Cemetery Story

Outgoing mail, in the company of my journal pages from Haiti, the Baron Samedi (His Purple Majesty), a goat’s skull I found on a city sidewalk in Darwin (waaaay more bizarre than if I’d found it in South America somewhere…) and our homemade Elegguá (in some ways, the star of my letter).

The letter “Cemetery Story” will no longer be available by end of day (ACST, UTC +9:30) on October 30, so if you enjoy slightly morbid stories about visits to cemeteries, or are famiiar with the Lucumí, Mayombe, or vodoun religions that traveled with the diaspora from Africa to the Americas via the African Trans-Atlantic slave trade, then today is your last chance to sign up to Patreon and receive this issue of The Scarlet Letterbox.

{Become my patron for $9 a month…}

The letter is a little longer than usual, but I’m reluctant to amputate any more of it than I already have, so this letter will have an extra page of writing, so I can finish telling the story! The envelope has been printed by hand, using a homemade rubber stamp, in black and gold inks.  I’ve also slipped a postcard of my interpretation of Baron Samedi’s vevé, a design particular to Haitian vodoun, into the envelope.

On the Patreon site, patrons will have access to my favourite poem on the subject of death…(it’s not what you think—it’s a humorous, wonderful poem that totally celebrates the fact that life and death are yin and yang, each wrapped in the other’s embrace, both natural and desirable) as well as photos of some of the people, places, and things that I mention in my letter.

By the pricking of my thumbs,
something wicked this way comes.

I’m still waiting for my new phone (La la la…’nuff said…so boring) and so text and photos taken with my old DSLR are all I can offer on the Patreon site, for now. It’s coming, though…it’s coming…it’s very close…I can feel its presence…it may even be in Australia by now…


¿Why can’t I do ‘back issues’, anymore?

The thing with Patreon’s set-up is that I can’t charge individual patrons for individual letters. These days, when I publish a “paid post”, all of my patrons get charged at one time, for the same letter. It’s too confusing to charge everyone, but for different letters.

“Oh, that way madness lies…”

When November’s postal train pulls away from the station on the 1st, that’s it; you may sign up for Patreon any time in November, but you’ll be waiting for December’s letter car to pull up.

If you want a previous month’s letter, I can make that “back issue” available to you, over in my Etsy shop (provided I have copies left) but you can’t get it as part of your Patreon patronage, anymore, because the only time I’ll publish a “paid post” will be when the next letter is ready for mailing out. Besides, I’m now ordering the minimum quantity of printed copies, just to cover the current month’s number of subscribers…

vot I did at verk…

masks into calaverasIn order to get some pictures for our shop’s monthly demonstration (the goal is to work on a simple project in-store that uses Jacksons’ products and gives kids and adults some easy, accessible art and craft ideas) I decided to paint one of our papier maché masks (it’s not a wearable mask…too small for a head, and there are no eye holes!) as a sugar skull (calaveras) decoration for dia de los muertos, coming up on November 1&2 (or for Halloween, if you like, though there is no feeling of scariness or monstrousness associated with this Mexican tradition).

I’ll be making another (hopefully better) one for the actual demonstration on October 16th, Wednesday, at 10:30 a.m., if this looks like something you or your kids might enjoy doing. Jacksons Drawing Supplies is located at #7 Parap Place, Parap Shopping Center (between Toppy’s sandwich bar, and Arafura Catering). Everyone is welcome. 🙂

gift wrappingAlso, I am the only Aquarian in a shop full of Virgos (like a cat among the pigeons) and August/September brought on a slew of birthdays. My lunch breaks this past week were spent wrapping birthday presents…and then playing with ideas of how to top them and personalise them using paper scraps and junk mail. I started slowly, noncommittally…but as I warmed to the ideas (and then more ideas came than I knew what to do with) it became a small obsession. I even turned up for work half an hour earlier last Wednesday to work on them.

lily pondI’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: “I love my job…”

sea change

papercut window

Here’s the new central part of our window at work, with what turned into a sea-themed frame around the shop’s name/logo.

