mail art diaries: what is mail art?

Advice, Mail Art Diaries

I’ve had some folks ask me what exactly mail art is and how it is different from other similar things like mixed media, art journaling, or collage. It’s a hard question to answer, only because art is so subjective. Art is interpreted and created in so many different ways. I also did not go to school for art so my knowledge of art is very limited and I’m “self-taught”.

So, what is mail art? In my view, mail art is when you send something different through the mail. It can be a decorated envelope, a decorated letter sent in a plain envelope, or something unusual, like a flip flop, sent by post. I’m not too keen on sending weird things by mail, mostly because I don’t see the point, but that is what makes mail art so unique. It can be, and is, interpreted in different ways. It’s up to the person creating or sending the mail!

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When I first started sending letters (fifteen years ago!!), I didn’t do much in terms of decorating as I wasn’t even aware it was a thing. I was young, not even a teenager, and had only been exposed to letters from my grandparents. I ended up exchanging letters with one of my AOL pals and she always decorated her envelopes and did different things to her letters. She would write every line of her letter in a different color ink or add doodles or pictures to her plain, notebook paper stationery. This inspired me as a kid and I tried to decorate my letters the same way. It all kind of snowballed from there. If you’re looking to start making mail art, I think the best thing to do is to find creative folks to exchange with and see how they decorate their mail. You can, of course, browse the internet for inspiration and ideas (hello 2016) but it’s more fun, I think, to see something in person.

There are so many ways to create mail art, as well. I used to only collage envelopes but I’ve since branched out to other techniques. These days I use paint, rubber stamps, collage, washi tape, die cuts, and more to decorate envelopes and make flipbooks or pretty stationery. In the simplest terms, mail art is created using other art techniques to send something unique through the mail. I know there is a whole history of mail art and mail artists but, to me, that doesn’t matter. That might be an unpopular opinion but I didn’t start creating mail art because of Ray Johnson. I started creating mail art because I appreciated how much fun it was to receive something colorful in the mail, something other than a plain envelope. I create mail art to brighten up someone’s mailbox!

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snail mail tips: mail art supplies

Advice, Snail Mail Tips

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I say it all the time, letter writing is so much fun. There are so many components that go into it and everyone does it differently. I’ve always been very fond of mail art. I just love the idea of making something as simple as a letter or an envelope pretty. It’s great to know that my time and effort to decorate letter will make someone’s day and mailbox a little brighter.

I’ve always had pen pals that also like to spruce up their mail. It’s always nice to include a little something for those folks to use in their mail art. I love receiving new things for my craft stash, especially stuff that I maybe wouldn’t pick up or be able to find myself.

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Here are a few ideas of things you can send off to those mail art pals!

► Die cuts
► Washi tape
► Doilies
► Magazine cut outs
► Scrap paper
► Stamped images
► Tags
► Stickers
► Used postage
► Airmail labels
► Labels

mail art diaries: storing supplies

Advice, Mail Art Diaries

There are so many ways that you can organize your mail art supplies. I have so many illustrations, stickers, papers, etc. I’ve always struggled with finding a great way to organize everything, especially in a way that would make me use it often.

For a long time, I collected books that I could cut up and use in collages. I would keep buying them from thrift stores and store them out of sight. Occasionally pulling them out, when I would remember, and sort through them to find the perfect image. That got old!

I wanted to have more space and get rid of the actual books I had. One day, I pulled all of my books out and went through them, one-by-one, page-by-page. I ripped out each page and cut out the bits that I thought I would use someday. I recycled the rest. Of course, this took me waaaaay longer than a day but I got it done.

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After I had everything I wanted to keep, I had to figure out a way to sort it all. I had a little filing cabinet that I picked up from the thrift store that I thought would work perfectly. I sorted through all the pages and images, coming up with different categories. I created a little file folder for each category and stuffed them into the cabinet.

This system is especially nice because I can simply pull out the folder of the images I want to sort through!

