influential books, beginning with our favorite - Memory Gifts:

VIC: In "Memory Gifts" you describe 50 distinctive craft projects focused on preserving memories through the creative use of photographs. 50 projects! We have to ask: Do your many ideas come more from past experience, experimentation, observation of others' work, or just plain divine inspiration?

© Marie Browning
Memory Gifts by Marie Browning
"All of the above – my ideas come from everywhere. When working on a book I look at everything around me to help motivate and inspire the designs. It helps being on the CHA Designers Trend Team, and reporting on lifestyle trends and their effects on the creative industry. I look at everything differently in terms of the focus of the book, and that generates multiple options. To find a few ideas that work, I need to try a lot that don't. It's a pure numbers game. I keep a simple notebook for each book and write down ideas, paste in clippings, doodle and sketch out ideas and add anything else that inspires me. Upon rereading my notes I discover 90% of the ideas are daft, but what’s important are the 10% that are brilliant! Einstein said that he could have 99 ideas that were wrong before he got the one that was right. So, I may end up with lots of successful designs but there are also loads of failures. The trick is to know what to toss away and how to make the most of the successes."

VIC: The range of techniques and materials in this book is staggering, and yet each project never strays from the central focus of displaying treasured photos. What is your favorite way to preserve and display your own family photographic heirlooms at home?

© Marie Browning
Marie Browning table mats
"I love making coasters, trays and place mats with vintage photographs and images. I coat them with Envirotex Lite to finish them so they are practical and easy to clean. I use them everyday! In my new book, Creative Photo Collage, I really focus on these types of projects, as they are wonderful memory crafts for sharing and giving."

VIC: Each project is beautifully staged and photographed to inspire as well as instruct, with something of value for crafters at all levels of experience. Tell us how a book like this is conceived, written, designed and printed - and how you coordinate it all.

"I have a lot of help! I start with a list of books I want to do, research what the publisher will be interested in, and write up proposals. Again, being up on the latest trends and forecasts helps me back up my proposals with facts. When my publisher accepts a title, I work with my editor, Mickey Baskett, on the book’s format and projects. This preliminary list of projects changes and grows as new techniques and materials are discovered. Then, I make all the projects and choose the ones I like best for the book. This is about a three-month process. Some projects are rejected and I usually find the ones I did in the last month before the deadline are the very best! I then write the book from the many little notes, measurements and ideas that I scribble down in my notebook. This is the shortest stage, as I seem to have the book already written in my head and I just need to type it into the computer. This is the time my family calls 'book mode' where I cannot be disturbed. This includes meal making, cleaning and all other distractions – it’s no wonder my children can cook and do their own laundry! It is also very entertaining for my children to watch me type, as I only use two fingers! I could never produce these books without the support and understanding of my husband and children during this time. All the finished projects, step-outs and manuscript are then submitted and shipped to my editor and her staff in Atlanta. The Prolific Impressions staff - editor, copy editor, graphic designer, book stylist, photographer and administrator - now take over. They are the ones who magically make the books great. I am only one person of the team, and it takes all these efforts to create the final book. Surrounding myself with talented and encouraging people is the key."

VIC: Practically every book of yours has a project or two incorporating vintage images or ephemera. What kinds of images appeal to you and where do you find your antique materials?

©Marie Browning
Marie Browning antique Italian document
"I love all vintage images, photographs, paintings and ephemera; I love the history and the symbolism behind them. I especially enjoy the detailed anecdotes you write on the Vintage Image Craft site. I do have a small collection of old postcards and old DIY books that I love to collect but also look for vintage images that I can download from the Internet like the ones you offer at Vintage Image Craft. Some of my favorite images include an Italian document from 1836 found at an antique store, and my grandmother’s notebook in which she taught herself English before coming to Canada from France."

VIC: Vellum and parchment are among our favorite papers because of the variety of ways their translucent qualities can be used. You've creatively explored these papers in several of your books ("New Paper Crafts," "Memory Gifts," "Wedding Papercrafts"), with magical results. What kinds of projects would you recommend to crafters just getting started with these specialty papers?

© Marie Browning
Marie Browning New Paper Crafts
"I love working with the rainbow parchment, which I explored in New Paper Crafts. However, readers find this special paper hard to find. Hint: at the beginning of each book under acknowledgments I list the manufactures of the products used in the book and many offer their products over the Internet. Small projects such as gift tags are easy to start with. I love the soft look of vellum and parchment over vintage images – simply use a tag punch to cut out the vintage image and vellum, punch a hole at the top and finish with a pretty piece of ribbon. Use a permanent pen or rub-ons to add your sentiments to the vellum. Vellum and parchment go through an inkjet printer beautifully – just remember the ink dries slowly and not to let them stack up as they are printed."

