I know a lot of you won’t believe me, and will think I’m being humble, but I have the worst natural handwriting in the world. In primary school, I and a mischievous boy called Francisco (incidentally, my childhood nemesis…when I was 7, I chased him with a knife and got into a lot of trouble) were held up to the class as examples of incorrigible, unreadable scribes. Never stated, but plenty implied, was that our penmanship indicated psychotic tendencies.
I could not have cared less about penmanship when I was 7, but as I reached the end of high school my terrible handwriting distressed me. I had fallen in love with literature, and was nursing small dreams of becoming a writer, but the cheap notebooks filled with my first essays, poems, and stories—written in my demented, unlovely hand—fell woefully short of my belletrist ambitions to pen flourishing and graceful pages, worthy of the British Museum’s archives…
I taught myself how to write. I bought a dip pen and a set of roundhand nibs, and used them every day…even at university. I probably presented a ridiculous image, sitting in the library, writing notes in italic with a dip pen and a bottle of burgundy ink…there must have been sniggers, and lots of eye-rolling. *sigh* Whatever. We are so affected when we’re young. But my college notes are fabulous; I have them still.
Using a dip pen has become second nature to me, so it’s not such an affectation, anymore. This doesn’t mean that my real handwriting has changed, though. Give me a ballpoint or a felt tip pen, and my handwriting is as illegible, psychotic, demonic as ever. It hasn’t been transformed, only concealed.
It was always the kind of pen that made the difference. Fussy pens, like dip pens with calligraphic nibs, or those very fine, delicate points on expensive technical drawing pens, have to be held a certain way, manipulated slowly to avoid damaging them, have to be used correctly or they won’t work at all. Their finicky temperaments impose order upon my handwriting.
Now I am teaching myself Copperplate script. I bought the strange-looking Mitchell’s Copperplate Elbow oblique nib at work, and have been using it at every opportunity…copperplate To Do lists, copperplate journal entries, copperplate appointments in my datebook, copperplate letters to friends (and their addresses on envelopes)…
I have barely started, and already I can see that I will need an oblique nib holder, because the Mitchell’s Copperplate Elbow, while set at the right angle for Copperplate, is not as flexible as I’d like it to be. I have a Gillott’s 303 and 404 nib, they’re so springy-sproingy that it’s like writing with cat’s whiskers (and it’s the difference between the superfine point of the nib, and how far apart the tines will spread when you apply pressure, that make for some of my favorite Copperplate examples on the internet) but the nib has to held at an oblique angle to the lines on the page to get the thick-and-thin areas in the right places.
I probably wouldn’t pick Copperplate to begin using dip pens and nibs…go for Roundhand, or Italic, first, and when you’re comfortable with using a nib, you can venture into the fancier scripts. It will be many years of writing in ‘plain vanilla Copperplate’ before I will feel game enough to tackle the sort of scrolling and ornamental work you see in this video:
I have wanted to do something about this stack of large, heavy-duty brown paper bags—the kind that you get your bok choy and bananas in, at a farmer’s market—that I carried home from some yard sale ages ago.
Today I cut the bottoms off, leaving a kind of paper ‘tube'; I then slit the tube with a large kitchen knife at the side folds into two pieces, cut the resulting two sheets in half once more, and then folded the sheets, ten at a time, to form signatures or sections. A few quick stitches using heavy linen upholstery thread, some cloth tapes cut from a scrap of printed cotton, some glue and half an hour under the press. Just like that, I have two brown paper books, a hundred leaves (200 pages) in each. I may, or may not, worry about covers (I’m a bookbinder. That means most of my own books spend their lives half-finished and coverless…)
I have a lot of good art papers, and at least a dozen hand-bound drawing and watercolor sketchbooks, to take on my travels…but I needed some scribbling-and-doodling books that didn’t feel precious; made of the cheapest possible paper and roughly sewn together, so that I wouldn’t be afraid to waste the pages, to draw and write utter garbage, to jot down phone numbers and shopping lists. I like that the pages in these two books are creased. There are some stains and spots where the bags got rained on last year. I even left the double-thick strip—where one side of the bag was glued to the other—to form a margin on some pages.
Often, it is in such cheap and accessible books that the best work gets done. The mind is so strange.
I began to test various dip pen nibs on the rough, hairy paper, trying to figure out which nib would work best. This random line from an audio book—Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives—I was listening to as I began to write appeared on the first page. I guess I have unwittingly named one of the books…
Inspired to the point of nail biting by Jennifer Orkin Lewis’s painting a day, and hoping to get into the habit of doing a small painting regularly (once a week is all I’ve managed)…before I set off on my big adventure ‘out there’, I picked up where I left off in this palm-sized honey of a handbound watercolor book, and tried to do a little something on free days. Even if it was just a color chart, or a copy of some bizarre character by Bosch.
Watercolours and gouache.
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!
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):
Of which all Roland received was this (must’ve torn off the postcard, I was foolish to merely stitch it on…):
Detachment, 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
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.”)
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.
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.
A cartoonish painting of a cat that was in an old sketchbook…I love finding uses for odds and ends like these.
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.
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.
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
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:
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) :
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.
(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…