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In addition to my filing cabinet, I have two little IKEA boxes. One for embellishments and another for paper scraps.

In my embellishment box, I keep basically everything. All of my stickers, tags, journaling cards, mailing labels, doilies, alphabet stickers, die cuts, you name it! The paper scrap box is for all the little pieces of paper that are left over when I cut up big pieces of paper. I try to use these up as much as possible.

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How do you store your supplies?

snail mail tips: sending yourself

Advice, Snail Mail Tips

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It’s so great to include something nice for your recipient, in addition to a lovely letter. It can be hard to think of something to send so I wanted to make share some ideas with everyone!

There are so many things you can include in your envelopes. I recently posted about sending little surprises, mostly flat things that wouldn’t up the cost of postage. There are so many options!

Some of my favorite things to send out are things I love. It’s so fun to share yourself with a pen pal, new or old. I think that is something really special about snail mail; you are opening yourself up to this person you may have never met.

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Here are a few ideas of ways you can share with your pen pal to give them a better glimpse into your life and your personality.

► Zines that you have made
► Mix CDs or handwritten playlists that include your favorite songs
► Recommendations: your favorite books, movies, or songs
► Art you have made
► Photos you’ve taken
► A list of your favorite things
► Local goodies
► Descriptions of your favorite places or things about where you live
► A list of things you are currently enjoying (food, movies, etc)
► Your favorite drink (sending along a bag of tea or hot chocolate)

mail art diaries: collage supplies

Advice, Mail Art Diaries

7 - Mail Art Diaries - Monday

Oh, mail art. In addition to sending lovely things in the post, you can spruce up your mail in so many different ways! I’ve been involved in mail art for, like, 10 years now at least. When I was a youngin’, I would simply try to copy the style of what was sent to me. Different shapes of paper, collages, stickers, doodles, you name it. It took a little time to find my own personal style!

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I incorporate so many different things in my mail but one thing that has been consistent over the years has been collage. Even before decorating envelopes, I loved making (terrible) collages, mostly in my journals. This evolved to collaging envelopes once I found out that you could actually do that! Needless to say, I’ve figured out some essentials in collaging from my journey.

If you’re just getting started, or even just curious what supplies I use, check out the barebone list below.

► Paper bits – First and foremost! You can’t make a collage without something to paste down. Use anything and everything you can glue down.
► Adhesive – I prefer plain, school glue sticks because they are easy to store and use. Mod Podge is great for covering large areas as well as reinforcing your completed collage. Some other handy adhesives are double-sided tape and glue runners. They all have their time and place! I’ve recently found out about a thing called a glue pen and, while I haven’t tried one yet, it sounds PERFECT.
► (optional) Paint brush – If you’re applying Mod Podge or other liquid-y glues, these will come in handy!
► Scissors or X-ACTO Knife – I’ve always, always preferred scissors over and X-ACTO Knife but the knife do comes in handy on occasion. I usually end up ripping papers to bits with the knife though. Probably just me.
► Old cards – These are one of my favorite tools. They are so useful when you need to smooth down something you just glued. In general, they do all the work and keep your hands clean!

Short list, huh? Just a few of the absolute essentials. I could do a whole post on paper bits (and I probably will) but all you really need to get started is glue, scissors, and ephemera.

What do you guys use when making collages?

snail mail tips: sending surprises

Advice, Snail Mail Tips

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Who doesn’t love getting something special in the mail? I don’t know anyone who doesn’t find joy in opening up their mailbox and seeing that a letter is waiting for them. I also don’t know anyone that doesn’t associate checking the mail with spam (except for my pen pals, of course!) To make someone’s mail day, try including a surprise in your envelope!

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When I first started sending mail, I had no idea that people would send me anything other than a letter. I believe my exact thought was, “You can put more than a letter in an envelope!?” It was such a treat to find a teabag or zine in my mail. I think my most favorite thing to send and receive are mix cds. Second would probably be zines. After I discovered that people were upping their mail game, I tended to copy what they did. I sent along the same type of items that I received. It’s sure to make a memorable impression!

