journaling + mail art

Postcards!

postcards received

Seven postcards received, via iHanna’s DIY Postcard Swap, so far…from Italy, Canada, New Zealand, and the U.S. Most of them came in a big rush, and I was the envy of the ladies at work (and the ones at the Post Office, too!) It was fun getting so many cards in the mail. Hanna hosts these swaps four times a year, so if this looks like something you’d love to do, please check her blog page out!

postcards received

postcards received

I wonder if all of mine got to their intended recipients? Ah, well, lost mail is part of mail art…the lovingly-crafted artwork that never arrives…the mysterious scrap of address that arrives minus the card it was attached to…like this one (front and back of the same card) I sent to Germany once, (including a small solar print I’d made of some ferns, and then hand-embroidered in metallic and frosted threads):

Andreas Hofer postcard

Of which all Roland received was this (must’ve torn off the postcard, I was foolish to merely stitch it on…):
this is all that's left of my mail artDetachment, letting go of something once it has been handed over to the Postal system, and non-preciousness, are also part of the Mail Art Movement. Letting the world have its way with your creations. Letting it also make its mark upon the piece…the franking stamp, damage, barcodes, loss. A collaboration.

The purpose of mail art, an activity shared by many artists throughout the world, is to establish an aesthetical communication between artists and common people in every corner of the globe, to divulge their work outside the structures of the art market and outside the traditional venues and institutions: a free communication in which words and signs, texts and colours act like instruments for a direct and immediate interaction.” – Loredana Parmesani

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journaling + mail art, mixed media, projects

postcard machine

this is not art

I realised with a start yesterday that the deadline for iHanna’s DIY Postcard Swap has crept up on me while I was tied up doing other things! So I got my ass into gear and made 8 postcards…actually I made 11, but as the quality of subsequent ones got better, I found myself throwing the very blah earlier ones away.

Which is not to say that I consider these 8 to be the pinnacle of my creative abilities…I was tempted to discard a few more from this group. But let’s be practical and realistic: I have two free days left. I’m running out of time. I also need to make some journals for the craft fair this weekend, as a matter of urgency. So these will have to do…and I hope I can make another two postcards this morning, so I can get cracking on the bookbinding.

“Please upgrade your output levels to Panic Mode…and thank you for flying with Seat-Of-Your-Pants airlines.”)

cliff dweller

It quickly became clear , as I put these collages together, that I deeply dislike using commercially printed papers. Although I have my own small stash of scrapbook papers and other decorative elements from the scrapbooking craze of several years ago, when it came to putting collages together, I almost always tossed the pre-made decorative stuff in preference for papers and media that I had made, myself. I still used some patterned papers or magazine pages for some cards, but I tried to keep them minimal.

This lady with a cactus, for example, uses commercial papers for the cactus pot, and the floral background. The paper clay face was made in a Sculpey doll mold.  Everything else was painted, printed, drawn or stitched by hand.

cactus

This one doesn’t look like much, but I’m very proud that everything used for this collage is my own work: painted textures and fragments of old lino prints that I did during a printmaking course many years ago. Totally organic.

green bottle

A cartoonish painting of a cat that was in an old sketchbook…I love finding uses for odds and ends like these.

orange cat

An unsuccessful little painting on canvas got cut up and I drew the bottle around it, and stuck it down to commercial scrapbook paper and a scrap of Thai ‘money’ for the dead.

storm in a bottle

The other half of that underworld bill, on a page from one of my favorite drawing magazines, Le Gun, and another unsuccessful painting of…toothpaste? Go figure.

swirl

A second paper clay character…I’ve nicknamed her Little Zen Riding Hood. A stencilled background, some linoprinting, a coloured photocopy of some cross-stitching I did on paper, and the red cloak is cut from Unsuccessful Painting #3 (I did a whole series of these lumpish duds).

In emulation of a line from one of Joanna Newsom’s songs (Bluebeard) I wrote “What a woman does is walk paths of the unconscious…it is not a question of straying or not straying.” Deep, huh? LOL

little zen riding hood

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Exhibits, journaling + mail art, mixed media, paints and pens, stuff i've made

The Art of Tea Exhibition is on this weekend

Tactile Arts Exhibition: The Art of Tea

Tactile Arts Contemporary Craft Studios & Gallery
19 Conacher St., Fannie Bay, Darwin, NT
Opening 10:30 AM on Saturday, May 3rd
Runs till May 25 2014

Tactile Arts comprises dozens of talented craftspeople and artists working in glass, ceramics, textiles, jewelry, and anything else you can name, so if you love tea motifs you’re sure to find something delightful at this themed exhibition. These are what I’ve put in:

tea journals

gold roses tea cup

albatross tea  cup

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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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