DIY, journaling + mail art

more about DIY Postcards : : customising the address side

Whatever fabulousness you end up creating on the front of your postcards for iHanna’s DIY Postcard Swap, you’ll need to keep the back side reasonably clear for writing the address and attaching the necessary stamps. Addresses are being read by computers, these days, and they are programmed to search a certain part of the postcard for relevant sorting information, like zip codes and countries.

You can, of course, just write the address and attach the stamps in the usual places onto a blank back, or stick a clean label over the messy back so that computers don’t struggle with reading things that turn out to be doodles and embroidery stitches. Or you can print the backs of your postcards up with customised fields for the address, for a message, and even little “Place stamp here” squares, like on postcards back in the day (when people needed instructions on how to fill up a postcard!)

On her blog, Hanna has designed a reverse side specifically for the DIY postcards swap, and you can download the PDF template here.

Another option is to design your own postcard backside. A really easy way to do this is using Picmonkey. Here are a couple of postcard backsides that I designed using that most lovable of online photo-editing programs (incidentally, I designed these without checking the postal regulations, and so my designs violate the rules for computerised sorting…please see the template at the bottom of this post for which areas you may and may not  put your stuff…words, designs, doodles, phone numbers, etcetera…when creating a postcard) :

postcard back: valentine's day

postcard back: nautical

These were easier to make than you think. You don’t have to be a Premium Picmonkey user to make something super-special. Just pick a size for your postcard backside under “Design”(a 5 x 7 postcard printed at 150 dpi, means you set a customised canvas to 1500 x 1050 pixels, for example)

Then just have a play with all of Picmonkey’s amazing textures, effects, fonts, patterns, whatever you like. Don’t forget to pay a visit to the Overlays section of the editor (the butterfly symbol) and use the lovely vintage graphics under the heading ‘Postal’ to add lovely little postcard-ey details to the design.

design your own on Picmonkey

(N.B. Do NOT use the franking stamp design, the cancellation wavy-lines design, or anything else that may confuse computer—and even human—readers into thinking your postcard has already been posted and/or cancelled. You have some creative freedom, here, but there are still rules to abide by if you want the system to work!)

If you have any questions regarding which parts of a postcard’s backside are to be reserved for official use and relevant information like names and addresses, here’s a template where the greyed-out areas indicate which parts to leave clear, and which parts you can  go wild in…

PostalGuide_5x7

I wrote about iHanna’s DIY Postcard Swap here, and you can read much much more about it on her swap’s home page, here.

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events, journaling + mail art

Make a little mail art for May

iHanna's DIY postcard swap 2014

Mail art is one of my favorite things to do. The formats are compact: a great way to explore details and single ideas, to lavish your care and attention on something without having to commit a few months to the piece. Each piece has a specific recipient: this helps me focus on what I’m making and what I want to say, because I am mindful of that person waiting on the other end and the fact that a mail art exchange is like a conversation without words. Finally, that my finished piece is going to travel—sometimes to places nearby, sometimes halfway around the world—is an integral part of the art work: it encompasses ideas of an international community of artists, of a kinship with others that transcends race or boundaries, something shared and held in common with strangers…even if it is only an appreciation of art, and the joy of receiving little works of art by strangers in the mail box.

Whether you’re new to mail art, or someone who typically sends something in the post every week, iHanna’s DIY Postcard Swap is a great opportunity to make ten original postcard-sized works of art in a month’s time—thanks to the little push of a deadline—for artists from around the world, and receive ten surprising, delightful, beautiful works of art in the mail from ten other artists. The swap is diligently organised, refereed, administered and documented by Hanna, herself, so that everything goes smoothly, everyone receives their mail art at *more or less* the same time, and nobody gets left out. Now in its fifth year, the number of participants has grown well past the hundred mark…that’s a decent-sized creative community to be part of, and an indication of the swap’s growing popularity.

