The humidity & the ecstasy

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petit dejeuner pres la plage

Almost like a painting...
I’m enamoured of this photo I took in the morning, because it looks like an Impressionist painting, or something by Seurat or Andrew Wyeth. Got lucky with the filter and sliding things up and down…

Café De La Plage…friends have been trying to get me out there, but I’m allergic to anything that serves “smashed avocado”, and this seemed like the sort of place that would…
So happy to be wrong. It does, of course, have smashed avocado…how could it not?…but that’s really just a symbol for the sort of crowd that usually gathers at these trendy places: the desperate vying for public attention, the celebrity complexes, the identical ironic beards, and the sort of loud idiot talk that passes for conversation these days, are really what I am allergic to.

In this wide open-air space, however, distance from others is a key feature, and the presence of The Sky & Sea reduces everything else to unremarkable elements in the landscape.  Crudely assembled tables out of shipping pallets, a couple of hammocks, and carpets strewn with bean bags, were spread far apart on a softly sloping grass lawn that leads down to the beach. People sit in small groups in the shade of Casuarinas and palms. The clouds were piled high on the horizon, a strong breeze blew in from the sea, and the water was like olive oil. Also, an emerald green oriole sat on our table, within arm’s reach, eating the leftovers of my muffin. Neither I nor my companion wanted to ruin the magic by pulling out a camera, so we just had a really good look and savoured the moment.

I wasn’t in the mood for a serious breakfast, though, so can only say the cappuccino was good, the muffin was crumbly and dry. Though the oriole said it was nice, he polished it off.

An old friend I hadn’t seen in years and years finally got me out there. I confess I’m charmed, though it’s too far by bicycle from my part of Darwin to get there very often. What an amazing place it would be to spend a long afternoon with a sketchbook or journal!

This should really be viewed full-sized, please click the post title to see without the WordPress sidebar…

immamou

UntitledA quick rubber stamp, carved from Soft Cut printing blocks…this ship is a vevé—a religious symbol commonly used in different branches of voodoo throughout the African diaspora—from Haiti.

I first tested the stamp on random pages of an old sketchbook…

Untitledthen tried it out using gold acrylic paint…

UntitledFinally, I stamped it on a black envelope.

I figured that if I was going to mess up a perfectly good envelope with test prints, I may as well go the whole hog and make a postal event out of it.

All ready to enclose a letter to my Beloved…

I’ve overdone this one, but he’ll love it. It will be waiting for him at the DB yacht club when he gets back to Australia. Also, it has helped me finalize my ideas for March’s envelopes; I like the idea of the address in a strip down the middle, flanked by art and stamps.


Subscribe before March 15th to start your monthly letter subscription off with this ship-themed letter…beautiful, limited mail art each month, for the price of a coffee and donut.   The Scarlet Letterbox

Running with bulls

Running with the bulls

outgoing mail

Outgoing mail

February (darn it!).

The Scarlet LetterBox

Word whittling

Wrote the letter (it’s a story, really) in one intense day…from 10am through to now (2:30am, March the 1st), from a handwritten rough draft of 3,700 words—whittled and shaved and whittled some more—down to 1,200…hopefully without losing its flavour or story.

It’s pretty good. I know it is. With the kind of knowing that lives wherever my meagre understanding of this craft lives. This knowledge is so elusive that, when it’s absent, you worry that you’ve made it up. But, when it surfaces, it’s so satisfying. That moment when you recognize that what you have done will generate sparks, if only for a few minutes.

I gave it everything I dared, wrote it all down, and then went back over it with a scalpel, and took two-thirds of it out again. I have done the best I can do. Tonight, that is. I can only speak for tonight!

“One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water.”
Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

I’m allowing myself to gloat a little, now, because I might look at it tomorrow , think, “Oh, it’s crap,” and start all over again. Ah, the writing life…

I’ll bet I can excise another 200 words, tomorrow, if I put my mind to it. That’s still too many words for an A4 sheet of paper. I’ll have to add a second sheet to February’s letter.