I did it in cut paper, so that it would blend with the cut paper birds and flowers that Emily Hearn did, years ago (we just love her birds too much to take them down!) Once I stopped thinking about it, and just started doing it, it only took an afternoon of doodling, using a scalpel and a swivel knife, instead of a pen. I penciled guidlenes in as I went, and the whole frame grew organically…only the logo/name was done according to a detailed sketch, to get the trademark letters right.

ship and the West wind

I learned to use the swivel knife on this project, and it’s one of my favorite tools, now.

When I started out I thought I was going to do something about clouds and the sky. But the sea took over, and before I knew it, in rushed waves, seaweed, a ship, and an octopus! Not surprisingly, as the sea is a huge part of my life.

Towards the end I really started to get into detailed cutting (that’s always the way, isn’t it? By the time you’re all warmed up and the ideas start to come, the job’s seven-eighths done!) and put in the West wind and a tentacled Kraken to flank the ship.

Tea with Lady Lavender


Hello, sorry It’s been so quiet on here. I’ve been quite busy making stuff…just didn’t remember to take pictures of anything I was doing, hence nothing to show you or blog about.

Yesterday I started working on a series of mixed media journal covers because I visited my own ETSY shop a few weeks ago, and things were looking very, very lonely and neglected. I am trying to get back into bookbinding now, because I have a dozen or so text blocks of beautiful paper all bound and ready for covers. The covers are always the hardest part (but also the most fun) because I don’t like to repeat myself, and I tend to get stuck for a long time, fiddling with tiny details on every single one.

The subject of this batch of journal covers is tea time; this one’s predominantly lavender. The base is painted artist’s canvas. I’ve used various papers—tea stained pages for the tea cup, and my own marbled paper for the tea, some gift tissue—and bits of fabric. Machine as well as hand stitching. Acrylic paints (and some dimensional glitter paint), acrylic inks, and some shading with colored pencils.



What have you been tinkering with lately?

Why can’t E-day be V-day?

embroidered pop-up valentine
There’s a wonderful chain reaction that happens when something beautiful that someone else has created and shared sets off a string of your own creative sparks. Mini-eco’s pixel heart pop-up sort of did that for me, yesterday. After making the wood-burned valentine card, I had the idea of using embroidery on the same design, so I made this card next.

I cut and scored the card like before, but before popping it up I used a pencil to draw the design (including a small grid of lines in the center for the cross-stitched part…the squares aren’t very regular or precise, but who cares? Not me. 🙂 ) Then I used a bookbinding awl to punch the needle holes, and stitched the design up with 3 strands of DMC stranded embroidery cotton. The whole thing took an hour.
embroidered pop-up valentineSo then I was hooked, right? Because when the gratification is so quick in coming, I can grow an obsession in moments. I got started on a third version of this valentine card (Hey! How about a card where the pop-up has pop-ups?) but didn’t finish because Kris reminded me that I was going to work early the following morning, and I reluctantly put the tools away. But I want to pick up where I left off, this Saturday, and make as many of these versions of Kate’s card as I can think of.

For a mad moment last night, sitting in the dark with my last cigarette before bed, I even wondered “Why can’t Every Day be Valentine’s Day?” and started to think I could make one valentine a day (not just mini-eco’s already much-too-abused pixel heart pop-up design, but all sorts of valentines) for a year, just to see what that might feel like; just to see what focusing on love and friendship everyday for a year—and then sending those 365 love messages out to people—would do.

Life might explode like some amazing hundred-year-rains desert flower. The world might turn over in their dreams, and sigh with love in their sleep. I might get nothing but lazy Facebook messages back: “Hey, Nat, thanks for the heart, soooooo super cute! OMG!” Or nothing at all might happen. Silence. No reaction. Hmm…either way, it’d be an interesting project, no? Maybe the day I get put into a retirement home, that’s what I’ll do for the rest of my time on earth. That and scare children.