Needless to say, I’m joining this May’s DIY Postcard Swap. I’ve got a whole month to make ten postcards…plenty of time to experiment with the very idea of a postcard, what it can encompass, and how far I can push the definitions before the post office ladies tell me “Nat, you’re going to have to send this as a parcel, love…no way is that altered license plate going as a postcard.” ;)

You can sign up for the swap until the 27th of April, 2014 (but be sure you have your actual postcards ready to mail on the 1st of May, 2014…you’ll receive your ten recipients’ addresses on the 30th of April)

To Andreas, Wherever he may be...from Where I Am

Mail art I’ve sent…

Untitled

Mail art I’ve received (L: Jason Moss R: Kristian Larsen)

I’ve got a whole set of pictures devoted to mail art on flickr, if you want to see the mail art I’ve received over time, also the sorts of things I get up to (and the heinous acts of postal service abuse that I commit) in the name of art and global community…

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books + poetry, Inspirations, journaling + mail art, stuff i've made

Alexa Selph : : Market Forecast

an old love affair with words...

Adjectives continue
their downward spiral,
with adverbs likely to follow.

Wisdom, grace, and beauty
can be had three for a dollar,
as they head for a recession.

Diaphanous, filigree,
pearlescent, and love
are now available
at wholesale prices.

Verbs are still blue-chip investments,
but not many are willing to sell.

The image market is still strong,
but only for those rated AA or higher.
Beware of cheap imitations
sold by the side of the road.

Only the most conservative
consider rhyme a good option,
but its success in certain circles
warrants a brief mention.

The ongoing search for fresh
metaphor has caused concern
among environmental activists,

who warn that both the moon and the sea
have measurably diminished
since the dawn of the Romantic era.

Latter-day prosodists are having to settle
for menial positions in poultry plants,
where an aptitude for repetitive rhythms
is considered a valuable trait.

The outlook for the future remains uncertain,
and troubled times may lie ahead.
Supply will continue to outpace demand,
and the best of the lot will remain unread.

Market Forecast by Alexa Selph

P.S. the photograph is of a many-leaved list of words that I compiled simply because I loved them and wanted to gather them all together. This is in another old seedbook, with pages of faux parchment and neat, flourishing penmanship in sepia ink using a dip pen. The book has spent its whole life coverless, and the deep yellow smoke from our daily smudge fire (back when we lived in a primitive bamboo hut on the beach in a remote part of the Philippines) gradually tinted these pages an intense café au lait.

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journaling + mail art, projects, stuff i've made

An old seedbook of embroidery ideas has resurfaced…

yellow medallion seedbook

Something I found while reorganising my bookshelves this morning: an old seedbook, with some projects and ideas that I had been toying with or working on at the time. Not sure what year I started this, but it was sometime between 2000 and 2005. Kris painted the covers for me…based on a kilim design from Daghestan, although the use of so much yellow makes the pattern look Chinese.

I’ve posted about seedbooks on here before; I keep them distinct from written journals and separate, again, from visual diaries/art journals where I just play and explore, visually, how I’m feeling or what’s going on in my life. A seedbook is really where I plant the seeds of creative ideas, refining or figuring them out, planning their construction with diagrams and technical drawings, or just a place to keep them ‘safe’ so that I can go back to them someday. The seeds may or may not actually grow into something, but at least they are there and I can evaluate, use, build upon, or discard them as the need arises. I have quite a few of these idea collections…

It’s so strange to go over old writings and designs…what a different sort of person I was then! Like this painstaking catalog of beads and other bits that I had purchased—no doubt intending to make who-knows-what costume jewelry or beaded and embellished book covers—complete with the price of each and a code for where I had bought them. I am happy to report that I am no longer this fussy; I have learned to work with the substantial stash of materials that I already have, and no longer suffer from anxiety attacks that I may run out of something and not be able to find it again. It allows me to discover new things to use, rather than repeat myself or my ideas by using the same materials.

