The Perfect Medium

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Another letter done. I’m behind on my monthly letters, trying to squeeze them in on the days that I don’t work at the art supplies shop. I have the nicest subscribers, though…nobody has written a snarky e-mail complaining about the late arrival of their letters, yet. Hopefully, when a letter finally does arrive, it proves so special that the recipient forgives me.
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I do try to make these letters worth the money, and the waiting time. I pour most of my time and thought and material into them, these days. I haven’t even checked my receipts to work out whether I’m actually earning anything (I think I’m scared to find out that I’ve spent more than earned!) but I enjoy the work so much that if the letters simply pay for themselves (the time spent writing and making them, the envelopes, the printing, the little things I include, the postage, the art materials, the books about letter writing that I have been hunting down on the internet and adding to my library) then I am quite content.

The way I’ve justified it to myself is: I would be doing something creative like this, anyway; I can’t not draw, paint, design, write.

More and more, though, the humble letter is starting to strike me as being The Perfect Medium...better than painting, or drawing, or writing, on their own. It’s a wonderful example of Synergy…meaning that the whole is a hundred times more than the mere sum of its parts. (Aristotle)

Every new letter, for me, is an opportunity to combine—loosely or inextricably—visual elements and the written word: an idea explored in at least two ways. It’s enclosed in an envelope (that can also be a work of art) that bears the recipient’s name and address. Add to this the official postage stamps and cancellation marks of the Post Office—marks of documentation—and the letter is historically positioned, an artifact in Place and in Time.

Finally, I love that letter writing also encompasses interaction with others. Each letter is, from the moment of its creation, intended for somebody…it’s delivered by people (I often wonder about the anonymous couriers who deliver my letters) to other people. It’s a message, as well as a work of art, and its audience is woven into its making, from the start.Untitled

I tend to produce art in a kind of vacuum or cave, filled with echoes of my own voice. I spend four days each week confined to a houseboat in the mangroves, gazing into my head instead of out of it, painting and writing things that I often don’t know what to do with, when they’re done. Naturally, I hope that each work will find its way out into the world, though a lot of them never do…they wind up wrapped in tissue at the bottom of a cardboard box.

Since I started making these letters, though, others figure much more in what I do. I write and paint with specific people in mind…knowing, even as I work alone, that the thing I am making is awaited, expected, and appreciated.

AND it never gets boring! Which is MAGIC! Possibly the best thing about the whole project! Every month is an opportunity to try something new, to experiment with all these elements, to take them apart and recombine them without worrying that I’m producing a dog’s breakfast of  crazy, disparate works, because the letter’s very distinct form pulls them all into a coherent whole.

It really is the perfect medium. I’ve found my “Next thing”! I can’t get over it. I can’t believe it took me so long to recognise this.

“And I said, with rapture,
here is something I can study all my life,
and never understand.”

—Samuel Beckett, Moloy


The Scarlet Letterbox is my mail subscription project. Receive beautiful letters of art and writing, in envelopes decorated with calligraphy, vintage postage stamps, wax seals and illustration, once a month, for up to 12 months. CLICK HERE for more information.

6 from the ‘archives’

January 15 :: Green ManAnother six from deep within my flickr albums. It was fun to see some of these again, I’d forgotten I ever made them.

journal pagesNoodle doodles, and an embroidered postcard from my impulsive foodie trip to Malaysia, 2012.

Noodles are actually really good to doodle…
Happiness is Laksa...
journal pageMini eco’s pixel pop-up valentine card, given a rustic look with some brown drawing pen on Japanese wood-grain paper…

Hunk of wood-burning love

cut paper GypsyAn assemblage of cut patterned papers. From a drawing of he great Nijinsky, actually, by maybe Erté? I forget the artist. My bad.

IcarusIcarus, a collagraph made in a printmaking class at the Charles Darwin University, ca. 2009…

The secret flowering of the Italian language

Heeey, how’ve you been? Busy? Have you made anything over the past couple of months?  I haven’t done as much as I would’ve liked, but I made a few things. I have so much catching up to do here! Just thinking about the job at hand paralyzes me. So I’ll start small and just show you what I made TODAY.

It was a pretty good day, in spite of the stifling, humid weather…I stripped down to my undies, poured big tumblers of ice cubes and water, and spent the day playing with something I got the idea for months ago:

You know that “Prints and Patterns” hoard that you started when you were 16 and that now takes up two filing cabinets and 8 boxes? All the designs you loved and saved—out of magazines or photocopied books, traced, photographed, clipped from wallpaper samples, taken off the net and printed on bond—yeah, THAT hoard, the Tossed Pattern Salad from Hades. Haven’t you always wanted to gather those designs together in a way that was both useful as a reference later on, and beautiful to look at? I have always wanted to transfer all those designs into one big book of patterns that I love.
make your own pattern collection slash coloring book

No, I’m not going to aim for that control-freak’s archive, I’d never get through it all! But I did spend my afternoon copying one little fragment of a pattern…then a second little fragment—

just doodling, no pressure or real purpose, freehand and using a black marker straight away…no pencil lines, no measuring or erasing…not trying very hard to be accurate or faithful to the original, letting my moods and thoughts find their way into the process

—onto the slightly yellowed pages of a large old Cambridge Italian Dictionary (found on a rubbish pile in the city!), and then coloring the pages, using the exercise as a way to explore new color palettes…kind of like hand-drawing your own coloring book,before you do any coloring.

the secret flowering of the Italian language

You know what? I love it. I love the look of the pages, the fragmented patterns and the wonky lines, the oversized, outlandish flowers blooming across the words. Quite by accident the first page I decorated this way started with the word abbell·ire tr. to embellish; to beautify; to adorn; to gild…

journal pages :: 10th to 16th January