Mail Art – Not to be Confused with Male Art

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A week before Hummingbird took her first solo breaths, I had that explosion of energy which one is always told is a sign of the end of pregnancy.  I had heard that this burst usually spurs women on to accomplish incredible feats despite their hippopotimatic (that just became a word) state such as deep cleaning their entire house, repainting the nursery, or putting in a new flower garden.

Instead of those Herculean acts, I charged into Micheal’s with a vague idea of picking up some yarn for a future project…and emerged hours later having never even reached the yarn isles.

In addition to the weight of this massive baby belly, I had bags of scrapbooking supplies.  I had never scrapbooked a day in my life.  I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

My reasoning was  1) I am too messy to keep up beading/jewelry making with little ones scooting around inhaling those shiny beads of choking doom, 2) I’ve been crocheting since I was 7 years old and needed something new, 3) the scrapbooking isles were the first ones on the right which is always the first way I go when entering any new store and since I never got past those isles (after HOURS) that was what I left with.

I looked through the papers, stickers, and all other paraphernalia for the next week dreaming of the possibilities, then Hummingbird entered the world and the scrapbooking stuff was forgotten in a box for 6 months.  When it saw the light of day once more I dove into scrapbooking our year abroad in England. You can learn more about that magical time on the blog Kippers and Marmalade.  I chose that topic because it had a definite beginning and end, pictures already organized, and a rich store of journaling to pull from.

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It was great.  I could pick up and drop it as time allowed with a new baby.  I saw some Pins and blogs about scrapbooking that were absolutely stunning, but they were not for me.  I slowly saw my own forms emerging and not surprisingly it was a collage style incorporating multiples textures and fibers.  And I wanted to SHARE them.  Not just through pictures to friends and family, or even in protective clear plastic covers, but in someone running their fingers over the textures and delighting in the peekaboo windows I tucked in as I saw fit.

Then I read this article in Martha Stewart LIVING about mail art.  It was just a one page, one picture short blurb but it stuck with me.  Sending bits of art in the mail to friends (or strangers) for them to share in the delight?  Perfect.

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I haven’t finished a single page of my scrapbook since then but I have sent out lovely envelopes to friends around the globe.

And then something unexpected and even more wonderful happened.  My unassuming mailbox would occasionally have a little gift in return.

Letters take time, they are intentional acts of letting someone know you are thinking them.  They can be held in your hand, in years to come the paper will age from the oils of your finger tips.  They can hold scents of lavender teas and musty pressed Autumn leaves.

Artistic expression, building relationships, and treasures of time? Yes please.

Here are a few bits that have already trotted the globe and been delivered safe and sound:

My first mail art was inspired by a stroke conference pamphlet I received in the mail.  You can see it there in the top left picture.  I liked the brain and color combination, so after pairing it with a bit of lace, a cute little “thinking of you” tag and an address of a friend, I was off and running.

You can make mail art out of pretty much anything.  Above you see envelopes with lace, leaves and feathers pasted on.  But you don’t need an envelope!  Old book pages, business cards, or magazines are great resources. This website has fantastic ideas for mail art, and is an international community that can hook you up with pen pals.

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I haven’t sent an art letter since we moved in.  That’s 23 days without a bit of hands-on creativity.  When that much time has passed my mind starts to feel the lack.  It begins to buzz around up there and I fall asleep with big plans of refurnishing all the furniture in the house or painting all the ceilings yellow; to sooth it down all I have to do is a bit of art and ahhhhh, all is as it should be.

But again, since we’ve only been here for 23 days, with the first 7 of those hosting family, finding and organizing my craft stuff has been pretty low on my priorities.  Not a problem when it comes to mail art!

Here’s how I make it:

1. Make tea

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I like to start out my letters by noting what type of tea I’m sipping while I write.  I often include a tea bag of that variety so that one may sip the same type of tea whilst reading the letter.  Doesn’t that make for a nice little connection?  Even on the other side of the world, we are sharing a cup of tea.  I picked out this tea because I liked the green leaf on the top of the tea bag and wanted to incorporate it into the design.

2. Gather your supplies.

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Since I don’t have a designated work space yet, this handy dandy tray worked in a pinch.

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I have scissors, tape, an envelope (again optional) and some business cards and local magazine things I picked up at the farmers market.  You can use stamps if you have them on hand but I enjoy going to the post office and if the clerk is friendly and the pace is slow we spend a bit of time picking out just the right stamps.

3. Identify a theme.  This can be colors, textures, definite words – you get the idea.

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Before getting to the letter itself I want people to already know what kind of ideas await.  In that little circle gallery above you see that not all my letters are filled with recipes and autumnal poems, some have to do with grieving and regret, and the envelope clues you in for that as well.

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While leafing through my current stash of papers I noticed a common theme for local pride, local farming.  Perfect!  I want this letter to be about settling down here in our new home, and to give a bit of the feel of the place.

4. Play around with the layout.

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Don’t forget there is just as much space on the back of the envelope for embellishments!  Also always leave space for your stamps.  So sad to have a quirky detail covered by an additional stamp.

5. When you are happy with the layout, write your letter.

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This step can be much earlier if you’d like.  Sometimes I have a letter written and then create an envelope theme around it, or vice versa.

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I like to write a rough draft in this little journal here.

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Does anyone else do this or am I the only one?

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6. Now usually I would then place said letter into blank envelope, then decorate to my heart’s content but Hummingbird woke early from her nap and today has been one of those days where she is just a bit snuggly fussy (it’s those teeth you see) so I know I won’t be getting back to this till tonight at the earliest.  Sometimes it’s disappointing to have creative time put on hold, even if it is by the starlight of your days, but watch this carefully:

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How easy is that!?  I can’t think of any other craft I do that is so simple to neaten up and carry on with later.  I just popped all the bits I had decided to use into the envelop itself and moved on with the day.

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So I’m sorry friends,  you’ll have to wait for another day to see the final product.  I promise to post a picture when it’s done.  If you need a little more inspiration to start your own mail art go check out my pinterest board on the subject.

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4 comments on “Mail Art – Not to be Confused with Male Art

  1. I was lucky enough to receive one these beautiful letters and very grateful. Also step 1 is my favourite step and I use it for many a creative activity. xx

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