yellow medallion seedbook
yellow medallion seedbook

Clearly, beads were an obsession at this time…and a kind of colorful, store-bought African tribal look that I thought was pretty hot *LOL* I do remember that I started collecting cowrie shells off the beach where we lived (I actually came to Darwin with two shopping bags full of ground down cowrie shells that I was going to decorate chthonic and primitive embroideries with…I ended up returning them, still full of dried salt and sand, to the sea) as well as clean pieces of bone, teeth, and feathers. The hunter-gatherer look. ;)

yellow medallion seedbook

yellow medallion seedbook
These scrupulous hand-drawn diagrams for working tubular peyote stitch are testaments to a younger me, when I had all the time in the world to muck around like this. These days I skip the meticulous notes and try to get into the actual making as quickly as possible…

yellow medallion seedbook

This design still delights me, and I think I will finally do something about it and turn the plan into an embroidery:

yellow medallion seedbook

And this Polynesian design actually made it into the world of form! It ended up as a rich satin-stitch-filled embroidery, on the cover of a journal:

yellow medallion seedbook
I almost felt like a voyeur, looking through this seedbook and finding a handful of ideas that I had completely forgotten about.

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bookbinding, journaling + mail art

In with the new…

Papa Legba

Make the book

Because I am a book binder, when I start a new journal, I get to choose and bind the paper pages together, measure the book, then make covers for the book based on these measurements. For this next journal I opted to use a text block that Kris made for me…it is comprised entirely of old sailing charts. The paper’s very strong and heavy, and I love the way patches of land and water appear randomly on the pages, along with the names of distant ports and reefs and bays, both familiar and unfamiliar to me.

símbolos para abrir los caminos

The year 2014 already has several trips booked or blocked off on the calendar, and those are just the baby steps of an odyssey that we think may span some 4-6 years (!) So, obviously, the spirit of this new journal is one of wanderlust, exploration, change, movement and maybe even adventure (all good, I pray!) The strong feeling that I am about to throw myself into the unknown exerts powerful influences on the journal, too. I painted a canvas with symbols and requests to spirits of the crossroads, the guardians of the ways, asking that the paths I walk be unblocked for me, that gates and doors to a happy destiny be opened to me. It’s good to see my dreams and hopes visualized on the covers of my journal, hidden in little charms and rezos that I’ve tucked in among the decorative elements…

rooster feathers

If you are buying a journal, you are spared all that work, though you may want to decorate the generic or commercially decorated covers with your own symbols and designs to make the book more personal and unique. I once wrote a tutorial over on ilovegifting.me, about painting the covers of a cheap, generic hardbound blank book, that might help you customise your journal.

Give your journal a name

If you want to, of course. Walt Whitman’s poem Song of The Open Road has always inspired me…its wide open spaces and its rambling declaration of love for walking the road of life with ordinary people has always moved me, so now I can name this journal after it, in homage and desire.

“Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road….”

Some pages you can fill in or prepare, now:

  • Your name and contact information on the front page…very important, should you lose the journal. Keep the information up-to-date.
  • The quotes, poems, passages that inspire you and embody the feeling of the new journal
  • You can glue in pockets, tabs or dividers; you can add foldouts of blank paper, maps, heavier pages for photos.
  • Create a calendar for the coming months or years.
    If your plan is to carry your journal around with you all the time, you can actually use the calendars as your everyday planner (so much more awesome than a printed planner!). The pictures below are from the visual diary I kept while taking a few classes in visual art at the local uni—a ‘show-and-tell’ journal, not a deeply private one—so I used these calendar pages like a daily planner…appointments, deadlines, class schedules.
    Otherwise, use these pages to record events…a kind of “Year At A Glance” for things that have happened: Births, deaths, red-letter days, world events that will go down in history…it’s a good way to keep track of all the things that happened in that month/year, so you can quickly look them up without having to read your entire journal to find them.