VIC: In "Wedding Papercrafts", you take full advantage of computer and printer techniques to personalize. We all have a love/hate relationship with computers. How does this play out for you, and what are some of the techniques that excite you?

© Marie Browning
Marie Browning Wedding Papercrafts
"I feel the computer is a tool, just like a hammer, and it enables you to create a wide range of techniques quickly and easily. I’m self-taught and love to experiment. As a font and vintage image junkie, I fearlessly download and purchase materials using the Internet and then try all sorts of new things with my printer. I have tried many different materials in my inkjet printer – thin sheets of cork, handmade papers and metal – some work, some don’t. You may want to refer to the books for unusual surfaces as I have already tested them. You can make your own printable fabric sheets by ironing the fabric to the shiny side of freezer paper and then cutting it to size. After printing, simply peel off the freezer paper. I have had great success using both sheer and smooth cotton fabrics, but use caution with this homemade version and do it at your own risk."

VIC: "Jazzy Jars" and its sequels describe very satisfying crafts because they are gift packaging as well as artwork. Why did you choose to provide so many gift ideas and recipes, from cookie ingredients to fragrance mixtures to candles to bath salts?

"I felt it really helped round out the books by offering recipes and instructions for making your own homemade gifts. I also offered lots of gift instructions in my Jazzy Gift Baskets book. With the economic changes we see happening it really helps to offer lots of ideas for creating your own gifts and packaging them creatively. I was especially proud of the hints in Snazzy Jars to convert your own favorite recipes into a layered jar creation."

VIC: We know you are a big fan of polymer clay, and you've "stretched" the boundaries in several books. How did you grow to love it, and what are some of your personal favorite clay creations?

© Marie Browning
Marie Browning Tuscan pots craft
"I remember using polymer clay very early in my crafting career and am always amazed at its versatility and ease to create designs. I like to try different things with the clay, not just sticking with the norm, and always test items in my own home to make sure every technique works. My favorite technique is applying the polymer clay to pots, such as the designs in Inspired by the Garden and then coating the inside with Envirotex Lite to make them waterproof and long lasting planters. The projects pictured in the book now sit on my kitchen windowsill filled with plants."

VIC: We often think of you as "the adults' crafter" because your designs - even the simplest - always display very sophisticated taste. A great example is your "Handcrafted Journals," which is like Bookmaking 101 spiked with a dizzying array of design concepts. Tell us about your design background and how it continues to contribute to your work.

© Marie Browning
Marie Browning photo
"I loved art and crafts from a very early age and was encouraged and nurtured by a very supportive family. My parents and six brothers and sisters continue to be my most enthusiastic fans. College, university, and jobs choices were all were based on finding a career in art. In my teens, I started teaching at local recreation centers and have never stopped sharing what I know through books, magazine articles, consulting, and developing craft product lines. I have found my fine arts background (Fine Arts degree from Camosun College and three years in the Bachelor of Fine Arts program at the University of Victoria) very helpful as it gave me design basics and background knowledge on materials. I continue to learn at every opportunity. I love to try new crafts and discover new materials by attending classes, teaching groups and reading. My two favorite books on creativity are How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day by Michael Gelb and Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace by Gordon Mackenzie

VIC: You may have the largest catalog of craft books of any single author, and possibly the most diverse. What is on the horizon for you? What books would you write "just for the fun of it?"

"I am doing some exciting work with Tombow markers – watch for it! I am also really enjoying not having a book project due at the moment, the first time in 12 years. But this is not going to last long – I have already had my editor call me about some new ideas. I also have to work on my website which is grossly neglected and very outdated! I would love to do a book on creating handmade gifts considering ecological ideals. Green crafting is growing and becoming popular as people look for ways to save money and resources. At the same time, they discover the joy of creating and giving a piece of themselves and their most valuable asset – time. All my books are done 'for the fun of it.' That’s what makes my job so perfect!"

Marie Browning craft booksMarie Browning's many books are available from bookstores, craft stores, and at Amazon.com and other online retailers. Learn more about Marie's publishing, designing and teaching accomplishments at MarieBrowning.com!

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