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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Mail art: the beginning of beautiful friendships

Nearly 20 years ago when my sons were small and I had an irregular work schedule as a freelancer, I got involved in art swaps via mail. Swappers were an eclectic group of strangers who enjoyed using software called Print Artist got together online to chat about the software and artsy projects we could make using the software. We exchanged handmade greeting cards, postcards, bookmarks and other paper craft projects via mail. The exchanges were really fun, and these strangers became online friends.  Later, after meeting in person at national conventions and regional get-togethers we called "mini-meets," many of us became real-life and in-person friends. Some of these have become close, lifelong friends. 

My husband and I are empty nesters now and I have scaled back my work hours. It's nice to have a little more time for art, and I've been taking art classes and dabbling in art journaling, mail art swaps and book projects.

Twenty years ago, it was exciting to get email.  (If you are of my era, you'll remember being happy to hear the old AOL sound bite: "You've got mail!"). Today, our email Inboxes are so filled with spam, constant audible announcements would drive us crazy. Today, it's rare and exciting to get a physical letter or a hand-addressed card in the little black box at the bottom of our driveway.  

Receiving mail art is even more exciting because it's a big pop of color and surprise in your mailbox. And making mail art is as much fun as receiving it.

One of my favorite contemporary artists is Seth Apter of The Altered Page.  Seth might not be an artist today if he hadn't been introduced to mail art!  He was vacationing in Vancouver when he bought a piece of art at a gallery. The gallery owner sent him a mail art thank you, and he felt he should respond in kind, so he crafted a mail art reply. This serendipitous mail art exchange with the gallery owner was the beginning of a close friendship AND the beginning of Seth's interest in becoming an artist. (We should all send the gallery owner a thank you for inspiring that!)

Mail art, which is basically just decorative mail, is a simple art project that is fun, simple, and easy to make time for.  Instead of writing an address on a plain envelope and adding a Forever stamp, mail artists will use paint, rubber stamps, washi tape, ephemera, images clipped from books and magazines, and multiple postage stamps to make that envelope anything but plain. And sometimes mail art is putting a stamp on a rubber duckie... or a pair of flipflops.

Below are some examples of my mail art postcards and envelopes. They are messy and busy, and sometimes silly, but they were fun to make and (I hope) fun to receive. 

 Mail art postcard: Paper napkins, ephemera, images and letters cut from magazines

Mail art postcard: Washi tape, labels, game ephemera

Mail art envelope front: Rubber stamping, washi tape, letters cut from magazines,
mail-themed postage stamps

Mail art envelope back: Rubber stamping, washi tape

Mail art postcard using paper napkins, ledger paper, rubber stamps and washi tape
Back of mail art postcard with washi tape, rubber stamps, postal ephemera, etc.

Sometimes it's fun to follow a theme with your mail art. My sister loves animals, so I collected animal images and animal-themed postage stamps to make this oversized envelope for her.

Large envelope with rubber stamping, images and letters cut from magazines, animal-themed postage stamps

Three blogs I enjoy focus on mail and mail art.  Check them out:

Every day is a red letter day

Cappuccino and art journal

Mail me some art

Karen Isaacson of "Mail me some art" hosts several themed mail art swaps every month. Her swaps are a great way to get started with mail art. Open swaps are listed here.

Make someone happy today by sending a mail art postcard, envelope or letter!  You might even make some wonderful new friends.

I hope you have a good mail day!



Karyl Howard said...

Oh, Bonnie! I remember those mail-art days so well. In fact, I still have several boxes of things that were sent to me! There are still lots of us around, but we're not using our mail-art names! Thank you for posting this!

Bonnie said...

Karyl, it's great to see you here. Thank you for reading my blog. I'm with you -- I have kept the wonderful mail I've received, too. It's fun to look back at it and see how our styles have changed. If you'd like to do a one-on-one swap, just let me know!

Seth said...

Great post on mail art. Thanks for sharing the links, your wonderful examples of mail art, and my story as well!