art journal calendar

art journal calendar

  • Paint or write the prefatory pages…are you going to have a table of contents? A list of illustrations? A title page? A prayer, poem, or blessing at the start? A curse for intruders? Islamic manuscripts always started with a dedication of the book and its contents to Allah, the merciful and compassionate. The Jesuit priests (and their students) at the university I attended some 20 years ago used a shorthand version of this by writing their motto, “Ad maiorem Dei gloriam” (shortened to “AMDG”) at the start of everything. It means “For the greater glory of God”.
  • Other lists and written rituals
    Different people have different rituals. Kris keeps a list of about 140 countries he’s always wanted to visit, which he started writing when he was 10 years old and living in a Communist country. His mother made fun of his list, and everyone told him that he would never see those places, as virtually no one was allowed to travel beyond the borders of their coalition of Communist countries. It became his life’s goal to run away from Czechoslovakia and visit all those exotic places. He still moves the entire list from one journal to the next, ticking off the ones he has been to (half the list, some 70+ countries in all). And he hasn’t stopped making plans to see the rest.
    I, on the other hand, give each year a name, at its end, to sum up the most important, prevalent, unusual, influential thing that happened that year. For example, 2013 has been named The Year of Jacksons. I re-write my list of named years (started in 1997) in each journal I start.painting journal pages
  • Do a bit of background artwork, if you like. Paint some pages with washes of color. Fill some pages with hand-drawn lines to write on later. Maybe stick fabric down so some pages are cloth rather than paper.

WARNING: Don’t overdo it…the current mania for “Mixed Media Art Journaling”—where all the pages get fancied up and stuck all over with collages of colorful junk from magazines, meaningless words, and pieces of washi tape—is not a good way to stay grounded in the present.

By filling the journal up too much at the start you don’t leave yourself any room for the unexpected, the magical, the miraculous. You don’t have room to respond in the Here & Now to your surroundings, or to grow as an artist. Don’t apply a formula to the entire journal in advance, as though life were just one day on a loop…reality doesn’t do Groundhog Day; every moment is different, unique, and impossible to return to. Respect the immediacy of the moment, honour the singularities of your life by leaving lots of wide open spaces to fill with your own drawings, your own designs…really simple, honest work that doesn’t rely on store-bought journal bling or eye-candy cut out of other publications. Scare and challenge yourself by going, armed with only a pen and some colors, into that empty field of blank page, and developing the art you’re really capable of, when you aren’t peeking at what everyone else is doing, or trying your best to imitate Donna Downey and the gorgeous pages you see in dozens of Art Journal Workshop-type craft books.
Do yourself a favour. Get rid of those books. Stop buying them. Stop wasting time looking at other people’s enviable talent on Pinterest. Go naked into the arena of the unknown. Go often, kick ass often and get your ass kicked even more often! Become really, genuinely, innately, self-sufficiently CREATIVE. Make something out of NOTHING—which is real creativity—and turn your back on kits and how-tos and pre-chewed, pre-digested art mush, and “all the creativity that money can buy”.

Gris-gris (a.k.a."Mano")

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art journal tricks, journaling + mail art, philosophy

Out with the old…

planting broken and bent needles in a bed of soft tofu

“All the things have their own soul.”

From a combination of aspects of Buddhism and Japan’s traditional Shinto religion comes the belief that both living and inanimate objects have a spirit and soul.

The idea is that objects that have had a hard life can, having reached their 100th birthday, awaken to life and acquire souls. These monsters or “artefact spirits” are called tsukumogami, and are largely considered harmless, though many of them can band together and turn into a dangerous mob when they reflect upon how badly they have been treated after so much hard work and loyal service. They then set out to punish people who are wasteful, ungrateful, or who throw their tools away thoughtlessly. Wikipedia has a list of “known tsukumogami” that includes a “possessed tea kettle”, an angry-looking “animated umbrella”, and “A furry creature formed from the stirrup of a mounted military commander that works for Yama Orochi.”

tsukumogami

To prevent any of this from happening, Jinja ceremonies, such as the hari-kuyou, are performed in Shinto shrines of Japan. Kuyou are usually held for the spirits of dead people, but have also been held for things such as toys, weapons, and tools that were used for a long time and have been broken or rendered useless.

The hari-kuyou is a memorial service specifically for old sewing needles (hari) and pins. Prayers are offered to console the bent and broken needles. Each year, on February 8th, broken or damaged sewing needles are stuck into slabs of soft tofu or jelly—sort of as a reward after years of being pushed through tougher material—and these are offered to a Shinto shrine (or taken home and buried, with salt, in the garden). No needlework is done on this day, to give one’s needles a holiday of sorts. This ceremony still brings needleworkers and women together, today; in addition to the original purpose of consoling and thanking their tools, women are urged to take some time to console themselves, as well, and bury secrets too personal to reveal.

