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Thousand Postcard Project: 116-158/1000

postcard-seagullsHere are some of my recent favourites from the ongoing Thousand Postcard Project. ΔΔ The postcard above just really appealed to me. At the time, I couldn't tell if it was the colours or composition but, later, I realised it was because it reminded me of the badly-drawn book covers on the old Mary Stewart novels I used to read. Mary Stewart was my guilty-pleasure airport-but-not-only-airport author: she wrote romance-thriller novels, often set in 'exotic' locations, with obscure literary references. I devoured them! A lot of the books were written in the 50s, 60s and 70s, so the cover-art involved this kind of upright, amply-bosomed heroine, generally among rocks or ruins or cliffs. 

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ΔΔ I think this postcard is one of the best of the lot, because it is so gloriously BAD. Here is what I imagine happened:

The marketing minds behind the Howard Johnson's hotel decided that a postcard was needed in order to draw in more guests. They sent one of their junior staffers out with the company camera and a roll of film, and told him to capture the 'beauty' of the building at night, with the neon sign proudly lit. But the junior staffer forgot to bring the tripod, and when they had the film developed, every photo was blurry. Rather than do it all over again, they just picked the least blurry of the lot and went with it. 

I wrote something along these lines on the back of the postcard before I sent it and, last week, I received a reply in the form of another postcard, depicting... traffic. On the back was written, "I see your blurry hotel photo and I raise you Birmingham's round-about." I will TREASURE that postcard. I'm still giggling. Blurry hotels and round-abouts are why I love this Thousand Postcard Project so much. 

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ΔΔ Here is another fabulously ugly postcard. An open quarry. WHYYYYY? Who came up with the idea that THIS was what would draw visitors to their town? 

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ΔΔ This beach photo made my 'favourites' list because it doesn't even bother with a location. The caption on the back just says something along the lines of "enjoying the sand and clear water" (I can't remember the exact words). I like to imagine that this beach photo was used to promote at least six or seven locations. You could just pick a State famous for beaches (like Florida or California) and shove these postcards in every tourist stand up and down the coast, for people to send to their friends. 

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ΔΔ Badly drawn illustrations are always my favourite. This one in particular because the man in the blue suit and hat at the bottom of the picture is carrying papers. What is written on them?? 

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ΔΔ According to the information on the back of this postcard, this was the coastline where the pirate Blackbeard hid treasure. It's not the Cornish coastline I imagine when I think of pirates and smugglers and caves, but maybe I just read too many Famous Five books when I was little. Do you think there could still be treasure buried in all that sand? 

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ΔΔ The biggest sponge exchange in the world. Who knew there were sponge exchanges!? I guess I should have known, sponges weren't always the synthetic bouncy things we use in our kitchens today, but still, wow!! 

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ΔΔ Remember what I was saying about badly drawn picture? I think this postcard is GREAT because they have taken a weird rock formation and decided it would look more spooky by moonlight, and still managed to do a terrible job. Framed smack in the middle of the picture, with the best fake ghost-story-moon ever, and some pretty flowers all around for a softening effect. If you are going to draw rather than photograph a famous thing, surely you'd take the opportunity to give it a slightly more artistic composition? 

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ΔΔ These vineyards were in upstate New York (from memory) and the person I was sending the postcard to just so happened to live in the same State, so I set her the challenge of finding this exact spot and taking a photograph of whatever is there now. 

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ΔΔ Another brilliantly boring photograph. Clouds! Dear traveller, unless your friend lives in the desert and it has never rained ever in their whole life, odds are they have clouds at their place, too. Send them a picture of a quarry or a blurry hotel instead! I thought this postcard was so boring, I decided to find pictures in the clouds to liven them up for the recipient. 

Well folks, that's the end of this update. I'm still writing postcards so don't think I've forgotten you if you're still waiting. A thousand postcards is a LOT of postcards to write! And if you're reading this and you're thinking "A crappy vintage postcard is what I really need in my life right now," I'd LOVE to send one to you, too. Go to this page to give me your address, and keep an eye on your letterbox. 

Quick reminder

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Just a quick note to remind you that my Snail Mail Toolkit newsletter will land in folks' inboxes tonight. I've created the envelope template above, plus another, and will share them as printable downloads along with tips on how to personalise them and turn them into mail-art, writing prompts, and some other fun and useful snail-mail links. If this sounds like something you'd like and you haven't yet signed up to receive my emails, there's still time and you can do it here

New year, new project (1000 postcards)

postcards-2 It wouldn't be January without a million people making plans, would it?

