Ingest after reading…

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Terry Gross: Can you share some of your favorite comments from readers that you’ve gotten over the years?

Maurice Sendak: Oh, there’s so many. Can I give you just one that I really like? It was from a little boy. He sent me a charming card with a little drawing. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters—sometimes very hastily—but this one I lingered over. I sent him a postcard and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim, I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much that he ate it.”

“Jim loved your card so much that he ate it.”

That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.

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Going…going…

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…

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¿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…

The Scarlet Letterbox is moving…

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I’m just a few weeks away from moving The Scarlet Letterbox to Patreon.

I like that artists created Patreon for other artists (Jack Conte is, together with wife Nataly Dawn, one-half of the band Pomplamoose…music that I was somewhat obsessed with, 10 years ago).

As “beautiful monthly letters combining my art and creative writing with postal paraphernalia”, The Scarlet Letterbox is well suited to Patreon’s ‘pay per project’ plan: You can sign up for as little or as long as you want, and pay for each letter, one at a time (rather than several months up front.) It’ll be easier for me to organize each mail-out, because Patreon keeps track of the activity surrounding each letter issue.
letters collagePatreon can help create a better rapport between artists and their supporters.

At the moment, aside from the actual letters, I don’t share much with my subscribers because Etsy is a conventional online marketplace…it wasn’t designed to process recurring payment, or to nurture community. Patreon, on the other hand, is all about community.
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I don’t mean there’s some ready-made crowd of pledge-happy “Patreon community”people waiting for me! Patreon is not a promoter or social media “influencer”; it’s not a team of marketing experts who will selflessly volunteer their time to spread the word about me; it’s not their job to care about what I do, whether I sink or swim. They won’t be getting my work “out there”, or attracting potential patrons to my Patreon page. Patreon is a subscription-based payment processing site. That’s it.

It’s my job to find my own supporters, to spread the word, to advertise, to care and hustle and be passionate about it, and make it grow. In order to make this work properly, I have to dedicate much more time to The Scarlet Letterbox.

an old fashioned letter

As luck would have it, my employers are cutting my work down to 9 hours (about $160) a week. While the pay’s not great, it’s the waste of precious time that really disturbs me. I row, and then cycle, to work: I’ll spend nearly an hour getting there and, before I know it, it’ll be time to cycle and row home again…a two-hour commute in order to work for three. Sometimes the huge tides trap me ashore for half a day, and I have to wait till there’s enough water to float my dinghy. I can’t afford that kind of dead time, sitting on land, waiting for the sea to turn around and come back! It’s not as though I knit!

This is the push I needed to quit my day job and do my own thing, I guess. I can’t fall much lower than the proffered $160 per week, after all…there’s not that much of a distance left to fall! At least, by writing stories, illustrating, painting, embroidering, bookbinding, and creating beautiful letters, I’ll be doing something that I love, full time.

My Patreon page is set to open sometime around the first week of October (which is also my last week at the day job.)

More information on this blog, closer to the date.

Haitian Armada...outgoing mailI hope that if you’ve ever been interested in The Scarlet Letterbox, you’ll consider taking a second look at what I’m doing, now that

fabulous letter = the price of a coffee and croissant, per month

shoals of Caribbean fish

Here’s what I did on the boat, the day we ran away from our house-sit. I had 40+ envelopes to decorate and address…preferably without hand-painting each one (I did this for the last batch of letters…printed the ship, but then painted different colours into each one. It took daaaaays! I had no other life!)

I didn’t have any ideas ready…just the theme of the letter, which is about (among other things) learning how they cook fish in Guyana, South America.

In the studio on ThursdayI took a piece of craft foam and (with scissors) roughly cut out a shape like coral with wavy tendrils. Sprayed some adhesive onto the back of the foam, stuck it down to a piece of cardboard box (it can’t be washed…it doesn’t have to last, I just need it to print these envelopes!) Rolled out a very pale aquamarine acrylic paint, using a foam roller (foam is much better than a printmaker’s rubber brayer, for acrylics.) See “DIY craft foam stamps” for more information…

Using more foam, I cut out the little circles you see here, glued them down to a damaged canvas board (postcard sized) and printed in a stronger sea green.

It needed something sharp and contrast-ey, so I carved a fish in white rubber (like eraser rubber, but you can get it in thick tiles.) I used a rubber brayer to print, and oil paint (to which I added drops of alkyd medium…speeds up the drying of oil paints).In the studio on Thursday

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You start to print, and a rhythm sets in…roll, press, lay aside to dry, roll, press…each print is similar to the others, but slightly different. I delight in the nuances in color, picking up more blue with the roller at times, and then more shamrock green…

I was a terrible student in printmaking class, where the goal was to produce editions of identical prints (we did collagraphs, zinc plate etching, silkscreen and reduction lino) and I flat out rejected the very idea of editions…I wanted to see what my design looked like in different colours. I moved plates around to change the registration. I altered plates after every print. Everything I made was a monotype, one-off and impossible to repeat…I mean, why wouldn’t you want this? It’s awesome! One plate, 50 different prints made from it! Good times.

My instructor gave up on me in the printroom (though he and I continued to drink beer together after class.)

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At first I printed with phthalo turquoise…too transparent, and still not enough contrast. So I added burnt umber. The texture of the envelopes (Crown Mill envelopes from Belgium…how very ooh la la!) looked like ripples of sunlight underwater, and sometimes resembled scales. More interesting.

The fish swam up and down…trying to find the best position in the coral, but bearing in mind that it had to leave space for postage stamps and addresses. In the studio on Thursday
In the studio on Thursday
I went on to add the stamps and addresses, next…

Note to self: get one of those sponge thingies for wetting postage stamps… licking 80-100 stamps in a day is weird. Like stamp gum has become one of the main food groups, making up a hefty percentage of one’s recommended daily allowance of cellulose or who-knows-what. The stamps from the 80’s were a little bit sweet (so thoughtful of the post office, then, no?) Most just tasted like old paper.