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There are so many little things that you can include with in a letter that will put a smile on the recipient’s face. It can be difficult to think of what to send, especially if you don’t know the person that well or you are new to sending mail. Check out the list below for some fun ideas!

► Ribbon
► Zines
► Confetti
► Washi tape samples
► Post-its
Mail tags
► Stamped images
► Twine
► ATCs
► Buttons
► Stickers
► Seeds
► Paper Punches
► Tea
► Doilies
► Fortunes
► Pressed flowers
► Bookmarks

What do you like to include in your envelopes? What do you like to receive?

mail art diaries: organizing collage bits

Advice, Mail Art Diaries

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I finally broke down and organized all of my collage bits, mostly just the images. It was quite the process! I went through every single book I had been hoarding and ripped out the pages and images I thought I would someday use in a collage. I had at least 30 books to go through! It took days, to say the least. I also had some scraps that had been ripped out; they were scattered in those little ikea boxes.

After ripping out page after page, I sorted them into piles that would work well for me. I came up with about 10 categories: anatomy, animals, backgrounds, maps, misc, objects, people, places, plants, and space. I have a small, two-drawer filing cabinet that I picked up at a local thrift store. The first drawer is used for all of my Dactyl Life stationery and business paperwork. I decided to use the second drawer for all my collage bits. I made the tabs for each file and then filled them up with paper!

I originally thought I wanted to store my paper bits in binders, like I’ve seen a few people do. My only concern with that was how frustrating/difficult it would be to get the image you want out of the binder. I saw that people placed multiple images in one sheet protector and that just seemed like such a hassle. That is my favorite thing about storing images in file folders — it’s so easy to sort through them!

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This is seriously such an easy a way to keep organized and find things in a flash. I don’t know how I didn’t think of it sooner! I wish I did. I recently became kind of fed up with collage because I couldn’t stand sorting through my books and random scraps of paper to find the things I wanted. Whenever I had an idea in my head or inspiration to collage, the excitement to sit down and create was quickly replaced with the frustration of not being able to find the things I was looking for. Pulling book after book out of my cabinet was exhausting. Now I have this great system and I’ve been collaging a lot more. And I got rid of all of my books, which freed up a ton of space.

One thing that I have found that is key to getting and staying organized is by having set categories or spots for things. That is one of the major reasons why I started organizing all of my washi tape in those wax paper roll boxes. They have a set place to go and I find that I’m not throwing them about my desk, where ever they might fit. The same goes for collage bits!

mail art diaries: how i make digital collages

Mail Art Diaries, Personal

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I started making digital collages when I started designing stationery. Although I have been making “real” collages for over 10 years now, I have only been doing things digitally for over a year. I always wanted to sell my mail art but it would be so time consuming to create each unique piece by hand; I wouldn’t have time to actually write letters! To make things easier on myself, I scanned in my collection of images, ephemera and whatever paper bits I had, and started creating collages through Photoshop. Well, Photoshop Elements, because I’m cheap.

Watching people create things is seriously one of my favorite things to do. I think that is probably my favorite thing about the internet. I love watching people do things I can’t (or am too lazy to learn). I love watching people paint, draw, write calligraphy, you name it. I even like watching people do things I can do (like mail art!). I think I’ve watched almost every YouTube video there is of people making mail art. I finally found a free program to capture my computer screen by video so now I get to contribute to the world of creative process videos. Check it out below!

To celebrate my first computer-screen video, I am sharing the file for the envelope I created in the video. Check it out! It is a PDF file, you can print it on a regular 8.5×11 piece of paper. You will have to cut it out and fold it!

snail mail tips: storing washi tape

Advice, Snail Mail Tips

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Most of my great ideas come to me right as I am falling asleep. I sit in bed and think of all the things I would rather be doing instead of sleeping. Half of the time I can’t remember most of these thoughts or ideas when I wake in the morning because I can’t be bothered to actually write them down.