Mr B and I spent the days after Christmas slowly recovering, and hatching schemes. He bought a book called The Barefoot Investor and declared that this would be the year we take back control of our finances. I let the children consume their very last icy-pole and bucket of chips while we were in Bendigo, then returned home and emptied the 'fridge and pantry of all the leftover chocolates, cakes, biscuits and ice-creams that had made their way into our house over December. I declared that this was the year we would take back control of our health. 

And then together, Mr B and I hatched a plan that involves YOU. 

He purchased for me a giant box containing one thousand vintage and antique postcards, all unused. The postcards date from around 1905 through to the 1970s, and have been waiting all these years for someone to stick a stamp on them, scrawl "Wish you were here," and send them into the world. 

Well, that someone is me. I have decided to launch the Thousand Postcard Project for 2017, a year-long project in which I intend to send a thousand vintage postcards to people anywhere in the world. Each one will include a unique message: maybe a short story, a snippet from my life, a recipe, a poem, and so on. 

Every now and again, I'll share photographs of some of the sent postcards on my blog, so you can see what they look like (I'll only show the picture sides of the postcards, never people's addresses). 

Would you like to receive postcard from the Thousand Postcard Project? Fill in the form on this page to give me your postal address, then sit back and watch your letterbox for a little vintage surprise. 

 

The pop-up letter shop

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This is the best idea I've heard of in a long time. In Seattle, USA, a woman named Rachel Weil has launched a snail-mail truck, known as The Letter Farmer. Like a food truck, you know, but serving up food for the soul (awwwww).

She has fitted out a beautiful, red truck with all kinds of carefully selected stationery supplies - pens, paper, cards, stamps, even sealing wax, and hits the road every day. Wherever she stops, she sets up some tables and chairs outside, provides free postcards (and postage!), and invites people to start writing. She keeps a stack of prompts - people to write to and things to write - for those who are stuck.

When they're done, folks can even pop their missives into the post box attached to her truck.

Rachel says, "Sharing the narrative of our life through pen and paper as they meet and the nuances of our handwriting, paper selection and an envelope is addressed, stamped and mailed is priceless and timeless. Letters can be reread over and over, giving us the opportunity to have voices of our past speak again. Holding and touching something that someone who is either no longer with us or geographically far away is a way that we can feel physical connection with that person."

Can you imagine how fantastic this would be in your city, turning up at parks and carnivals and open spaces? How perfectly would it fit in at a food-truck festival! The Letter Farmer would be my dream business, except that I never have managed to master the art of hook turns in Melbourne. Maybe Australia Post could launch a fleet of these mobile shops, and bring their business to the people...

Here's an article about The Letter Farmer in the Seattle Times

Image credit: all photographs are from The Letter Farmer website

The Postman's Knock

This made me laugh this morning. I think I need to watch this movie!

Also, a question: does anyone know the origins of the "Postman's Knock" game? I know it started in England at least 100 years ago, but I'm trying to find a rough date and not having any luck...

UPDATE: Apparently the trailer above can't be seen on some browsers. Sorry! If you're having trouble, here is a direct link to watch it (it's Spike Milligan in The Postman's Knock, 1962).

My one weakness

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Recently, I had a conversation on this blog with a lovely reader called Jan. I'm paraphrasing, but the conversation went something like this:

Jan: Have you heard of the TV show "Lark Rise to Candleford?" It's a period drama set in a post office.

Me: *Instantly leaves office and runs to find it*

Now I'm up to Season 2, and utterly in love with this little show. It is gentle, thoughtful, innocent, warm-hearted, and makes me feel nostalgic for a kind of life I've never known.

In case you haven't heard of it, Lark Rise to Candleford (which is based on a semi-autobiographical trilogy of books of the same name by Flora Thompson) centres around two small rural communities at the turn of the 19th century: the tiny hamlet of Lark Rise, and the wealthier and bigger (but still tiny by our standards) town of Candleford, both in Oxfordshire in the UK.

When in Candleford, most of the action centres around the comings and goings of the Candleford Post Office, which is run, rather controversially, by a woman. The Post Mistress, Dorcas Lane, is truly delightful: wise, loving, independent, glamorous, and ahead of her era in so many ways. She claims to have "one weakness," although depending on the circumstance, that one weakness could be anything from cake to feather pillows to buttermilk baths.

