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?