An old journal is a somewhat different matter…

Unlike broken needles and tattered umbrellas that have become useless, I think a journal becomes more valued and important with time. It is, after all, time and the act of writing in it regularly that transforms an empty book into a treasured record of life, and an heirloom for future generations. Not so much a useless corpse, your journal is more like your amazing hundred-year-old great-grandmother. She’s been a force of nature for over a century, and what she could really use right now is a cozy, everything-taken-care-of, bells-and-whistles retirement.

A home.

With this in mind, I think that a nice way to retire your used-up journal is by making it a special container of its own to live in…buy a decorative box that fits the book well, or try your hand at making a clamshell (or any of the other boxes bookbinders use to house precious volumes). If you can use archival, acid-free materials, so much the better…preserve your journal for your descendants, if you’re at all into that sort of thing.

A book box too bulky for you? If you’re one of those people that goes through 6 journals a year, perhaps a wooden chest or trunk to store them all in would be better. Or how about wrapping it in a knotted silk scarf, or stitching a simple calico bag with drawstring closure? Just something to keep the bugs from eating the paint off the pages, to confer some dignity on it, and keep it clean.

Any last words?

There’s not much point doing lots more writing in this journal—you probably don’t have any space left to write in, or (like me) your heart is already set on starting the next journal—but if writing a good closure makes you feel better, here are a few things you can use those last pages for:

  • An index…this doesn’t have to be a tedious page-by-page account of what’s in the journal, but you could write down major events and other things you’re likely to need someday (Ex. “Trip to Penang, p. 56-97”, “Peter’s death, pp.48”, or “Sabi’s roti paratha recipe, p.11”) My own journals only feature a practical list of schematic diagrams or design plans for book binding, so I can find them quickly without having to read through all the pages of blah-blah-blah. Which is why I still can’t remember the exact date of Peter’s death…

“Don’t talk about the things you care deeply, or feel intensely, about to every friendly stranger or fair-weather acquaintance. 1) Their insensitive questions or frivolous reactions may hurt, 2) your attempt to put the intangible into mere words will cheapen it, and 3) exchanging confidences in order to “win friends and influence people” is despicable.”

  • Finally, it might be nice to write a short paragraph at the very end, thanking the journal for the time it has served you and the ways it has helped you.
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bookbinding, embroidery and textiles, journaling + mail art, life, stuff i've made

Retiring a journal

Twist and Shout

Running out of pages in one’s current journal is not the only reason for retiring it and moving on to a new journal. It has been a very long time, in fact, since I filled a journal right up to its very last page. The way it usually happens, with me, is that I will sit down to my semi-regular ritual of journal-keeping, and feel a powerful aversion to writing in that journal. As though the things I want to write about don’t belong in that particular book.  My journals usually span a period of 5-7 years…a good chunk of time in which major life situation and personality changes might occur (I’m not talking about the fanciful myth that claims we generate completely new bodies every 7 years!) that find me a different person, at the end, from who I was when I started the journal.

Soon after we arrived in Australia (sailing from the Philippines, stopping along the way in Timor L’este for a month, all in all taking three months to get here) I found that I could not bear to write in the wooden-bound journal (the one named, no kidding, Tagebuch) I had brought with me. Tagebuch, and everything within it, belonged to the tropical archipelago of small limestone islands where Kris and I had lived for 6 years, in a fisherman’s ramshackle beach house an hour’s walk from the next cluster of human beings. There was no internet, mobile phone, digital camera, or laptop. We didn’t have jobs. We had no electric power of any sort—no lights at night, no fans, no television, no music—nor plumbing, and the little bit of money we had, we made by selling our paintings and handbound journals at galleries, exhibitions and craft fairs elsewhere in the country. There had been a huge tropical garden (my pride and joy) surrounded by 2 hectares of coconut plantation, and a jungle looming behind us that rustled with the movements of monkeys, pangolins, civets, pythons, tree shrews, sea eagles, mysterious night birds, and the rare, endangered local peacock pheasant, tandikan.