When Laura, Dorcas' young niece from Lark Rise, comes to work at the Candleford Post Office, Dorcas takes her under her lovely, protective wing and teaches her the way of the world... and of the post. I have been learning right along with Laura as I watch, and here is what I've gleaned so far:

* A century ago, the post was the only real way that people could communicate with others at a distance. It was possibly the most essential community-service of the time

* The post office itself was a community hub. All but the most hardened recluse had need of the postal services at some time or another so, in small communities, it became a natural meeting place for neighbours to gather and chat and swap stories and gossip. To "pass the time of day," as Candleford or Lark Rise folks would call it

* Postal workers were the keepers of secrets. They knew who wrote to whom, and how often. They could see the looks on faces - the shakes of hands - when letters of import were posted or received. They knew the contents of every telegram even before the recipients did

* The postie knew everyone in the community. Letters were delivered not into boxes but into hands, and the route to every home was an opportunity to observe and greet and forge connections

* And this, a quote from Season 4 (which I haven't actually seen so no spoilers please!), which sums up rather beautifully the power of a pen-and-ink letter:

"When words are written down, they can be the finest expression of the human soul... Once words are marked down on paper, they can not be taken back. They are in the world for good or for ill. They wither or they endure. Words can be dangerous things." 

A recipe for mail-art

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I have been so busy making mail lately! Cutting out little packets of handmade stickers and labels, collecting vintage stamps, hunting for postcards old and new, photocopying old recipes and household tips that once belonged to my great-grandmother, then bundling them all up together in handmade envelopes from old catalogue pages, melting green or red wax over the fold, and sealing them shut with a big, bold N.

Lately I've noticed that a lot of you guys have been using the comments section of this blog to ask for tips and tutorials on how to create mail-art. So I'll do my best to oblige you in this post but, to be honest, the beauty of mail-art is that there are no rules and no standards. No tests to pass, no clubs to join, nobody to judge the "artistry" or talent of your work. Or mine. If you put some creative effort into it, and if you call it mail-art, it is mail-art.

That being said, here's the process of how I personally choose to whip up a batch of mail-art (and if you're new to this blog, samples of the finished products are here).

Ingredients: 

* Brown kraft paper * Scissors * Glue-stick * Pencil (I use 2b) * Eraser * Pencil-sharpener * Black felt-tip pen (waterproof) * Watercolour paints * Gouache paints * A variety of watercolour paint-brushes * Postage stamps * "Via Airmail" stickers (if applicable) * Sticky-tape * Washi-tape (optional) * Sealing wax and seal (optional)

Method: 

Step 1: Most of the time I hand-make my envelopes out of brown kraft paper. To do this, I open up an existing envelope and use it as a template, to trace onto the kraft paper. Cut it out, and glue the sides together. Use a glue-stick or paste rather than liquid glue, so you don't end up with lumps and bumps in your envelope.

TIP: I like to make the envelopes so that the rough side is facing outwards, rather than the shiny side, because it takes paint better later on when you come to that

Step 2: I roughly draw my design onto the front of the envelope, in pencil. This means sketching a drawing - a plant, an animal, a cup of tea, and working the address into the design. Sometimes I write the recipient's name and address next to the drawing, but if possible, I try to fit it into the actual drawing, such as onto the petals or leaves of a flower, a mug of coffee, a speech bubble, the pots of a series of house-plants.

TIP: In your design, leave enough room on the top right of the envelope to fit one or more stamps later on

Step 3: Now I go over my drawing with a firmer hand, using a black, felt-tipped pen. I use the Sakura Micron brand, and have a pack of pens that range from point 0.1 to 0.8 in thickness, depending on what kind of line I hope to create.

TIP: Always use water-resistant ink. This way when you paint them the ink won't run, nor will the essential details (addresses, for example!) run if the letter gets wet in the rain

Step 4: Next, I paint my design using a mixture of watercolours (Winsor & Newton) and gouache (Reeves). Gouache creates a thicker, chalkier, brighter colour than watercolour, especially on the brown paper, so I use these paints where I need the colour to stand out. I use watercolours when I want more subtlety. To help the postie read the address in my mail-art, I aim to make the parts of the picture containing addresses brighter and lighter in colour than the others.

