Monday, November 18, 2013

Origin Stories

As promised, it's the triumphant return of Mail Art Mondays,
and in honor of our recent superhero theme we are featuring origin stories.
How did you get your start in mail art?

When I started dabbling in art a few years ago, I was compelled by the idea of art journals, and was trying my hardest to fill a sketchbook with paint smeared pages and meaningful words.
I enjoyed playing with the techniques, but couldn't find a journaling groove.
And I didn't really like working in a book.  I was working on loose bits of card-stock and paper and gluing them into journals.
I'm not exactly sure when it first dawned on me that I could take those loose pieces and turn them into postcards, but it was exactly what I needed.

I dug through the archives of my blog, and found my first post about mail art - I wrote about opening my Post Office box (May 2011) and sending my first mail.
Interestingly, one of the very first things I sent is still among my favorites:

For me, there is tremendous joy in creating, but there is even greater joy in connecting.
I could satisfy my need to practice and grow as an artist by creating on small bits of cardboard, and make new friends at the same time?  WIN!

Even though I was a fledgling artist, and a bit shy about showing my work to others in my real life, I had no qualms about dropping it in the mail to a total stranger.
Because seriously, who doesn't like to get mail?
I know I've said this here before, but no one has ever opening their mailbox to find a sincere note on a handmade postcard and turned up their nose.
Handmade mail is a joy to receive, no matter what it looks like.

Here are some early (and ongoing!) influences and sources of inspiration:

Like many other new mail artists, finding the book "Good Mail Day" was a life changer.
It took me to the respective websites of the authors, Jennie Hinchcliff and Carolee Gilligan Wheeler,
and the Good Mail Day website provided my first list of addresses of kindred spirits.
Links on those above websites led me to Pamela and her blog Cappuccino and art Journal.
I sent her mail, and not only did she write back, she put a picture of it on her blog.  Imagine!  I had no idea!
I was hooked, and there was no looking back.

It's been two and a half years since I mailed my first piece of art, and I've grown and changed a lot.  I create almost every single day, even if it's only for a few minutes, and I'd say 90% of what I make gets mailed.  I've met some amazing people.  Some I've only interacted with a few times, some have become close friends.  Each encounter has enriched my life.

So now it's your turn.  Tell us how you got your start in mail art.
What was your inspiration?
Who influenced you?
Any good stories about the first things you sent or received?
How has it changed you?

If you've got a blog post, add a link.
If you don't, just share your stories in the comments.

And if you haven't started sending mail art yet,
what are you waiting for?
Hop right over to our own address list, and just start mailing.
Because as Pamela always says,

5 comments: said...

How lovely! Yes -- and who doesn't love to get good mail? Everybody loves mail. Everyday is a little bit like Christmas or my birthday when I find mail in my mailbox. I have met many of the people I trade mail with and enlarged my circle of friends around the world and the country. Trying to remember my origin -- but I have been sending mail for as long as I can remember. My mom might have been my inspiration for sending mail. She had a typewriter and she wasn't afraid to use it. And later, I went to art school and just figured adding art to mail was a good idea. I love the Good Mail day book too. See you in February, Karen! Send Good Mail to Get Good Mail.

Parabolic Muse said...

I've linked! I can't imagine anyone having the time to read that whole post, but the beauty of it is that...
...well, I'm done writing it. YAY!
oh, and there are pictures, too.
Thanks so much, Karen!

cjsrq said...

I guess I started sending mail art while I was in college in the early 70s. Every year I would make handmade Christmas cards to send out. Then, in the 80s I did a lot of stamped cards for all occasions. Then I lost my mind in the 90s and didn't do much art. Fortunately, I found it again and began to send out my photographs as postcards. I've been doing that for a number of years. Finally, in the spring of this year I learned about MMSA from one of Dawn P's blog posts and I have been swapping mail art ever since. I love participating in swaps as it keeps me challenged and producing art, and of course, it's fun to get good mail in return! :D

Anonymous said...

While I can't remember when I sent my first mail art, I do recall that when a co-worker asked me several years ago if I do mail art, my response was, "Huh? What is mail art?" Seems funny now, since I love mail art and a great deal of what I make goes out the door, whether ATCs, postcards, or in round robin art journals. When some artful mail arrives it's always such a special treat, of which I never get tired.

Unknown said...

I sensed, growing up, that artists and writers were super heros. That’s what I gathered from all the paintings that hung around the house, most of them from my father’s relatives.

My first introduction to mail art came from my grandmother (who was also a writer). Though she died when I was about six, I remembered her mailing me, not a commercial birthday card, but something that was almost a birthday cartoon. She’d take a plain piece of paper, and doodled some little drawings of me with my doll, or me picking dandelions -- whatever -- which my mother framed and hung on the wall.

In college, I studied English and enjoyed writing most of all, especially autobiographical essays, journals and letters. I met my husband through a friend of a friend, and because this was pre-Internet days, we courted via snail mail.

My married days had me busy raising children, but as they grew up and left home, I started emailing. Still, I saw the value of a hard-copy letter, but feared that something I might write would get lost in the junk mail and tossed out. Thus, the idea came to me to decorate the envelope.

I started out by trying to paint little images on the envelope to correspond with the topic of the letter inside (thus if the letter was about my garden, I’d take the envelope outside and paint a tomato that I saw growing there). Thus, the letter was all words, while the drawing was on the envelope. Still, there were times when I was writing a letter when I realized that a picture is worth a thousand words. I’d be trying to describe something, and realize that the letter would go so much easier if I just had a picture, and illustration seemed more subtle than including an actual photo. The problem was, that I didn’t always have a picture of whatever it was I wanted, so even though my sketches were rough, I’d make them anyway and scan the images in.

I saw the real value of mail art during one vacation to Hawaii. We’re not avid travelers, so this was our Big Trip, and something of a honeymoon well after the wedding. This was, for me, a bit of a manic winter, and I found that the concentration required to draw something helped slow my racing mind to something resembling normal. Thus, on the trip, I packed a notebook and a few colored pencils, and figured I’d take some time, sit on a beach, relax, and draw.

I did do this, but immediately ran into a problem. The colors in Hawaii greatly exceeded -- in brilliance, saturation, and zing -- the few Crayola pencils I brought with me. And since I wanted to send out some ICAD momentos to some friends back home, I was in straits, especially since words failed to capture the beauty. Thus I begged my husband to stop by an art supply store for a package of oil pastels. Having those, I was able to draw the beach, and even the amazing tropical flowers that so bloom everywhere there that people almost don’t see them. Were just any old flower in Hawaii to randomly appear in Minnesota, the state would erect a glass arboretum around it and charge people $10 admission to see it. But in Hawaii, such brilliance is more like dandelions here. Thus I had to find a way to convey the stunningness of the place to the snowbound people back home.

Thus the care packages I sent from Hawaii were my first mail art. I’d take an index card, use my oil pastels to draw something I had seen that day, then write about an amusing incident on the other side. And it was on this vacation that I sensed that by mastering some art techniques, I would continue to have more flexibility in how I communicated to others.

I am not sure when I first heard “mail art,” but certainly the online resources have been crucial. I like the simplicity of the medium, and the endless possibilities for recycling stuff into pieces of beauty. I think my next challenge is to incorporate more of the traditional artistic style into my mail art (drawing, painting, etc.) I have enjoyed sketching from real life, especially pen and ink. I also want to work up the guts to do watercolor.

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