I wrote my journal in the mornings, at a table standing among hippeastrum lillies in the garden, or at a desk in the bedroom on wild monsoon nights, with half a dozen candles burning for light. We would sit in the doorway of our bamboo shack, senses alert in the total darkness of the night to every firefly or leafy crunch, every susurration of the sea in its different moods. We spent our days painting, marbling, reading or binding books; we took breaks to comb the beach for tumbled glass or chambered nautilus shells, or walk the twisty dirt roads of the surrounding countryside. We moved through cycles of making art, making love, making coconut curries, making strong loaves of peasant bread. This was the real world for us, and we seemed to exist outside of time.

How could I, arriving in Darwin—a whirlpool of working & earning & spending, of material culture, of social interactions, of self-assertion and ego-building, of status anxiety, and the never-ending struggle to establish one’s meaning or worth in empirical terms—continue to use my jungle book, my turtle-moon-hippeastrum-poetry-green-glass-seasnake-soulmate-candlight journal? It felt like a desecration, and that’s how I knew it was time to make a new journal.

Twist and Shout, 2007-

Twist and Shout has been my Darwin journal since 2007. The name was actually printed on the selvage of a quilting fabric I had used to make the covers’ patchwork with. It seemed to fit with the way I felt about Darwin at the time…the teeth-grinding busy-ness of the place, the commerce, the social and racial tensions, the clashes between individuals brought on by drunkenness or just selfish intolerance, the big hurry that everyone was in to get someplace else.

It contains the story of finding my place within this small city, of meeting friends and carving a small niche for myself, of making a home and coming to belong here. It cobbles together what I have learned about Northern Australia and the things I have come to love about the place. My very first fresh peach, apricot, raspberry, pomegranate were experienced here. My first fresh fig (a moment worth many chapbooks of poetry) and my first octopus (a moment worth many cookbooks). My encounters with crocodiles, flying foxes, frilled lizards, wallabies, kangaroos, and a Clydesdale horse so big that I thought of Norse gods.

something did after all

It might mention some of the new toys and tools that living here made it possible to acquire. My job experiences as cleaner, as gardener in a plant nursery, as kitchen hand, as back-to-uni student, as craft teacher. My delight in bicycles and the daily love I feel for Darwin’s meandering, tree-lined bicycle paths through shady parks full of ibises, plovers, and sporty types, appears everywhere in its pages. It includes the year I rented an art studio, and the fun of putting together my first two solo exhibitions. The accounts of trying to learn a third language, to study printmaking, silkscreen printing, and doing a dressmaking course, are here, too. I made my own clothes for the first time here, on a 70-year-old sewing machine that I bought within a month of arriving in the country. Of course it documents the continuing importance of the sea in my life.

events of great intensity

On the whole it has been a good companion, this embroidered and patchworked book of 500 pages (400 used)—so full of paint and inclusions that its covers are permanently agape—although I did not write in it as regularly nor as copiously as I did in the last journal. I was much more bound by time during this period of my life…well outside of the standard rat race, but a rat on the sidelines, nonetheless…with unexceptional jobs, keeping regular hours, having bills to pay and other financial commitments, watching in growing anxiety as the days, months, years flew by because my attention leapt from payday to payday as across stepping stones…the rest of the days falling, unremarked, between them, and flowing away like water.

Last week, although there was plenty I wanted to write, I felt unhappy about having to write it in Twist & Shout. I’ve learned to recognise this feeling immediately, and so put away my pen and ink bottle, and re-read the journal, instead. The signs were unmistakable: some entries were fun to read, and a little bit was of continuing importance, but most of what I had written was already obsolete. No longer useful or even relevant to me, the person I was in 2007 had been left behind. I had moved on, and at some subtle point had turned a corner, from which my 2007 self could no longer even be seen or remembered, and the way back had been rubbed out behind me.Like a hole in the head

Only the present moment is real, though I have some vague ideas about the way ahead.