TIP: When sending mail overseas, it's important that the destination country is big and clear and, if possible, in the same area or colour as the rest of the address, so it won't be missed

Step 5: Once the paint is dry, I pull my felt-tip pens back out, and go over the outlines again to give the drawing definition. This is particularly important to ensure the address is clear and stands out, even more-so if I've used gouache, because if applied thickly it can be quite opaque, and the writing needs to be reinforced over the top.

TIP: If I feel the postie may need more direction to send this mail where it is supposed to go, I draw little arrows pointing to the start of the address, and write the words "Kindly deliver to" above the recipient's name

Step 6: Now I put the stamps on the front-right. Rather than use those ugly Australia Post printed labels, I prefer to use lots of stamps to make up the postage. If they won't fit on the front without ruining my design, I continue them over onto the back of the envelope.

TIP: If you need to do this, too, make sure that there is at least one stamp where it is supposed to be, and write the words "More stamps over" to ensure your postie knows to look there

Step 7: If I'm sending my letters overseas, I affix a "Via Airmail" sticker to the envelope. It's supposed to go on the top left-hand side, but fitting it anywhere is usually enough to alert the postie to the fact that this is international mail.

TIP: If your mail is travelling domestically, don't stick a "Via Airmail" sticker on it. I've made that mistake before, and the postie has confused my letter for international mail and not known where to deliver it

Step 8: Almost done! Next, I clearly print my return address on the back of the envelope. I had a stamp custom made to do this and I don't know why, but it gives me a lot of primitive pleasure to ink it and stamp it onto each letter.

TIP: If you've needed to add extra stamps to the back of your envelope as per Step 6, make sure you write the words "Please return to" or "From" above your return-address, so the postie doesn't mistake it for the destination address, surrounded as it is by all those stamps

Step 9: Finally, I fill the envelope with all the contents I have created and collected, then close up the envelope with sticky-tape. This doesn't look very good so, if possible, I then cover the tape with something pretty, like wash-tape, a handmade sticker label, or another wax seal.

TIP: Make sure there are no loose parts of your envelope that could catch on things and tear during its long journey through the post. Tape everything down  

And that's it, my process for making mail-art from start to finish.

How about you? How do you like to decorate your letters? What ever you do, please know this one thing: if you get creative with your mail, you are a mail-artist.


ps. If you're in the mood for even more letter-writing inspiration, I want to remind you about my letter-writing and mail-art e-course, "The Most Beautiful Letter You Have Ever Written." 

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Over four weeks, I will guide you through multiple methods of making beautiful mail-art and creative, handmade stationery; teach you the art of writing and storytelling; help you forge personal connections in your letters and find pen-pals if you want them; and share time-management tips so even the busiest people can enjoy sending and receiving letters. There's also a host of downloadable resources, and access to my own private mail-art pen-pal group. Registrations are open right now, and you can find out more here

Mail art: while on holidays

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While we were in Sydney on our holidays, I painted these handmade envelopes to send out into the world. A pair of animals, books and coffee, but mostly wildflowers. I have a lot of fun painting wildflowers.

Also while we were on holidays, Scout made mail of her own. She asked to send a postcard to her best friend, chose the postcard, wrote her friend's name, signed her own name, and dictated a message for me to write. Mostly, it was a love message. "We rode a train," she said. "We went to the zoo." But mostly Scout wanted me to write "I love you" and "I love you more." She put the stamp on herself, and posted it herself.

I feel absurdly proud that this little mail project of mine has inspired my daughter to remember others in such a tangible and loving way. Scout and her friend are only four, but already they understand the joy that comes from sending and receiving letters. Long live snail-mail.

Onwards to the wildflowers.

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A handful of letters

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My postman, Patrick*, told me last week, "You get special mail. Very special." I like to think that decorated mail puts a smile not only on the face of the recipient, but on each and every person who handles it along its journey.

Here is a handful** - a very big handful - of the letters and postcards that Patrick and I have been enjoying lately, from all over the world. I don't always share incoming mail on my blog, but I thought today I would take a moment to celebrate some of the wonderful, generous, creative people who have taken the time to write to me.