Valentine 2005 by Marian Bantjes,
Valentine 2005 by Marian Bantjes,

All of this reminds me of something that the amazing designer, typographer, writer and illustrator Marian Bantjes does on a fairly regular basis. If you aren’t familiar with Bantjes’ work, I highly recommend a visit to her website…this woman is amazing! Her ideas are original and playful…her projects are sometimes wacky, sometimes elegant, but they are always poetic and, in the case of her personal Valentines projects, downright romantic.

I love that she still does a lot of hand-drawn design, lettering, and illustration. I love that there is nothing on the planet that she will not explore in a playful way to create something beautiful and striking (her pixel patterns made with sugar cubes for Stefan Sagmeister, for example.) I love that she only does work that she loves, now…

“She started working as a book typesetter in 1984 and opened her own design firm in 1994 employing up to 12 people. In 2003, she left all of that behind to begin an experiment in following love instead of money, by doing work that was highly personal, obsessive and sometimes just plain weird…”

This is a sample of the 150 hand-drawn Valentines she made in 2007; since then Bantjes has transformed Valentine’s Day into her very own ritualistic way of using her design skills to connect with the people in her life. Her Valentines 2008, Valentines 2009, Valentines 2010, Valentines 2011, and Valentines 2012 are each worth a look. My personal favorite is 2009’s 4 fragments of love letters, in beautiful handwritten calligraphy, that start and end in the middle of a really romantic, loving message…the sort of passionate writing that anyone would want to receive, really…and Bantjes’ recipients will probably spend the rest of their lives sighing over the missing beginning and end parts of the ‘love letter’.

“150 Valentines” by Marian Bantjes, 2007. Pen and ink hand-drawn designs.

Mini-eco’s pixel pop-up Valentine’s cards

'woodburned' valentine card

By far the cutest idea I have come across for a paper-engineered Valentine’s Day card has come from the blog minieco.co.uk by a clever lady named Kate. This 8-bit pixel heart pop-up reminds me of more than just old computer graphics…I can see counted-thread cross-stitch charts, lego, and kids’ wooden building blocks being used to decorate the basic heart shape.

mini-eco's popup pixel valentine's card
Mini-eco is choc-full of gorgeous paper projects like these pop-up Valentine’s Day cards. Each and every one is a must-do for someone who loves playing with paper and sharp objects! 😉
Photo: Kate from mini-eco.co.uk

I made a couple of plain versions, first, using the same sort of brightly colored card used in the original post, just to get the hang of all the cutting and scoring. The first one wouldn’t pop-up properly and, upon closer inspection of how the pop-up thing ‘works’, I found that there was a small error in the cutting and scoring template provided with the tutorial. If you just keep in mind that each vertical cut in the top-half of the heart has to extend down to meet the horizontal scoring line of the previous ‘step’, you will solve the pop-up problem. Another way to think of it is that each vertical line in the top-half of the heart should be three pixels long, not just two (as it’s shown in Kate’s cutting/scoring guide) and that you will have to extend the two-pixel-long cut downward by the length one more pixel…till it meets a horizontal cutting line.

Starting out with Kate’s basic tutorial for the pixel heart, I used a really fabulous Japanese paper that mimics pale wood…it’s so realistic that at first I thought it was just very thinly shaved wood veneer! It even has the fine, hairline streaks of silvery film, like you find in the grain of real wood.

I cut the heart, but didn’t do any folding until after I’d decorated it. I used a dark brown felt-tip marker to do a design that sort of reminded me of wood burning and folk art. I tried to use dots and hatching to give the design some contrast. Then I gently went over some parts with a colored pencil to mimic the slight smoldering that forms around the dark design areas when you use an actual burning tool.

Cut a slightly larger piece of dark burgundy card for the backing, and glued the pop-up card in place. And that was it…easy, and such a pretty card to look at…I have been staring at mine for hours, enjoying its chunky dimensionality and the illusion, from certain angles, of a burned Valentine made from a solid piece of wood. 🙂
'woodburned' valentine