In my next post I’m going to write about making the transition between an old and a new journal. I suppose one could just drop the old journal, and start in the new immediately, but it seems a shame to treat an old friend and one-time constant companion that way. It seems ungrateful, somehow. There are rituals of gratitude and farewell for tools and objects—as there are for friends and loved ones—to soften the sharp edges of change and to prepare oneself for what might lie ahead. I thought I might share my own practices here, not so much for you to follow as to help you think up rituals of your own.

roll your own year...

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Inspirations, journaling + mail art, paints and pens, stuff i've made, travel

Islands

wind rose
I have been making small paintings that look like collages of torn postcards and mail art…although the only real paper in these are the postage stamps…everything else is done with paint (including the “Air Mail” labels. This is a backup project for the Tactile Arts’ “Text” members’ exhibition, since there is a slight possibility that my original embroidered piece may garner disapproval for the word ‘fucking‘ that I have used in it. Fair enough, it’s a craft organization and not an art organization, and self-expression takes a back seat to tradition and execution in the world of craft. I’m going to make it, anyway, because I want it for our own boat.

The alternative project is not a lesser one…these postcard paintings are an old theme of mine, and I always did want to make more of them.

postcards from the equator

The paintings start with some text…often something lifted out of my journals from when Kris and I lived in El Nido, Palawan; sometimes just a story or description that I remember from those days—an image or experience that I treasure. I write/paint the story on the canvas (as much of it as will fit!) and then start to layer ‘torn paper’ effects, images, patterns, stuff related to the story. I pick a complementary postage stamp (I bought a beautiful antique stamp collection, from a dealer in old coins, that I keep for collage work like this), paint on a faux label, add finishing touches like gold leaf, and then varnish the piece.
WIP postcards from the equator
It’s been lovely, nostalgic work…re-reading my journals, resurrecting memories from our time among the islands, looking at our old photos, browsing through the stamp collection, digging up the poetry books that were my constant companions during those years.

Dilumacad Island
Islands
By Yusef Komunyakaa

For Derek Walcott

An island is one great eye
gazing out, a beckoning lighthouse,
searchlight, a wishbone compass,
or counterweight to the stars.
When it comes to outlook & point
of view, a figure stands on a rocky ledge
peering out toward an archipelago
of glass on the mainland, a seagull’s
wings touching the tip of a high wave,
out to where the brain may stumble.

But when a mind climbs down
from its high craggy lookout
we know it is truly a stubborn thing,
& has to leaf through pages of dust
& light, through pre-memory & folklore,
remembering fires roared down there
till they pushed up through the seafloor
& plumes of ash covered the dead
shaken awake worlds away, & silence
filled up with centuries of waiting.

Sea urchin, turtle, & crab
came with earthly know-how,
& one bird arrived with a sprig in its beak,
before everything clouded with cries,
a millennium of small deaths now topsoil
& seasons of blossoms in a single seed.
Light edged along salt-crusted stones,
across a cataract of blue water,
& lost sailors’ parrots spoke of sirens,
the last words of men buried at sea.

Someone could stand here
contemplating the future, leafing
through torn pages of St. Augustine
or the prophecies by fishermen,
translating spore & folly down to taproot.
The dreamy-eyed boy still in the man,
the girl in the woman, a sunny forecast
behind today, but tomorrow’s beyond
words. To behold a body of water
is to know pig iron & mother wit.

Whoever this figure is,
he will soon return to dancing
through the aroma of dagger’s log,
ginger lily, & bougainvillea,
between chants & strings struck
till gourds rally the healing air,
& till the church-steeple birds
fly sweet darkness home.
Whoever this friend or lover is,
he intones redemptive harmonies.

To lie down in remembrance
is to know each of us is a prodigal
son or daughter, looking out beyond land
& sky, the chemical & metaphysical
beyond falling & turning waterwheels
in the colossal brain of damnable gods,
a Eureka held up to the sun’s blinding eye,
born to gaze into fire. After conquering
frontiers, the mind comes back to rest,
stretching out over the white sand.

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