Their letters are sometimes funny, sometimes musical, always heartfelt. Each one contains insights into the writers' worlds: tiny moments, glimpses into another way of living. Do you want to meet them?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA↑↑ Luci from Oakhurst, USA, loves to walk in the Yosemite National Park, and hiking up to Mirror Lake is one of her favourite climbs

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA↑↑ Pia from Strallen, Germany, loves how Instagram puts her in touch with people she calls "beautiful souls"

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA↑↑ Sara from Carlton, Australia, just finished a botanical art course, and quit her job to apply for a Masters in Urban Horticulture

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA↑↑ Jen from Bossier City, USA, says "The Sound and the Fury" is her favourite Faulkner novel

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA↑↑ Camilla from Fonnes, Norway, told me about the Norwegian Constitution Day, on which (among other things) children can have as many hot dogs and ice creams as they want!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA↑↑ Ally from South Hobart, Australia, once cycled around Brugge in the snow

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA↑↑ Joy from Nottingham, UK, is an artist, crafter, crocheter and sewer, who wants to write and illustrate her first book

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA↑↑ Esmerelda from Tustin, USA, designs cakes, greeting cards and chalkboards

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA↑↑ Andrea from Philadelphia, USA, loves the beer, food and museums in her city

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA↑↑ Wiebke from Dusseldorf, Germany, is starting a business with her sister, making postcards

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA↑↑ Roxanne from Carole Park, Australia, never got the mail I made for her, but saw it on my blog. I'm so sorry Roxanne. It didn't return to me so I hope it reaches you one day!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA↑↑ Máiréad from San Mateo, USA, painstakingly embroidered this card herself

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA↑↑ Charlene from Oakland, USA, is about to have her second child, and is readying herself for two under two (I remember how that feels: equal parts excitement and terror!)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA↑↑ Jessica from Hamburg, Germany, found this in a shop in Florence at the end of the Ponte Veccio Bridge

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA↑↑ Kay from Pleasanton, USA, is about to exhibit her art at a local venue

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA↑↑ Monica from Lake Michigan, USA, discovered a beach in the middle of America while on a holiday, and she and her husband loved it so much they moved there

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA↑↑ Cheryl from Perth, Australia, quotes St Augustine ("The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page")

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA↑↑ Jessica from Hamburg, Germany, found this postcard in an old album at a flea-market

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA↑↑ Rae from Chicago, USA, is an architecture geek who likes all those house-hunting and renovation TV shows as much as I do

 

The Minions plaster (thanks Ralph!) that I'm wearing is keeping salve on a particularly nasty burn, sustained when the sealing-wax I was using caught fire. I attempted to blow it out but was a little too enthusiastic, and the melted wax still on fire spilled over my finger. It's ugly and blistered and has been hurting for two days. Which is all to say, don't let anyone tell you snail-mail isn't a blood sport!

* Oh my gosh, I only just saw that. Postman Pat!

** If you have sent me mail and you don't see it here, please don't think that it didn't arrive or that I didn't love it. It's just that my filing system is pretty chaotic. I don't share every piece of mail I receive on the blog, and I chose these particular letters to photograph based on the fact that they were in the pile closest to my hand when I picked up my camera! Each of the lovely letters you see here and the lovely letters you don't thrilled me to the core when I found them in my letter box.

Mail art: in defense of domesticity

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This suite of mail-art envelopes was inspired by former blogger Natalie Holbrook's 2015 book, Hey Natalie Jean. In the book, she is unabashedly proud of her role as "Queen of her home," championing the kind of feminist mantra that says feminism is about choice. Natalie has a choice and she chooses to be a homemaker (among other things).

It felt kind of refreshing to read this, because I love looking after my home, too, and I see it as an extension of looking after my family. But always in the back of my mind is a kind of niggling: in doing this, am I turning the feminist cause back fifty years?

Mr B's and my roles in our home are quite traditional. He goes out to work and, because his days are long (generally 14 hours or more) while I work part time and I do that work from home; the housework, cooking and all those other domestic bits and pieces fall to me. For us, the division of labour this way is both practical and financial. It has nothing to do with gender.

But also, I really like it! I love taking care of my home, and it gives me such a sense of calm and contentment when it is tidy. I feel as though caring for my house is also an act of love to my family, giving them somewhere clean and beautiful to live and think and play and grow. Am I a 1950s housewife? Am I setting back the cause? I hope not. This is what Natalie says:

"I make my home somewhere I love to be not to impress others, or live up to some standard or ideal, but out of respect to myself."

You know?