This is one idea I remembered! I was in bed thinking of all the washi tape I have and how I needed to come up with a new way of storing them. I thought of those washi tape holders you can buy and realized they were basically just a rectangular box. I started thinking about the items I had in my house that I could convert into storage for washi tape and, ding!, what better than the boxes that rolls of wax paper or aluminum foil come in?

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Although it’s not the best option out there, this is an incredibly easy and cheap way to store your washi. Let’s get started!

To convert your box, you really just need a few simple supplies:
► The box (duh)
► Washi tape (duh duh)
► Scissors
► (optional) Pretty paper to cover the ugly box
► (optional) Double-sided tape or glue

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First things first, cut off the little flaps on the side of the box and the cover flap. I considered leaving the top flap on but it’s likely your washi tape are going to stick out a bit so the top flap just becomes pointless. That’s basically all you have to do to make this into a washi tape holder. It’s really that simple. Cut off the flaps and stick your washi inside! Done.

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I recommended covering the box with something pretty or color-coded. I decided to cover my boxes with scrapbooking paper that matched the colors of washi tape I was going to put inside. It’s super simple to cover the box! I just stuck on a bunch of double-side tape on each side and basically wrapped it like a present. I didn’t cover the bottom, just the front back and sides. You can also cover the inside if you’re feelin’ fancy. I think it might be kind of annoying to use glue to complete this step but, if that’s all you have, I’m sure you’ll find a way to make it work!

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With this storage, you do have to take out the washi tape each time you want to use it. That can be kind of annoying! I’m trying to think of something I can put in, like a empty paper towel roll, to have the washi tape on. I feel like the washi tape holes vary in size though that could just be my imagination. I’ll have to give it a go the next time I run out of paper towels.

Another thing you can do is put a piece of tape that you are storing on the outside of the box. You can easily see what tape you have and, once you take it out, you know where it should go when you have to put it back!

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Snail Mail Tips: What To Write

Advice, Snail Mail Tips

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If you’re not new to the letter writing game, it should probably come pretty naturally what to write about in letters. If you are new to the writing game, you might find it difficult to start a letter. Shoot, sometimes I struggle with things to write about! I don’t lead a very exciting life; I work, hang out at home, and don’t go on many adventures. If you don’t really do a lot, what are you supposed to write about? Here are a few tips to help!

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Yourself

Duh! One of the best things about letters is that we have the opportunity to share a part of ourselves with someone we may never meet. It’s so great to learn things about people you don’t know or might not be friends with in the first place. We are all unique, why not share your quirks, likes and dislikes with someone? Write about your hobbies, your life, your past, your love or your favorite foods. Share yourself!

Emotions

It’s one thing to share facts about yourself with someone in a letter but it’s a whole different ballgame to share your feelings behind those facts. One of my favorite things about writing letters to strangers is that there isn’t any fear of being judged. I could write the weirdest shit in a letter to some random person and the worst thing that might happen is that they write back. It’s helpful to tell people what you are feeling. Don’t bottle it up!

Tell Stories

I’m really bad at this. Like, really bad. In general, I’m just not a story teller but those are my favorite kinds of people. I’ll start telling more stories if you do!

Weather

Okay, this is actually something I don’t want you talking about. I’m incredibly guilty of bringing up the weather. A lot. But, can we stop? I think it’s totally acceptable to bring up the weather when it relates to you or your life but quit asking, “How’s the weather?”. It’s boring! I tend to bring up the weather a lot in relation to how I’m feeling. If winter makes you depressed, bring it up! If you’re super unproductive during the summer, let’s talk about it!

Be Nice

If you truly value a pen pal’s friendship, don’t make it your goal to offend them. If you know the person you are writing to might find something offensive, try your best not to bring it up. Unless, of course, if that person is a bigot. By all means, offend a bigot. My views on having children are less than favorable but I’m not going to rain on someone’s parade if they have, or want to have, kids. Just be nice!