Thursday, April 3, 2014

Mail mishaps, damaged cards, and good glue practices

Recently a number have swappers have reported receiving slightly damaged mail. Has this happened to you?  It’s certainly happened to me.  As someone who prefers to send and receive my art “naked” without an envelope I accept that occasionally things will get damaged in transit.  It’s part of the adventure.  As a sender, I often wonder if my things arrive in one piece.  I assume they do since I rarely get any reports to the contrary, but on the other hand I rarely let people know if their piece arrived damaged because I don’t want to make them feel bad.  Maybe my stuff arrives in tatters and nobody has the nerve to tell me!  I know it happened at least once recently because I mailed my husband a handmade postcard from San Francisco and arrived home to find a large chunk of the collage had torn off in transit.

This recent mishap makes me realize no matter how well you think your elements are adhered when they leave your hands, the rigors of climate, handling and the US postal machines can make even the best glues come loose.

We’ve already had an interesting glue discussion here, and people have passionate opinions about what makes a good (or bad) glue.

(if you are not offended by profanity, you should go read Lynn’s hilarious rant about her quest for the perfect glue)

In light of some upcoming collage swaps (such as the “letterS scavenger hunt” and the “found poetry” ) I thought this would be a great opportunity to review some good gluing tips and practices.  Regardless of what KIND of glue you use, following these four steps will improve your results.

Apply glue all the way to the edges 

Take the little piece you want to stick to your background.  Place it upside down on some scrap paper.  Apply your glue so that it completely covers the whole surface, and overlaps the edges.  Go ahead, get glue all over your scrap paper.  That’s what it’s there for, and by applying liberally at the edges like that you increase your likelihood that a small corner doesn’t start lifting up and peeling off.


Take that freshly glued little piece and position it where you want it on your background.  Cover it with something non-stick, like parchment or freezer paper or waxed paper, and then rub that little bit down firmly.  The non-stick paper really helps protect the collage below – you’re less likely to scratch your collage or accidentally lift it back off with your gluey fingers.  You can burnish with your fingers, the side of your fist, the edge of your fingernail, a fancy bone-folder, the back of a spoon, a wooden craft stick, the edge of a credit card, etc.

Just give it a good firm rub all over.

Apply pressure

Once your whole collage is finished, sandwich it between two clean pieces of non-stick paper and press it underneath something heavy, like a stack of books, overnight.

Seal it

After it’s dry, give the whole thing a generous coating of some kind of sealant (such as matte medium, or gloss varnish, or mod podge).  This helps integrate all the layers and makes them less likely to lift up and peel off.  Let your sealant dry for a day or two before stacking your work or putting it in an envelope.  (Especially if it’s humid out.)  It should not feel tacky or gummy at all.

I did a much longer blog post about this last year, complete with photos and some of the specific products I like.  Click here to read it.

What are YOUR glue experiences?

What are your overall experiences as a “receiver” of MMSA swaps?  Do most of your items arrive in good condition?  How often do you receive an “injured” piece of mail?

Would you want to know if you pieces were falling apart in the mail?

Share your thoughts!


  1. You're not surprised that I'm the first to comment on this, are you?!
    I have lately received some glue-failure mail through the swaps. Because it has been such a hot-button for me lately, I've been letting people know... for their benefit, as well as my own! It makes me feel better to know it's not just me!
    And I would totally want to know if my shit was coming unglued.
    I've been sucking it up and using a lot of packing tape lately, after all that!

  2. Very true -- you do have to prepare things well to mail them. They go through those amazing postal machine and travel a long way and "loose bits' don't do well.....interesting tips. Thanks.

  3. I received one postcard missing a piece and the postmaster had put the piece in my PO box beside it. How it made it that far, I do not know. A recurring point of damage seems to be a scuff-peel about 1" below the postage stamp, probably from a mail sorting machine. Those machines sort thousands of pieces per minute, or something like that. It's amazing that any collage could survive such supersonic handling! YES, I would want to know if my mailART arrived damaged, so I could change my strategy.