It’s so grueling to try and hack a story down to 600 words, and yet still do it justice, give it some depth. There’s a very real danger of trivializing the subject matter. This is probably why I only post photos on twitter!

Of course, something very, very short, the tiniest bite of writing, can hold universes. Haiku, for example. Or W.S. Merwin’s translation of delightful Asian aphorisms, East Window:

Sudden
like a spear from a window

Long way to the law.

Fist right here.

Spits straight up.
Learns something.

Sardine threatens.
Who knows it?

You’ve got an axe but you can’t use it
the other one’s got a needle
but he can

I bought East Window on a whim, never guessing what it would come to mean to me. Every time I pick it up, I discover something I hadn’t noticed before. It makes me laugh, or gasp, or sigh in pleasure, without fail, every single time. The wisdom in it is so tight, so sharp, so loaded, so wry, so observant. Today it is, to my wonderment, one of my favorite books of all time. One that I would grab, at the last moment, from a burning house…or choose to have (along with Coleman Barks’ Essential Rumi and Alain de Botton’s The Consolations of Philosophy) on a desert island, or take with me on a long journey on foot around the world. Seriously. I know, I was surprised, too. But it does that; each short poem is a little bronze key that unlocks a door you didn’t know existed in your head, and through that door floods the foolishness and the cleverness of humankind.

Or, for a more contemporary example, the entries submitted to the website 8WordStory :

“From 30 October to 24 November 2017, Queensland Writers Centre is giving you the opportunity to publish your work and be seen by up to 300,000 people across South East Queensland.
There’s just one catch.
You can use only eight words.”

My favorite entry (after scrolling through hundreds of 8-word stories) is still Kat Cope’s.

“(Everyone ready?)
SURPRISE!!…..no,
it’s today — isn’t it?”

It’s a magic story. In one deft move it conjures balloons, an explosion of confetti, a bleating of party horns, a cake held aloft, a pile of presents, bright lights, a roomful of friends, a disappointed person trying to be grateful, a swooping descent from being excited and proud…to the sickening feeling in your gut that you’ve really, really messed up on this once-in-a-year opportunity. A tragedy. A comedy. A universe in a grain of sand. A master stroke.

Good night. Good morning.

Artistamps

artist's stampsHaving so much fun with the February letter. Now that my initial anxiety is gone (thanks to such a great response from the first recipients of the January letter) I have been able to muse on the idea of Mail—its symbols, its purposes, its paraphernalia—more, and get creative and playful with my letters.

I started by making a mini-sheet of Artistamps.

An artistamp is a tiny art form that resembles a postage stamp in shape, size, and feel. It is not valid for postage, but is different from a forgery or illegal stamp in that the creator has no intent to defraud the postal authorities or stamp collectors. In this way, the artistamp resembles the Cinderella stamp, which resembles a postage stamp but is not used for postage purposes—even when issued by a government agency. Commemorative, holiday, charity, propaganda and fundraising stamps all fall under the Cinderella stamp category…

Irony, satire, humor, eroticism and subversion of governmental authority are frequent characteristics of artistamps. Artists play with the expectation of official endorsement that the postage stamp format inheres in order to surprise, shock, or subvert, the complacent viewer’s presumptions.

Mini envelopes to hold a set of ersatz artist's stamps...February letter's inclusion. My local post office let me play with their rubber stamp, and frank each envelope. Having so much fun with this letter subscription!

The fact that the artist’s stamp sets its own stamp on an (art) letter is one of the special features of this form of expression. A further facet of this small-format art is its challenging the mail monopoly by laying claim to the perforated and gummed miniature works of art. The stamps the artists create are not meant to swindle the postal service, but to call into question the right to design things.

