Caylee Grey: Why I Create

"In the end, all that matters is memories."

We spoke with bubbly creative Caylee Grey of Get Messy Art (the voice behind the MILK Inspiration Series). She shared with us her artistic journey and how it led her to memory keeping with MILK.

Flatlay of an assortment of photo books with different cover images.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Wife. Mom to a human and a fur baby. Artist. Business owner. In that order. I’m a South African living in my dream country of Germany. I have a husband. He’s nice. I call him T because in the beginning I couldn’t pronounce his name. Same goes for cutting his surname in three. I called myself Grey three months into our relationship, way before Fifty Shades. Thank goodness it worked out. We now have a tiny fluffy dog, Griffin, and a lovely human, Elliot. They’re really great at being excited. So am I. We’re working on T.

Hands holding three photo books in a fan shape.

How did you get into at journaling and what makes you love it so much?

Back in 2014, my internet friend, Lauren, and I were talking about our collection of online classes that we had and were not using. We decided that we were tired of wanting to make art, wanting to make all the things we saw online and all the things we were enrolled in. And so, we made a plan to create just one art journal page each week and share it on our blog. Both of us were scrapbookers, and felt art journaling was the perfect low pressure way of making "art". It was in a journal, the whole point of it was trying things out and making a mess. Phew. That making a mess part... I used to really struggle with that, wanting everything to be perfect. That's why we called our challenge "Lauren and Caylee get messy". It was a dare - daring ourselves to ignore perfectionism and show up each week. We made blog series branding for it and everything because that's the way I feel like it's a real thing that I can't back out of. Well, it's 5 years later and I still haven't backed out.

I love art journaling because of what it was in the beginning for me. It's permission to make a mess. I feel really great when I let my day out onto paper. When it's in my journal, it's no longer in my head. It doesn't need to look like a work of art, it just needs to be there. I no longer need the accountability that we started with in the beginning. I'm accountable to myself and it's as much a habit as brushing my teeth. Art journaling is my active step against perfectionism taking over. It's made me bolder in my art and in life. It's been the gateway to a lot of great things in my life and it really has shaped me as a person.

Flatlay of desk with scrapbooking accessories and a Moleskine Photo Book with a cover image of the Eiffel Tower.

What are your journals usually about?

I'm not someone who can spend hours on a page, so it's usually a few small pieces that I like because they're pretty or they're sentimental. Actually writing more than a few words is something that happened since becoming a mother, and I really love it. My journals are about my feelings. They are how I process life, my feelings, and my current situation. Every page says something about my life at that time, even if it's just the colours I choose or the way I stick in paper. I guess my journals are my brain on paper.


What inspired you to create Get Messy?

Get Messy was created out of Lauren and my own intense desire to create in a way that was not once off. One day after sharing it on our blogs, someone asked to join. Very soon the 3 of us became 50 women and we had to stop allowing people in because there were too many for the blog link up. We hated not "allowing" people to join in, and so we created an actual site for Get Messy. 500 people joined the challenge. Four years later and we've hit over 2000 women in Get Messy and 2 lovely men. It was inevitable.

Flatlay of scrapbooks with accessories on a white table.

How do you incorporate photo books into your life?

I'm a chronic memory keeper. Photo books have always been my way of preserving the very best memories, and I store them in our library spread over three shelves. Pretty soon they're going to have their own bookshelf, which I'm excited for. In the beginning I'd use photo books for big events. My first was our wedding, and I had a deadline because the South African postal system is not reliable, and I had to get it done and delivered while in another country. Once I received it, I was hooked. Big trips received photo books.

Art journaling has made me realise the importance of documenting the small things, too. I see them as their own creative outlet instead of just a box to tick. Using things other than photos to print into a photo book makes me incredibly happy.

I've also altered a photo book. I made one out of a trip to Paris and a few years later I turned it into a further work of art. I cut holes in pages, I added paint and media to it. It was an entirely new way of expressing myself.


Why do you think it’s important to create photo books?

We collect libraries of other people's words and images. Photo books are a collection of our own. It's paging through our own brains. They're also a way of making a mental note to be grateful and turning it into something tangible. Having these books reminds us how good life can be. Even when paging through our difficult months, we're still able to see things that were good.

Flatlay of scrapbooks with accessories on a white table.

How many photo books have you created now? And how many would you create per year?

I have 30 something that I've made since 2013, and a few I didn't make that were gifts from other people. I have a minimum of one per year which houses my top ten moments. Other than that, I create according to travels and big moments. We've been having a lot of big moments. As I mentioned, I'm also enjoying having them as a creative outlet, and so I've been thinking of projects to make.


What are your top three tips for someone who is about to start their first photo book?

I only have one tip - do it. No matter how "bad" you think the design is, or how imperfect your photos are, the memories are what count.


What photo book is next on your list?

I would like to make something non-traditional. Turning my Paris photo book into something mixed media was SO much fun, so I'd like to be intentional about the photos and images I choose for the next one. I'd also like to try a word-focused one. The idea is still forming for that, though...

Open photo book with image of bride and groom on their wedding day.

Do you create photo books or art journals as gifts

Yup, mostly for parents (baby albums work great!) or as love letters for my husband. My mom was complaining about having dozens of those old school photo albums, and that they were all falling apart. I went through all those old, tattered books, and boxes of loose photos. I scanned in the fading photos, organised them, and created photo books with them. THAT was a labour of love. In the end it was one for each of my parents, one for my sister, and one for me.


You’re a mum with a young baby - how do you find the time to create photo books? Do you have any tips on how to complete one quickly?

Keep your photos organised! It's super easy for me to make photo books because I just drag and drop a folder of images into MILK and then it's just small tweaks to get it ready.


What is your favorite photo book you have created and why?

My favorite is my set of photo books that I created from my family albums because photos were so much more special when they were difficult to create. I have what I'm pretty sure is millions of photos thanks to smartphones. For photos that were from my deceased grandparents, I also scanned in their original handwritten notes from behind the photos. I then asked my parents to go through the photo books from their childhoods and handwrite captions. Handwriting is almost as special as photos, and I treasure them deeply.

Opening of a package with a Moleskine Photo Book.

What’s your favorite photo book format to create?

My top ten every year is a BIG favorite because I find myself (and my husband) paging through them very often. It's a wonderful way of seeing the changes in life and remembering what was important to us at each stage of life. Selecting, organising and uploading photos can take time - what advice do you have for making the process easier? Keep everything in one place. Every Sunday my husband processes our finances and I process the memories. I offload ALL photos from my iPhone, I move over the photos from my husband's Android. I put them into folders on my computer - organised by month and then by occasion (each month gets a "Bits" folder too). I rename them, and I upload to Drive. I get very uneasy if my photos are all over the show, so I really enjoy this process.


What design tips would you have for someone creating a book? 

Keep things simple and keep things consistent. Don't try and be fancy because these things last decades. Don't worry about filters and Photoshop actions. In the end, all that matters is the memories.

For more of Caylee's Get Messy tips.


View the MILK Inspiration Series