  4. I definitely want to know if my stuff arrives with parts missing or peeling. Everyone should want to send their best work, and if it arrives with parts missing, I politely tell them. After a disaster in a private swap with a very understanding person, I never use a glue stick to adhere things to a piece that's going naked in the mail. Especially when gluing to a painted surface. It simply doesn't stick well enough.

    For the paste few months I've been using matte gel medium, the more liquid form in a bottle, not the think stuff in the jar. I do as you say - apply a good coat, then burnish like hell. I use matte gel medium as my final top coat also, unless I want it shiny for some reason, then I use gloss varnish.

    When that's dry, I press it between waxed paper under two huge old books for 24 hrs. Since doing it this way, I've had no complaints about stuff coming loose, and most of the folks I swap with would let me know it it did. About 70% of the MMSA art I receive is stuck down pretty well. On the rest, there are loose corners or edges that would probably come up if mailed again.

  5. I have never received any unglued postcards through the swaps here. A few have gotten some black scuff marks but usually on the address side so never ruined any of my viewing pleasure:)

  6. There does seem to be some randomness involved, where the techniques seem to be the same, but one arrives fine, and another is pretty near shredded. I found KR's comment about the scuff-peeling vaguely familiar, and when I looked at my pile of "wounded" cards, that describes the destruction area almost perfectly. There seems to be a "tender zone" about an inch to an inch-and-a-half down from the long sides where the cards are scuffed, torn, wrinkled, etc., or have design elements or Washi tape pulled off.

    A couple of observations, though:

    1. The paper surface seems to matter. Most of the damaged cards of late have had a GLOSSY or SHINY surface. And this damage happens whether or not additional items are attached to the surface. Cards made of card stock, index cards, recycled cardboard seem not to have such problems, but it may be that the glossy surface (especially if the cards are flexible) is more likely to jam in the machine.

    2. A second commonality is that collage bits were attached with a glue stick only, and no decoupage or sealing is applied. Those with a shiny surfaced paper almost always come denuded. Those on a rougher stock paper seem to have about a 50/50 chance of arriving okay. Again, the tooth of the paper seems to have an impact.

    By far the best collage cards arriving in my mailbox come on recycled cardboard. And it does seem that Royal Coat decoupage provides a thick, nearly impermeable coating. (At least that what the swapper of these reported using.)

    And YES, YES, YES. I do want to know if a card arrives damaged so I can make adjustments. I have purchased some envelopes that will fit 4 x 6 cards, so I can use one of those if sending naked isn't an option.

    And personally, I don't mind the "packing tape" appearance if it works to keep the card together. If that's what people need to use, then so be it. That's fine with me.

  7. This discussion will also be helpful to avoid "overkill" in mail art sending. After all, if we glue and burnish, and varnish and shellac, and shrink-wrap and bubble-wrap, and then finish with a brown-paper wrapping AND string, what's inside will probably arrive without a scratch on it. However, such a treatment will add possibly needless packing material, and way more postage.

    I hope to find a happy medium, then (pun, or not).

  8. I honestly expect a little scuffing. Think of the journey these little pieces of cardboard make. We take certain risks when using the Postal Service as our means of art dissemination. Other than that, I agree with all of the techniques above although I generally don't apply anything over my collages. Gluestick to paint just DOES NOT work for me, but fluid matte medium does.
    A few of us recently did a swap where the same 5x7 postcard travelled naked between 6 locations and they all survived surprisingly well!
    Glue, burnish, weigh it down, then cross your fingers.....:P

  9. If any of my art arrives damaged, I would definitely want to know. My process is to use Ranger Inkssentials Glue 'n Seal **very** liberally. First I use it to glue down the collage bits. Then I generously coat the entire thing with it. Often I'll do two coats. When that is dry, I'll put the postcards between layers of waxed paper or deli paper and weight them down with two 10-pound bags of rice overnight.