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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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?

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?

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!

Mail Art Diaries – Carving Rubber Stamps

Advice, Mail Art Diaries

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Rubber stamps are amazing. They have quite the history within mail art! They are fun to use and even more fun to make. Some mail artists create their mail art exclusively with rubber stamps. I don’t know how they do it but they do, and they make it look amazing. I’ve never had a huge collection of rubber stamps due to cost. If you have the same problem, you should definitely consider making your own!

To start carving stamps, you just need a few supplies.
Rubber carving block
Linoleum Cutter
► Pencil (or pen)
► Rubber stamp ink
► Tracing paper (optional)

I had carved this shape before and used it so much that it started to fall apart! I decided I wanted to make another. My pen pal actually drew the shape (and all the other drawings you can see on that paper). We had a huge stamp-carving sesh when she was in town awhile back. I absolutely love carving stamps but I’m not the best at drawing so it was super awesome she could draw!

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We drew everything on tracing paper and then rubbed it onto the carving block to start carving. You can totally draw straight on the rubber and avoid that step. I find it a bit difficult to draw directly on the block, especially with a pencil. The white carving blocks are very soft and a pencil ends up digging into it. I imagine you could avoid that with a nice ballpoint or gel pen. If you draw directly on the block, be sure to flip any lettering!

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Carve out your image! You should have an idea of where you want your negative and positive space. My entire shape is positive space so I just had to carve all around the shape. If you have a more detailed stamp, I would suggest shading the areas that you don’t want to carve out, or something similar. There have been times I get my image on to the carving block and then end up cutting out a space that I shouldn’t have. Oops! It’s nice to have a little reminder once you get into the flow of carving.

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After a bit of carving, I like to put some ink on the stamp and test it out. This is very helpful if you have a more detailed stamp, as you can plainly see what areas might need a bit more carving. Keep doing this until your stamp is how you want!

See? It’s pretty simple, especially if you just want to make a bunch of shapes. Which I totally recommend because it looks awesome on a collage, especially when you make a nice pattern out of it! I also highly recommend using tracing paper as it is an easy way to store your designs. It really comes in handy if you ever need to make a duplicate stamp!

Here is an example of lettering. I traced over a printed image, put the tracing paper pencil-mark side down on the carving block, and rubbed the paper until it transferred on to the rubber. This is the only way I can carve out letters. Free-handing that is way too complicated for my brain!

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