A change, they say, is as good as a holiday. When I moved into my friend Yvonne’s unit just after Christmas, my one big goal was to figure out by the New Year what the heck I was going to do for a living, now that my hours at work have been chopped to less than half what they were. I had been thinking about it a bit, at home on the houseboat, but found that my mind kept wandering the same old grooves, the same tired ideas: Bind journals and albums, sell them on ETSY, have exhibitions or rent pop-up space, and join two weekly tourist craft markets in Darwin…just thinking about it depressed me!—I’d chewed on these commonplace, uninspired solutions for so long that they were a grey, flavourless wad of gum in my brain. Also, I had tried them all before, and they hadn’t worked then, so why did I believe that they would work now?
Kris’s arrival in Hawaii, and the ensuing media hype, pushed my own plans aside for a few days. Kris and I exchanged e-mail letters twice daily, making up for time we’d been apart and the best of his time on land. As this went on I found myself wishing, as I do every time he’s off somewhere and I’m at home, that I could send him a beautiful letter. But it was impossible, with him on a boat. He, on the other hand, has taken advantage of my fixed address to send me dozens of postcards and hand-painted letters since I left him behind in Guatemala in August 2016.
Finally, this impracticable urge to make a beautiful piece of mail art for Kris, along with posts from my own blog, and some readers’ comments, gave me the idea.
Something so unlike all my other ideas that, instead of looking through it with indifference as it flitted past me like a soap bubble, my mind pounced and pinned it down. I was so agitated by this new thing that I got out of bed and paced the hallway for hours. For once, my inner critic was so astounded that it couldn’t find anything to say, and let me walk that idea from the land of vague notions and through the door into my world.
It’s so simple, I wondered that I didn’t think of it sooner.
I love all things paper. I love writing and drawing. I have spent 20 years hoarding beautiful papers (not just for bookbinding), inks, calligraphy and fountain pens, matchboxes full of steel Gillot and Mitchell nibs, drawing pens, envelopes, paints. I love travel, travel sketching and travel writing. I collect paper money, maps, and stamps from other countries. I love sending letters and making mail art…I have dozens of sealing wax tapers, brass monogram seals that I’ve never used, and several albums filled with old postage stamps (I buy stamp collections from flea markets). One of my grand life plans (that never came to pass) was to send beautiful mail art to each of my friends, all over the world, on a regular basis.
Before the New Year, I posted images of some old work on this blog, and a lot of it was mail art. These images of mail art got the most reactions from readers.
“Everybody,” I mused, “loves the idea of a beautiful letter arriving in the mail.” *plink!* The proverbial lightbulb blinked on, in my head.
And yet, letter-writing has been called a “fading art,” and old-fashioned letter-writers, a “fading generation,” because although everybody would love to receive such a letter, nobody wants to have to write one.
Will this fading generation, I find myself quietly asking, also be the last to write letters? Messages crafted by hand rather than bits of binary code? Writing that carries emotions rather than emoticons?
—Catherine Field, The Fading Art of Letter Writing
“So, with letter-writing on its last legs and the New York Times publishing elegies to it, your great idea is to take it up, professionally? Really?” The way I see it, that’s an even better reason to take up my dip-pen, stir those sleeping Herbin inks, and start scribbling…to keep it alive.
Here’s my pitch:
I propose to write, and paint, beautiful letters (that’s why I’ve been brushing up on calligraphy) with stories and images from my own life, and then reproduce and post them, once a month (like a magazine subscription), to anyone who wants to find more than bills and shopping catalogs in their mailbox…
I’ll make sure the letter is personalized (although I couldn’t possibly hand-paint and write one letter for every person!) and use the prettiest stamps I can find, with artwork on the page (a watercolor, a drawing, a collage, a bit of embroidery on paper, you know what I do…), calligraphy and art on the envelopes, wax sealed, rubber-stamped…a dream in an envelope. For you, or maybe for someone you know who’d love to receive regular letters as a gift.
A good handwritten letter is a creative act, and not just because it is a visual and tactile pleasure. It is a deliberate act of exposure, a form of vulnerability, because handwriting opens a window on the soul in a way that cyber communication can never do. You savor their arrival and later take care to place them in a box for safe keeping.
—Catherine Field, The Fading Art of Letter Writing
This idea goes live in my ETSY shop on Wednesday, 17th January…
What do you think?
*The Missing Ink is the title of a book I have by Philip Hensher, about the lost art of handwriting as a form of self-expression. I loved the title so much, I just had to use it for this post!