(from the catalog of the exhibition Leck mich! – Künstlerbriefmarken seit den 1960er Jahren (Lick me! – Artist’s Stamps since the Sixties) by The New Museum Weserburg, Bremen, Germany)

The designs will be familiar to most of you; they have been taken from scans or photographs of my sketchbooks and paintings. There are 18 different designs on each sheet, and everyone who receives the February letter will get a complete set. The hardest part of making these stamps was deciding which 18 images to use! It was so much fun, and the finished stamps are so endearing, that I know I’m going to have to design several sheets more, over time, just because I want to see what everything I have ever made looks like as a stamp!

The phrase, “the right to design things,” in The New Museum Weserburg’s exhibiton description, resonates with something I feel about postage stamps. When I looked into the stamps currently available from Australia Post’s philatelic shop, I found only half of the available designs were stamps that I would care to put on my letters. Among the reasonably nice flowers, landscapes, Aboriginal art, and animals (especially the gold-foiled Chinese New Year horoscope sheet), were sets like: Legends of Television Entertainment, Convict Past, and Norfolk Island Convict Heritage (two distinct sheets sporting drab paintings of historic prison buildings), the black and white set of Women in War, a banal collection of Love to Celebrate stamps (roses love-heart, pair of wine glasses, pair of wedding rings, cake, balloons, etcetera) and a couple of small, brown, dull Christmas Island Early Voyages stamps. An announcement heralds the imminent release of the depressing Norfolk Island Golf stamp set, featuring a man rolling his golf clubs across the green. I don’t understand why such a poverty of beautiful stamps exists in my country…it seems almost as though AusPost doesn’t hire artists to design their stamps, at all, but hands the task out to retired accountants and ossified history professors.

How I envy people in the U.S. their ability to order customised stamps from Zazzle.com, with anything they want, printed on them! So lucky….

Artistamps 99cUntil Australia catches up with the world, I guess I’ll carry on making artistamps.

I messed up the first sheet by trying to perforate the stamps with my sewing machine.  Without power on the boat, this meant turning the wheel with one hand while guiding the sheet with the other. It took nearly an hour to perforate one sheet, so I gave up on that idea. Instead, I used a pair of craft scissors with a fine wavy pattern to cut the stamps apart. Quicker and much nicer looking.

I’ll be sending a complete set to each of my letter subscribers. They’re in a miniature envelope, with an extra artistamp affixed, and my friends at the local post office lent me their cancellation stamp—whee!—so I have franked each stamp with an official ring. I love playing with the Post Office’s toys!

What to do with these (or any other) artistamps? Have a play in your journal, use them in collage, decorate letters you’re writing, or in scrapbooking projects, whatever.

Can you use them, mixed in among the real postage stamps, on an envelope?

According to Wikipedia, “Artistamp creators often include their work on legitimate mail, alongside valid postage stamps, in order to decorate the envelope with their art. In many countries this practice is legal, provided the artistamp is not passed off as or likely to be mistaken for a genuine postage stamp. When so combined the artistamp may be considered part of the mail art genre.”

I don’t know if the stamps I’ve made here are safe to use in the post. I probably shouldn’t have put a monetary value on the stamp, even though it should be obvious that there are no 99c stamps, and they don’t even say which country they’re from. I’m going to ask the Post Office about Australia’s laws on this, and hopefully they will actually have someone who knows the answer! Queries like this are probably exceedingly rare, these days, and I worry that it’ll be hard to find a government employee who knows or cares about these finer points of the law.

Always ask about your country’s laws before using artiststamps or Cinderella stamps, as decorative elements, on envelopes going through the actual post…being wrong could turn out to be a federal offense!


In case you haven’t already heard, every month I write, and then reproduce, a beautiful art letter—calligraphy, illustrations, postage stamps, wax seals, fun inclusions like artistamps or poems or photos, and so forth—and send it out as part of a letter subscription. Find a stunning work of letter art in your mailbox…once a month, for a few months up to an entire year.

Click here to learn more & subscribe.